Top 3 developments
Labour’s missing position
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is struggling to clarify its stance on Brexit.
Return of the Mac
Centrist Emmanuel Macron won the first round of the French Presidential elections, potentially posing future difficulties for the UK’s Brexit journey.
Tony the tease
The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has dealt a blow to the current Labour party leadership, and hinted at a return to frontline politics.
Blair plots his return
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to endorse Jeremy Corbyn for Prime Minister for the upcoming General Election. Asked if he would support Corbyn as PM in an interview with Sky, Blair replied “I don’t think [who becomes prime minister is] the real issue in this campaign. I think the real issue is a blank cheque [for Brexit]”. His comments come after he hinted at a return to frontline politics earlier this week. Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, Blair said that Britain is being “hijacked” by Brexit backers, and refused to rule out standing again as a Labour MP. He cited the fact that May is not being reasonable on Brexit as a key motivator for wanting “to go right back into it”. He went on to encourage voters to support candidates who opposed a hard-Brexit, even if they are Liberal Democrats or Tories.
May Meets Barnier and Juncker:
The Prime Minister met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, and other senior EU Brexit negotiators on Wednesday in what Number 10 has called “a very constructive meeting”. The group discussed what format negotiation talks would take if Theresa May wins the General Election on 8th June. May pressed for low-key technical talks to take place first, with the details of negotiations to be worked out later. This also affords the Government time to add the finishing touches to their Brexit strategy. It is widely acknowledged that the Prime Minister wants to depoliticise Brexit preparations, by having the bulk of discussions conducted between officials (such as her co-chief of staff Nick Timothy, and DExEU Permanent Secretary Olly Robbins), rather than politicians. May wants senior politicians to step in only after all options have been exhausted by officials. This contrasts with Brussels’ approach, which is geared towards transparency (as outlined by Barnier’s three-phased approach). EU officials are said to be somewhat baffled and frustrated by the mixed signals received by the UK’s fragmented negotiating team, as May’s low-key approach to talks is at odds with the EU’s commitment to transparency. All updates on the EU’s position would have to be cleared by hundreds of ministers, officials and diplomats across the remaining Member States, making it difficult to achieve the kind of confidentiality May wants.
Home Office dissuading EU nations from applying for residency:
New guidance released this month by the Home Office shows the Government is attempting to discourage EU nationals from applying for permanent residence in the UK. In advice published on the Home Office website, EU citizens are being advised to sign up for new email alerts which the Government claims will tell them if and when they need to take action to safeguard their residency. The advice reads “you do not need to do anything as a result of Article 50 being triggered. There will be no change to the rights and status of EU nationals living in the UK while the UK remains in the EU”. It comes as an effort to delay the department being overwhelmed by applications until the Government are clearer on the rights of EU nationals in Britain when Brexit negotiations begin in earnest after June’s General Election.
UK has fallen behind the EU in queue for free-trade deal with the US
The UK is said to be trailing behind the EU in the queue for a free-trade deal with the United States, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel persuaded President Donald Trump that deal talks would be simpler than he first thought. According to a report by The Times, a White House source was quoted as saying there has been a “realisation” that an EU-US free-trade deal is more desirable than a UK-US deal. Confirming claims that President Trump has softened his opposition to negotiating with the bloc as a whole, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble similarly said on Friday after he met his U.S. counterpart in Washington that he is optimistic a US-EU trade deal could be reached soon. Any deal between the US and EU would come as a blow to Theresa May, who was hoping to be the first to confirm a trans-Atlantic trade deal once the UK has left the Union in 2019.
Brexit offers new regulatory opportunities
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said that Brexit presents “tremendous opportunities” for the UK to set a new regulatory agenda which is more dynamic and flexible, and which protects the global system in the wake of the financial crisis. The Governor said the UK could lead the way in creating a new regulatory agenda which could strengthen the global system’s resilience against another financial crash, whilst also respecting national laws. Speaking ahead of the International Monetary Fund Spring meetings in Washington, Carney said “we should take full advantage of the progress made by building a system of deference to each other’s approaches when they achieve comparable outcomes”.
