Top 3 developments
- Third round of negotiations stall in Brussels
- May lands formal agreement with Japanese on post-Brexit trade priorities
- Labour shift to backing the Single Market during transitionary period
Third time’s (not) the charm
“We did not get any decisive progress on any of the principal subjects” was the rather damning judgement of Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier in the wake of the tense third round of talks in Brussels. He did concede that on some issues, including Northern Ireland, the discussions had been ‘fruitful’, however, Barnier yet again warned that the talks were falling behind the targets of ‘sufficient progress’ for the European Council in October. He also remarked bluntly that the solutions set out in the UK’s papers released last week were “simply impossible”. Brexit Secretary David Davis was more positive, saying there had been some “concrete progress” made and “mutual understanding” built. Davis did show an awareness of the difficulties that the UK will continue to face going forward given the current stalemate between the two sides, saying that the negotiations had been “quite a high stress” time given the divergent legal stances of the two parties. While his calls for flexibility from the EU were quickly quashed by Barnier saying “We need to know their position and then I can be flexible.”
The continuation of talks comes after UK officials hosted EU ambassadors at two events in London on 17th and 24th August. The meetings, which were not officially announced, were intended to give British officials a chance to win over European diplomats, and explain the UK Government’s position on key issues. However, the attempt has reportedly fallen flat, with EU officials being unimpressed with the “very vague and ambiguous” positions.
Brexit Secretary David Davis is seeking clarification from Brussels on the legal basis against which the EU is assessing the UK’s financial obligations. British officials are said to have consulted EU figures on the legal principles Brussels believe should be used to calculate the final exit bill. Davis remains determined to avoid putting a figure on how much the UK Government is willing to pay when it leaves the bloc, despite confessing that this will make European officials “quite angry”. The financial settlement continues to be the biggest stumbling block for negotiations, with Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit chief negotiator, adding his voice to the offensive and seeking “further clarity” on what price Theresa May is willing pay before talks can progress.
May stays to fight another day
Theresa May’s visit to Japan may have been overshadowed slightly by North Korean developments but the Prime Minister was keen to press on with preliminary trade discussions with her slightly distracted counterparts nonetheless. However, questions quickly turned to her own position as party leader, to which May responded saying “I am not a quitter.” Ready to fight the ‘long-term challenge for the UK”, May asserted she would be fighting for the next election. This has been met with some consternation from her party back at home. Chair of the influential Treasury Committee, Nicky Morgan MP has said this aim would be difficult for May, instead calling for the party to ‘renew our franchise’. This sentiment has been echoed by Lord Heseltine, saying “I don’t think she’s got a long term”, while some backbenchers including Sarah Wollaston MP, and Nadine Dorries, have taken to Twitter to praise May’s call for continuity in the face of Brexit.
Cut and paste Brexit
On her flight to Japan, May spoke of the UK’s intention to seek mirrored EU trade deals with third countries after Brexit to ‘give business certainty’. With the Japanese car industry worth £15bn to the UK every year, Trade Secretary Liam Fox arrived on Thursday to try and reassure the Japanese that the likes of Nissan and Toyota will still have access to the EU market after Brexit. Assurances were sufficient for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to formally commit in a joint statement to “establish a new economic partnership between Japan and the UK based on the final terms of the Economic Partnership Agreement” as the UK exits the EU.
Labour transitions to new position
The Labour party has shifted its policy on Brexit by saying it supports continuing membership of the Single Market and Customs Union during a transitional period. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer announced the policy change in The Guardian; he said, “remaining in a form of customs union with the EU is a possible end destination for Labour, but that must be subject to negotiations”. He also said he would like to leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market beyond the end of the transitional period.
Charity coalition to avoid constitutional chaos
Over 70 charities, NGOs and trade unions have come together in a formal alliance coordinated by Unlock Democracy to scrutinise the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill will be put before the commons for its second reading next Thursday as Parliament returns from recess, and has been criticised by civil liberties groups for transferring significant extra powers to ministers to make changes without parliamentary scrutiny, using delegated powers. The alliance, though neutral on Brexit, will aim to keep up scrutiny on Government as Brexit unleashes what former lord chief justice, Lord Judge, has described as “a legislative tsunami … the greatest challenge ever faced by our legislative processes”.
- 5th September – Parliament returns
- 7th & 11th September – EU (Withdrawal) Bill Second Reading
- 18th September – Expected start of fourth round of Brexit negotiation talks
- 24th – 27th September – Labour Party Conference
- 1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference
- 9th October – Expected start of fifth round of Brexit negotiation talks
- 19th October – EU Summit