Top 3 developments
UK and EU fail to reach a resolution on the ‘exit bill’
After two days of negotiations, UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said the negotiations on the so-called divorce bill had been “robust”. EU negotiator Barnier said that the UK need to provide greater clarification on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and Ireland.
Leadership bids continue behind closed doors
Theresa May declared this week that “there is no such thing as an unsackable minister” as she sought to re-establish her authority and put an end to cabinet leaks from ministers. Cabinet ministers continue to brief the media against one another as several Tory MPs eye up the leadership position.
Article 50 author calls for Brexit process to be halted
Lord Kerr – author of the article 50 clause – has joined many other influential Scots in calling for the UK government to pause and revaluate Brexit proceedings.
Make EUr mind up!
The UK’s international trade secretary (and unsuccessful wannabe Tory leader, circa 2005 and 2016) Liam Fox said this morning that the UK could “survive” leaving the EU without securing a free trade deal. Indeed, he went on to insist that forging a free trade deal with the EU should be the “easiest in human history” but stressed emphatically that the UK could survive without one. His colleague, ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ (otherwise known as Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer) begs to differ. Hammond insists that failure to secure a trade deal would be a “very, very bad outcome”.
However, Brexiteer Fox did concede that a transitional phase may be necessary. “If we are to have an implementation phase between leaving the European Union and our final settlement, I don’t have a problem with that,” Fox commented. However, Hard Brexiteers want a short “implementation phase” of a few short months; Hammond and his ilk want a minimum of two years
Back-stabbing and jostling continues in Conservative HQ
The rift between the Tories on the issue of Brexit deepens by the day. Michael Gove (Leave architect, environment secretary, yet another 2016 leadership hopeful) refused to back one of the UK’s position papers for this week’s exit talks in Brussels. The paper concerned cases pending at the European Court of Justice when Brexit concludes in March 2019 – a thorny issue for Tories. The paper establishes that it would be necessary for cases that are already underway at the ECJ during the Brexit process would have to continue through the ECJ. Two sources report that Gove wasn’t having it.
These public clashes in opinion have less to do with Brexit than they do the barely-concealed leadership ambitions of many of the men involved with the Brexit process. Phillip Hammond, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and David Davis have all been tipped for the top job – whether by themselves or others. Dominic Cummings, chief of Vote Leave (and former special adviser to Gove) recently responded to Davis’ lacklustre performance in Brussels by branding him “thick as mince and lazy as a toad”. Cummings is believed to have been instrumental in encouraging Gove to stab Johnson in the back and seize the leadership bid from him. Leopards, spots, etc.
Rebate ruckus is a sign of things to come
During two days of “slow progress” over the hotly-contested divorce bill Margaret Thatcher’s hard-won “rebate” on EU budget contributions proved a sticking point. Under the agreement, the UK receives an annual reduction in its contributions that in any given year is equivalent to 66 per cent of the UK’s net contribution in the previous year. The EU insist that the rebate will be tied to post-Brexit agriculture payments. This unexpected snag demonstrates the many hitherto unexpected hurdles Britain can expect at the negotiation table.
Scots look to Kerr-tail Brexit process
Lord John Kerr – former Scottish diplomat – drafted the article 50 clause. Lord Kerr has previously stated that Britain could legally revoke its decision to trigger the exit clause. He is now one of many signatories of a letter calling for a pause and reassessment of the Brexit process. The “disastrous consequences… are becoming ever clearer”. The letter – signed by figures such as former defence secretary George Robertson – argues that “In a democracy, it is always possible to think again and to choose a different direction. We need to think again about Brexit, to have a UK-wide debate about calling a halt to the process and changing our minds”. The letter cites the “falling living standards, rising inflation, slowing growth and lower productivity” borne of the vote as strong reasons for a reassessment of the UK’s position on Brexit.
Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair echoed this sentiment in an article he penned on Saturday: “We feel like a country which has lost its footing and is stumbling; but seemingly with no choice but to stagger on”.
US and British officials will meet in Washington on Monday for the first meeting of a new trade and investment working group. They are expected to explore the possibilities of a post-Brexit economic relationship and trading partnership between America and the UK. An official from the US Trade Representative’s office anonymously leaked that the meeting would be attended by Britain’s international trade secretary, Liam Fox, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, amongst others.
DUP-Tory deal costing May dearly
May effectively gave away a £1 billion bung when she entered into a marriage of convenience with Arlene Foster and the DUP. However, it may continue to cost May dearly further down the line. The Scottish and Welsh government have joined forces, and are launching a formal dispute process regarding May’s deal with the DUP. Wales and Scotland’s finance ministers argue that the Barnett formula rules entitle Scotland and Wales to an extra £2.9bn and £1.67bn respectively as a result of the deal with the DUP.
Brexit-hating Brits prepare to jump ship
The demand for Irish passports has leapt by 50% since the referendum vote result. More than 100,000 Irish passports were issued in the UK in the first six months of 2017 as UK citizens clamour to secure EU identity. Anyone who has an Irish parent or grandparent born in Ireland is entitled to a passport. The amount of UK solicitors registering in Ireland has increased to 1,000 – 10 times the regular figure.
No sex(ism) please, we’re British.
Concerns have been raised regarding the distribution of power of the Department for Exiting the EU. A letter signed by 56 MPs has been sent to Theresa May urging her to reassess the gender balance of the Brexit negotiation team. Of the top nine members, only one – Catherine Webb – is a woman. The team will negotiate issues that will directly affect women and are currently safeguarded by EU’s Equal Treatment Directive – such as maternity leave and anti-workplace discrimination law.
One of the signatories, Harriet Harman – Labour’s longest-serving female MP –criticised the Department for Exiting the European Union, calling it “a self-perpetuating oligarchy of men at the top of the civil service.” Olly Robbins – who has been called “the apex of Britain’s Brexit pyramid” – is the senior civil servant who heads up the 500-strong Department of Leaving the European Union, and serves as Theresa May’s principle Europe Adviser. He coordinates the negotiations, and reportedly spends more time in Brussels than David Davis. The remit of this double-pronged role – that of “Sherpa”, adviser to May, and runner of DExEU – is unprecedentedly huge, and his role in masterminding Brexit shouldn’t be underestimated.
Vince Cable has become the leader of the Lib-Dems
After Jo Swinson opted to run for deputy leader rather than the top position, the field was left open for veteran Vince Cable to take up the leadership after being the only name in the hat. Although there were calls for Swinson to stand, she wished to focus more on her role as MP rather than simpley vie for status. 74-year old Cable, however, was unabashed, stating he had no intention to be a caretaker and would ‘serve as long I need to’.
EU need to pay up, mate
With the second round of negotiations coming to a close, while David Davis was ‘encouraged’ by the progress made, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, called for more clarity from the UK in its position on a number of matters, particularly the financial settlement. The week’s negotiations, undertaken with the aim to identify points of agreement and disagreement between the two camps, would, according to Barnier, have been much easier had respective positions been made clear.
The protection of citizens’ rights following the UK’s exit remained a point of divergence between the camps. The EU position, that the European Court of Justice should continue to guarantee rights of citizens was described by Barnier as “an obligation not a choice”. This is fundamentally at odds with the PM’s repeated promises to reclaim these rights for the UK courts.
The state of preparedness of the UK team didn’t escape notice on other fronts this week either. Pictured at the Monday morning photo call with no notes, David Davis was then hotfooting it back to London to add some much-needed weight to the Government front benches in Westminster. Though Barnier has few such worries to distract him, the Brexit Secretary may need to enter round three with something more substantial if he hopes to make progress.
Meanwhile, Theresa May is due to challenge Donald Trump over his disregard for climate change at the G20.
- 21st July – 4th September – parliamentary recess
- 28th August – third round of talks
- 18th September – expected date of fourth round talks
- 24th – 27th September – Labour Party Conference
- 1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference
- 9th October – expected start of fifth round talks
- 19th October – EU Summit