Theresa May was handed a chance last night to put to rest growing European speculation that the U.K. could change its mind on Brexit. She didn’t take it.
European Union leaders have made a series of increasingly generous offers to the U.K. in recent days, saying the bloc would welcome Britain back if the public changed its mind. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker, once seen as a hardliner when it came to Britain, went as far as saying he would help the U.K. come back after Brexit if voters had a change of heart. As calls for a second referendum grow in the U.K., anti-Brexit politicians are seeing an opportunity.
May was interviewed by France 2 to mark a Franco-British summit on Thursday (more on that below). She was asked how she would vote if there were a second plebiscite. While she was emphatic that there wouldn’t be a rematch, she refused to be drawn on how she would cast her ballot if she got one.
“Circumstances change,” the prime minister said, according to a a transcript of the interview provided by her office. Does that mean she would vote for Brexit?
“No, I didn’t say how I would vote,” she said. “If a vote was to come up I would do what I did last time round which was sit down and look carefully at the issues. But there isn’t going to be another vote, so this is not an issue.”
May, who voted Remain in the referendum of 2016 and campaigned only moderately for that cause, has been asked this question before, back in October. She’s had time to practice the response, but it hasn’t changed.
It’s worth pointing out that there are many obstacles in the way of a second referendum, and as polls remain tight it’s not clear that a rematch would produce a different result. Any plebiscite would have to be approved by a majority in Parliament, and lawmakers would probably need to see a big move in public opinion to make that leap. Still, if the Brexit deal that comes back from Brussels in October falls short of what everyone has been led to expect, it could trigger a shift in the public mood.
What do you think of May’s position? Do you have any other Brexit questions? To keep the discussion going, join our new Facebook group, Brexit Decoded. I’ll be doing a Q&A session at 1 p.m. GMT today.
‘Be My Guest’ | French President Emmanuel Macron told Theresa May that the U.K.’s key financial services industry can only retain full access to the single market if Britain signs up to budget payments and European court rulings. He stuck to the EU script, saying it was up to the U.K. to decide its course. “I am here neither to punish nor to reward the U.K.,” Macron told a joint news conference. “You want to accept a single market with finance being part of it? Be my guest, but that means financial contributions and accepting European jurisdiction.” The EU won’t accept “hypocrisy” that would undermine the single market.
Boris’s Bridge | Boris Johnson told Macron that a bridge should be built over the Channel to connect France and Britain, the Times reported. Macron liked the idea: “Let’s do it,” he is reported to have said. Shippers, architects and political opponents were quick to criticize the suggestion.
£40 Billion Bargain | The exit bill May agreed to pay to move Brexit talks along may have caused outrage in some quarters, but an analysis by Bloomberg Economics shows it will pay for itself in less than three years if it helps Britain secure a trade deal – even a relatively unambitious one.
Talks on the Rock | Spanish and British officials are discussing how to resume joint use of the British territory’s airport to ease the impact of Brexit and allow flights from the Rock to Madrid, Cadena Ser reported on Thursday. Gibraltar is shaping up to be a sticking point in Brexit talks as a hard border between the territory and Spain will disrupt daily life and business for thousands of people.
Financing Hole | Britain’s expected withdrawal from the European Investment Bank due to Brexit “will leave a gap in financing the U.K.,” EIB President Werner Hoyer said. Demand for U.K. projects has also declined because of the divorce, he said.
Ready to Go | Citigroup Inc. is planning to have its new broker-dealer in Frankfurt up and running by year-end in case the U.K. leaves the bloc without a transition agreement in place. “We assume that there will be no transition period so we have to be ready,” Citibank Europe Plc head Zdenek Turek told Bloomberg’s Gabriella Lovas in Vienna. The bank plans to relocate around 150 roles to the new hub.
Dutch Rebate | With Brexit bringing an end to the U.K.’s infamous EU rebate, European Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger repeated on Thursday that it’s time to scrap a similar refund paid to the Netherlands. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wants the overall budget to be reduced. With budget and Brexit talks running almost in parallel, the Dutch finance minister said earlier this week that the countries set to lose most from Brexit shouldn’t have to help plug the hole in EU spending left by the U.K.’s departure. So far the two negotiations are unconnected – but that may not last.
Trump’s Reasons | U.S. President Donald Trump is avoiding a visit to Britain because he wants to allow May to focus her attention on Brexit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “As you know, President Trump was supportive of the U.K.’s exit from the EU, he still thinks that was the right decision for them,” Tillerson said. “Britain needs to focus on those Brexit negotiations right now, which is really important to them, and I think the president realizes that’s where Prime Minister May really needs to focus her attention.”
On the Markets | The pound is 13 percent stronger than it was a year ago, but there are still big risks of price swings depending on the outcome of Brexit, according to Trevor Greetham of Royal London Asset Management. “You’ve got these two possible outcomes and the market doesn’t know which one to believe in so it’s stuck right in the middle,” he told Bloomberg Television. “You could see the pound go up or down by 10-15 percent, depending on what the final agreement is.”
A karate black belt and a decade’s worth of experience poring over European Union law may not be enough to help one of Britain’s top EU officials fight her way out of Brexit limbo, writes Stephanie Bodoni.
Eleanor Sharpston, one of a handful of legal advisers to the bloc’s highest court, is in the dark as to whether she’ll be able to keep her job after Brexit. While Britain’s two judges at the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the EU seem likely to be turfed out, Sharpston’s position is more nuanced because the bloc’s treaty leaves it open whether she will have to leave her post once the U.K. has left.
“What are the conclusions that will be drawn, I suspect may be more influenced by politics than law,” Sharpston said in an interview. But even the politicians don’t know yet.
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