General Election 2017
Labour struggles to clarify its election Brexit stance
As the major parties begin to make clear their key election promises prior to the release of their manifestos early next month, the Labour party is struggling to clearly set out its position on the biggest issue of the election – Brexit. In a speech on Tuesday Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, tried to make clear the party’s stance on Brexit. He said the Brexit process is irreversible, that the UK could remain in the customs union, and that the option of remaining in the single market should remain “on the table”. He also said that a Labour government would guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK from “day one”, and that Parliament should have the right to reject an initial deal struck by the Prime Minister. However, confusion appears to be rife in the party, as Paul Blomfield MP said Labour would agree to a second referendum if voters demanded it – thereby directly contradicting Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman who said a second referendum “is not our policy and it won’t be in our manifesto”. This latest confusion is symptomatic of the challenged faced by Labour – a pro-EU party, despite 70% of the party’s constituencies voting Leave. Labour has faced significant criticism for failing to make their message clear and differentiate themselves from the Conservatives. The party’s approach has been criticised by the Tories, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron (who said Labour had “chosen to be neither fish nor fowl on the biggest issue to face our country for a generation”), and former PM Tony Blair.
Gina Miller launches tactical voting campaign
Pro-EU campaigner Gina Miller has crowd-funded over £300,000 in six days to launch a tactical voting campaign for June’s General Election, with the aim of supporting politicians who want a “real final vote” on the Brexit deal. Miller said her campaign group, Best for Britain, could help “get people to use their vote tactically”. Miller said the campaign will consider donating to individual candidates, but will not offer funding to central party organisations.
Pro-EU Tories quit Open Britain over plans to oust Brexit-backing MPs
Remain supporting Conservative MPs Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve have withdrawn their support from the pro-European movement Open Britain, after the group launched a campaign encouraging voters to unseat prominent pro-Brexit MPs. Open Britain intended to mobilise the half a million supporters it has on its database from the EU referendum to try and oust prominent Brexiteers, and supply activists to defend 20 pro-Remain Labour, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative seats. Releasing a joint statement, Morgan, Soubry and Grieve said it was “untenable” for them to support the pressure group after it released an “attack list” of mostly Tory pro-Brexit MPs, including Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers. Neil Carmichael is also said to have withdrawn his support.
Guy challenges May’s claim to strengthened hand
The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt has stated that a victory for Theresa May in the 2017 General Election would not strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. Writing in The Observer, Verhofstadt was unequivocal that “what has been billed as a ‘Brexit election’ is an attempted power grab by the Tories”. He went on to say, “for those sitting around the table in Brussels, [a greater majority] is an irrelevance”. Verhofstadt’s comments, whilst unsurprising, are a direct challenge to May’s insistence that a greater majority would give her a stronger hand going into the Brexit negotiations.
Brexit probably doesn’t mean Frexit
Emmanuel Macron is now the overwhelming favourite to be the next French President after his success in the French primary elections this week. Contrary to Marine Le Pen’s call for France to leave the Eurozone and her promise to hold a referendum on the country’s membership of the bloc, Macron’s pragmatic and pro-business stance would allay fears of a hefty political and economic blow to the Union’s core values. After Geert Wilders’ far-right party failed to gain traction in the Dutch elections, and with Germany’s AfD nationalist party currently in disarray, a victory for Macron would serve as a further blow to Euroscepticism on the continent.
Merkel talks tough
Angela Merkel has warned that British politicians and the British public are under the “illusion” that the UK can retain the benefits and privileges of membership once its leaves the European Union. Speaking to the German Parliament ahead of this weekend’s EU Brexit summit, the Chancellor said “countries with a third country status – and that’s what Great Britain will be – cannot and will not have the same or even more rights as a member of the European Union. All 27 Member States and the European institutions agree on this”. Merkel also challenged the UK’s insistence that divorce talks and new arrangement discussions should take place simultaneously. Making it clear that the UK will have to finalise its financial commitments to the EU (including the much discussed €60bn divorce bill) before future relations are discussed, she said, “we can only make a deal about Britain’s future relationship to the EU once all questions about the terms of its exit can be clarified to a satisfying degree”.
Tajani says UK is welcome to return
President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani has reiterated that the UK would be able to remain in the Union if it changed its mind on Brexit after June’s General Election. He said, “if the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw, then the procedure is very clear. If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy”. Tajani made the comments after a meeting with the Prime Minister at Downing Street last week. Tajani also went onto threaten a veto on any Brexit deal which does not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain, which must always be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice; this will prove difficult territory for May, who has already promised an end to free movement, and end to the ECJ’s jurisdiction over the UK.
- 29th April – EU Brexit Summit.
- 3rd May – Dissolution of Parliament.
- 4th May – Local council elections.
- 12th May – General Election candidates revealed.
- 22nd May – European Governments set to approve final negotiating directives.
- 8th June – UK General Election.
- 13th June – Parliament reconvenes.
- 19th June – State Opening of Parliament.