The British Government has spent months preparing for Brexit, fighting for the right to start formal negotiations through the courts, and then in Parliament. Theresa May will start that exit process tomorrow by serving notice of Britain’s intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The letter she writes to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, to kick things off will be much scrutinised as an opening gambit. EU leaders are fixated with nailing down the basic divorce terms first, resolving questions like how much Britain owes and what happens to EU expats in Britain, before they get onto issues of future trade and security.
Mrs May will want to reassure her partners by acknowledging these questions, Peter Foster writes, but if she seems too ready to play ball, then Brexiteers will start to fear a diplomatic fudge. Similar balances will have to be negotiated in how ambitious she is about the terms she wants to thrash out, he suggests: demanding too much could alienate EU leaders, but limited ambition will raise eyebrows in the Tory ranks.
One major flashpoint looks to be over free movement, as EU leaders are ready to veto any attempt to make tomorrow the cut-off date for European citizens who move to the UK retaining the same rights as those already living in Britain. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and MEPs are ready to insist that it can only happen two years after the triggering of Article 50, amid concerns over EU citizens’ rights. How smooth could the trade talks be? Allister Heath argues that there are plenty of creative deals both sides could strike. “The key will be to slash the volume of information required at customs checks and to waive as much of it through as possible,” he writes. “Article 50 is upon us: now the devil is in the detail.”
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The people you thought were gone from British politics are back. Mandelson, Hain, Kinnock, Patten and Heseltine — these blasts from the past are now at the forefront of attempts to thwart the will of the people in the House of Lords.
Their views are stuck in the 1990s, when only a brave few dared question our EU membership and its grabbing of more and more powers.
The Great British Public have spoken – with more people voting for Brexit than have voted for any political party in any General Election. Brexit is the future of this country; the majority must not let these political has-beens stand in the way.
Yesterday, the House of Lords once again debated the Article 50 Bill – the law which will allow the Government to start the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. They passed an amendment by a majority of 98 requiring Parliament to be given a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal.
This is the second element of the House of Lords’ delaying tactics. But on a positive note, it resulted in the sacking of Lord Heseltine from his role as an adviser to the Government.
Last Wednesday, the Lords implemented their first delaying tactic. They did this by passing an amendment to give EU citizens the right to remain in the UK post-Brexit. There is nothing egregious in this amendment per se, but underneath the motivation is clear – to try and delay Brexit.
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Good afternoon. Parliament is in recess, having exhausted itself in the largely uneventful battle to amend the Article 50 bill. In ten days’ time, that bill will pass to the House of Lords. So what might they do?
There are 252 Conservative peers, 203 Labour peers, 178 crossbenchers, and 102 (!) Liberal Democrats. In other words, the Conservatives can be outvoted. Yet it’s extremely unlikely that there will be a serious attempt to block the bill completely. The Lords tend to take their cue from the other house and from the people, both of whom have sent the clearest signal possible that this bill must pass. That is to say nothing of anonymous, presumably sanctioned chuntering from the Government about not going against the will of the people – though dark words about abolishment were walked back by No 10 over the course of last night.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to continue their quixotic quest for a second referendum to ratify Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Their position may have some democratic logic given the enormous diversity of possible Brexits posited before last June. But I would assess as extremely low the appetite of a population which has just been through the most intense period of political bloodletting since Maastricht to do it all over again.
Labour, it seems, will be slyer. Its leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, says “the stakes are too high” for them not to “scrutinise” the bill. The party’s eight proposed amendments require the PM:
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Good afternoon. Can we make a deal? You, I hope, want to keep reading this Bulletin. I’d like to buy a motorbike. So I’m going to ask you to start paying for the Bulletin – and if you don’t, well, I’ll just keep on writing it, same as before. Now have I got your attention?
This was effectively the Labour Party’s approach to Theresa May’s Article 50 bill. Predictably, it failed. The PM scored 9-0, getting her 132-word bill through by 494 votes to 122 without a single amendment. Good thing we had that lengthy court case, eh? It will now move to the Lords, which “government sources” have threatened to abolish, and where Labour peers intend to fight for a guarantee of EU residents’ rights, a more robust vote on any Brexit deal, and regular updates on her negotiations.
In the end, Diane Abbott voted with the Government to pass the unamended bill, saving her old friend Jeremy Corbyn from having to fire her and suffering the attention of David Davis (who tried to kiss her in the Strangers’ Bar and was quite reasonably told to “f— off”). Clive Lewis, on the other hand, did resign, so the not-so-secret non-linear Labour leadership contest is go. Though his decision has triggered anonymous accusations of careerism, I believe it was an act of conscience; witness his agonised appeal to his constituents. In any case, 14 other shadow ministers voted against the bill without resigning. Mr Corbyn, whose declaration that “the real fight starts now” was met with scorn by Remainers who contend he has missed it by a year, says he will conduct a limited reshuffle. He also dismissed reports that he will voluntarily step down as “fake news”. I will merely note the multiple reports that his office is preparing to spend the summer pushing through a change to the leadership rules which would make it easier for other left-wingers to stand.
But hold on. Ever since the furore over the Maastricht Treaty 25 years ago, it has been reliable conventional wisdom that Conservative governments always fall apart over Europe. It happened to Margaret Thatcher, it happened to John Major, and David Cameron had to call a certain referendum to stop it from happening to him. So when Theresa May took power last July it seemed a reasonable bet she would have similar problem (I wrote that she had a “fine line to walk”). And yet the power which even Remain-inclined Tories have granted her this week suggests that wisdom may no longer hold true. MPs who might have rebelled on amendments to guarantee EU residents’ rights or to ensure a Parliamentary vote before it’s too late to matter have instead accepted the Government’s non-binding assurances on these topics and allowed her to proceed with what last year would have been considered a pretty hard Brexit.
