In Depth

Brexit: Theresa May says ‘trust me’ to deliver

PM appeals to the public for ‘help’ in bid to break Brexit deadlock

Brexit: Barnier says UK demands put transition in doubt

9 February

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says he “doesn’t understand” some of No. 10’s positions, throwing into doubt the possibility of a transition period following Brexit.

Speaking in Brussels after the latest round of talks, Barnier outlined the ongoing differences between the EU and Downing Street. “To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” he said, according to the BBC.

No. 10 has said that “during the envisioned 21-month transition, it wants to treat EU citizens arriving in the UK differently to those already living in the country”, reports The Guardian. The UK also wants the right to object to the application of new EU laws during the transition period and to retain the right to opt into new security policies on justice and home affairs. 

Barnier told reporters he was “surprised” by these demands and suggested that unless Downing Street gave way, the differences between the two sides could be insurmountable.

He also said that the EU will prepare a draft of the UK withdrawal treaty that envisions Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union. This was “essentially issuing an ultimatum that London come up with other options or accept that there is no other practical way to avoid the recreation of a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland”, says Politico.

5 February

Brexit Tories plan 'dream team' coup

Theresa May’s leadership faces a fresh threat, with MPs reportedly planning to launch a coup to replace her with a “dream team” of top Brexiteers if the Government pursues a soft Brexit.

The Prime Minister’s Brexit “war cabinet” are meeting this week to thrash out a compromise position on what kind of future relationship Britain wants with the EU - and aides have described it as the “moment of maximum danger” for May.

Her make-or-break week got off to a bad start when The Sunday Times reported that some Tory MPs are planning to oust her and install Boris Johnson as leader, Michael Gove as his deputy, and prominent backbencher and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg as chancellor.

Johnson is encouraging MPs to “rally round” May, but according to the newspaper, he also told one of the plotters that he would be “ready” for a contest if the PM sought to keep the UK in some form of customs union after Brexit.

One leading Eurosceptic told The Sunday Times: “The PM needs to understand that we can take back control. If she persists with this customs union plan, we can get rid of her and we have the numbers to ensure that one of us takes over.”

Downing Street has apparently been warned to expect a “tsunami” of letters demanding a vote of no confidence unless May backed down on the customs union, and has placed up to ten ministers on “suicide watch”, fearing a mass walkout could cause the Government to collapse.

“At the heart of the Brexit conundrum is how to ensure ‘frictionless’ trade with Europe, avoid a hard border in Ireland, and still be able to strike independent trade deals,” says Politico.

A proposed Whitehall compromise, which would keep Britain inside a customs union with the EU for goods but not services, has been roundly rejected by Brexiteers.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox dismissed the proposal out of hand last week, and has reportedly threatened to resign if Britain stays in any form of customs union - a move that could lead to a mass exodus of ministers and bring down the government.

In a sign of Conservative divisions, two senior ministers openly contradicted each other within a matter of minutes yesterday.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested a compromise “customs arrangement or customs partnership”. But almost immediately afterwards, Housing Minister Dominic Raab categorically ruled this out, telling ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “We have been very clear all along, we are leaving the customs union.”

Quizzed about whether she would serve under a prime minister Johnson, Rudd said it was “such a difficult question on so many different levels” that she would be unable to answer.

The Sunday Telegraph says Rudd’s “comments are likely to further enrage Brexiteers and heighten concerns that the Government is softening its approach to the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc”.

Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark are expected to oppose Johnson, Gove and Fox’s insistence on leaving the customs union, which they say would harm the economy.

Brexit: Government to censor report warning of economic cost

1 February

The Government has said it will release its study on the economic impact of Brexit if MPs back a Labour motion urging publication, but some elements of it may be redacted.

Facing almost certain defeat in the Commons, Brexit minister Robin Walker told MPs that a copy of the report would be given to Hilary Benn, the Labour chairman of the Commons Brexit committee.

Walker’s offer was dismissed as a hollow promise, however, when he said parts of it would be redacted because they might affect negotiations with the EU, and that distribution would be limited to MPs, who would be able to view the study in a confidential reading room.

