POLITICS
16/03/2018 12:07 GMT | Updated 16/03/2018 14:29 GMT

Brexit Briefing: David Davis and Michel Barnier Return

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Before we start...The People’s Negotiation Needs You!

As we approach the one-year mark before the UK officially leaves the EU on March 29, HuffPostUK is producing a series of videos we’re calling The People’s Negotiation.

We want people to let us know what they want from the Brexit talks. It doesn’t matter whether you backed Leave, Remain or didn’t vote, we want to know what you want the future of the country to look like.

Do you think we should keep our European citizenship?

Should we avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland at all cost?

Should any money saved go to the NHS?

Should immigration go up, down, stay the same or does it not matter?

In the video, Deputy Political Editor Owen Bennett gives a bit more detail about what we’re after, but it’s essentially a video of your good self explaining what you would do if you were around the negotiating table. 

Videos only have to be about 30 seconds long, and you can talk about one issue or more. We’ve had a great response but looking for as many voices as possible, so please send your videos to owen.bennett@huffpost.com  

And now, back to the Brexit Briefing...

1) Maybe They’ll End With ‘Bring Me Sunshine’...

Barcroft Media via Getty Images

They were the highlight of the Brexit negotiations: David Davis and Michel Barnier holding a post-match joint press conference in which the UK would insist progress had been made but unable to say where, and the EU would argue they were being pragmatic but unable to point to any area of compromise.

The double act hasn’t appeared on our screens since November, so make sure you tune in on Monday when the Ant and Dec of Brexit take to the stage in Brussels.

The best laid plan is the duo will be able to confirm that the terms of a transition deal has been agreed by the EU and the UK. The top negotiators from both sides are set to work out the fine points of the deal this weekend, with Davis and Barnier signing it off on Monday, and the EU rubber stamping it at European Council meeting next Friday.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Davis said the two sides had made “significant progress in a number of areas”, adding: “we are confident that we can reach an agreement on that at next week’s EU Council.”

One area where Davis has compromised (or backed-down), is the length of the transition period. Theresa May had wanted it to last “around two years”, pointing to it coming to an end in March 2021.

The EU wants transition to end in December 2020, and in an interview with the BBC this week, Davis signaled he was open to that position: “I’m not bothered too much about the question of whether it is Christmas 2020 or Easter 2021,” he said, adding that getting a deal which could be signed off at next week’s council was “more important to me than a few months either way.”

Of course, this is not going to be all plain sailing. As with the phase one talks in December, the waters seemed to be calm until the Irish border issue crashed like a wave on the good ship Britannia.

That issue is still not sorted, but expectations seem to be that it will be kicked down the road – again.

2) The EU Isn’t In Listening Mode

NurPhoto via Getty Images

At the end of February, the European Council published its draft interpretation of the conclusions of the phase one talks. A defiant Theresa May told MPs “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree” to the draft text, as it wanted to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union after Brexit if no other deal was reached.

This week, the EU published an update to its interpretation, and in true Brussels style completely ignored everything May had said.

The section on Northern Ireland remained virtually unchanged, meaning a showdown on the Irish border is – of course – still on the cards.

There was one addition to the text though, which has now had input from the European Parliament.

An entire section headed “Good Faith” has been added. It includes the line that both parties “shall refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement.” While it is a not so subtle dig at the UK over the Irish border, Britain may feel it could turn that back on the EU with the stance: “We’re not going to put up a hard border, whatever…are you?”

3) “But He Isn’t Wearing Anything At All!” 

PA Wire/PA Images

That question of the Irish border, which barely got a mention during the Referendum campaign, is still dominating Brexit, even in what has been a relatively quiet week for the negotiations (something to do with Russia has been hogging the headlines).

Another report by MPs published on Friday highlighted the Government’s present position of “It’ll be alright on the night” perhaps wasn’t the greatest example of forward planning in history.

The report from the Northern Ireland Select Committee – chaired by Brexiteer Dr Andrew Murrison – is the equivalent of the boy pointing out the Emperor’s new clothes are, in fact, non-existent.

It reads: “The UK Government has repeatedly underlined that the free movement of people across the border will not be affected, and that no physical infrastructure will be put in place. However, the Committee was unable to identify any border solution currently in operation across the globe that would enable physical infrastructure to be avoided when rules and tariffs diverge.”

It added that that the Government’s proposals are “imaginative” but that it will “not have the time to implement a new non-visible customs regime before withdrawal day.”

The report also warned “additional infrastructure at the border would not only be politically objectional but ineffective and unworkable.”

Launching the report, Murrison said: “We have heard no evidence to suggest that there is currently a technical solution that would avoid infrastructure at the border. Furthermore, we have no detail on how checks on goods and people will be undertaken away from the border.”

Perhaps a visit from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling might have cheered up the Committee. On Question Time on Thursday, the man who was Conservative Party Chairman for about 30 seconds during the January reshuffle, set out a customs-check-free vision of life after Brexit: “We will maintain a free-flowing border at Dover — we will not impose checks in the port. It is utterly unrealistic to do so. We don’t check lorries now, we’re not going to be checking lorries in Dover in the future — [I’m] absolutely clear it cannot happen.”

Simply copy and paste that to Northern Ireland, and everything really will alright on the night…

4) That’s A Hell Of Standing Order

PA Wire/PA Images

UK taxpayers will pay EU bureaucrats pensions for 45 years after Brexit – almost as long as the entire time Britain was a member of the Brussels club.

Fresh analysis of the financial deal the UK agreed with the EU in December shows taxpayers’ money will still be transferred to Brussels until 2064.

This means the UK will be paying towards pensions of people who have not yet even started working in Brussels.

The 45 years of the payments is just a year shy of the 46 years the UK will have been a member of the EU, having joined in 1973 and set to leave it 2019.

The Office For Budget Responsibility, which made the calculation as part of its analysis of the Government’s Spring statement, estimated the final divorce bill will come in at £37.1billion.  

Yet despite the thought of the UK handing over money to Brussels for nearly half a century after Brexit, there was a distinct lack of anger among Tory Brexiteers. MP Philip Hollobone said: “This won’t go down well with the British public, but the Government has said it will honour all existing financial obligations.

“This is one which will have to bear if it’s the price of securing a successful Brexit.”

A source close to a Brexit-backing Cabinet Minister told me people on their side of the argument are relaxed about the money, as it is clearly less than what the UK would be paying in membership fees.

This truce may hold for now, but if Brexiteers start feeling they aren’t getting anything from Brussels in exchange for the cash, splits could emerge again. 

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 ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.

Eloise Todd on Brexit’s threat to gender equality in light of International Women’s Day

Matt Bevington on how Brexit didn’t cause NHS pressures, but will make them more difficult to manage

Dave Clements on why Brexit has the potential to “transform” the public policy agenda

Lord Monks on why it’s time Parliament ‘took back control’ of Brexit from government