The Telegraph – Brexit Bulletin

Good afternoon. Today the House of Lords began the process of debating and potentially amending the Article 50 bill, and Theresa May is watching them closely. In fact she paid them a rare personal visit, pointedly perching on the steps by the throne like Stringer Bell sitting in on the murder trial which opens The Wire. Whatever can she mean by it?

Some people see, in the intervention of Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson over the weekend, the beginning of a Remainer fightback. The FT’s Janan Ganesh believes that “friendships are growing” between pro-European MPs and Lords across three parties, with “lots of money” sloshing around. Meanwhile we report on the various peers who enjoy generous EU pensions: among many others they include Lord Mandelson, at an estimated £34,659 a year, Lord Kinnock, at an estimated £87,794 a year, and Baroness Ludford, estimated at £21,000. The big demand will likely be a guarantee of the rights of EU nationals in Britain, which the public strongly backs.

But there are also factors weighing against a decisive intervention by the Lords at this stage. Labour’s Baroness Smith confirmed Labour will try to amend the bill but that there will be no house-to-house “ping pong”. William Hague advised that “if there was a real chance of rising up successfully against leaving the EU, it would open up the most protracted, bitter and potentially endless conflict in British society since the decades of debate on Irish Home Rule.” The Bishop of Southwark argued that, if faced with a choice between passing an amendment and accepting an assurance from a minister, peers should do the latter. This is what happened in the Commons when a potential rebellion on EU nationals’ rights was blunted by a ministerial concession, and if followed by a large number of peers it would obviate many mooted amendments. Then there are the people (those pesky, pesky people): an ICM poll has found that 68 per cent of voters want the Government to get on with Brexit, compared to 54 per cent of people last year. Quite quickly it seems that Theresa May is leading the country with her, Mr Blair be damned.

In other news, Emmanuel Macron, a strong candidate in the French Presidential election, will visit London tomorrow hoping to woo the 300,000 French nationals (mostly young, often affluent, and by definition cosmopolitan) who live in Britain. If he wins it will have implications for Brexit. Mr Macron has said he will be “pretty tough” on Britain, “because we have to preserve the rest of the European Union”. His rival François Fillon agrees. Only Marine Le Pen, as illustrated in our interview last week, is pro-Brexit, seeing it as the first crack in the “whole psychological framework” underpinning the status quo she intends to destroy. Some Britons may welcome her victory on the grounds of our national interest. Others, I think, will find the price too high

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Britain’s Little Lies

On December 12, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, gave a fulsome speech to the annual Conservative Friends of Israel lunch. Before a roomful of 800 pro-Israel Conservative MPs and party supporters, she lavished praise on the Jewish state. She praised Israel’s achievements and castigated its enemies. She said that Britain would be marking the centenary of the Balfour declaration “with pride.” She also stressed that cooperation and friendship between Britain and Israel was not just for the good of those two countries, but “for the good of the world.”

For many of the people listening in the room, there were just two discordant notes. The first was related to the focus on anti-Semitism in May’s speech. As she used the opportunity rightly to lambaste the Labour party for its anti-Semitism problem, she extended the reach of her own claims for herself. While boasting of her success as Home Secretary in keeping out the prominent French anti-Semite Dieudonné and finally deporting the Salafist cleric Abu Qatada al-Filistini back to his native Jordan, she also used the opportunity to congratulate herself for banning Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Pastor Terry Jones from coming to the UK. “Islamophobia comes from the same wellspring of hatred” as anti-Semitism, she explained.

This is a serious category error for a Prime Minister to make. It puts critics of a religion, such as Geller and Spencer, on the same plane as people wanted for terrorism (Qatada). It blurs the line between speech and action, and mixes people who call for violence with those who do not. The comparison also fails to follow the consequences of its logic to its own illogical conclusion. The comparison fails to recognise that anyone who objects to Islamic anti-Semitism is immediately known as an “Islamophobe.” Therefore, someone hoping to come to Britain would have to accept being attacked by Muslim extremists for fear of being banned from entering the UK. These are serious and basic misunderstandings for a Prime Minister to propagate.

