All you need to know from the world of Brexit this week.
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1) No One Has Told Philip Hammond About Brexit Judging By His Budget Speech
Chancellor Philip Hammond campaigned for Remain in the EU Referendum, and yesterday he delivered a Budget as if he’d been on the winning side. Apart from introducing his speech by saying “as we start our negotiations to exit the European Union”, Hammond ignored what is set to be the most complex and seismic event to hit the UK economy since the Second World War.
While the speech was Brexit-lite, the media rounds Hammond embarked upon before brandishing his red box in Downing Street did reveal a bit more about what preparations he is taking ahead of Article 50 being triggered.
Better than expected growth figures means the Chancellor has a bit more cash to play with, but rather than use it to fund social care or health, Hammond is saving it for a rainy Brexit day.
He told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday he wanted to ensure there was “gas in the tank” as the UK undergoes its Brexit negotiations. In other words, if sectors of the economy start taking a knock, Hammond can prop them up with Government cash.
2) The Lords Defeated The Government Again So Theresa May Took It Out On Lord Heseltine
Another week, another defeat for the Government over Brexit in the Lords.
On Tuesday, peers voted in favour of giving a so-called meaningful vote to parliament on the Brexit deal before Theresa May signs it off with the EU.
The Government is opposed to enshrining such a vote in law, as they believe it would encourage the EU to give us a bad deal - for some reason.
One Tory not convinced was Lord Heseltine, who lost his job as a Government advisor when he backed the amendment.
After his sacking the 83-year-old former Deputy PM might a surprising admission – he had never actually met Theresa May.
Just a few weeks ago, a Downing Street source was saying that as Heseltine is just an advisor and not a minister he was not bound by collective responsibility and so could vote however he liked.
Yet pressure from disgruntled Tory MPs eventually helped convince the Government that Hezza must go.
The fact that May is willing to sack an unpaid 83-year-old advisor with decades of experience just because of his EU views shows just how powerful the eurosceptics in her party now are.
3) Bringing Up Memories Of The British Empire Might Not Be A Good Way To Secure Trade Deals With African Countries
One of the key justifications for Brexit was that it would allow the UK to open up trade deals with the Commonwealth. Indeed, when the UK first joined the EEC in 1973, it was our Commonwealth friends who were most fearful of the move and worried that a loss of trade would follow.
When Harold Wilson carried out his renegotiation of membership ahead of the referendum (sound familiar?) in 1975, access for Commonwealth produce into the Common Market was one of the key demands.
Fast-forward 42 years and this week Liam Fox is trying to make up for lost time. The International Development Secretary is wooing representatives of Commonwealth countries at a summit in London today and tomorrow.
Fox will be reassuring the 52 Commonwealth members that Brexit is only good news for them, and will also be pushing for a deal with the African Free Trade Zone – made up of 26 states in mainly Southern, Central and Eastern Africa.
While the charm offensive might be welcomed, the Whitehall name for the project could do with some work.
According to The Times, it’s known as “Empire 2.0”.
Might want to rethink that.
4) Theresa May Only Has To Attend Half Of A European Summit These Days
While Liam Fox is making new friends in London, Theresa May is dealing with old foes in Brussels.
The PM is attending her final summit before triggering Article 50, but it is only a brief visit – she’ll leave after dinner tonight so the remaining 27 members can discuss the future of the Union tomorrow.
May might be leaving early, but she was in place for a moment of drama when Poland tried to block the re-election of Donald Tusk as European Council
The country’s current Prime Minister Beata Szydlo wrote to all EU leaders asking them to re-elect Poland’s former PM to the post. May – along with every other leader – ignored the letter, and Tusk was re-elected for a second term this afternoon.
In terms of what it means for the UK, Tusk has always been in support of what May is now espousing – a Hard Brexit. While that may have been just a bluff which the PM has now called, diplomats will no doubt be thinking it’s case of “better the Donald you know”.
5) If You Laughed At The Pret Question Time Woman You Owe Her An Apology
Oh how we rolled our eyes last week when a Question Time audience member lamented “Who will be serving our coffee in Pret?” once we leave the EU.
Turns out she was bloody right to be worried.
Pret A Manger’s director of human resources Andrea Wareham revealed today that just one in 50 of all applicants to work for the food chain are British, and 65% of its workforce come from the EU.
Speaking to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Wareham said: “If I had to fill all our vacancies in British-only applicants I would not be able to fill them... because of a lack of applications.”
Remainers will point to this as an example as to why EU immigration is vital to the UK, as migrants are prepared to do the jobs that Brits aren’t.
Leavers on the other hand will no doubt look at the £8.05 per hour wage paid to London staff and £7.85 per hour paid to those outside of the capital as the reason for the lack of applicants. If companies like Pret paid more, perhaps more Brits would want to work there.
After all, Stronger In’s Lord Rose admitted ahead of the referendum that fewer migrants would drive up wages.
But would that be enough to tempt Brits to become baristas?
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.
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson for All Women Everywhere on how Brexit is creating uncertainty for women’s services
Diane James on Juncker’s “fiddling while the Treaty of Rome burns”