All you need to know from the world of Brexit this week.
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1) Theresa May Has Already Lost Two Battles Before She Even Starts Negotiating So That’s A Good Sign
In what must be a worrying indication of Theresa May’s negotiating skills, the Government this week confirmed it would be doing two things it had previously ruled out.
The first is allowing Parliament a vote on whether the PM can trigger Article 50. To be fair to May, she was told to do it by the ‘Enemies of the People’ that make up the Supreme Court judges – well eight of them anyway, as three ruled that the Government did not need parliament’s approval to trigger Article 50.
The Bill was put before Parliament today, and is set to be fast-tracked through what are usually lengthy procedures so the whole process will be complete in a matter of weeks.
Many Labour MPs are angry about the speed with which the Bill will be racing through Parliament, and demanding more time to debate such a momentous piece of legislation.
Here’s how that debate could go:
Labour: “Did we hold a referendum on leaving the EU?”
Labour: “Did the UK vote to leave?”
Labour: “Does this Bill mean the Prime Minister can enact the result of that referendum?”
Labour: “THEN I OBJECT!”
Of course, anti-Brexit MPs could be canny and table a load of amendments to the Bill, such as all of Vote Leave’s campaign promises. It would be interesting to see if Boris Johnson backed a call for an extra £100million a week to fund the NHS out of the money the UK won’t be sending to the EU.
Anyway, as is Labour’s way, they are managing to make this all about them, with several frontbenchers threatening to defy a three-line whip on backing the Bill.
Tulip Siddiq, the Shadow Minister for Early Years, this evening quit Jeremy Corbyn’s team in protest at being made to vote in favour of triggering Article 50.
The second concession from Theresa May is the publication of a white paper on her plans for Brexit. Many Tory MPs – particularly Remainers – were keen for the PM to put her negotiating goals down so Parliament could scrutinise them. The Government was initially opposed to the measure, but at PMQs on Wednesday May announced a white paper would be produced.
2) Apparently The Brexit Department Is Getting To Grips With Brexit Despite ‘Turf Wars’ With Boris And Fox
Do you remember last November when a leaked report from Deloitte said the Government needs to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants to cope with the Brexit workload?
And there’s a lack of common strategy among Cabinet Ministers?
And there’s a split between Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox?
And the Government said the report was nowhere near the truth.
Well this week another report, this time from the Institute For Government, said “time and energy” which should have gone on working on Brexit plans was “wasted in turf wars” between the Foreign, Brexit and International Trade departments.
Davis’ department was deemed to be coping the best with Brexit, thankfully considering it is *the* Brexit Department, but the report also flagged up the challenges facing other ministries which will have loads more work to do after leaving the EU, despite facing squeezed budgets.
“Defra, for example, has estimated that a quarter of EU laws (around 1,200) relate to its work, and that 80% of the department’s work is ‘framed’ by EU legislation.13 But staff levels at Defra have fallen by more than a third – more than one in three staff – since 2010, with a reduction in its day-to-day spending (Resource DEL) budget of more than a fifth since 2011/12. The Home Office – also likely to be affected by Brexit, given its immigration responsibilities – has had its budget reduced by nearly a fifth and a staff reduction of around one in ten.” - Whitehall Monitor 2017, The civil service as it faces Brexit
3) Taking Back Control Might Actually Mean Waiting Longer For Deliveries
Outside the bureaucratic world of Westminster, business people started getting to grips with the implications of the UK potentially leaving the customs union – which will result in…more bureaucracy.
Representatives from the world of haulage appeared before MPs on Wednesday to explain what would happen if the UK didn’t secure a customs deal with the EU.
In short, traffic jams.
Currently, lorries traveling to and from the continent are covered by the freedom of movement of goods rules, meaning minimal delays and screenings at ports.
The Times reported on Monday that a new £70million computer system being installed to deal with customs declaration might not be able to cope with the predicted increase in demand once we quit the customs union.
The UK could see an increase from 90million to 390million declarations a year after Brexit. The new computer system is designed for 100million declarations.
Taking back control. Of computer failures.
With the UK outside of the union, an estimated additional 60million forms will have to be filled in by UK businesses every year if ministers fail to agree a deal.
One of those appearing before the Home Affairs Committee was Andrew Baxter, managing director of Europe Logistics – which hosted Boris Johnson’s first Vote Leave event in March last year.
He still backs Brexit, despite telling MPs “One of the biggest issues is in delaying good and delaying transit times. That’s a big issue - having a secure supply chain is massively important to our customers.”
For no reason, here is a chicken coming home to roost:
4) The EU And UK Are In A Mexican Stand-Off Over Banking, Which Will Annoy Trump In Lots Of Ways
Theresa May is over the pond getting ready to meet the Donald, to discuss, among other things, trade. Reuters journalist Kylie MacLellan made an astute observation about how that is likely to go:
One of the many sectors to be debated is financial services post-Brexit, and in Europe this week Dutch Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem made it clear the EU would play hardball in any deal.
In a speech on Tuesday, Dijsselbloem, who is also head of the group of euro-area finance ministers, warned the UK that if it tried to set itself up as a Singapore-style low tax haven then banks would lose access to the EU.
But seeing as this threat from Philip Hammond was in response to the notion that UK banks would be cut off from the EU, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: If you cut us off we’ll be a low tax haven. If you become a low tax haven, we’ll cut you off.
However it’s not all chest-beating from the continent. The Czech Republic’s interior minister Milan Chovanec this week called for his country to do its own deal with the UK over the protection of its citizens in Britain. It’s not clear if that is his government’s position, and the UK quashed claims negotiations were already taking place between the countries.
The EU is desperately trying to maintain a united front when it comes to the negotiations, but there is certainly a growing feeling that if Brussels is being deliberately obtuse then members will have no fear in speaking out.
5) They Didn’t Put The Price Of Beer Going Up On The Side Of That Bus
I saved this until last because it is the most important piece of news (some might say that means I should have put it first, but Radiohead don’t open Glastonbury, they end it, and I structure this newsletter in the same way.)
The price of beer has gone up because of Brexit. Is that really what Nigel Farage wanted?
Well, probably, as it’s lager which is set to be more expensive and Farage is a real ale drinker (and gin and tonic and red wine as well).
Heineken said the fall in the pound meant it was putting 6p extra on a pint, while Carlsberg was increasing prices by an average of 2.6%.
The news comes after the makers of Carling and Budweiser respectively also announced a price rise.