Theresa May is boxed in on her road to Brexit, with rebels on each side blocking her moves just as the European Union demands progress.
The pro-European Conservative rebels are growing in strength, and enough lawmakers have now signed an amendment that could inflict defeat on May on a key plank of her Brexit policy. Meanwhile, hardline Brexit backers are increasingly vociferous and her working majority is so slim that one false move risks toppling her.
So May is sticking to the fight on a safer front – in Brussels – where the U.K. is poised to reject a 100-page draft divorce treaty that the EU will publish on Wednesday. The text, which seeks to press into black and white legal language the political compromises made in December, is set to contain some articles that the U.K. will find unacceptable.
May will take on the EU over two of its key proposals, Tim Ross reports. These are allowing the European Court of Justice to oversee the final deal, and arranging a separate trading regime for Northern Ireland – which, although it could avoid a “hard border” with Ireland, would impose new barriers with mainland Britain. Euroskeptics in her party will be enraged by the first, and the Northern Irish lawmakers who prop up her government by the second.
With just three weeks to go until a deal is meant to be reached on the crucial transition period that businesses are desperate to pin down, the tension between the two sides is growing, at least in public. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Tuesday there were still disagreements on the transition and called on his opposite number David Davis to meet him for “political negotiations.” There’s not much time: both sides want to get a divorce agreement sealed by the end of the year and the U.K. wants a detailed trade accord outlined by then, too.
The EU is heaping pressure on May to detail what she wants from the future relationship and what she is prepared to sacrifice to get it. But the conflicting demands on the prime minister are preventing her from coming out with a proposal the EU would consider reasonable. Instead, May is asking for something the EU says is based on illusion. She gives a key speech on the future relationship on Friday, which will aim to please both wings of her party. But if she gives Europe the clarity it seeks, she’s at risk from rebels on either side.
Public Debate | Michel Barnier said that the legal text to be published on Wednesday will “feed into the public debate” on Brexit. The EU, which still seems keen on keeping the U.K. in the bloc, wants to force Britain to look carefully at the consequences of the divorce.
DUP Fury | The Democratic Unionist Party says it is unacceptable that the EU won’t include in its text May’s pledge to avoid a border in the Irish Sea after Brexit. “If of course they’re going to renege on the agreement which they made in December – and the leaks that we hear where they’re only opting for one, i.e. that keeps Britain in the European single market and the customs union – that’s bad faith and you have to ask, can you negotiate with people like that?” DUP lawmaker Sammy Wilson said.
Tech Hiring Takes Longer | Tech firm ARM Holdings isn’t deterred from hiring because of Brexit, but CEO Simon Segars says it’s now taking longer to get people on board. “Brexit is not slowing down our hiring into the U.K. for the moment,” he said. “It’s taking a bit longer to get people into the door but we haven’t seen a big slowdown yet.”
Dismissing Ireland | Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson compared the solutions needed for the Irish border to managing traffic toll in London, prompting reactions that ranged from ridicule to horror. Cementing the view that Johnson isn’t too exercised by one of the key problems thrown up by Brexit, Sky News reported that he had written to May saying it’s not the U.K.’s task to ensure there’s no border on the divided island.
Big Data Puzzle | The head of the big-data firm that helped President Donald Trump’s election denied working with the Leave.EU campaign, contradicting previously published statements attributed to Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, fellow employees, and members of the Leave.EU campaign. Nix told lawmakers on Tuesday that the company never did any work, “paid or unpaid,” for Leave.EU, and that “we were not involved” in the referendum.
Norwegian Faith | The world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund will continue to invest in the U.K. no matter the outcome of the Brexit talks. “We remain a long-term and committed investor in the U.K. in all asset classes,” Norges Bank Investment Management’s Chief Executive Officer Yngve Slyngstad said. Bloomberg’s Mark Gilbert calls that a brave bet.
On the Markets | Pound bulls shouldn’t be too concerned if the EU’s draft treaty on Brexit ignores demands by the U.K. for a longer transition period, Charlotte Ryan writes. “The narrative that is being priced into sterling markets over the past few days is that this week’s events – May’s speech and EU text – will not yield any Brexit consensus,” said Viraj Patel, a currency strategist at ING Groep. The pound edged lower to $1.3895 in early trade on Wednesday.
Liam Fox’s former trade adviser, Martin Donnelly, made headlines on Tuesday when he pre-empted a speech by his former boss by saying that leaving the EU’s customs union and single market for the promise of future trade deals elsewhere is like giving up a three-course meal “for the promise of a packet of crisps in the future.” Cue a call from Remainers to protest outside Fox’s speech with bags of crisps. It didn’t go well: first the protesters were sent to the wrong address, then a handful turned up at the right spot but were barely noticed as they munched on their crisps.
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