Summer break?

Our Parliament has stated its summer recess. After the dramatic events following the publication of the Government’s Brexit White Paper, no doubt most MPs will be glad to get away from Westminster for a few weeks.

It is unlikely to be much of a summer break, particularly for Tory MPs who are likely to have an uncomfortable time in their constituencies. Conservative Home noted that support for Mrs May’s Brexit plan, a mere 33% initially, has actually fallen subsequently – to a mere 29%.

Brexit- supporting MPs are angry and at least one of them has turned his fire on one of the worst offenders – Olly Robbins, Mrs May’s current Brexit advisor.  “You shafted David Davis’ White Paper, didn’t you?” said an angry John Whittingdale.  However brilliant Davis’ alternative paper may or may not have been, it does seem very odd that his team spent months working on it only for May and Robbins to produce something different behind their backs. Not content with humiliating Davis, Mrs May has now sidelined his successor, Dominic Raab who, in spite of being called the Brexit Secretary, will in effect be Mrs May’s deputy. She intends to lead the negotiations herself, no doubt with the odious Robbins by her side.

Of course, there are huge obstacles facing Mrs May’s proposals as well. Our colleague Brian Mooney has called it ” A work that’s already scrap”. The parliamentary arithmetic is loaded against it. Even  Mrs May wouldn’t dare rely on Labour votes to see it pass.

It would take a brave person to predict what sort of Brexit we will end up with. Mrs May has made our final payment t the EU unconditional. We will have to cough up £39 billion come what may. That much is certain. Virtually nothing else is.

Readers who have taken Edward Spalton’s advice and read the COM(2018) 556 final document produced by the European Commission will note that agreement on the transitional terms is conditional on a full withdrawal agreement being agreed. “There might be a transition period” says the Commission, but on the other hand, there might not – and we have to hope that there won’t be. All the hullaballoo about the Chequers text has diverted attention to the damaging “vassal state”  period into which we would  be locked for 21 months, with our fishing industry struck a critical blow from which it will be difficult to recover.

It is not too late for the transitional agreement along with the proposed ongoing defence cooperation with the EU to be scuppered. It is not too late for us to part company with the European Arrest Warrant. It looks like we will be kicked out of the Galileo space programme come what may, according to the Commission document. Given that its long term goal is to track every road vehicle in the EU,  this is a small crumb of comfort in these uncertain times.

Of course, Mrs May could face a leadership challenge, but would it be successful? At the moment, it is hard to say, but there is no reason to believe that the White Paper is the final word. there is still everything to play for. Unfortunately, while many of us remain hopeful that  a better escape package will be produced and the Chequers plan will indeed, as Brian Mooney suggests, be “scrap”, none of this is of any help to businesses trying to prepare for life after Brexit. If the government is still a long way off producing a viable exit plan, it is even further off being able to tell business how this plan will affect them.

To end this summary on a more positive note, readers may enjoy this clip of Labour MP Caroline Flint rubbishing the calls for a second referendum. “I will never support that” she says. “If we’re going to have a second referendum, why not a third? or a fourth?”   She also claims that were a second referendum to be held, it would likely result in the country voting more emphatically to leave.  She confirms what we have been picking up from visiting Parliament- namely, whichever way people voted in 2016, the message MPs are getting is simply “A decision was made. Get on with it”.

Let us hope that someone does – and preferably someone other than the deadly duo of May and Robbins

More holiday homework – further suggested reading

This piece may come from the European Commission, but it is very clearly written and shows how much more on the ball the EU has been regarding Brexit than our government. It is well worth reading.

As the Government Brexit White Paper (otherwise known as the Chequers plan) will shortly be facing scrutiny in Brussels, readers may like to read it. Here is the full text.

 

Can anyone engineer such a shambles by accident?

On this website, you can read two assessments of the Government’s Brexit White Paper. Nigel Moore, one of our regular contributors, calls it “unworkable, risky thinking“, saying that it is highly unlikely that the EU will agree to it as it violates so many principles of the Single Market.   Meanwhile, taking a different angle, academics from the Brexit Studies Department at Birmingham City University have examined the plan and have declared it to be “Brexit in Name only”, keeping us tied to the EU with the only real change being perhaps a limited ability to control freedom of movement.