The study, which was leaked to Buzzfeed News, suggests that in three different Brexit scenarios the UK economy will grow more slowly than it would if Britain stayed in the European Union.

Brexiters denounced the findings as mere speculation, “to be taken with a pinch of salt”, in the words of the Brexit Secretary David Davis, but Remainers said it proved Brexit would be an economic disaster for the UK.

The Daily Telegraph says the decision to allow the release of the analysis “represents an embarrassing moment” for the Prime Minister who had said: “It would be wrong to publish analysis before that analysis has been completed, and it would also be wrong to publish analysis which might prejudice our negotiating position.”

But that claim has been questioned. “When Tory MPs say it’s not in the ‘national interest’ to release the Brexit impact assessment, they mean it’s not in their interests,” says an Independent editorial. “That is plainly the case, as they serve only to destroy what little is left of the May Government’s credibility and that of its central policy.”

Brexit backlash: UK will be worse off, says government paper

30 January

Economic analysis commissioned by the government says “the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled”, says Buzzfeed, which has obtained a copy of the document.

Under the hardest form of Brexit, in which Britain would revert to WTO rules, UK growth would be 8% lower over the next 15 years than it would have been inside the EU, according to Whitehall officials working for the Brexit department.

A comprehensive trade deal between the UK and EU would limit the reduction in growth to 5%, the forecast says, and remaining inside the single market and the European Economic Area would mean growth was suppressed by just 2%. The latter option has been ruled out by Theresa May.

A government source told the BBC that “the document has not modelled the effect of a bespoke deal covering trade and financial services - the government’s preferred scenario - and it does not attempt to anticipate the outcome of negotiations”.

In any case, says The Times, the figures “are likely to be dismissed by Brexiteers”, who will point out that forecasts of a recession in the event of a Leave vote did not prove accurate. 

Buzzfeed says it was told by a Brexit department source that the reason the analysis has not been made public is “because it's embarrassing”.

Transition dispute

Yesterday, the EU published guidelines for the transition period after the UK formally leaves the bloc in March 2019, which state that Britain will have no say over new laws it will have to implement.

In the opening shot of what is expected to be a tense three-month negotiation, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier laid out a position agreed by all 27 member states.

The guidelines say the transition should run from the March 2019 leaving date to 31 December 2020. During this period, all EU rules and regulations, including freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, would continue to apply to the UK, which would have no influence over them.

Britain would also not be able to implement its own international agreements unless sanctioned by the EU.

On Friday, Brexit Secretary David Davis had called for the UK to have a “right to object” to any new laws passed during this time but in a debate that lasted just two minutes, EU ministers flatly rejected the demand, says Politico.

This final point is likely to prove the biggest obstacle to a quick transition deal, with many hardline Brexiters, including some of Theresa May’s inner Brexit ‘war cabinet’, unhappy at the idea the UK will have to follow the new rules of a club it has already left.

These so-called “vassal clauses”, a term coined by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, “are the most controversial part of the Brexit transition paper adopted by Brussels”, says The Guardian. His colleague Sir Bill Cash urged the Government to reject the transition guidelines out of hand.

This may be just the start of a negotiation, says the BBC’s Adam Fleming in Brussels, “but it is not clear that the EU sees anything to negotiate. Mr Barnier feels that he has already made the UK a generous offer that's in Britain’s economic interest.”

One area where there could be movement, however, is in the length of the transition period. While the EU is keen it should not continue indefinitely, the European Council has said there will be some “flexibility” in the length of the period.

The clarification is significant, says The Independent, because “UK officials are concerned the transition period deadline offered by the EU might not be long enough to prepare the country for exit and is considering asking for a longer time”.

The transition period - also referred to as an implementation period – “is seen as a way to minimise disruption when the UK leaves the EU for things like business, holidaymakers and security [and] will also allow more time to finalise the terms of the UK's post-Brexit relations with the EU”, says the BBC.

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