POLITICS
29/03/2018 18:34 BST

Brexit Briefing: Theresa May Is Still Not Convinced

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HuffPost UK

Happy year-to-until-we-leave-the-EU-but-nothing-will-change-because-of-the-transition-agreement day!

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1) Theresa May Is Doing So Well She Should Probably Call An Election

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Theresa May is heading off on her walking holding to Wales very much on the up. Not only has she secured a pretty impressive international rebuke to Putin over the Salisbury poisoning, she managed to get a post-Brexit transition deal agreed which has rubbed out all her red lines – and she is still leading the party.

If someone had said six months ago May would agree that existing rules on free movement of people, the European Court of Justice and fishing rights would continue for 21 months after Brexit, you would have been forgiven for thinking a leadership challenge would have been inevitable.

But as it is, the Brexiteers are wearing it. At a speech to mark a year until Brexit on Tuesday, Jacob Rees-Mogg conceded all the red lines had disappeared, but tried to put forward a vibe of ‘this far but no further’.

He said: “I’m sure the Prime Minister knows her history, and I’m sure that she knows how Robert Peel got the repeal of the Corn Laws through.

“No Conservative leader would ever wish to get through so major a piece of legislation again on the back of opposition votes, and I think the Government will stick its red lines because that is the political reality.”  

Peel quit as Conservative Prime Minister in 1846 after forcing through repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws in the face of opposition from many in his own party.

Rees-Mogg was asked if he would “commit to standing for the Tory leadership” in order to ensure the UK left the EU’s customs union, common fisheries policy and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice after Brexit.

He replied: “No, I won’t make any such commitment, I’m fully supporting Mrs May. I’m sure she won’t break our red lines.”

We’ll know if she has soon enough, but the Prime Minister will not have helped relations with her Brexiteer colleagues after yet again refusing to say whether she had changed her mind and now believed leaving the EU to be the right decision for the country.

Asked by the BBC if she believed the referendum outcome had been the right one, she dodged the question.

“I campaigned for Remain, but I, as I said at the time, it was a very balanced decision,” she said.

2) Yeah, But Can We Really Trust Them Not To Tamper With It?

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The one concession that May did seem to secure in the transition negotiations is that the UK will be able to sign its own trade deals – although they won’t come into force until 2021.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is obviously keen to have some of these deals lined up as soon as possible, and he was handed a boost this week thanks to the Aussies.

During a visit to London this week, the Australian Federal Minister for Trade Steve Ciobo said he wanted to begin talks with the UK on March 30 2019 – the day after Brexit.

According to NewsCorp, Ciobo said: “The Australia-UK trading relationship took a big hit when the UK joined the European Community — especially our agricultural exports.

“So it will come as no surprise that Australia is determined to ensure that our limited access to the EU and UK markets is not further diminished as a result of the UK leaving the EU.”

“Australia is moving surely down our path to a formal launch of negotiations for our own free trade agreement with the EU.”

While new trade deals with countries is of course welcome, there is still a concern that the agreements the UK already has thanks to its EU membership will not be rolled over after the transition period.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Fox repeated the claims he made last year that while he had agreements from the 70 countries covered by the trade deals they wanted them rolled over, nothing had been formally signed.

“We hope we will have all of those in place by the time we go,” he said.

3) Labour’s Pick And Mix Approach To Collective Responsibility Is Back

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Just when it seemed the Labour frontbench had got itself on one place on Brexit, it is on the verge of falling apart.

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith was sacked last Friday after penning an article calling for a second referendum – a move which is not Labour policy.

Jeremy Corbyn told Smith he was “very upset” by the article, and then called on him to resign – apparently he was uncomfortable with using the word “sacked”.

While Corbyn was upset by Smith’s article, he didn’t seem to have the same reaction to letters which Diane Abbott sent to two constituents in November, saying: “I will argue for the right of the electorate to vote on any deal that is finally agreed.”

Abbott was not sacked.

Another frontbencher to breach Labour’s carefully-crafted Brexit policy this week was Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. Speaking at Chatham House – although clearly not under Chatham House rules – Thornberry said the Prime Minister’s deal would be so “blah, blah, blah” it would easily pass Labour’s “six tests”.

Her comment triggered an immediate backlash from pro-EU Labour MPs and party sources insisted not too much should be read into it.

John McDonnell tried to dismiss Thornberry’s comments as “true British sarcasm.”

Thornberry was not sacked.

4)  Does Anybody Know What We’re Talking About?

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For those of us in the Westminster Bubble, Brexit has dominated the world of politics for so long it’s hard to remember a time without it.

But while the good people signed up to this newsletter are clearly up to speed with all things EU, it seems much of the public are not as plugged in.

According to a YouGov poll for Simple Politics, 68% of people are not confident they know what’s happening with Brexit, 85% are not are not totally sure about the term “customs union”, and 80% of those surveyed would not be entirely confident with the term ‘single market’.

And those who are going to be living with the impact of Brexit the longest feel the most confused, with 18-24s (73%) agreeing with that statement.

5) The People Have Spoken

This week saw HuffPost UK’s People’s Negotiation come to fruition. People from across the country sent in videos on what they would do on immigration, trade deals and a second referendum. We also went out and spoke to people in remain, leave and 50/50 constituencies to get a sense of what people thought of Brexit.

We also wanted a reaction to the thoughts and concerns of the British public from those who will have a say on the final deal.

Remain-backing Labour MP Chuka Umunna and Brexit-supporting Tory MEP David Campbell Bannerman came down to our HQ to watch the videos and give their views.

Umunna is one of the most high-profile anti-Brexit campaigners in Parliament, and his work through the Open Britain group helped pressure Labour into supporting keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

Campbell Bannerman served as joint-chairman of the powerful Conservatives for Britain group in the run up to the 2016 referendum, which managed to dramatically dilute the role the Government could play ahead of the vote.

Representing the UK and European parliaments respectively, both will get a vote on the deal agreed between London and Brussels.

You should also check out HuffPost UK’s Paul Waugh’s take on a year to Brexit.

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.

James Dobson on why our post-Brexit immigration system must scrap caps and focus on integration

While Sir Gerald Howarth wrote on why we must bring immigration down to “mid-1990s” levels

Margaret Hales asks whether May will get a good deal for Britons living abroad

Dr Alan Greene asks when we will have a solution to the Irish border

Heidi Alexander writes on why Parliament is coming round to staying in the Single Market

While Bernard Jenkin wrote on why staying in a customs union would be “worst of all worlds”

Dr Andrew Dearden blogged on why the NHS must be a priority in Brexit negotiations

The3million’s Maike Bohn wrote on why EU citizens are still waiting for clarity on their rights

Prof Patrick Minford spelled out why it would be the EU who would suffer if we leave with ‘no deal’