Brexit Bulletin: Are We Nearly There Yet?
Almost 20 months after the United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union, Theresa May’s government is unfurling a new “road map to Brexit” and asking us all to come along for the ride.
With frustrations rising in Brussels at (the lack of) British Brexit policy, and tensions flaring within her Conservative Party, the prime minister will try to silence her doubters using a tried and trusted political weapon – the power of speech.
May will address a security conference in Germany later this week, where she is thought likely to reassure European policy makers of the U.K.’s post-Brexit intentions. That speech, though, will be just one brick on the red, white and blue Brexit road. Senior U.K. ministers are preparing to deliver a series of addresses in the coming weeks setting out a vision of life outside the European Union. They’ll culminate with a speech by May.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will do his bit to kick things off, hoping he can woo Brussels bureaucrats, soft-Brexit Tory lawmakers and nervous business leaders with a Valentine’s Day speech. Brexit Secretary David Davis, Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington will also speak in the run-up to May’s second, more sweeping address. There is no speaking slot for Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, the Telegraph reported.
“What the public want is, they want the vision and they want some meat on the bone,” International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday. “And that’s what they are going to get.”
The timing is crucial. Businesses have set a deadline of late March this year to get an agreement pinned down before they activate their contingency plans – moving jobs and business out of the country. Politicians on all sides are on maneuvers, from the Tory hard Brexiters now led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, to cross-party Remainers, represented on the BBC on Sunday by Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry and Labour’s Chuka Umunna.
The road to Brexit might start with Johnson’s rhetoric, but it will not end there. The waypoints are well-known already: a long summer of negotiations; an autumn deal deadline, perhaps including a game of chicken and the threat of a late-night breakdown. There will no doubt be some high-octane parliamentary arguments, in London and Brussels, as lawmakers squabble over which turns to take as they near the final destination.
It could be a bumpy ride.
Tick, Tock | Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned “time is running out” in the Brexit process, urging Britain to lay out its plan for departing the bloc. “We need clarity and urgency from London,” Varadkar said in an interview with broadcaster RTE on Sunday in Dublin.
Soros Hits Back | Billionaire investor George Soros mounted a strong defense of his right to intervene in the Brexit debate.Writing in the Mail on Sunday days after coming under attack for backing Best for Britain, an anti-Brexit campaign, the Hungarian-born 87-year-old denounced Brexit as a “lose-lose proposition both for Britain and for Europe.” He wrote of his long personal and professional ties to the U.K., adding that Europe without Britain “will be weakened in its ability to defend and promote democratic values.” The Guardian reports today that Soros has made a fresh £100,000 donation to the group.
Moggmentum | An online poll for the Independent suggests that hard Brexit-backer Jacob Rees-Mogg is growing in popularity. He came second, behind Boris Johnson, when respondents were asked which Conservative politician they would prefer to replace Theresa May if she were ousted. That’s no huge vote of confidence, though: Johnson polled just 13 percent and Rees-Mogg only seven; some 57 percent answered “none of the above.”
Big Oil Backing | BP CEO Bob Dudley told the Times that Britain will continue to have pulling power around the world despite Brexit. “There are a lot of countries around the world that would like trade deals with Britain bilaterally down the road. I hear that a lot.”
When May Met Ma | Here’s one you may have missed at the end of last week: Theresa May has found an unlikely source of inspiration for her Brexit plans in Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. The pair met at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January and again on May’s recent trip to China. With an eye on the tricky issue of post-Brexit trade flows, May is particularly interested in how Alibaba deals with complex international customs rules to deliver a smooth service to customers, Bloomberg’s Tim Ross reports.
Citi Backs the City | It’s not all doom and gloom for the London banking scene. U.S. giant Citigroup is planning to set up an innovation center in London, the Financial Times reports, billed as one of the first strategic investments by a big U.S. bank in the British capital since the Brexit vote.
The Other EU Court | A European judge has an idea to offer Britain some of the EU’s benefits without losing national sovereignty. Carl Baudenbacher, the departing president of the European Free Trade Association’s court, told Stephanie Bodoni the U.K. could “dock” at his institution after turning its back on the EU’s Court of Justice, using the EFTA tribunal as an arbiter for disputes under whatever trade pact the U.K. and EU agree upon.
On the Markets | Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned on Friday that the slow pace of talks means that the post-Brexit transition period business is banking on “is not a given,” prompting investors to sell the pound. Volatility in the pound has also surged as traders try to navigate the opposing forces of a newly hawkish Bank of England and the prospect of a disorderly Brexit.
We might be almost halfway though the two-year Article 50 process, but the full cost is still coming to light.
Documents released by the Foreign Office show two civil servants carried the Article 50 letter to Brussels in March last year, at a total cost £985.50 (including booking fee.)
The letter, signed by Theresa May and handed over by the U.K. representative in Brussels, Tim Barrow, was afforded the comfort of travel in Eurostar’s Business Premier class, the best (and most expensive) available on the cross-Channel service.
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