There was, however, a clear political sense to them. A Prime Minister in a country such as 21st Century Britain might believe that he or she has to be exceptionally careful not to appear to be criticising any one group of people or praising another too highly. So for the time being in Britain, a moral relativism continues to stagnate. If the Jewish community complains of anti-Semitism, then you must criticise anti-Semitism. If the Muslim community complains of “Islamophobia,” then you must criticise “Islamophobia.” To make value judgements might be to commit an act of political folly. Wise leaders in increasingly “diverse” societies must therefore position themselves midway between all communities, neither castigating nor over-praising, in order to keep as many people onside as possible.

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Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

Good afternoon.

As this e-mail hits your inbox, Donald Trump is being sworn in as President of the United States. You can follow every twist and turn of his inauguration on our liveblog. There is plenty of analysis – the best of which can be found on our site – about his agenda, but what does his presidency mean for Britain’s exit from the European Union?  

President Trump has been a consistent supporter of Brexit. He may not have known what the term was when Michael Wolff asked him about it, but made clear he thought the Brits “ should leave”. He quickly embraced Brexit since then, popping over to Scotland the day after the referendum to celebrate the “great victory”. He tried to seize the mantle for himself, declaring during the campaign that “they will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!”. And so it came to pass, as the Trump campaign confounded the pollsters on an even larger scale. Brexiteers have recognised its significance, with Nigel Farage hailing his victory last night as “ Brexit plus, plus, plus”.

Theresa May will be grateful to have a proudly pro-Brexit President in the White House instead of Hillary Clinton, who made clear her scepticism of it during the campaign. Trump’s cabinet choices have made clear their preference for bilateral trade deals rather than negotiating with large blocs, which will delight Brexiteers and irk EU leaders. Mr Farage, the Trump whisperer of Westminster, has suggested the President could get a trade deal “done and dusted” with the UK within 90 days of taking office. This may be hard, according to Oliver Illott from the Institute for Government, as Whitehall is still assembling its deal-making machine. He also cites other problems, like that British negotiators know they still have trade deals to tie up with many other countries during the Brexit process, so any generous concessions they give to America in order to thrash out a quick deal would encourage others to feel they should get the same.

EU ministers have continued to sound conciliatory ahead of the Brexit talks in the meantime. Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schauble declared at Davos that he was convinced London will remain an important finance centre for Europe. He was also pretty confident the negotiations and deals will all be done within the two-year timeframe once Article 50 is served. That will put a spring in Mrs May’s step, assuming Labour’s continued disarray over Brexit and the ascension of one of its biggest backers to the White House already hasn’t.


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Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

  Good afternoon.

If you want to see how fast politics can change, look at the Swiss resort of Davos. This time last year, Britain’s Prime Minister was imploring business leaders at the World Economic Forum there to speak up in favour of its continued membership of the European Union. Today, his successor stepped up to tell them why they should get behind its departure from the bloc.

Theresa May used her address this morning to bang the drum for Brexit Britain, telling those assembled that she stood in front of them as “the prime minister of a country that faces the future with confidence”. She billed the vote to leave as an opportunity to build a “truly global” nation that reaches “beyond the borders of Europe”. But she also had harsh words for her fellow world leaders, warning them that “the forces for good that we so often take for granted are being brought into question” and they had to change to maintain “public consent”. This was her “nasty party” speech for the instinctively pro-EU Davos crowd, as I wrote earlier.

Both sides are trying to be emollient ahead of the official Brexit talks. Philip Hammond told a business lunch that Britain prides itself on being “one of the most open economies in the world”. He also urged his EU colleagues not to “let revenge get in the way of economic logic”. France has given such suggestions short shrift. Foreign minister Francois Ayrault told reporters his country’s stance was not “about ‘punishing’ the United Kingdom”. He may want to have a word with his boss, François Hollande, who said a few months ago that “ there must be a price” for Britain’s departure. Michael Deacon suggests it isn’t worth paying Ayraut much attention, writing: “This will be a battle. It won’t be possible for both sides to win. But it will certainly be possible for both sides to lose.”

