All you need to know from the world of Brexit this week.
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This week’s briefing was delayed in order to produce a special Commons People podcast on the Westminster terror attack.
1) Theresa May Is Giving The EU Nine Days To Get Itself Together Before She Dumps Them
In a rare case of someone actually doing something they said they’d do, Theresa May revealed this week she would be triggering Article 50 before the end of March – Wednesday 29 to be precise.
All those attempts through the Lords and the courts to delay, or even thwart, Brexit have failed.
European Council President Donald Tusk – who will receive the ‘Dear John…’ letter next week – announced the next stage for the formal negotiations immediately, saying that within 48 hours of Article 50 being triggered the remaining 27 EU countries would get draft guidelines on Brexit.
The EU leaders will then meet at a summit on April 29 to begin discussing tactics for the upcoming negotiations. Tusk said the overriding aim of the EU27 was to make “the process of divorce the least painful for the EU.”
Speaking to the BBC’s Daily Politics today, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the triggering of Article 50 is a “failure and a tragedy”.
It’s best not to mistake this initial flurry of activity as sign the negotiations will proceed quickly. Not much can be done until the French Presidential election concludes in May, and then there is the German election in September. It is only when these two key players have their position agreed will this stop being a phoney war.
2) Shockingly, It Turns Out The EU Aren’t Keen On ‘No Deal’
Wednesday’s terror attack in Westminster halted proceedings in the UK, Scottish and Welsh legislatures, but it didn’t stop the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier from delivering a key speech on Brexit.
Addressing the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels, Barnier specifically addressed Theresa May’s threat that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t agree, and prophesised an almost doomsday scenario: “More than 4m British citizens in the EU and European citizens in the UK faced with complete uncertainty about their rights and their future; the reintroduction of binding customs controls, which will inevitably slow down trade and lead to queues of trucks at Dover; serious disruption to air traffic; an overnight suspension in the movement of nuclear materials to the UK.”
He added: “A no-deal scenario is not our goal. We want an agreement. We want to succeed.”
On the issue of the rights of Brits living abroad, Spain’s leading Brexit negotiator Jorge Toledo made some positive noises this week.
In an interview with The Times, the Spanish secretary for the EU said his country would “in principle” accept a deal that would allow Brits living in Spain to keep existing rights – including freedom of movement.
“We are broadly in favour of retaining a reciprocal agreement on questions like healthcare and freedom of movement.
“As regards the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens in the EU, Spain is in favour of the amplest respect of these rights in the future but the modalities and conditions will and should be a matter of negotiation.”
3) Can We Please Stop Bringing Up The War?
While securing a reciprocal deal on migrant rights might be relatively straight forward in the Brexit negotiations, the size of the divorce bill might prove more tricky.
Thank goodness veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash isn’t being dispatched to Brussels to lead the talks.
The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee this week urged ministers to remind Germany that the UK cancelled its Second World War debt in the 1950s, and the same sentiment should be extended to the Brexit talks.
He said: “Would you make sure that they…bear in mind that back in 1953 there was a thing called the London Debt Agreement, where Germany - for all its malfeasance during the Second World War and its unprovoked aggression - found that in 1953, in circumstances which were quite remarkable, that we remitted one half of all German debt.
“Therefore if you compare that situation with what it is now and given Germany’s extremely dominant role in the EU at the moment it might be worth tactfully - not one of my strongest points - but tactfully reminding people that there is a realistic position here that we really don’t owe anything to the EU whether it’s legal or political.”
Brexit Minister David Jones responded: “I’m not entirely sure how tactful one can be when one is mentioning the London Debt Agreement. But nevertheless, clearly there are a whole range of issues.”
While casually dropping the Second World War into the negotiations is probably not to be advised, this does show a real sense from some of the Hard Brexiteers – of which Sir Bill is one – that they believe the UK does not owe the EU anything.
Theresa May seems determined to please her Hard Brexit wing, but this will surely be a circumstance where she will disappoint.
4) If Theresa May Can End Free Movement But Keep Free Trade, The UK Will Be Happy
While we know what the Hard Brexiteers want – basically to NEVER even think about the EU again – it’s more difficult to guess what the public will accept as a good deal.
The National Centre for Social Research this week put out a report showing there is one area of clarity – immigration. Some 82% of Leave voters want EU and non-EU migrants to be treated in the same way, as do 52% of Remainers.
On welfare, 77% of Leave voters don’t want EU migrants to be able to claim any benefits in the UK, compared to 51% of Remain voters.
Crucially, 68% of voters want an end to free movement, but 88% are also in favour of maintaining free trade with the EU – a mix of positions that might not be possible.
Professor John Curtice, author of the report, said: “Many Remain voters would like to see an end to the less popular parts of Britain’s current membership of the EU, while many Leave voters would like to retain the seemingly more desirable parts, such as free trade, cheap mobile phone calls, and clean beaches.
“This is perhaps typical of the pick-and-mix attitude to the EU that has characterised much of Britain’s relationship with the institution during its 44 years of membership so far.”
5) The Curry Industry Is Starting To Realise Politicians Might Not Be That Trustworthy After All
Leavers who focused their campaign on immigration would hit back at claims of small-mindedness by saying they wanted the same rules to apply to everyone – regardless of where they come from.
This messaged resonated with the British curry industry, who believed it would be easier to get visas for specialist chefs from South Asia after Brexit.
However, according to an Associated Press report, many feel betrayed by the Government’s rhetoric on immigration, and have seen no sign that visa rules will be relaxed.
Additionally, a reduction in Eastern European migrants could led to shortages in waiting staff – a problem also facing an industry which is seeing restaurants close at a rate of two a week.
“What’s happening since Brexit is even more restaurants are closing; we can’t get people from anywhere,” said Oli Khan, the senior vice president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association UK and a celebrity chef. “Curry houses are in danger.”
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At Huffington Post we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send us a blog and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
Cal Strode from the Mental Health Foundation on how Trump, Brexit and 24-hour news is bad for our anxiety
Bryan Blears on how the Government must act now to prevent a post-Brexit nursing shortage
Anthony Wells from YouGov on what if Brexit negotiations fail
Dr Ioannis Glinavos on why a no-deal Brexit would be much worse than a bad deal