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1) If It Becomes An All-Nighter, Send Boris to the 24 Hour Garage For Jaffa Cakes
As I write this, Theresa May is locked inside a country home with ten of her Cabinet ministers, thrashing out what the UK wants from Brexit.
The Cabinet’s Brexit subcommittee rocked up at Chequers on Thursday for a 2pm start, and is expected to be holed up until 10pm trying to reach agreement on where to go next in the negotiations with the EU.
Change Britain has done a good job of digging out every time a member of the sub-committee has called for the UK to diverge from EU law after Brexit – one of the main bones of contention going forward.
With the away day in the diary, 62 Tory backbenchers decided this was the time to remind Theresa May of previous commitments she made over Brexit.
In a letter sent last Friday – but leaked to journalists on Tuesday evening – the MPs call on May to deliver “full regulatory autonomy” from the EU, as well as ensuring the UK can negotiate trade deals during any implementation period.
The letter references May’s bullish Lancaster House speech, yet omits any mention of the more conciliatory Florence address.
With 62 signatories, the group far exceeds the 48 names needed to trigger a leadership contest, but as the letter is at pains to point out to May: “Only a Conservative Government led by you can deliver these opportunities for our country.”
I’m sure that line is tremendously reassuring.
Many of the 62 were further irked when the Government published its draft guidelines for the post-March 2019 implementation period.
The document shows the Government is open to the period extending beyond 2021 once the precise details of the future trade deal between the UK and EU have been thrashed out.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who signed the letter, said: “This is not government policy.
“The PM has said ‘up to two years’ as have all her Brexit ministers.
He added: “Someone needs to put a red line through this and write in the margin: ‘Not Government policy – re-write’.”
2) If Brexit Has To Be A Dystopia, Can It Be ‘Brave New World’?
The away day comes half way through the six ‘Road to Brexit’ speeches set to be delivered by leading members of the Cabinet. After Boris Johnson’s Valentines Day wooing, and Theresa May’s security focused speech in Munich, Brexit Secretary David Davis got his moment in the sun on Tuesday.
Addressing Austrian business leaders in Vienna, Davis made a slightly bizarre claim about critics of the Government’s Brexit policy.
“They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom with Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction. These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing, not our history, not our intentions, not our national interest.”
Everyone had fun with the “Britain won’t be a Mad Max dystopia” line, but the serious point behind it – yes, there was one – was the UK wouldn’t be engaged in a “race to the bottom” in regulations after Brexit in an attempt to undercut the EU.
Indeed, the UK would lead “a global race to the top” in standards and regulations, said the Brexit Secretary.
On the future of UK/EU trade relations, Davis said: “A crucial part of any such agreement is the ability for both sides to trust each other’s regulations and the institutions that enforce them.
“Such mutual recognition will naturally require close, even-handed co-operation between these authorities and a common set of principles to guide them.”
Common set of principles, mutual recognition, close co-operation – all phrases which will do little to calm Leavers’ fears the UK is going to be keep following EU rules after Brexit – and not even have a say on how they are made.
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom - not invited to the Chequers away day - decided to inject her own particular brand of optimism into the debate on Thursday, saying the UK’s post-Brexit future was “much less Mad Max and much more Love Actually.”
3) Theresa May Has Snubbed Michael Gove Which Is Surely Not A Good Idea
He was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in the 2016 Referendum, but Defra Secretary Michael Gove has not been handed a “Road to Brexit” speech to set out his vision for Britain once it leaves the EU.
I caught up with him in Birmingham this week as he addressed the National Farmers Union conference, and asked if he felt annoyed by the snub.
“Not at all,” he replied, adding: “Why would you want to be on the pitch when you’ve got two of the best strikers on your team already out there?
“I’m more than happy. DD and Boris are big hitters. They are the Messi and the Ronaldo of the Cabinet, and as for me I’m just a journeyman so I’ll carry on doing my job.”
The “Messi and Ronaldo” comparison prompted much mirth online, with seemingly hundreds of Twitter users joyfully pointing out the Argentine genius and Portuguese winger play on different teams, and generally try to keep their sides in Europe.
The biggest concern put to Gove by farmers at the event was over the future immigration arrangements which affects agricultural workers.
The most noticeable frustration in the conference hall came after Alison Capper, chairman of the NFU’s Horticulture Board, raised the issue with Gove directly.
“In 2017, 60% of growers did not have enough workers. 30% walked past ripe crop. This is mission critical for the 2018 season. When will we get an announcement in the SAW scheme for 2018?”
Gove reassured farmers he understands that it is “mission critical”, but pointed out his hands are tied.
“I talked to my colleagues Amber Rudd and Caroline Noakes at the Home Office. I hopefully will be able to say more shortly but the one thing I recognise is that while I hear the arguments and can articulate them I hope on your behalf, I have to acknowledge that the lead department in this is the Home Office.”
He added: “I hope I can say more shortly.”
The fears of fewer EU migrants coming to the UK were born out in the latest Office For National Statistics figures, released on Thursday.
According to the ONS, the net annual migration of EU nationals to the UK fell by 75,000 in the 12 months to September 2017. The net figure stands at 90,000 for EU citizens - and 244,000 overall.
4) Sometimes It’s Almost Like The EU Are Just Trying To Cause Trouble
There is another side in this negotiation of course, and I don’t mean Jacob Rees-Mogg. On Wednesday, the European Commission told representatives from the EU27 it wasn’t happy with Theresa May’s post-Brexit plan for a future trade deal.
In a document put out on Wednesday evening, the Commission argues that May’s “three baskets” vision is “not compatible with the principles in the [European council] guidelines.”
The “three baskets” approach splits up how the UK would interact with EU regulations into, erm, three baskets.
The first basket is where the UK and EU would keep the same regulatory standards by the same means.
The second is where the UK wants to meet the same end points in terms of regulations but through different means.
The third is where the UK wants to adopt a different approach to EU rules and standards in order to be competitive with the bloc.
The EU’s concern is that the UK would effectively be “cherry picking” what parts of the rules it is happy to go along with, and which ones it will undercut Brussels on.
The “three baskets” approach was one which May no doubt hoped her warring Cabinet could unite around. Those who want to see regulatory alignment, such as Chancellor Philip Hammond, can look at baskets one and two for solace. Those who want to see more divergence, such as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, can console themselves with basket three.
The EU has just put holes in all of them.
5) Ukip Just Keep Being A Journalist’s Absolute Dream
Ukip members ousted Henry Bolton as Ukip leader on Saturday at an Extraordinary General Meeting.
Veteran MEP Gerard Batten - who is pretty hardcore when it comes to Islam-bashing - has taken over on an interim basis, but quite fancies the job long term.
Bolton initially hinted he might run for leader again, because why not, but by Thursday had quit the party, because, again, why not.
Despite initially tweeting she would no longer have sex with him (I’m not making this up), his girlfriend Jo Marney appeared alongside Bolton on This Morning on Thursday for one of those interviews where you just think ‘WHY DID YOU AGREE TO DO THIS?!?!?’.
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At HuffPost 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 a blog to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
Kate Allen on how the EU Withdrawal Bill is set to substantially reduce rights
Thom Brooks on why Theresa May won’t win by using EU citizens as a ‘political football’
Baroness Thornton on why Brexit shouldn’t have to mean we lose access to healthcare abroad
Eiri Ohtani, Satbir Singh and Stephen Hale agree with Diane Abbott that we need a more fair, humane immigration system