Top 3 developments
Mon dieu, Macron!
In a joint press conference with Theresa May in the gardens of the Élysée Palace Emmanuel Macron said that – whilst he respected the sovereign decision of the British people – “until negotiations come to an end there is always a chance to reopen the door.” However, he qualified that “as the negotiations go on it will be more and more difficult to go backwards.” Other European leaders – Angela Merkel, for one – are more sceptical.
“Listen to other parties” – Cameron calls for soft Brexit
In his first public comments since Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority, David Cameron told attendees of a business conference in Poland that May should listen to other parties on Brexit. “I think there will be a pressure for a softer Brexit”, he commented. “It’s going to be difficult, there’s no doubt about that, but perhaps an opportunity to consult more widely with the other parties on how best we can achieve it,” he said. Cameron appears to have forgotten that it was listening to other parties – namely the jeers of Conservative MPs who defected to UKIP – that led to the EU referendum in the first place.
Brexit talks scheduled for Monday 19th June
In spite of cabinet reshuffles and party-wide dissent on the issue, Brexit talks will still begin on Monday 19th June. Fun fact: Barnier – chief EU Brexit negotiator – reportedly has a mug in his office with “Keep Calm and Negotiate” on it.
‘Strong and Stable’ gives way to coalition of chaos
After the surprising election result on the 9th, the Conservative party has grappled to reach common ground and an amenable deal with Northern Ireland’s the Democratic Unionist Party. Talks – ongoing for three days – have been delayed for now, due to the tragic Grenfell Tower fire. Corbyn slammed the delay and May’s secrecy, trumpeting “We want to know what is in the deal they are offering to the DUP and we want to know when it is going to be put before Parliament.” DUP leader, Arlene Foster, revealed on Tuesday evening that the key issues on the negotiation table were Brexit, “doing what’s right” for the Northern Irish economy, and counter-terrorism. Party sources claim that the DUP will soften austerity measures: the DUP have pledged to make the new government’s policies “more compassionate”. This has raised eyebrows – as has the DUP’s stance on abortion and gay rights.
Total May-hem as Theresa’s team go AWOL
Two of four of the UK’s Brexit ministers departed this week – David Jones – of the Welsh Vote Leave campaign – was replaced by pro-EU Baroness Anelay. David Davis, Brexit Secretary, was reportedly not warned. Lord Bridges –responsible for pushing Brexit legislation through parliament – reportedly had an argument with May and quit on Tuesday. Sources say that the EU advocate (and Osborne ally) was frustrated by the lack of consultation between the Department for Exiting the EU and Downing Street, and apparently remains “unhappy with how things are going”.
The loss of these comparatively junior ministers is significant, given that talks are due to begin on Monday and the department is in such flux. The government has been haemorrhaging Brexit staff – Baroness Neville-Rolfe – in charge of overseeing Brexit’s impact on financial services – abruptly left on Tuesday. “The upper house is pretty much uncontrollable at the moment”, one House of Lords source divulged to the Financial Times.
Weak and wobbly May heading for a soft Brexit?
As touched upon earlier, Cameron has urged May to cooperate with other parties on Brexit. Phillip Hammond was due to speak last night at the inaugural Mansion House Dinner – but the dinner was cancelled due to the Grenfell Tower Fire. Hammond is said to have spent two days with his advisors chewing over whether or not he should make his differences with May explicit. May repeatedly refused to confirm whether Hammond would remain Chancellor throughout her campaign – now with his position in the cabinet secure many speculate that Hammond will begin to openly push May for a Brexit that prioritises business and the economy.
Freedom of movement in exchange for access to the free market is commonly regarded as one of the key pillars of a ‘soft Brexit’. First Secretary of State, (and effectively May’s deputy) Damian Green, is reportedly an ally of the chancellor’s, and well-liked Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has stressed the need for cross-party collaboration on Brexit. Sunday saw George Osborne tell CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that there are no longer the votes for a “hard Brexit” in parliament. However, with vocal Eurosceptic Steve Baker – who headed up the 80-strong ‘European Research Group’ – as new junior Brexit minister, Osborne could yet be proved wrong.
Brexit negotiations rumoured to be on schedule
Following calls from European Commission chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier that the UK must stick to the planned Brexit timetable or risk exiting the EU without a deal. Brexit negotiations will begin in earnest on Monday 19th June.
Barnier used his interview with the Financial Times to highlight that ‘there’s no spirit of revenge, no punishment, no naivety either’ on the EU side regarding Brexit negotiations. However, he did state that UK citizens must know the ‘truth on what Brexit means’, adding that ‘lots of people underestimated these consequences’.
The commencement of talks, which will be led by Brexit Secretary David Davis on the UK side and Michel Barnier on the other, had been cast into doubt due to the Conservative Party losing its majority at the General Election and the subsequent negotiations with the DUP. However, in a sign that the Government always intended to stick to the Brexit negotiating timetable, the EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator met with UK officials in Brussels on Thursday in a meeting described by Commission officials as ‘talks about talks’.
Oh won’t EU stay with me? ‘Cause EU’re all I need
In what has proven to be a tough week for the embattled Prime Minister (with the weather even conspiring to blow her papers off her podium at a news conference in Paris), the French President Emmanuel Macron stated that ‘the door is still open’ should the UK wish to reverse its decision to withdraw from the European Union. Macron’s statement has further emboldened remain supporting figures in the UK following the General Election result and will no doubt have triggered further headaches for the Number 10 team as they continue to attempt to appease the warring factions in the Conservative Party.
Other leading EU figures, including the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt have echoed Macron, although Verhofstadt highlighted that if Britain were to end up remaining in the bloc this would be on new terms in a Europe ‘without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity’. It is worth noting that Verhofstadt will play no official direct role in the Brexit negotiations which will be led by the European Commission, but the European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator will undoubtedly be vocal throughout the negotiations.
Angela Merkel, on the other hand, has been more taciturn: “I don’t want to participate in any speculation — and certainly not on speculation over whether the U.K.’s exit takes place or not… we’re going with what the British side says.” Her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was more moderate, acknowledging that whilst such a change is unlikely, if the British “wanted to change their decision, of course, they would find open doors”.
Brexit brain drain?
A survey of EU nationals employed at FTSE 250 companies found that 56% were ‘highly likely’ or ‘quite likely’ to leave the UK before the conclusion of Brexit talks. The survey by law firm Baker McKenzie found that the healthcare sector would be badly hit, with 84% of employees in the sector stating they would leave. The survey also found that the technology, media, telecoms and financial services industries would suffer. UK Brexit Minister David Davis (still in the job after his rumoured replacement Ben Gummer lost his seat) reportedly has “very generous” plans on offer for EU citizens in the UK – the real question is whether or not they’ll want them.
- 19th June – Start date for Brexit negotiations.
- 21st June – State Opening of Parliament, and the Queen’s speech.
- 1st July – 3rd September – Parliamentary recess.
- 24th – 27th September – Labour Party Conference.
- 1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference.
- October 19th – EU Summit.