Morning Briefing: Nissan in reverse - backstop talking shop - Labour's weak whipping
Nissan’s decision not to build its new X-Trail model in Sunderland, citing “continued uncertainty” around Brexit, is a huge blow. Not just for the 7,000 workers at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, and the entire North East economy. But also because Nissan was the company which pledged to invest in Brexit Britain after cutting a deal with the government back in October 2016. If it’s rowing back on that agreement, things really must be bad.
Decisions such as Nissan’s are being made before we’ve even left, as a reaction to business uncertainty. Any form of Brexit, particularly the government’s deal, would see that uncertainty stretching out for years ahead. A “Brexternity” of stalled economic decisions and companies voting with their feet.
The trade unions should join employers in calls against Brexit. In particular, Unite - the union which represents Nissan’s Sunderland workers - should take a clearer line against a policy which is damaging so many of its members. Its assistant general secretary called the news at the weekend “disturbing” and said Nissan’s workers were “very anxious”.
These are desperate times for UK industry. Both businesses and trade unions must stop trying to facilitate Brexit and acknowledge that no type of Brexit is as good as the deal we’ve got in the EU today. Every proposal out there would leave us poorer and racked by uncertainty for years to come. And the most democratic way to stay in the EU is to hold a People’s Vote, and ask employees and union members up and down the country whether they really want to go through with Brexit after all.
Quote of the Day
“People are starting to worry how long the plant is going to stay open.”
Nissan employee, talking to the FT, reveals the real-life fears Brexit is causing
Video of the Day
One stop backstop talking-shop
As the UK’s car industry crumbles, Theresa May has find another way to run down the Brexit clock. This one is called the “Alternative Arrangements Working Group”. Downing Street has assembled a crew of hard and soft Brexiters - including Steve Baker, Marcus Fysh, Owen Paterson, Nicky Morgan and Damian Green - to discuss ways to change the Irish backstop.
It seems doomed to fail. The Irish PM said the UK was reviewing ideas which had “already been rejected”. Michel Barnier’s deputy tweeted that the technological solutions to the Irish border which Brexiters seem to have returned to do not exist yet, and won’t “in the next few years”. What’s more, Steve Baker, one of the hard Brexiters reportedly on the working group, tweeted of “trouble ahead” if May tries to tag changes to the backstop onto her deal. Baker wants the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” - a complete overhaul of the deal which the EU is never going to agree to.
So this latest “crunch summit”, as the Daily Express described it, is just a space for Brexiters to pursue unicorns amongst themselves as the Brexit clock ticks.
Tweet of the Day
Johnson right, but in the wrong
Such disarray in the Tory camp makes the rumours of a snap general election look rather unlikely. Boris Johnson’s analysis in the Telegraph seems spot on when he talks of a “hole in the heart” of any Tory manifesto if an election was called, because “after two and a half years of dither the truly astonishing feature of the UK position is that the big questions have still not been answered”.
But hang on. Wasn’t Johnson serving in Cabinet as foreign secretary for most of that time? Wasn’t Johnson in Cabinet when the original agreement on the backstop was made in the first place, and when May’s original “Chequers plan” was being drawn together? Try as they might to distance themselves from the chaos of government, hard Brexiters like Johnson were at the heart of it. Indeed, they set the ball rolling with their campaign of lies and impossible promises in 2016.
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Labour’s weak whipping
The Labour leadership is also facing the consequences of its Brexit dithering tonight, or “constructive ambiguity” as insiders like to call it, with a meeting of the parliamentary party this evening likely to be a very fractious affair. Several pro-European backbenchers told the Guardian they were concerned pro-Brexit rebels had not been properly disciplined for voting with the government last week on Yvette Cooper’s amendment aimed at preventing the UK from crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Eight Labour shadow ministers abstained on votes last week. But there have been no consequences, unlike the dismissals of pro-EU frontbenchers after previous votes. If Jeremy Corbyn really is failing to properly whip his party, he is going against the motion agreed at Labour’s party conference to “vigorously oppose any attempt by this government to deliver a no-deal outcome”. Both Cooper’s amendment and those of Rachel Reeves and Dominic Grieve were attempts to stop the government doing just that. Labour members will not be impressed if the party leadership facilitates Brexit - and the latest Opinium poll in the Observer shows Labour seven points behind the Tories already.
Data hitch may hit vital public services (Times £)
Top Brexit comment
Richard Harrington: We must rule out a hard exit. Business is at breaking point (Observer)
Matthew d’Ancona: An orderly Brexit depends on a united Tory party. So start stockpiling now (Guardian)
Michael Arthur: Universities face a dual threat of a chaotic Brexit and funding cuts (Times £)
Today, Monday 4th February
|-||First meeting of 'Alternative Arrangements Working Group' on backstop|
|09.30||ONS: Personal and economic well-being (Jul-Sep 2018)|
|16.30||Westminster Hall debate: e-petition demanding Article 50 is not suspended / stopped.|
Tomorrow, Tuesday 5th February
|10.15||Scottish affairs committee on the relationship between the UK and Scottish Parliament|
|14.30||Welsh affairs committee on Brexit, trade and customs|