Morning briefing: Local Elections - Customs Union - Russia
The local elections may have been mainly about “bins, not Brexit”. But they still impinge on our departure from the EU. A near wipe-out for the party set up to take us out of the bloc and a good showing by the two most pro-European parties may indicate that some voters are going sour on the dismal Brexit project - though we’ll have to wait for post-election opinion polls to be sure.
UKIP was routed, while the LibDems and Greens had a good night. For the Tories and Labour, the picture was mixed, with both gaining and losing councils.
At time of writing, UKIP had lost 92 seats, leaving them with just two. The LibDems were up 41 seats at 326 and had taken the strongly pro-European Richmond-upon-Thames from the Conservatives. The Greens were up six at 22.
Although the Tories did better than feared - losing two seats to take them to 879 - Theresa May shouldn’t take much comfort from the result. The prime minister wakes up this morning with the same problem she went to bed with: she hasn’t got a clue what to do about customs, her Cabinet is split down the middle, she doesn’t have a majority in parliament for her destructive Brexit and time is ticking.
Labour failed to take any of its big targets in London - Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster or Wandsworth. They were up 36 seats at 1,466. The party should ask whether a more pro-European policy would have helped it achieve a breakthrough. There is a strong democratic case for the people to get a vote on the final Brexit deal. As Labour trawls over last night’s results, it may also conclude this would be a shrewd political ploy.
Tweets of the day
Here’s the FT economics editor Chris Giles turning a common Brexiter argument - that more growth will be happening outside the EU in coming decades, therefore we should leave - on its head.
EU ramps up pressure on Ireland
Senior EU officials have told Downing Street that next month’s European summit will suspend negotiations on a future partnership entirely until the customs issue is resolved, according to The Times. The EU has given the Irish government its full backing. Who would have thought being part of a community of nations gave you leverage?
With this looming deadline in mind, the Brexit War Cabinet won’t actually discuss the issue next week. Instead, it will talk about what happens if the talks collapse, only reverting to customs the following week, according to the Sun. Maybe, the prime minister needs a delay to cobble together a majority in the inner Cabinet after her new Home Secretary turned against her convoluted “customs partnership” this week. The Guardian reports that defence secretary Gavin Williamson will be asked to “name his price” to back Number 10’s preferred option rather than the ‘Max-Fac’ alternative.
Meanwhile, David Davis is apparently still threatening to resign if he doesn’t get his way. This suggests our chief negotiator hasn’t quite grasped that threats don’t carry much weight if you repeatedly fail to carry them through. Remember how The Telegraph said before Christmas that he was threatening to quit if Damien Green was sacked over porn?
Regardless of what the cabinet decides, the Sun reports that we could be stuck in the customs union until 2023 anyway; no matter the outcome, replacement systems will not be ready in time. The Telegraph reports one ‘Whitehall source’ saying that “even five years is an optimistic estimate”. Fortunately, as everyone knows, large-scale government IT projects always proceed on time, on budget, and without any catastrophic failures of implementation. There’s really nothing to worry about here.
Quote of the day
“The last GDP number was 0.1 per cent. We went from being the strongest growing western economy and we are now the slowest growing economy in Europe.”
- George Osborne argues that his predictions of a post-Brexit slowdown are being fulfilled
Britain needs allies to combat Russian disinformation
The Guardian reports that the UK will call on allies to rethink their strategy on Russia. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson feels more should be done to combat disinformation - a new but welcome change of heart - and will be leading the charge at a series of upcoming summits.
Multilateral efforts are, of course, more effective than going it alone. With the Lords complaining that our policy on post-Brexit sanctions cooperation with the bloc is still up in the air, can Boris say we’ll really have an easier time combating Russia from the outside?
Video of the day
Do you really want a Brexit future? (via OFOC)
More Brexit news…
Top Brexit comment
Guardian View: Britain and EU should be partners on Galileo, not rivals (Guardian)
Luke Lythgoe: Customs u-turn joins long line of May’s Brexit flip-flops (InFacts)
Today, Friday 4 May
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