It is now over two years since the Brexit vote. Mrs May reached the second anniversary of her taking office last Friday. Under her watch, a new Department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was set up, with several hundred staff employed. What have they been doing all this time?

Unless drastic action is taken, we will end up in a shambolic situation whereby our fishing industry will be devastated, our freedom to trade will be limited and we will still be subject  to virtually all the EU Acquis with no representation. It is the worst of all possible worlds.

It is not as if Mrs May isn’t aware of the less damaging EFTA option, which as a transitional arrangement, would at least get us out of the EU, save our fishing industry and enable  us to negotiate a longer-term agreement from a position of strength. We know that EFTA-supporting MPs have met with her. They seem to have made no impression.  The EFTA route would have solved many of the Irish border issues. The present plan still leaves many questions unanswered. The unfortunate Dominic Raab, parachuted into David Davis’ former position, challenged Mrs May’s critics to come up with a credible alternative. The answer is that they have and she ignored it.

What is more, It does not take much foresight to predict that her party would suffer in the event of a botched Brexit. We have been warning for some time that it could create the worst crisis for the Conservatives since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It should come as no surprise to readers that since the Chequers meeting and the publication of the Government White Paper, support for the Tories has fallen by 6%, with UKIP being the beneficiaries. Only 17% of voters are happy with the Chequers proposals. Unsurprisingly, some Tory MPs are getting nervous.

The big question which needs addressing is whether this is cock-up or conspiracy. An interesting piece in The Telegraph mentions how Airbus has been double-crossed by the Government.  It spurred them to publish a dire forecast of the impact of Brexit before handing a prize £2bn RAF contract to US rival Boeing without a competition. What is more, the piece mentioned that Airbus officials met with Remainer Cabinet ministers. Just coincidence?

Then there is the question of what happens if, as widely expected, the EU rejects the proposals in the White Paper. Writing in CapX, Oliver Wiseman claims that although  Mrs May might claim that this is the “furthest the UK can go”, rejection may result in yet more concessions.

It is unsurprising that some MPs are beginning to smell a rat.  Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed that the PM was only ever “pretending” to deliver Brexit and that she was a “Remainer who has stuck with remain”.  This is a damning indictment. If proof can be found that Mrs May was never serious about achieving a successful Brexit, the implications are enormous.  Unfortunately, when her behaviour over the last two years is weighed in the balance,  it is becoming increasingly hard to hold to the position that the mess we are currently in – and which Mrs May seems so determined to continue – is entirely the result of incompetence.

Brexit Academics Believe White Paper to be ‘Brexit in Name Only’

A university-based research facility has described yesterday’s White Paper to be ‘Brexit, but in name only.’

Academics at Birmingham City University’s Centre for Brexit Studies have been examining May’s long awaited Brexit blueprint, in order to understand the Prime Minister’s plan for Britain’s exit from the European Union.

The most notable points being the common rules for goods covering only those rules necessary to enable frictionless trade at the border and no tariffs on any goods.

Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies states: “Like the rest of the country and indeed the EU, we have long awaited the publication of the Brexit White Paper.

“The controversy of the last few days following the Chequers Summit has only added to the worry over the long awaited document.

“Today we learn that the plan appears to be exiting the European Union, whilst maintaining many of the same rules and freedoms that we currently subscribe to.

“The plan envisions that we will still participate in EU agencies that provide authorisations for goods in highly regulated sectors – namely the European Chemicals Agency, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the European Medicines Agency – accepting the rules of these agencies and contributing to their costs.

“We also note continued cooperation in terms of transport and energy and the exploration of reciprocal arrangements for road hauliers.  This is an issue that we have regularly raised at the Centre and it is interesting and encouraging to see the Government seeking to address it.

“The one change we do see, is the end of freedom of movement, but with several exceptions, for example, in the case of companies wanting movement of staff.

“So we want to continue to enjoy ease of travelling, whilst imposing restrictions on movement into the UK.  Crucially, the White Paper envisages that these will be, ‘in line with the arrangements that the UK might want to offer to other close trading partners in the future’.

