Brexit Bulletin: Calling Time on the Fighting

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit: Theresa May will set out a detailed plan on what she wants from the future relationship next month, in time for a key EU summit.

Prime Minister Theresa May has set a deadline on Cabinet infighting. By promising to release a precise proposal next month on the U.K.’s future ties with Europe, she is forcing her warring Cabinet to make a decision.

The European Union has been calling for clarity – as well as making nervous noises about how little talks are progressing. Publishing a so-called white paper next month should mean that May can go to an EU summit on June 28 and offer the clearest vision yet of what the U.K. wants from the negotiations.

Brexit Bulletin: Calling Time on the Fighting

It’s a bit of shift from earlier this week, when the government was telling reporters that the focus of the June summit would be finding a backstop solution that would guarantee no policed border on the island of Ireland. Cabinet discussions on the future customs setup were set to run for at least another two weeks.

But with just five months to go until both sides say they want to seal a divorce deal, the U.K. needs to give the EU something it can work with. Talks so far have focused almost exclusively on the past, with little time devoted to future ties.

May’s Mansion House speech in early March was meant to set out the future relationship, but EU officials dismissed a lot of the ideas as unworkable. It remains to be seen if the white paper offers ideas that are more acceptable to the other 27 capitals. The EU has already set out its negotiating position on the post-Brexit relationship: a standard free-trade deal along the lines of the one it gave Canada, and then cooperation agreements on areas including police and defense.

Remember that the nitty-gritty details of the future trading relationship won’t be sorted out until after the U.K. has left. That’s the EU view in any case, though Brexit Secretary David Davis disputes that. A non-binding joint political statement on what the future relationship should be is due to be agreed to by October and will form the basis of future trade negotiations. But EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the U.K. can still change its mind on what relationship it wants, even after it has left in March next year.

Today’s Must-Reads

  • The Scottish Parliament voted against May’s Brexit implementation legislation, setting up a constitutional crisis and further complicating the route to an orderly exit.
  • Labour is calling a vote to try to force the government to release papers on its Cabinet discussions on the customs options.

Brexit in Brief

Not in Time | Businesses are skeptical that either of the government’s proposed customs solutions could be implemented by the end of the transition period in December 2020, according to KPMG. “Amongst customs professionals the consensus seems to be that 2022 or 2023 would be a more realistic target – once you take into account the highly detailed and technical work that needs to be undertaken by business and government,’’ says Bob Jones, head of customs at KPMG.

Human Brexodus | The number of EU citizens in work has fallen over the past year. The loss was due to a record 91,000 drop in employment among people from the eight eastern countries, including Poland and Hungary, that joined the bloc in 2004. The figures will fuel concerns that Brexit is worsening the skills shortage.

Brexit Bulletin: Calling Time on the Fighting


Brexit Boosts Wages | The positive news, at least for some, is that workers in Britain got their first real pay increase in more than a year. Wage growth of 2.9 percent in the first quarter overtook the rate of inflation.

Is It Even Legal? | Brexit Secretary David Davis has told May that her favored plan for post-Brexit customs could be illegal under international trade law, the Times reports. The attorney-general’s office has been asked to provide a legal opinion on it before a final Cabinet decision. Brexit backers worry that if it turned out to be illegal, the U.K. would be forced to end up staying in the existing customs union.

Lords Last Blow | The upper house of the U.K. Parliament will seek to inflict a final defeat on May, this time adding an amendment on environmental standards to her flagship piece of Brexit legislation. The Lords have already defeated the government on 14 previous amendments and the opposition Labour Party foresees another bruising on this one, Alex Morales reports.

Facebook’s Role | Facebook Inc. again refused to send Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to appear before a committee of British lawmakers investigating the impact of social media on elections. But it did answer some of their questions. It said AggregateIQ, the Canadian data analytics firm, spent about $2 million on Facebook ads for pro-Brexit campaign groups, including Vote Leave ($1.6 million) and BeLeave ($329,000). 

Barnier’s Chart | Barnier released a slide with a tidy visual that sums up the EU’s negotiating position on the future relationship. It sees a free-trade agreement, socio-economic cooperation, police cooperation, and collaboration on defense and security. And there’s a reminder that all banks should hope for is equivalence.

Max What? | Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar quipped that he thought until recently that “max fac” was a cosmetic or deodorant, rather than Britain’s plan to solve the border impasse in Brexit talks.

Coming Up | Prime Minister’s Questions at noon. Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley will be questioned about Brexit by a parliamentary committee at 10:45 a.m. EU leaders have an informal summit in Sofia (Brexit isn’t meant to be on the agenda.)

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To contact the author of this story: Emma Ross-Thomas in London at

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