Backstop’s back, alright
For some of the more hardline Brexit supporters in Theresa May’s party the message is simple… the backstop must go.
However, when making her Belfast speech on Tuesday, the Prime Minister doubled-down on her commitment to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She made it clear that a withdrawal deal will need a backstop of some sort, putting her at odds with members on her own back benches who want to see radical change in order to vote the deal through.
In another headache for the PM, Lord Trimble, one of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning architects of the Good Friday Agreement, announced his intention to take Theresa May’s government to court over the backstop for contravening the Good Friday Agreement.
“It’s not good enough to come back next week and say that the negotiations are ongoing” warned a senior Cabinet minister. So, with this cloud hanging high above Mrs May’s head and the EU refusing to make any changes, her options are quickly running out. And she faces the even harder task of overcoming the landslide rejection of her Brexit plan in Parliament a fortnight ago.
With the looming possibility of a chaotic no deal Brexit, the media has been dominated by the CBI warning that 40 trade deals, spanning five continents and accounting for about 11% of the UK’s total trade, could be lost if the UK “crashes out”.
The CBI said there would be “hugely damaging implications” for the UK if it had to leave the trade deals it had gained through EU membership. The UK business mouthpiece added that many firms do not realise the extent to which relationships with customers could be at risk from a no-deal Brexit.
“If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, we could cease overnight to enjoy the benefits of tariff-free trade with, and preferential access to, markets of fundamental importance for British products and services, from Japan to Turkey,” said CBI president John Allan.
However, the government cemented its commitment last year to replicate the trade agreements the UK has with the EU and have them ready to go immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit. , Clarity on what type of Brexit the UK will achieve remains as vague as ever amidst pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the European Research Group to champion free and frictionless trade.
EUston, we have a problem
Is the so-called “People’s Vote” dead in the water? It would seem so. It’s been another bad week for the campaign with continued reports of internal rows and splits within the group. The campaign for a second Brexit referendum – or third if you count 1975 – is deeply divided over how to, stop Brexit from happening. Remainiac MPs and officials working on the “People’s Vote” campaign are torn on its strategy to secure a public vote, how to maximise its output, tactics and even organising events. There is also a lack of clarity and decision-making about whether the “People’s Vote” would run the Remain campaign if a second referendum is called.
Some are adamant that the politicians working on the “People’s Vote” should be banned from appearing anywhere near another Remain campaign. “There is absolutely no way the Blairite faction can be allowed to run the campaign at a second referendum,” said one campaigner. This is bad news for Chuka Umunna who has made it explicitly clear that he’s deeply unhappy with his own party, and may now have to refocus his attention on launching the new centrist party that is rumoured to be in the works. One thing that is clear, with just under 50 days until B-Day, the opportunity to pull the referendum cat out of the Brexit bag looks near impossible.
Hell or high water
On Wednesday, European Council President, Donald Tusk, said there is a ‘special place in hell’ for people who pushed for Brexit without having a proper plan. Tusk was speaking following talks with Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, in Brussels and also tweeted out the remark to his 964k followers. Following the comments, an active microphone picked up Varadkar murmuring ‘they’ll give you terrible trouble, the British, for this’. Not the best way to get Eurosceptics back on board.
“While we expect the backstop will never be used,” Varadkar said during the conference, “Instability in British politics shows why we need a legal guarantee.” He added that because of the “instability and fast-approaching deadline, no-deal planning must intensify.” Tusk also added to the Irish Prime Minister’s remarks and said the EU has been preparing for a no-deal Brexit. He said that he still hopes the UK would decide to remain in the EU, but “there is no political force and no effective leadership for remain.”
Corbyn’s 5 point plan
As Theresa May returned to Brussels to find out if there’s a ‘special place in hell’ for her too, Jeremy Corbyn set out in black and white five new Brexit demands Labour would require for their support in getting May’s deal over the line.
The five terms would, for all intents and purposes, transform May’s deal into a Norway Plus-style Brexit, locking the UK into the single market and a customs union. He demands an ‘agreement on commercial policy that includes a UK say on future EU trade deals’ which would – like Turkey – see the UK’s market access negotiated by the EU without having access in return. Corbyn suggests it will “allow the UK to lead the way”, but is it enough for the Prime Minister to concede and get Labour on-side?
Corbyn has also called for a ‘close alignment with the Single Market’ which would mean the UK continues to adopt new EU laws and regulations. While his five demands are praised by his own Party, they are a surefire way for Mrs May to lose the little support she has from her Brexiteer MPs, and would go back on all of her key Brexit pledges from 2017.
by Jake Johnstone, Associate Consultant