Back in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has to contend with mutinous rumblings in his shadow cabinet over whether to back the triggering of Article 50 – assuming the Supreme Court gives them the right to have a say The Labour leader has insisted he will impose a three-line whip on MPs to force them to back it, although some members – like Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis – suggest they could rebel. Tom Harris has written about how this shows Labour can’t even pretend to be united over Brexit. Meanwhile, Rupert Myers has warned Remainers that the longer they keep “whining” about Brexit happening, “ the less likely they are to be heard” in the debate. The Davos elite and EU leaders present Mrs May with a tougher opposition than she faces at home in Parliament.

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Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

  Good afternoon.

After weeks refusing to give a “running commentary”, Theresa May seems to have made up for that with the amount of detail she has given on her priorities in the upcoming Brexit talks. The Prime Minister vowed to take Britain out of the single market in order to curb immigration without being constrained by EU free movement rules. She stressed that Britain wanted to remain on good terms with the EU, but warned that any attempt to punish it for Brexit risks tearing the bloc into “tiny pieces”. To cap it off, she warned that she was prepared to walk away from talks if Brussels insisted on giving a “bad deal” to Britain.

Our commentators have been busy analysing her speech. Janet Daley writes that her tone was “pitch perfect”. “The bloodcurdling threats that are being uttered against us are pointless and damaging to what might have been a happy future relationship,” she adds. “Whether they believe it or not in Brussels, that will take some very skillful EU rhetoric to rebut.” But that doesn’t mean it will be plain sailing. Mrs May told her audience at Lancaster House that “there will be give and take” and that the Brexit process “will require imagination on both sides”. She knows it will be necessary to manage expectations, as polls so far suggest the public feels Britain can achieve a deal that curbs immigration, frees it from EU rules and maintains favourable access to the single market all at the same time.

James Kirkup has highlighted where a compromise may be found – in the money Britain pays for single market access. She indicated that Britain would stop paying “huge” amounts of money to the EU, but would make the “appropriate contributions”. This may be economically prudent, Kirkup writes, “but a shared market of this sort means shared rules and shared arbitration.  Doesn’t that entail some sharing of sovereignty, an acceptance that not all decisions can be made by Britain without regard to the views of other nations?” The unveiling of Mrs May’s 12-point Brexit plan is an important part of the process nonetheless, as evidenced by the strong reactions it has received. I tried to answer them this afternoon with two of our resident experts, Europe editor Peter Foster and columnist Juliet Samuel, during our live Q&A.

The next thing Mrs May has to do is formally kickstart the Brexit process by triggering Article 50. The Supreme Court will soon determine if she has to win approval from Parliament before she can do. Assuming the judges do that – and ministers are indeed making that assumption – what will Labour do? Tom Harris suggests it’s time for Jeremy Corbyn to be relevant to the Brexit debate by backing the Government’s efforts wholeheartedly. “As things stand, with Labour standing in the middle of the road on the issues freedom of movement and single market membership,” he writes, “it runs the risk of being run over by traffic heading in both directions.”



Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

Good afternoon.

Theresa May will make her biggest speech yet about Brexit tomorrow morning. She has spent months making clear that Britain will leave the European Union, at very least to convince those who doubted her in Europe that she was serious. Although Philip Hammond found in his recent Die Welt interview that some people in Germany still hope it won’t happen. He explained that “the vast majority of people, like me, who campaigned to remain have now refocused on campaigning to get the right kind of Brexit.”

