Morning Briefing: May's hard-sell begins - fishing for leverage - May's deal costs £1,000 per person
Theresa May is back from a sombre signing of her Brexit deal in Brussels yesterday. But that was the easy bit. The next couple of weeks could be her toughest yet, as she tries to bring MPs behind the deal ahead of a “meaningful” vote in Parliament scheduled for December 12.
Four main arguments at the heart of May’s hard-sell are doing the rounds this morning. Each is fairly easy to debunk.
First, that the PM’s is the best deal possible. This line has been strongly backed up by EU leaders, making clear they aren’t keen for a renegotiation. But there is a better deal that’s still available: the one we have with the EU at the moment.
Second, that by voting down May’s deal we’re “back to square one” and uncertainty will reign. That ignores the fact that the deal has uncertainty hardwired into it, with only 26 vague pages on our future relationship with the EU and years of toxic negotiations and political infighting ahead.
Third, that people are bored of Brexit. But under May’s deal Brexit will drag on for years before we know what we’re getting and be able to focus on other important priorities for the country.
Finally, May will be hoping to scare MPs (both her own and Labour’s) in seats that voted to Leave in 2016, suggesting they will be unelected for opposing her deal - and by extension opposing Brexit. Again, a People’s Vote provides the answer. By demanding the public get the final say, MPs aren’t opposing Brexit - just May’s miserable deal. And recent polling by YouGov has shown that in every Tory seat with a majority under 5,000 the electorate backs a People’s Vote. The same applies for all 259 Labour seats across Britain.
May has a cabinet meeting today to gameplan how best to avoid a defeat in Parliament, followed by a statement in the Commons later. This will be followed by a two-week media blitz, including a tour of the country, publication of the government’s economic analysis on May’s deal, and possibly even a TV Brexit debate with Jeremy Corbyn, according to some reports.
But with over 90 Conservative MPs saying they’ll vote against her - plus her DUP “allies”, Labour and other opposition parties - the arithmetic doesn’t look good for any vote (the FT has some good analysis here). If the deal is voted down, the government has 21 days to come up with a new plan. That’s when MPs need to start really throwing their support behind a People’s Vote.
Quote of the Day
“It’s not possible to rule out anything, and that’s why all of us have to say: what do your constituents actually want in this situation? And we have to work out what’s in the national interest, and it’s all about the balance of risks.”
Jeremy Hunt made the case for May’s deal on the BBC yesterday. He could just as easily have been advocating a People’s Vote.
Video of the Day
May’s deal would cost £1,000 per person a year by 2030
The first independent economic analysis of the government’s proposed Brexit deal shows it would reduce the value of the UK’s economy by 3.9% - or £100 billion a year by 2030 - compared to staying in the EU. This would be an average cost of more than £1,000 a person and is the equivalent of losing the economic output of Wales or the City of London.
The report was commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign, but conducted independently by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the UK’s longest-established economic think-tank. It shows that the government’s preferred Brexit outcome - leaving in March 2019 and entering a transition period lasting until December 2020 before moving to a free trade agreement with the EU - would have a catastrophic reduction in trade and investment.
The key finding is that if the government’s proposed Brexit deal is implemented so that the UK leaves the EU customs union and single market in 2021, then by 2030 GDP will be around 4% lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU. This is largely because higher impediments to services trade make it less attractive to sell services from the UK. This discourages investment in the UK and ultimately means that UK workers are less productive than they would have been if the UK had stayed in the EU.
The report also modelled alternative Brexit outcomes against staying in the EU. This showed that remaining in a customs union beyond the transition period, possibly through invoking the so-called Irish “backstop”, would still mean a hit to GDP of 2.8% a year, the equivalent of £70 billion a year.
Another scenario, favoured by some Brexit supporters, of an “orderly no deal” departure from the EU would reduce GDP by 5.5%, or £140 billion a year.
The report will be formally unveiled today at a press conference led by three former business ministers: Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, Labour's Pat McFadden and Conservative Anna Soubry.
Tweet of the Day
Stephen Doughty's response to Theresa May's "letter to the nation".
Astonishingly weak negotiating position
Unless we agree a fishing deal, we’ll be trapped indefinitely in a bare-bones customs union, France’s president warned yesterday. Emmanuel Macron’s comments are not rhetorical grandstanding. The notorious “backstop”, which contains the customs union, puts us in an astonishingly weak position for the future negotiations - and not just over fish - as Hugo Dixon shows in this definitive guide in InFacts.
The backstop cannot just be axed from May's deal - it's essential as an insurance policy to stop a hard border on the island of Ireland, protecting the hard-won peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement. But UK politicians will desperately want to avoid triggering it. That would expose the UK's digital services, financial services, air transport, road haulage, public procurement, free movement of capital, and services in general. These are all areas where we want a deal. After all, we had a £28 billion surplus in services with the EU last year.
Being in the backstop would also do nothing to ensure the NHS can get hold of medical isotopes to treat cancer. It doesn’t give our crime fighters access to vital EU databases. It doesn’t let our scientists participate in EU research programmes or our young people take part in student exchanges. Nor does it give our citizens the right to visa-free travel – or to those who live in one EU country the right to settle in another EU country.
So Macron is right when he says: “I can’t imagine that the desire of Theresa May or her supporters is to remain for the long term in a customs union.” We will be desperate to do a deal.
What’s more, a new clock will be ticking madly, as the backstop kicks in at the end of 2020. While we can ask for a delay, the EU has already made clear it won’t give one unless we agree to what it wants on fishing.
Meanwhile, the EU will be sitting pretty, because the backstop will allow goods, where it had a £95 billion surplus with us last year, to trade fairly smoothly. It will be waiting for us to make concession after concession in the coming talks.
Fishing will be only one. France has already indicated it will want us to follow yet more EU rules without a say on them; and Spain has made clear it expects concessions on Gibraltar.
This is a stinker of a deal. MPs must reject it.
Video of the Day 2
WATCH: For a lighter take on the news, this weeks FFS Awards with Liron. Civil Servants, Anonymous Downing Street Press briefers, and Dominic Raab - for admitting that staying in the EU would be better than the deal he negotiated!
Jig’s up for Johnson on Ireland
Boris Johnson was willing to see “random checks” between Northern Ireland and the UK to get a Brexit deal, a three-page letter seen by The Times has revealed. It’s embarrassing for Johnson, foreign secretary at the time, who this weekend told delegates at the DUP’s annual conference: “No British Conservative government could or should sign up to anything of the kind”. For the DUP, a customs border in the Irish Sea is a “blood red line”. Johnson’s forked tongue will do nothing for the credibility of any alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal he puts forward in the coming weeks.
More Brexit news…
DUP stick with the devil they know, for now (Politico)
New knight won’t back PM despite honour (Times £)
David Willetts: People’s Vote would help to heal our divided country (Times £)
Luke Lythgoe: May’s letter to public riddled with untruths and half-truths (InFacts)
Lucy Woodcock: By backing a People’s Vote, May could save the Conservatives. (Conservative Home)
Andrew Rawnsley: The Anti-Brexiters can get by without a leader. But not without a Plan (The Observer)
Today, Monday 26th November
|-||Cabinet meets to discuss avoiding defeat on Brexit deal|
|12.00||Independent economic analysis on Brexit deal published by People's Vote|
|15.30||Theresa May statement to Commons on Brexit deal|
Tomorrow, Tuesday 27th November
|09.30||ONS: Annual Business Survey: Non-financial business economy, exporters and Importers 2017|
|10.30 and 15.30||
Expert evidence to DCMS 'fake news' inquiry
|15.30||Sajid Javid evidence to home affairs committee|