Backstop, Brexit, British Government, Customs Union, Irish border, Northern Ireland

#Brexit – The Fast Fading Fantasies

This blogpost was written on Sunday Nov 11, 2018

jo johnson

Just when you think there cannot be any more twists and turns in the Brexit saga, along comes the resignation of Jo Johnson (Photo): Transport Minister in May’s government and Boris Johnson’s younger brother. Jo Johnson is not, and never was, an attention seeker. Instead, he was a sober, industrious member of the government who voted Remain in the 2016 referendum.

His devastating resignation statement frames the choice May intends to present to parliament as one between “vassalage”, obeying EU rules with no say in their adoption, or “chaos”, leaving the EU with no agreed terms. Rather than have parliament vote on these two unpalatable options he wants them, along with the option to remain in the EU, put to the people in another referendum.

If a centrist such as Jo Johnson is taking this position, then there must be many other centrist MPs who see things similarly. Will they break cover in the coming days? If we add the dozen or so already declared centrists who want another referendum to 20 or 30 Hard-Brexiteers and the 10 DUP votes, it becomes increasingly difficult to see May getting the Commons to vote for any deal she manages to bring back from Brussels.

That is, if she manages to bring back a deal.

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Brexit, British Government, Northern Ireland, Single Market, UK Labour Party

A Never Ending #Brexit

This blogpost was written on Sunday Nov 4th, 2018
The Prime Minister Meets DUP Leader At Downing Street
Prime Minister May with DUP leaders

It is Sunday and the weekend papers are awash with suggestions that the Brexit negotiators are close to a breakthrough. The Sunday Times reports, almost breathlessly, on “May’s Secret Brexit Deal”. RTE’s European editor, Tony Connelly reports it somewhat differently – and far more soberly.

As usual, the potential deal-breaker is the Irish backstop.

Apparently, what is now being discussed is that the while the whole of the UK would stay in a “bare bones”, temporary customs union with the EU, Northern Ireland (NI) would stay within the full EU customs code and the single market for goods. Regulatory checks would take place in factories and businesses away from the actual border. Instead of the border being down the middle of the Irish sea it might be somewhere in a factory in, say, Liverpool. But then Liverpool was always part of Ireland, really.

Were this deal to be finalised between the negotiators it is being suggested that it would allow UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, to argue that her redlines of no divisions within the UK have been respected and that the NI backstop would never have to be used in practice.

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Brexit, British Government, Theresa May

First there was “Hard #Brexit” then there was “Red, White and Blue Brexit” – now, it’s a “Squatters’ Brexit”

This blogpost was written on Tues Oct 30th, 2018

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Brexit negotiations have been on hold for the past week or so pending yesterday’s UK Budget. Both EU and UK negotiators waited nervously to see if the UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, could deliver a budget that could win acceptance in the House of Commons. As I write, on Tuesday morning, it looks like he did.

The cause for concern on the part of the negotiators were recent statements from both hard-line Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and from the Ulster Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that they would vote down the budget in a show of force over their Brexit concerns. However, after Hammond earmarked £350 million for Belfast and another £320 million for the Northern Ireland Executive, it is now unlikely that the DUP will vote down the budget.

But the government is not yet out of the woods as far as the DUP is concerned.  Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said the party was not yet planning to oppose the budget, explaining, “To date we haven’t seen the outcome of the withdrawal agreement, so it would be reckless of us to oppose the budget on the basis of something we haven’t seen.” Wilson added, “However, the government will need support when it comes to the finance bill… So, they shouldn’t take it for granted that just because they get the budget passed that they can do whatever they like with Northern Ireland.”

Hammond also loosened spending in what the Financial Times described as “an old-fashioned giveaway Budget”. As the FT further noted Hammond’s budget was “as much about politics as economics.”

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Northern Ireland

Now Impossible to See How a UK/EU Deal on #Brexit is Doable

 This blogpost was written on Tuesday Oct 23rd, 2018

commons

After Theresa May’s statement yesterday to the House of Commons, it seems more likely than ever that we are heading for a no-deal Brexit. Fast.

May effectively repudiated Article 49, the so-called “Irish backstop”, in last December’s Joint Report from EU and UK negotiators to Europe’s political leaders. It was this report which allowed the Brexit talks to move on. The EU will not accept the UK reneging on a clear undertaking, especially as the UK is trying to leverage talks on the Irish backstop to force the pace on its future economic relationship with the EU. (For a full history of the backstop see Tony Connelly here).

Nothing destroys a negotiation more quickly than when one of the parties is seen by the other as acting in bad faith. Renege on a commitment and all trust is gone. May with her Commons statement might have seen off a simmering rebellion in the Tory party over her leadership, but at the cost of breaking faith with the EU.

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Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Single Market, Theresa May

Theresa May is no Thatcher

This blog was written on Oct 7th 2018

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Some old political speeches are worth re-reading. Time puts them into perspective. Did they call it right on the day? Did they offer leadership when leadership was needed? Or, were they self-serving, crafted to play to the baser instincts of a partisan audience, written simply to advance a political career?

A speech that has stood the test of time is the one delivered by the then prime minister, Margret Thatcher, at Lancaster House thirty years ago on April 18, 1988.

Thatcher was there to launch a campaign whose aim was to get the country and business ready to seize the opportunities that the imminent creation of the EU’s Single Market would present. Yes, the same Single Market that today’s UK government insists it must leave.

You can read it in full here: https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107219

Drawing attention to the new Single Market of 300 million people, Thatcher opened by asking her audience “(to) just think for a moment what a prospect that is”.

A Single Market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people. Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real. And it’s only five years away.

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Brexit, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Rees Mogg, Theresa May

Deadlock on #Brexit

This blog was written on saturday morning, Sept 29th 2018, 

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I completely agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Actually, to be more accurate, Rees-Mogg agrees with me. Some weeks ago I wrote a Briefing, The Politics of Hard Numbers, here, in which I argued that there was no majority in the House of Commons for any Brexit deal.

In an article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph Rees-Mogg argues, as regards Theresa May’s Chequers plan, that the EU:

“…has been so clear that the plan fails to meet its requirements that it is hard to see that it could change tack without a new chief negotiator.”

More critically, he notes:

The domestic opposition is even more important because, although our system provides for a powerful executive, ultimately laws need the support of the House of Commons, which Chequers cannot get. Indeed, if put forward it could be heavily defeated with no direct consequence for the Government.

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Brexit, British Government, Michel Barnier, Negotiating, Theresa May

A Bad Week for Theresa May on #Brexit in #Salzburg

Salzburg Dinner
Pic: Getty Images via BBC website

This blog was written on Sept 21st, 2018

In our Brexit Briefing last Tuesday (here) I wrote:

“So, how will Brexit end up?”, they ask. My answer is that I have no idea. I have been following Brexit developments in detail over the past two years and have written some 60 or so of these Briefings. Yet, I have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen between now and March 29th next year. Quite frankly, neither does anyone else.

What happened yesterday in Salzburg, when the EU brutally said that Mrs. May’s Chequers plan was unacceptable and would not work underscores the truth of this statement.

In the run-up to Salzburg it had been widely reported, especially in the UK press, that Mrs. May would use the occasion to appeal to the EU’s political leaders to go over the head of the “Brussels theologians” and show more flexibility in accommodating UK demands to be both in and out of the EU’s single market and customs union at the same time. “In” so as to ensure continued frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU so preserving the UK as the European off-shore manufacturing base for US, Japanese and, in the future, Chinese companies.

“Out” for services allowing the UK to cut buccaneering trade deals, with which a swath of UK politicians have an ideological obsession, with non-EU countries.

(For the arguments on why this approach was never going to work see this excellent article by former Irish ambassador, Bobby McDonagh: here)

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