Top 3 developments
- Boris criticises Brexit strategy
- Backstop ‘fudge’ agreed
- Labour divided over new Brexit position
Backstop means backstop
Following prolonged speculation that the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, was on the verge of resignation over the issue, the Government’s proposed ‘backstop’ plan for trade with the EU post-Brexit has been published. Of note is the inclusion of an ‘expected’ end date of 2021. This wording followed several one-on-one meetings between May and Davis, who was adamant that a cut-off date be included in the document due to fears amongst Brexiteers that a backstop might continue indefinitely.
Responding to the news, the European Commission’s Brexit chief Michel Barnier stated that the proposal would be examined according to three questions: is it a workable solution to avoid a hard border; does it respect the integrity of the Single Market and Customs Union; and is it a an ‘all weather’ backstop? Barnier added that the proposal to avoid a hard Irish border ‘raises more questions than it answers’. The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt meanwhile stated it was ‘difficult to see’ how the backstop could be achieved.
Allies of Theresa May have attempted to portray the agreement of the backstop proposal as a triumph of hers over David Davis, with a ‘senior Government source’ telling The Sun stating that Davis had not achieved ‘anything concrete’ in the wording, adding that the Prime Minister had ‘done him like a kipper again’.
What an emBorissment
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has again grabbed the headlines this week with a series of unguarded comments – a recording of which was subsequently leaked to Buzzfeed. Speaking at a private dinner following an Institute of Directors reception, Boris criticised the Government’s Brexit strategy as lacking ‘guts’ and stated that Donald Trump would do a better job if negotiating on behalf of the UK. In other explosive comments, Johnson described the negotiations as heading for ‘meltdown’ and criticised the Chancellor Philip Hammond by describing the Treasury as ‘the heart of Remain’.
On the subject of the Irish border, Johnson described the issue as being allowed to dictate ‘the whole of our agenda’, adding that the issue is ‘so small and there are so few firms that actually use that border regularly, it’s just beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way’.
Reacting to the comments, Downing Street stated that the Prime Minister has ‘full confidence’ in the Foreign Secretary. Philip Hammond meanwhile suggested that colleagues should adopt a ‘collaborative approach’ with the EU as this is ‘generally more productive than a confrontational approach’.
Joyless Division: Labour disagreement over single market
Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer has stated that Labour MPs remain intensely divided on the issue of the single market, confirming that the party will abstain from the vote on maintaining EEA membership next week as they lack the internal unity to win such a vote. Corbyn has opposed the ‘Norway option’ of EEA membership, stating that it would make the UK a ‘rule-taker’; however, Chuka Umunna has claimed that he, and a ‘large number’ of other pro-EU Labour MPs, are preparing to support EEA membership.
This comes following a significant shift in Labour policy earlier this week when Corbyn announced that his party would call for ‘full access’ to the EU’s single market and for ‘shared institutions and regulations’ with Brussels. Such a position would try to keep the UK as economically close to the EU as is possible as a non-EEA member. The move can be seen as an attempt to appease remainers in Labour’s parliamentary ranks; however, it may have backfired as many Labour remainers have been left frustrated by the Party’s refusal to support the more ‘realistic’ option of EEA membership, whilst Labour Brexiteers are reportedly incensed by the decision.
Tears for peers?
The Government has confirmed the dates for a series of important votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill. The Bill will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons on 12 and 13 June. In the House of Lords, the Government was defeated 15 times, with peers attempting to amend the Bill in several areas, including the Northern Irish border, the Customs Union, through removing the date of Brexit (29 March 2019) from the wording of the Bill and through attempting to give Parliament a final say over Brexit.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister has confirmed that the Government will be seeking to overturn a number of these amendments in the House of Commons. However, this will not be a simple task for a Government which is reliant on the support the Democratic Unionist Party and with a number of potential rebels in its own ranks. Indeed, it has been reported in the media that 12 backbench Conservative MPs are threatening to inflict a defeat on the Government on the vote related to the future customs arrangement.
Business bosses bash Brexit handling
On Monday, Theresa May met with a number of leading business figures, including the heads of the CBI, IoD, BAE Systems, Glaxosmithkline and others to give assurance that the Government would make a decision on their preferred trading arrangement with the EU post-Brexit. Media reports have subsequently suggested that the business leaders informed May of that the issue of guaranteeing frictionless borders was much more important that the issue of tariffs.
The meeting came as a variety of leading UK business groups criticised what they interpret as the Government’s failure to consult companies over the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union. An unnamed senior representative of a leading business group told the FT ‘there has been zero formal consultation with business on the content’ – a position echoed by Catherine McGuinness, chair of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation. The news of businesses’ frustration with the Government has come as unsurprising to many, who see it as symptomatic of May’s premiership, which has been much less open to business than that of David Cameron.
Delay another day
The PM has abandoned plans to present a 150-page white paper to European leaders at the forthcoming European Council meeting (28-29th June) later this month. The white paper, which will provide a detailed blueprint for a future UK-EU relationship will now be published after the meeting despite expectations that it would be used to shape debate ahead of the summit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made light of the situation delivering a strong display at Prime Minister’s Questions, saying that the Government “has delivered more delays and more cancellations than Northern Rail”. Despite being pushed to do so by Corbyn, May refused to confirm when the white paper would be published. The delay means that detailed face-to-face discussion between European leaders will take place at the October European Council meeting.
Sajid Javid warns Brussels of risks of weakened security co-operation post-Brexit
Sajid Javid has used his first speech as Home Secretary to call for “a deep and special security partnership with the EU” but also to point out that the EU relies on the intelligence and information provided by the UK. While unveiling a new counter-terrorism strategy, Javid suggested that most European ministers do not support Brussels’ hard-line approach on security co-operation because of the EU’s reliance on British intelligence to stop attacks and warned against “any unnecessary reduction in this co-operation”, which he called “wrong and reckless”.
The UK’s future involvement in Europol and access to cross-European crimefighting systems and tools have been called into question; Alex Younger, head of MI6 and his German and French counterparts have raised the importance of the sharing of data on suspects between the UK and EU following Brexit.
Brexiteers hit back at leaked ‘armageddon’ warning from Whitehall
Senior Brexiteers have denounced a paper produced by Whitehall officials, which has outlined three different scenarios of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, the worst of which was referred to as ‘armageddon’. The documents were said to have been written for the Inter-Ministerial Group on Preparedness by civil servants at the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Transport and were obtained by the Sunday Times. A source told the newspaper “in the second scenario, not even the worst, the port of Dover will collapse on day one”.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Chair of the European Research Group, referred to the document as ‘project fear on speed’, stating that nothing could prevent Britain from importing whatever goods it needed’ in the case of a no-deal scenario. A spokesperson for DExEU has also dismissed the reports as false.
European officials have informed the Government that they will not ask the EU’s trading partners to allow Britain to benefit from existing trade deals until the Prime Minister signs the final legal text of a Brexit deal. In effect, this means that Britain would only have three months – between December’s European summit (when Brexit discussions are expected to conclude) and 29 March 2019 (‘Brexit Day’) to negotiate the continuation of current free trade agreements.