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Brexit Briefing: Have EU Stopped Laughing Yet?

You couldn't script it.

15/06/2017 18:02 | Updated 15 June 2017
HuffPost UK

All you need to know from the world of Brexit this week.

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1) Hard Brexiteers Are Worried It’s All Gone Soft 

PA Wire/PA Images

The election result either definitely changed the direction of Brexit, or definitely didn’t, depending who you talk to.

Hard Brexiteers (those who want the UK out of the Single Market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice) insist that plan is still going ahead.

After all, the Labour Party, as well as the Tories, agreed to that in its manifesto, and with the two main parties getting more than 80% of the vote, there is clearly no public desire for the Brexit course to be altered.

 Soft Brexiteers (those open to the idea of staying in the customs union and negotiating a deal where the UK stays in some aspects of the Single Market) believe a cross-party approach is clearly now needed, as Theresa May has no mandate for her pre-election plans as set out in her Lancaster House speech.

The hard Brexiteers are the most worried, and have formed a Pretorian Guard around the Prime Minister.

After calls for her to consider her position were floated by Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan over the weekend, Bernard Jenkin was quick to take to the airwaves to tell colleagues to “Shut up.”

There is a genuine fear that Brexit is about to get fudged, and May’s appointment of arch-Remainer Gavin Barwell as her new Chief of Staff did little to quell the idea that the PM is about to go soft on Brexit.

2) Forget Gove - It’s Steve Baker’s Promotion That’s Really Significant 

Rex
Steve Baker

Theresa May had been planning widespread changes to her top team, but the lack of a landslide ended that. Instead she had a limited hand to play with, but still managed to produce a surprise by bringing Michael Gove back to Cabinet.

Since being axed as Justice Secretary after carrying out what was – until the General Election – the worst leadership-based political campaign in history, Gove has been the very definition of loyalty to May.

Yet far from appeasing Brexiteers worried about backsliding, his appointment actually provoked concern. At around 2am on election night Brexit Secretary David Davis admitted the Tories might have lost the mandate to leave the Single Market if the party lost its majority.

After a good night’s sleep, Davis was back on track – insisting leaving the Single Market was still the plan.

But those early morning comments sent some jitters through the Hard Brexiteers – jitters that became full-blown spasms when Brexit Minister David Jones was axed by May on Monday.

Had Gove been brought in as a sop to Leavers while Brexit was watered down?

On Tuesday, ministers from the Brexit and International Trade departments met with a group of Eurosceptic MPs to reassure them the plans hadn’t changed.

If that wasn’t enough, May went the extra step of appointing leading Brexit MP Steve Baker as a minister in Davis’ department.

I’ve written a long read on why this is so significant, but here’s an abridged version: Steve Baker got Brexit MPs organised, and if he gave the order, the 80-odd in the European Research Group which he helped run would have brought May down.

Bringing him inside the tent makes him easier to control, but also provides those Brexit MPs with direct influence on Government policy. Or so they will hope.

3) May Could Pay A Heavy Brexit Price For A Deal With The DUP

PA Wire/PA Images
Arlene Foster (left), leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, with Theresa May.

Theresa May might have carried out a Cabinet reshuffle as if she is running the country, but until she does a deal with the DUP she is more in Government than in power.

After Downing Street mistakenly issued a press release on Saturday claiming a deal was done, progress seems to have been slower than expected – although it was announced today that the Queen’s Speech will take place on Wednesday June 21.

The main impact of the deal on Brexit involves the future of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – which the DUP want to keep “soft”.

As I’ve written about before, it is hard to envisage how the UK could stay leave the customs union but not have a hard border with its only land neighbour.

This is a problem identified by all sides in the talks, but no one has yet come up with a satisfactory answer.

If keeping the soft border is the price of a deal, staying in the customs union comes back into play.

Being in the customs union but not the Single Market would put the UK in the same position as Turkey – which is ironic when you remember Vote Leave’s campaigning tactics a year ago.

4) The Talks Will Start On Monday, Providing Brussel Has Stopped Laughing By Then

Carl Court via Getty Images

Despite concerns at the beginning of the week, the Brexit talks will start on Monday.

The EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier took a break from laughing hysterically about the whole affair (I imagine) to tell the Financial Times the time for talking is slipping away. “I can’t negotiate with myself,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron – buoyed by the success of his En Marche! party in the first round of French legislature election voting – told May this week “there is always a chance to reopen the door” for the UK, and let them back into the EU.

If Brussels really does want Britain to reverse its decision and stay in the club, how does it do it?

If it makes the exit deal punitive in order to deter departure, it might just fire up even more anti-EU feeling in the UK.

Alternatively, if it is too accommodating, then the UK will feel leaving the bloc really is giving it the best of both worlds.

My sense is that a very hard Brexit is now more likely, with the UK leaving on World Trade Organisation rules.

Such is Theresa May’s slim majority in the Commons, she needs to somehow strike a deal that will appease both Ken Clarke and John Redwood.

The difference is, the Brexit faction of the Tory party can keep voting down any EU compromise, safe in the knowledge that when time runs out, they get what they want anyway: no deal.

5) What Happens When All Those New Young Labour Voters Realise They’ve Voted For A Brexit-Backing Party?

Matt Cardy via Getty Images

Labour finds itself in a tricky position. It picked up the support of young voters in the election – who tend to be Remain supporters – despite running a manifesto which committed to taking the UK out of the Single Market.

John McDonnell – who is even more of a Eurosceptic than Jeremy Corbyn – was clear on Peston on Sunday that remained Labour’s position.

On Monday, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner took a different line, saying it was an “open question”,  as the Single Market might be reformed.

A few hours later he corrected himself, saying he did support leaving the Single Market.

Prepare yourself for much more of this in the upcoming months, as Labour do anything possible to avoid giving a firm view either way.

If it came to a vote, don’t be surprised if Labour adopts the tactics of Harold Wilson in 1972.

While Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970, Wilson repeatedly tried to get the UK into the European Economic Community.

After he was booted out of office, his successor Ted Heath finally achieved it.

Despite joining the EEC being Labour policy, Wilson whipped his MPs to vote against it on the flimsy premise that Heath had carried out the negotiations differently to how he would have done it.

The truth was, he believed he could defeat Conservatives in the Commons and perhaps trigger a General Election.

I expect Corbyn to adopt similar tactics.

 

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