Top 3 developments
- Prime Minister delivers a mishap-laden Conference speech, which fails to rally support and unity for her Brexit vision.
- European Parliament criticises ‘lack of progress’ in Brexit talks.
- David Davis seeks to reassure the party faithful that Brexit contingency plans are in hand.
PM’s Conference speech leaves some Tories disMAYed
The Conservative Party Conference failed to unite the party behind a single Brexit strategy. The UK’s departure from the bloc got barely a mention in the Prime Minister’s speech – which was beset by a series of unfortunate mishaps. Whilst some cabinet members were quick to rally to the Prime Minister’s defence (Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and David Davis amongst them), journalists were quick use it as a metaphor for May’s beleaguered premiership – using her speech as a metaphor for her lack of energy and political clarity. Speculation of leadership bids have intensified as reports of a plan to oust the PM have emerged, with Mark Pritchard claiming that a delegation of 30 MPs is preparing to force May out. Former culture minister Ed Vaizey supported the reports, claiming that “quite a few” colleagues think May should resign. He added, “I’m finding it increasingly difficult to see a way forward, at the moment, and it worries me”.
Meanwhile, whilst Brexit did not feature prominently in May’s speech, the Foreign Secretary set out an energetic defence of Brexit in his own speech, urging the UK to “seize the opportunities” afforded by the UK’s departure. He also sought to distance himself from rumours of a leadership bid by professing his support for the Prime Minister. He said, “the whole cabinet is united” behind May, despite his repeated public interventions undermining May’s (somewhat murky) vision.
Davis backs up back up plans
David Davis has promised that the UK will have contingency plans in place in case Brexit talks fail. Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, the Brexit Secretary claimed that parts of Whitehall are devoted to contingency planning to prepare for any eventuality, and that a failure to do so would amount to a dereliction of duty. He said, “if the outcome of the negotiation falls short of the deal that Britain needs, we will be ready for the alternative”. Davis struck a noticeably restrained and pragmatic tone in his speech, cautioning people against believing “lurid accounts of the negotiations with the predictions of breakdown and crisis”, whilst also acknowledging that talks had been difficult at times.
Vultures circle a wounded May
Reports suggest that five cabinet ministers could resign in protest against being kept in the dark over the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans. May will eventually have to create a cabinet consensus on post-Brexit UK-EU relations, but she has thus far managed to avoid doing so – with some cabinet members feeling that they are being kept in the dark. Senior ministers have vented their frustration that the Prime Minister has not set out an unambiguous vision, and has apparently been blocking any attempts to discuss even basic disputes between Leave and Remain-supporting colleagues. Ministers are increasingly questioning whether she has the support and authority to forge a path between her warring cabinet colleagues – and the threat of resignations lurks in the background.
BOE warns: “We’re not out of the Woods yet!”
The Bank of England has warned the UK Government that it must agree a transition deal with the EU soon, or face City firms migrating jobs and contracts to the continent. Speaking at an annual speech at Mansion House, Sam Woods (a deputy governor at the Bank) said that businesses would begin implementing their Brexit contingency plans if the Government does not agree a transition deal by Christmas. He said that although the UK Government is clearly committed to a transition period, the EU’s position “is not yet clear”. Woods also reiterated the additional regulatory strain being placed on the Bank as the UK prepares to leave the EU’s financial frameworks, saying “I struggle to see an outcome in which banks and insurers do not get harder to supervise and harder to resolve for all involved”.
President of the UK Supreme Court, Lady Hale, has called on Parliament to give the judiciary “as much clarity as possible” on the UK’s future relationship with the ECJ after Brexit. In her first statement as the Court’s first female President, Lady Hale said the legislature must provide guidance so that judges know how to “take into account” judgements from the European court. She said, “we hope that the European Union (Withdrawal)bill will tell us what we should be doing… We would like to be told because then we will get on and do it”.
“EU-need to get a move on!”
As expected, the European Parliament has voted in favour of Michel Barnier’s view that insufficient progress has been during the Brexit negotiations. Supporting the motion by 557 votes to 92, MEPs said it would take “a major breakthrough” in the fifth round of talks next week for talks to move on to the terms of future trade. Parliament President Antonio Tajani welcomed the change of tone in Theresa May’s Florence speech last week, but said she is yet “to convert goodwill into the concrete plans needed to truly take negotiations forward”. As a result of the vote, the final decision on whether to progress to trade talks will be delayed.
Manfred’s mammoth intervention
Manfred Weber, a senior MEP and Merkel ally, has urged Theresa May to sack Boris Johnson for the sake of progress in the Brexit negotiations. Weber says the Foreign Secretary’s repeated and inflammatory interventions have left the Government “trapped by their own party quarrels and political contradictions”. Speaking during the Parliament’s debate on sufficient progress, Weber said “please sack Johnson because we need a clear answer who is responsible for the British position”.
Trump opposes EU-UK WTO plan
Theresa May’s Brexit plan was dealt a blow today after the Trump administration added its opposition to a deal between the UK and EU which would divide valuable agricultural import quotas. Washington objected to a preliminary plan agreed by Brussels and London which set out how the EU’s existing “tariff rate quotas” would be divided under WTO rules post-Brexit. The US signed a letter to the EU and UK’s WTO ambassadors objecting to the plans, in an attempt to use Brexit to force the UK to broaden its market for farm products. The administration’s objections are an indication of the hard-bargain Washington is likely to drive once the UK leaves the EU.
- 9th October – Expected start of fifth round of Brexit negotiation talks
- 10th October – EU (Withdrawal) Bill Committee Stage expected
- 19th October – EU Summit
- 14th December – EU Council Summit