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1) That’s A Lot Of Max For Your Fac
When MPs were invited in to Downing Street for a briefing about the post-Brexit customs proposals last week, a glaring omission from the presentation was the cost of the two models.
On Wednesday, the head of HMRC, Jon Thompson, let that particular cat out of the bag. The customs partnership would see an outlay by businesses of £3.4billion a year, but as that could be claimed back the net cost could well be zero.
The Maximum Facilitation model – ‘max fac’ – is much more expensive. Thompson told MPs it could cost businesses up to £20billion a year to trade with the EU.
Brexiteer MPs were aghast. One told me that the issue of cost was raised with May’s advisers in the Downing Street presentation, but no answer was given.
There is a tranche of Brexiteers who believe the referendum was won partly because small and medium businesses were fed up with red tape emanating from Brussels, and leaving the EU was a chance to scythe through production-crushing regulation.
The ‘Brexit bomb’ of £20billion a year for the business community could perhaps be the weapon Remainers have been looking for to turn the tide of public opinion in its favour.
2) It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming Home, It’s Coming...
During Thompson’s evidence session, he was asked by Treasury Committee chairman Nicky Morgan whether he would be relieved if Parliament voted to keep the UK in the customs union. He tactfully replied that would be for MPs to decide.
That decision is set to come in the next few weeks. Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith told Tory backbenchers on Wednesday evening not to book any holidays around the middle of June, as that is when the EU Withdrawal Bill is due to come back to the Commons.
It returns from the Lords looking somewhat different from when it left the Commons in January. Like an angsty teenager, it is now decorated with piercings and tattoos designed to provoke a reaction from its parents. ‘EEA4EVA’ and ‘I Love Customs Unions’ are branded on to its skin, and Tory whips will be going full 1950s suburban parents to try and cleanse its soul.
Will Labour help or hinder the exorcism?
Jeremy Corbyn has made it known he does not want the UK to stay in the EEA, so that looks dead, but the amendment saying the Government needs to have a negotiating goal of securing a customs union with the EU is something the party could get behind. As I’ve calculated previously, it could only take 13 Tories walking through the lobby with Labour to inflict defeat on the Government.
3) The Transition Will Be Permanent
If the Government does get its way and holds back the pro-customs union forces, it will need to start get cracking on actually creating a border system to replace the status quo.
Jon Thompson told MPs on Wednesday it will take between three to five years to begin implementing either of the proposed customs plans, and with the UK’s transition period due to end in 31 months, that leaves something of cliff edge on the horizon.
According to The Times, Downing Street are putting plans in place to extend the transition period – although it will be dressed up in another name. Transition 2 will cover customs and trade and be extended until 2023.
While some Tories will no doubt be furious, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will topple May.
They failed to act over the divorce bill, the continuing of ECJ jurisdiction for another 21 months after Brexit and the UK being a ‘vassal state’ during the initial transition period.
Such a move would also allow Tories to campaign in the 2022 General Election on a ‘Let Us Finish The Job’ pledge.
4) There’s A Chance The EU Are Out-Negotiating Us
Remember how the whole point about paying billions in a divorce payment to the EU was how it would help us get a good trade deal?
Turns out that might not be the case.
Brexit Minister Suella Braverman told MPs this week there would be no legally enforceable link between the settlement and the trade talks. The UK would hand over the cash, regardless, appranently.
During an appearance before the Brexit Select Committee, Labour MP Pat McFadden asked: “Isn’t it the case that we will be agreeing to pay the financial settlement before we have a legal text on the future agreement between the UK and the EU?”
Braverman replied: “The withdrawal agreement text has been nearly finalised and agreed, that contains issues relating the financial settlement. At present, it doesn’t contain aspects you talk about on conditionality.”
But don’t worry! What’s going to hold the whole thing together is a good old fashioned sense of fair play.
Braverman said the two sides have “agreed a duty of good faith”, and if the trade deal falls down, both sides will reopen negotiations on the financial settlement.
If the EU are that willing to keep the UK onside – and are happy to reopen talks on an agreement which leaves them £39billion in the plus - then perhaps we’ll get a good deal out of these negotiations after all.
5) Victory Has A Hundred Fathers And Defeat Is An Orphan
Like an arsonist complaining about rising heat levels, Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings took to his blog this week to complain about how Brexit was going.
In an open letter to “Tory MPs and donors”, Cummings described the current Brexit process as a “train wreck”, saying it had been “screwed up” by Remainers such as Theresa May and Philip Hammond, and ministers who had let officials boss them about will still get “most of the blame from the public.”
That missive went out on Wednesday, but another treat was published on Thursday as part of Cummings’ war with the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The body’s chair, Damian Collins, has summoned Cummings to give evidence, but the former Gove advisor has now flat out refused.
He then took aim at the campaign for a second referendum:
“A second referendum would be bad for the country and I hope it doesn’t happen but if you force the issue, then Vote Leave 2 would try to create out of the smoking wreck in SW1 something that can deliver what the public wants. Imagine Amazon-style obsession on customer satisfaction (not competitor and media obsession which is what you guys know) with Silicon Valley technology/scaling and Mueller-style ‘systems politics’ combined with the wave upon wave of emotion you will have created. Here’s some free political advice: when someone’s inside your OODA loop, it feels to them like you are working for them. If you go for a rematch, then this is what you will be doing for people like me. 350m would just be the starter.”
His blogs are well worth a read, and on the competency of the Government in these talks he might find some support from Remainers.
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.
Eloise Todd on what the Irish abortion referendum and Brexit negotiations mean for Northern Irish women’s rights
Prof John Garry and Prof Brendan O’Leary analyse their research on what Northern Ireland wants from Brexit
Axel Antoni on why EU citizens are taking the government to court over their data