Theresa May has to resolve many things as part of the Brexit process, and one of the most emotive has been what happens to 3.3 million EU citizens living in Britain and 1.2 million British expats living in Europe. The Prime Minister has come under fire from the moment she suggested their right to remain had yet to be secured, but indicated repeatedly that she hoped to do so. And now we find that the person stopping a deal being made is Angela Merkel.
The German Chancellor rejected the deal, although more than 20 EU nations had signalled their support, amid concerns that it would hand the UK a significant advantage during Brexit negotiations. “This is an ominous development that does not bode well for the talks to come”, we say in our leader. Why is she playing hardball? German voters tend to want her to be tough on Britain (58 per cent said so in a recent survey) as part of Brexit negotiations. Perhaps she wants to make a point of representing their wishes in order to help her chances of winning a fourth term as Chancellor next year.
The European elite has rallied behind her in the meantime. Donald Tusk, president of the European council, insisted it was British voters who had created “anxiety and uncertainty” for migrants by voting for Brexit, as well as Mrs May for not immediately triggering Article 50 to kickstart negotiations. His response has infuriated Brexiteers, as Iain Duncan Smith accused Tusk of “playing games with people’s lives”. Might Mrs May face more questions on this, and the Brexit negotiations, at PMQs today?
But another problem could soon crop up for Mrs May as she seeks to thrash out Brexit. And – fittingly for St Andrew’s Day – it could come from Scotland. The SNP remains anti-Brexit, even though it turns out the party spent less fighting to keep the UK in the EU than pub chain JD Wetherspoon did on persuading voters to leave. It may soon have quite the say over the timing of Brexit – in Holyrood and Westminster – if the Supreme Court concludes that Mrs May cannot trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval. “Arguably, if the Scots parliament votes against triggering Article 50 nothing has actually changed: the UK as a whole decided on June 23 to leave the EU while Scotland wants to remain,” writes Philip Johnston in today’s paper. “But that wilfully ignores the toxic politics of all this and the huge symbolism of the two parliaments taking opposing positions on such a momentous matter…Will we eventually have to choose between staying in the EU (or in the single market at any rate) and losing the UK? That is something to ponder on St Andrew’s Day.”