Brexit Bulletin: The Tricky Part

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U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met in Belfast yesterday to discuss the issue that continues to bedevil Brexit: Britain’s land border with Ireland. It was easy to see why Varadkar calls it “the tricky part.”

May is committed to keeping the Ireland-Northern Ireland border as it is now, free of checkpoints. She is also committed to not having any checkpoints between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. And she is committed to not having a customs union with the European Union. While it’s easy to see how she can achieve any two of those, having all three at the same time is a lot tougher.

May was typically tight-lipped after yesterday’s meeting, so we only have Varadkar’s version of events. It was, he said, “the view of both the British government and the Irish government” that “the best solution” was “a comprehensive free trade agreement and customs arrangement.” He said he wanted the deal “stitched into” the legal text on withdrawal that Britain must agree to move to the next phase of talks. 

Brexit Bulletin: The Tricky Part

The positive spin on this, from a British perspective, is that Ireland is Britain’s ally inside the room when the EU discusses whether it can agree to whatever May proposes. 

The negative spin is that Varadkar continues to insist on holding May to the promise she made in December – that there will be no policed border between north and south in Ireland. And he added an explicit warning, saying he was opposed to “new barriers to trade east and west.” That rules out the solution that some in Britain have proposed: separating Ireland from the rest of the EU. 

Brexit Latest

Stormy Weather | The Bloomberg Brexit Barometer rose in January, to 19.5 from 16, but that doesn’t mean it was straightforward good news for May. For the sixth month in a row it registered “windy” conditions as employment worsened and the prime minister tried to manage the messy debate within her Conservative Party about what Brexit should look like. 

Hot Air | The EU executive has a suggestion for how to fill part of the hole in its post-Brexit budget: redirect some money raised by auctions of carbon dioxide permits away from national governments. Ewa Krukowska has the story.

Big Spenders | Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is also getting ready for that budget fight, saying he wants his government to speed up the spending of the EU aid money that it’s currently getting, to make it easier to argue for more money in the 2021-2027 budget round, when there’ll be less to go around without the U.K. contribution.

Treasury Tour | Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is on a European tour this week, discussing Brexit with his counterparts, with the emphasis on financial services. Today he’s in Oslo and Stockholm. Brexit Secretary David Davis is due to visit Berlin and Paris next week, according to The Sun

Old-Fashioned Liberal | The Guardian has an insight into Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s speech on the “liberal case” for Brexit, which he’s making tomorrow. Apparently he’s going to attempt to win over Remainers by explaining that the EU is a “teleological construction” – a plot to create a European identity. 

Singapore-on-Thames | That report also confirms an Independent story over the weekend that the U.K. government’s assessment of the impact of Brexit on the economy suggests that gains could be made by cutting some of the rights workers enjoy under EU law. Those who can remember last year’s election may recall that the Conservatives promised they wouldn’t do this.

Departure Date | The Sun reports that the U.K. is willing to accept EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s suggestion that Britain depart on Dec. 31, 2020 – a date it calls “New Year’s Leave.”

And Finally...

The U.K. Independence Party, arguably the reason that Brexit is happening – and that this bulletin exists – is continuing its gentle implosion. On Saturday, an emergency general meeting will decide whether the party has confidence in its leader, Henry Bolton. Now we learn that chairing this meeting will also be the final act of the party’s chairman, Paul Oakden. In his resignation email to members, he didn’t sound like he’d miss the job, which he described as “generally being the person whose fate it is to disappoint everybody.”

John Stevens @johnestevens
Paul Oakden makes being Ukip party chairman sound like a barrel of laughs in his resignation email to members

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To contact the author of this story: Robert Hutton in London at

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