Top 3 developments
- May vows a football style come back.
- Brexit cross-party talks appear to have taken a step back.
- UK Parliament confirmed the UK’s participation in the EU Elections.
Origi, Wijnaldum, Moura… May?
After seeing both Liverpool and Tottenham make miraculous European comebacks from being 3-0 down, it seems Theresa May has found new inspiration to make her own miraculous European comeback and bring her thrice defeated Brexit deal back to the Commons. There is fresh speculation that the PM may ask MPs to vote on the Brexit deal for a fourth time, in a last-ditch effort to prevent the UK taking part in the European elections. Following a dismal performance in local elections, and with the Conservative Party taking a beating from both its liberal and conservative flanks by the Lib Dems and Brexit Party respectively, a terrible result here might finally be enough to force the PM out of office.
There is some sense in why the PM might want to do this. In theory, May’s Brexit deal is more palatable to Tory MPs than a customs union deal that has Labour’s fingerprints all over it. It would also once more force the hand of several serious leadership contenders such as Dominic Raab, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid – all MPs who have routinely outlined their disagreements about this deal, yet who have all ironically voted in favour of the deal on the table. It would be difficult for any of them to justify opposing participating in the European elections and then voting against the only deal on the table that would definitively prevent this from happening.
Plans for another vote go directly against the wishes of the 1922 Committee for the PM to outline a departure date – with or without a Brexit deal passed. It seems that Number 10 believe the PM has given a big enough concession when she pledged to stand down once a Brexit deal had been passed, and they outright ignored the Committee’s demand for a departure date to be named this week. It is clear that the PM is intent on bringing some closure to her Premiership by passing her landmark piece of legislation.
Talks about talks lead to promises to hold further talks
The PM was forced to admit this week that it was impossible for Labour and the Conservatives to reach an agreement in time to avoid participating in the European elections. Talks have been ongoing, but they have so far been described as ‘tense’, ‘robust’ and ‘difficult’, hardly the most encouraging set of adjectives to describe some of the most important cross-party talks in a generation. It was reported that Labour were annoyed by leaks to Sunday newspapers which detailed the concessions that the PM was prepared to make, as they believed that they weren’t really concessions at all, but simply rehashed versions of the current withdrawal agreement.
Since these meetings, there is a glimmer of hope that these talks may lead to an agreement. A target of 1st August has now been set as the nearest opportunity for an exit day, which is optimistic in that Number 10 actually believes that leaving before the 31st October is somehow achievable. Both Labour and Conservatives have also briefed the press that there will be further talks next week and that the most recent talks were the most serious and constructive of the talks had so far. But considering the limited remit that both the PM and Corbyn have to pursue – as their backbenchers have urged them not to concede on a customs union or a deal without a second referendum respectively – it is difficult to see a consensus emerging that would satisfy both of these remits.
Labour officially launched its European election campaign on Thursday, but then faced criticism for failing to field a spokesperson to talk about it on Politics Live with Andrew Neill. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that these elections are practically pointless, considering we are meant to be leaving the EU in the near future, and this can explain why Labour are not committing time and money to making huge gains in these elections. Either they are confident that they can give the Tories a bloody nose without a full-throttle campaign, or they are saving their war chest for an upcoming general election. It is likely that the truth is a mixture of both of these analyses.
In a similar vein, Conservative MP Gillian Keegan could not confirm whether her party was even going to publish a manifesto for this election, and a Brexit Party candidate stated that his new party would only publish its manifesto after the election. It really is unprecedented when the three main contenders for an election are showing such a lack of enthusiasm for outlining their policy platforms by publishing manifestos. Again, it is reasonable to say that manifestos are becoming more and more irrelevant, as the twists and turns of politics often forces promises to be broken or scrapped. But with almost zero substantive issues being talked about in this debate, this election is in danger of turning into a single issue vote, a worrying concern given how extensive the impact MEPs can have on the everyday lives of normal people.
First in Stein to the Throne
With the arrival of a new royal baby this week, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visited Germany for four days, in the place of the Duke of Sussex. The purpose of these talks was predominantly to ensure that there is a positive relationship between Germany and the United Kingdom once the UK finally leaves the EU (if it ever does). The Duke, not so subtly, focused heavily on the two countries shared history with sections of his speeches stating “Our countries and our people have been through so much together…as we look towards the future, I can only hope that we can also pledge to redouble our commitment to each other and to the ties between us.” It is clear he was attempting to evoke a sense of empathy and sympathy in his German hosts, convincing them to maintain a close and cooperative relationship as the UK leaves the EU.
However, the timing of this trip is not ideal with the current pause on negotiations whilst the UK Government attempt to resolve the current deadlock in Parliament. This means that Charles has little to talk about on his trip. Additionally, the birth of his new grandson provides the perfect evasion tactic for Brexit.
‘Let’s Blame Brexit for Everything’
The European Commission’s economic forecasters have stated, in unsurprising news, that business investment in Britain has suffered its worst decline since the 2008 financial crisis. The report states that this decline will continue, with growth slowing to 1.3% for a third year in a row.
Whilst the report does largely contribute Brexit uncertainty as the main reason for this economic slowdown, the forecaster also recognises other external factors that are affecting numerous EU27 countries as well, such as Ireland and Germany. These contributing factors include President Trump’s trade dispute with China, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and a Chinese slowdown as key risks. “An escalation of trade tensions could prove to be a major shock and create roadblocks for Europe’s growth trajectory. A ‘no-deal’ Brexit would be particularly harmful for the UK, but it would also negatively affect the EU27 though to a minor extent. As initial deadlines for US-China trade negotiations and Brexit have passed without resolution, various uncertainties continue to loom large.”
It is likely that the new EU Commission will include this forecast in it’s agenda after the EU elections as Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for economic affairs, warned: “We must avoid a lapse in protectionism, which would only exacerbate the existing social and economic in our societies”. However, the extent of attention that this can be paid will depend on the outcome of the EU Elections and how much a delayed Brexit will hijack the agenda.
Despite the European Commission’s negative assessment of the UK economy, official figures published on Friday showed that growth of the UK economy is accelerating. The UK economy grew by 0.5% in the first three months of 2019, up from 0.2% in the previous quarter.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 22nd May: Deadline to pass a Withdrawal Agreement without participating in the EU elections.
- 23rd May: European Parliamentary elections
- 23rd June: Three year anniversary of Referendum
- 30th June: Brexit review if the UK is still a member of the EU.
- 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline