Brexit weekly briefing: neither side knows whose court the ball is in
Brexit Brexit weekly briefing Brexit weekly briefing: neither side knows whose court the ball is in
Meanwhile, legal advice says article 50 allows for a change of heart on withdrawal, and parliament should be told
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The big picture
Brexit talks are under way again in Brussels but, after a calamitous few days in Manchester last week that saw the future of her mandate openly questioned, all eyes in Britain were on the prime ministerâs statement on Brexit in the House of Commons.
Theresa May said nothing very new, reiterating that Britain was leaving the European Union, that âgood progressâ was being made in all aspects of the talks, that the U K wanted a âdynamic, creative and uniqueâ partnership with the bloc, and the ball was now in the EUâs court.
She did, though, confirm the line from her speech in Florence that the European court of justice would continue to have jurisdiction during any transition period. This pleased British business, but risked upsetting Brexit-backers.
However, both the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove, took to social media to say, in effect, it was a price worth paying for the prize â" as Britainâs ultimate status â" of a clean, hard Brexit well clear of the EUâs orbit. There was more to appease the hardliners.
The government also published two Brexit white papers, including one outlining detailed contingency plans that would see a raft of regulations imposed on business to cope with new customs arrangements, a legal vacuum and potential chaos at Britainâs borders if the UK crashes out without a deal.
Pro-Brex it ministers and MPs generally liked the sound of that, because it suggests the prime minister is seriously entertaining the idea of walking away from Brexit talks without an agreement.
The view from Europe
The EU27 remain frustrated. Cabinet in-fighting makes the UK an unreliable negotiating partner and unable to convince the EU that any agreement it reaches will survive, the former Irish prime minister, John Bruton, said:
If it gets into detail, the disagreement between cabinet members is so deep that the Conservative party would split and the government would fall. Labour has a similar problem. UK party and public opinion has been polarised and is unready for compromise.
EU diplomats, while encouraged by British concessions on the financial settlement and citizensâ rights, are grappling with how to deal with a weakened British prime minister who they believe has made compromises but has not gone far enough. They als o believe (and, indeed, have said) that the ball is in the UKâs court.
But it is pretty much a foregone conclusion in Brussels that EU leaders will decide at their 19 October summit that more time is needed to sort out the divorce before moving on to trade talks â" and even then, Brussels believes the UK does not know what it wants. As one source told my colleague Jennifer Rankin:
The May cabinet needed a whole summer to get clarity on the transition. I think they will need three or four months of infighting to decide on the future relationship.
Denmarkâs finance minister, Kristian Jensen, however, said the EUâs wrangling over the UKâs divorce bill was âa gameâ that required swift political compromise and that both sides should be ready to move the talks on:
In any political negotiations, there is not enough time, not enough money, not enough this, not enough that. This is part of the game. Bec ause what we are dealing with here is not rocket science.
Meanwhile, back in Westminster
With MPs back in Westminster following the post-conference recess, talk of a challenge to Mayâs leadership has switched to endless protestations of loyalty.
Some background rumblings about a challenge were forced to the surface when party whips in effect outed Grant Shapps, the former party chairman and now backbench MP, as the source of the half-hearted rebellion.
As Shapps toured the broadcast studios to claim the support of around 30 fellow MP, most other Conservatives almost literally lined up to be rude about him, saying he had scant support and was little more than a bitter former minister.
Parallel talk from some MPs then switched to the idea that Johnson should be dismissed for disloyalty, something May is viewed as being too weak to do, while hardliners in turn demanded the demise of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, seen as altogether too soft on Brexit.
The next stage was an all-round insistence that all is well. Johnson himself responded to a fresh round of briefings by âfriendsâ that he would refuse to be demoted by May, taking to the Tory MPsâ WhatsApp group to denounce such supposed allies, insisting they did not speak for him.
And Labour? As you might expect, they have spent much of the past week trying to sit as quietly as possible, for fear of distracting attention from the Conservative in-fighting.
You should also know ...
- UK ministers deeply pessimistic about Brexit talks progress.
- Brexit should be stopped if we get poor deal, says Nick Clegg.
- Irish tax break scheme âwill attract top talent from Britain after Brexitâ.
- Brexit uncertainty cools foreign interest in UK buyouts, at lowest since 2010.
- Post-Brexit invisible border is impossible, says Irish customs report.
- Whip withdrawn from Tory MEPs who voted to block Brexit progress.
- Britainâs wildlife needs urgent new protections ahead of Brexit, say MPs.
- Goldman Sachs boosts post-Brexit plans with Frankfurt office deal.
- Scheme to avert Brexit staff crisis will come too late, says hospitality industry.
- UKâs new supreme court chief calls for clarity on ECJ after Brexit.
In the Guardian, Jessica Simor says legal advice shows that article 50 allows EU member states to change their mind on withdrawal from the bloc and the government must make that advice public:
Article 50 provides for the notification â" not of withdrawal but of an âintentionâ to withdraw. In law, an âintentionâ is not a binding commitment; it can be changed or withdrawn ... It is important that this advice is made available to parliament as soon as possible. At any point from now, but certainly when parliament is finally faced with the likely reality; a bad deal or no deal at all, it must act in the interests of the people and order the prime minister to revoke the notification.
It can do this whether or not the government says so; parliament is sovereign ... The British public needs to understand that there is now a small window of time in which we still have it in our power to retain the fundamental rights and freedoms that the EU treaty guarantees us, our children and our businesses and in so doing, to protect the future happiness and prosperity of our country.
Jonathan Freedland says the Tories are tearing themselves apart over a hard Brexit, focused entirely on leaving Europe as dramatically as possible â" at the expense of their own grasp on power:
Conference delegates cheered any speaker who promised the hardest possible Brexit: the more cliff-edge the departure, the better, even though crashing out on WTO terms would be a devastating shock to the UK economy and would destroy the elector al hopes of the government that did it. The applause was ecstatic.
For the Europhobes, no Brexit is ever quite hard enough. Not content that Britain is walking out on our nearest neighbours and most important trading partners, they insist we slam the door shut â" and give a two-fingered salute on our way out.
If a leadership contest happens, it will â" yet again â" be a proxy battle over Europe, the same issue that has poisoned the Tory party, and with it British political life, for decades. It has become the acid in the eyes of British Conservatism, blinding them not only to the national interest but to their own principles â" and even their loosening grip on power.
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