“Will the EU agree to keeping almost everything the same, whilst rescinding on freedom of movement and losing the UK as part of the EU27?  I doubt it and I suspect that many Conservative backbenchers will be unhappy to commit to ‘binding provisions’ around future trading arrangements. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition may well oppose the envisioned rules over state aid and competition.  As such there is a very real possibility that the government’s proposals may fail to secure parliamentary approval in addition to the EU’s potential qualms over ‘cherry picking.’

“We await the EU’s response with bated breath and I believe we’re in for an interesting few months following that.”

The Centre continues to analyse all government outputs and to research the public perceptions and impact of Brexit on both a regional and national scale.

Small teacup, big storm?

The agreement hammered out at Chequers last Friday went down like a lead balloon among Tory Brexit supporters. Here is the text of the final statement.  Martin Howe QC, from Lawyers for Britain, produced a briefing which expressed grave concern that it would leave us tied in perpetuity to EU law and forced to accept binding rulings by the European Court of Justice.

The EU laws in question were those relating to goods, their composition, their packaging, how they are tested, etc etc, in order to enable goods to cross the UK/EU border without controls. This does, of course, raise the question as to how aware critics like Mr Howe actually are that many rules governing standards within the Single Market are not actually set by Brussels. The EU merely acts as a conduit for laws originating with global standards bodies to which we would have to be subject regardless of the Brexit model adopted.

Note the word “goods” rather than “trade”. Mrs May’s proposals would have seen the UK essentially remain in the single market for goods but not for services.  This was never going to wash with the EU. as some commentators were warning within hours of the statement being released.

Its pie-in-the-sky nature did not stop a deluge of negative comment. A majority of Conservative Party members regarded it as a bad deal, so said Paul Goodman after conducting a snap poll for Conservative Home.  More ominously, a poll commissioned by Change Britain suggested that a deal along the lines of that proposed by Mrs May would cost the Tories a lot of votes. For example, 32% of voters would be less likely to vote Conservative if the Government agreed a deal which results in UK laws being subject to rulings by EU courts and More than a quarter would be less likely to support the Conservative Party if a deal meant that the EU retained some or substantial control of the UK’s ability to negotiate our own free trade agreements.

Still, if the EU’s spokesmen had acted quickly to reject the deal out of hand, it would have been a storm in a teacup for the Tories, which would have blown over. Simon Coveney, the Irish Republic’s Foreign Minister, said that Michel Barnier would find it “difficult ” to accept the  proposals. It is now quite probable that he won’t have to do so as a crisis has erupted at the very heart of Mrs May’s government. On Sunday night, David Davis resigned. Effectively sidelined by Olly Robbins for many months, the most surprising aspect of Mr Davis’ announcement is that it has taken so long in coming. With him went his deputy Steve Baker. Mrs May reacted speedily and appointed Dominic Raab, a prominent Brexit supporter, to replace Mr Davis. However, within hours of Mr Davis going, Boris Johnson resigned as Foreign Secretary.

This means that a small teacup is producing what could turn out to be a considerable storm. Mrs May is due to meet her backbenchers later this evening and especially given her decision to brief Labour and Lib Dem MPs on her Brexit proposals, the mood is likely to be sombre if not angry.

One Labour source said of this meeting, “It’s an opportunity to tell the PM’s chief of staff why the Government has got it so wrong.”  With that, we would agree.  Almost every government publication on the subject of Brexit is, at best muddled.  The fisheries white paper also appeared last week – its publication somewhat overshadowed by the dramatic events following the Chequers meeting.  We will provide some further comment oin this later this week, but suffice it to say it seems very optimistic, ignoring the determination of the EU to preserve its access to our waters and to control the allocation of quota if it gets half a chance.

With events happening so quickly, it is impossible to predict whether Mrs May will face a leadership challenge or indeed whether the Brexit talks will break down. However, we have been saying for some time that a crisis is essential if the disastrous Brexit plans hatched by Mrs May, including the fatally flawed transitional arrangements, are to be jettisoned. At long last, it looks like the crisis has arrived.