Of course it could still all go wrong. Of course anything could happen. But could it be? Could it really be that the Tories’ European curse is finally broken?
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MPs voted overwhelmingly (461-89) last night in favour of a motion urging ministers to trigger Article 50 next year. Their vote is not as important as as whatever the Supreme Court decides in January, after deliberating over the arguments it is hearing this week, as to whether Theresa May needs approval from her MPs before she can trigger it. But it was the first time a majority of parliamentarians have voted to leave the European Union, so it is still noteworthy. It was the “day MPs spoke for Britain”, according to the Mail. “Hooray! MPs say yes to May on Exit”, says the Express. Leavers are in especially good spirits, with Iain Duncan Smith hailing the vote as a “a blank cheque for the Government” given it had Labour’s support.
There has been much speculation as to what would happen if the Supreme Court insisted Mrs May had to win MPs over before she could set the Brexit plans in motion. Some suggested it would allow pro-Remain MPs to wreck them, but James Kirkup points out that the Opposition doesn’t seem in such a mood given most of its MPs backed May’s amendment. “Labour may attempt to make trouble for Mrs May, but a simple lack of clarity around its own position and its obvious fear of the “Brexit betrayal” narrative mean it will fail to derail her…Mrs May will get her way,” he writes. The 89 MPs who “shamefully voted against” are guilty, we say in our leader, of “an act of contempt for the democratic result of the referendum for which they must answer to the electorate”. Some of them clearly aren’t worried – like David Lammy – as they represent overwhelmingly pro-Remain constituencies.
Where does this vote leave the Supreme Court? Its judges are still carrying on with their work, although Tory MPs are questioning how relevant it really is. Andrew Bridgen suggests that “events in the house have made the Supreme Court ruling an irrelevance”. Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, appeared to question the need for the case if Parliament had already voted to give the Prime Minister its support. He conceded that the average man in the street would find it “odd” for the courts to say that the Government needed the “magic wand” of legislation to trigger Article 50 if motions had been passed in the Commons and Lords explicitly calling for that.
Parliament’s vote may be symbolic, but it is important for Mrs May as a sign of which has the momentum. Her challenge now, Allister Heath writes in today’s paper, is to rebuild “the old 65 per cent coalition of Eurosceptic voters” and some of the soft Remainers. The “angry 25 per cent who voted Remain” are a “lost cause” in his view. For those MPs who still stand in her way, she should explain that “we’ve voted and now, for the most part, we want to move on: woe betide any politician who cannot accept that”.
Theresa May and George Osborne may not be cabinet colleagues any longer after Britain voted for Brexit, but they were re-united last night by the Spectator as he had to give her an award for being politician of the year. The Prime Minister gently mocked the man famed for his “hard hat tours” by donning a hat of her own and a hi-visibility jacket as she accepted the award from him. “Oh come on we’re all builders now,” she quipped. She also mocked Boris Johnson after he compared his experience after the referendum to that of the Alasatian dog Lord Heseltine was said to have strangled: “Boris, the dog was put down… when its master decided it wasn’t needed any more”. She may have been especially keen to chide him after the risky joke he made earlier about the Government’s Brexit strategy, quipping that “we will make a titanic success of it”. “It sank!” attendees shouted back at him. It’s tempting to remember Alan Patridge on this, who pointed out that “people forget that on the Titanic’s maiden voyage there were over 1000 miles of uneventful, very pleasurable cruising before it hit the iceberg”.
Many issues remain that could be their own icebergs for Captain May on her journey to Brexit. Ireland’s prime minister Enda Kenny has warned Europe that it is in danger of “losing the plot” if it obsesses over punishing Britain in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Germany is one such country who has made clear it will not give Britain an easy ride, although economic advisors to Angela Merkel’s government have called for her to intervene to prevent Brexit from going ahead. “An exit of the United Kingdom from the EU would not only mean an economic loss, but above all a bigger political loss,” the Council of Economic Experts warned.
The Prime Minister also has to ensure her own civil servants remain on board, as the head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood has signalled that his colleagues’ warnings about the impact of Brexit during the referendum were “factually correct and objective”. At the same time, legal attempts to stop Brexit continue to roll on, as the High Court is expected to make a judgement today on whether Mrs May has the power to trigger Article 50 without MPs having a vote. This decision is likely to go to the Supreme Court no matter what the result turns out to be. “The Government has a duty to engage the country and Parliament in a process which will determine the future of our economy and place in the world for decades,” writes Ed Miliband in today’s Telegraph.
Boris Johnson may well have had these obstacles in mind when he jokingly compared the Brexit strategy to the Titanic, but one thing is for sure: Mrs May will be determined to make a titanic success of Brexit in an entirely different way.
John Redwood MP offers a 7 point plan for Brexit, following the June 23 referendum in which the majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union:
1) Send Article 50 letter explaining we are leaving using our own constitutional arrangements, which will be an Act of Parliament.
2) Offer talks on trade and tariffs if they wish to change anything, saying we are happy to offer them no change to current arrangements. In other words, we stay in the Single Market as now, without the freedom of movement and the contributions. The advantage we have is when it comes to trading we are happy with the status quo, so they are the ones with a problem if they wish to change it.
This reverses the presumption of many commentators that the UK needs to negotiate with the rest of the EU, and is the supplicant. By definition, we cannot negotiate with them over taking back control. You are not taking back control of your laws, money and borders if you need to negotiate this with other EU countries.
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