Mr Hammond’s new focus seems to be presenting Mrs May with a bit of a headache as she prepares to give a steer on what Britain’s relationship with the EU will be after it leaves. She is set to make clear it will involve leaving the single market. According to the FT, her ministers are drawing up plans for a two-tier system of UK border control for EU citizens as part of this. But she has yet to convince her Chancellor of the need to quit the customs union, Robert Peston reports. She won’t be announcing this then, barring a last-minute compromise. The lack of agreement will frustrate Brexiteers like Liam Fox, who see the customs union as roadblock to Britain being able to forge its own trade deals with countries outside of the EU – America, soon to be under the proudly pro-Brexit President Trump.

Mrs May will nonetheless seek to clear up what life will be like for Britain after Brexit. “It will be interesting to see if the Prime Minister expands on her view of what Brexit is actually for,” as Anand Menon of The UK in A Changing Europe writes for us today. “That is, not what Brexit means in legal or policy terms, but what Brexit means for us.” Remember she did write in last Sunday’s Telegraph that Brexit would “change the way our country works forever”.

The Prime Minister won’t just talk about where Britain is going, and how it will get there, but why Europe should want to support it on its way. She’ll talk up Britain’s hand, making clear it isn’t coming to the table as a supplicant, but as a big player. There are signs that EU negotiators know this, as the Guardian reported over the weekend that the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier wants a “special” post-Brexit deal to ensure easy access to the City for the other 27 member states. Mrs May will want to remind her EU partners that they don’t have all the cards in these talks.

Brexit Bulletin – The Telegraph

Good afternoon.

The Brexit preparation continued today as Theresa May hosted her New Zealand counterpart Bill English for a working lunch at Downing Street. The Prime Minister said afterwards that they both agreed on the potential for a “bold” new trading relationship once Britain leaves the European Union. New Zealand’s premier said in turn that he hoped to thrash out a “high quality” trade deal with the UK “as soon as possible”. He’ll be relieved Liam Fox is visiting that Commonwealth nation in the coming months to ensure that happens. All this should help Mrs May hit the ground running next week in the run-up to her big Brexit speech on Tuesday.

Brexit is not just a subject for the international arena, as it is fast becoming an issue in local politics. The Liberal Democrats ousted pro-Leave Zac Goldsmith, despite his 23,000 majority, last month by making a show of how much they agreed with Richmond Park’s mostly pro-Remain residents. In light of that, the departure of pro-Remain Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, one of the most pro-Brexit areas in the country, will worry Labourites about their chances of fending off Ukip and the Tories. Their concern will be even greater given he leaves behind a much smaller majority to defend, of just over 5,100 votes.

The primary threat to Labour in Mr Hunt’s seat comes from Ukip, which came second there in last year’s general election after a swing of over 18% in its favour. If Paul Nuttall’s plan to replace Labour as the voice of the disenfranchised working class should work anywhere, it should be here. That is why there is already considerable pressure on the Ukip leader to test his strategy by standing as the party’s candidate himself. If he does, that is a sign Ukip is in it to win. Their candidate will be unveiled next Saturday.

Ukip’s campaign will face more problems than the Lib Dems did in Richmond Park. The Greens and Conservatives weren’t standing there, so it was easier for them to frame it as a pro/anti Brexit contest. The Conservatives show little sign in standing aside, which means the anti-Corbyn and pro-Brexit vote will be split. They were less than 50 votes behind Ukip last year, so could feel they are worthy contenders. The Tories could present Ukip a whole new problem if they did stand aside though. Any whiff of a pact between both parties risks limiting Ukip’s potential to appeal to left-wing voters. Even if there isn’t an official deal, Labour will do what it can to convince voters otherwise.

This by-election won’t be too surprising for Theresa May, given that she had to approve Mr Hunt’s appointment as director of the V&A museum. She is likely to have known about his career move before Jeremy Corbyn did. Mr Hunt won’t worry too much about surprising his party leader with news of his departure. But the consequences could be uncomfortable for him. It’ll be embarrassing if Labour barely manages to cling onto his seat. If it falls into Ukip’s hands, it’ll be outright humiliating.