Brexit Bulletin: Blair and the Abyss
Tony Blair is back in the Brexit fight with a new tactic: He is trying to make people understand that the U.K. will leave the European Union next year before anyone knows what sort of future relationship it will have with its biggest trading partner.
“As time goes on, it will become crystal clear that the Government’s original negotiating position was built on sand,” the former Labour prime minister will say on Monday.
His concern goes to the heart of the way Brexit negotiations are structured. First the divorce gets sorted out and formalized in the withdrawal treaty. A transition deal is included in that. On the future relationship, all Britain can hope for by the time it leaves is a political statement setting out the scope of a deal, the EU says. It won’t be legally binding and might be quite vague.
Blair accuses the Government of using this vagueness to its advantage, as it’s the only way Theresa May and her team can deliver Brexit without dividing the Conservative Party. So far U.K. proposals to Brussels on trade have been rejected as unrealistic; the U.K. wants to opt in and out of different bits of the single market while retaining freedom to go its on way where it chooses. The EU has warned against “cherry-picking,” and critics say the policy amounts to having one’s cake and eating it.
“So, the Government will turn to fudge,” Blair will say. “They will understand – and the Brexiteers will assist them – that they have somehow to get past March 2019 without a defeat and they can only do that if the terms of the new relationship are sufficiently vague to let the fiction of ‘cakeism’ continue.”
“It is this strategy that Parliament has a duty to foil,” he says.
Blair argues that the government should put its detailed proposal on trade to Parliament, which should decide on the future relationship before the U.K. leaves. The people should then have a vote, he argues.
“By the end of 2020, the transition will end. The cliff edge will beckon. We can navigate a harder or easier descent; but retreat will be impossible,” he says.
While the U.K. government initially said it would have a trade deal wrapped up before exit, it’s increasingly acknowledging that the final, detailed accord won’t get done until during the transition period – after the U.K. has formally left the bloc. EU officials are still debating how detailed the political statement on the future relationship should be, but at least in part that will depend on whether the proposals the U.K. makes are an acceptable starting point for talks. So far, that hasn’t happened, and the deadline is just months away.
Giving Parliament Teeth | The Labour Party will again try to rewrite the government’s Brexit legislation so that if Parliament does vote down the divorce deal, lawmakers will decide what happens next. The aim is to make that vote more meaningful than a take-it-or-leave it choice. The party is also trying to force onto the statute book the government’s pledge to avoid a hard Irish border as a result of Brexit. Spokesman Keir Starmer delivers a speech in Birmingham this afternoon.
Party Divided | Labour divisions continue to overshadow its efforts to soften Brexit, however. Jeremy Corbyn fired his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Smith on Friday after he called for a second referendum. Smith, a one-time leadership candidate, vowed to keep fighting.
Satellite State | May will lead efforts this week to stop the EU freezing the U.K. out of Europe’s joint satellite project, Galileo, the Financial Times reports. The EU is trying to exclude U.K. industry from the project to protect security after Brexit and May has been warned that millions of pounds of contracts are at stake. It shows the limits of May’s “unconditional” pledge to defend Europe’s security after Brexit.
Irish Talks | Three-way talks between the U.K., EU and Ireland start on Monday in Brussels as officials try to find a breakthrough on the Irish border. It’s a separate strand in negotiations as new wording on the border issue needs to be agreed before the withdrawal treaty can be signed. U.K. negotiators have a plan to keep the whole of the U.K. aligned with a subset of EU rules as a solution, Politico reports.
Another Suez | Arch-Brexit backer Jacob Rees-Mogg said on Sunday that if the final Brexit deal leaves Britain tied to the EU, “it would be Suez all over again. It would be the most almighty smash to the national psyche that could be imagined.”
On the Markets | The pound’s recent rally makes it vulnerable to a pullback, Charlotte Ryan reports. Last week’s transition deal and BOE rate decision drove the currency’s best performance since January. With little on the calendar this week the pound could be buffeted by global factors, including fallout from a U.S.-China trade war.
David Davis’s image as an ex-SAS reservist with a can-do attitude and endless ability to overcome adversity was burnished on Sunday as the Brexit secretary did a BBC interview while suffering from food poisoning. Eagle-eyed viewers spotted the sick bucket and tissues by his side, not to mention his unusual pallor, but he managed to get through the interview without succumbing.
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