Morning briefing: What's Gove's game? - beware "blind Brexit" - passport queues
Why exactly is Michael Gove toying with the idea that the UK should stay in the single market post-Brexit? Isn’t he a Brexit extremist? And isn’t it anathema to hardline Brexiters to remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) - accepting free movement of people, paying money and following all the EU’s rules without any vote on them?
Gove, who is now the most senior Brexiter in the Cabinet since Boris Johnson and David Davis quit last month, has privately discussed a plan that would keep the UK in the single market if Theresa May’s Brexit strategy failed, according to the FT. This chimes with what a senior Tory told me last week.
The environment secretary raised the possibility at a dinner with Tory MPs and peers on June 25, before the Cabinet agreed the prime minister’s unloved Chequers’ plan. His allies told the FT he was simply exploring different scenarios and “wasn’t advocating the EEA”.
So what is Gove up to? One theory is that he is manoeuvring to replace Theresa May if she can’t reach a deal with the EU (see below) or can’t get MPs to back a deal. He would plunge a knife between her shoulder blades as he did to Boris Johnson just after the referendum - and then promise to unite Brexiters and pro-Europeans in the Tory Party by promising the single market as an option.
As stated, this idea seems fanciful. But a variation on the theme, advocated by Paul Goodman, on Conservative Home last month might just be a runner. This involves parking the UK in the EEA for four years after Brexit - after which we would go for a Canada-style trade deal with the EU or, failing that, rely on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
Such a proposal might just work to Gove’s advantage. After all, Tory Brexit extremists might think they would eventually get the hard Brexit they’ve been salivating over; while soft Brexiters might think four years would turn into six and then eight and, before you know it, we would stay in the EEA forever. What’s more, by kicking the can until, say, 2023, the day of reckoning over just how ghastly a hard Brexit is would be delayed until after the next general election, helping the Tories win it.
There are, though, many problems with such a scheme. Even if the other EU countries accepted it, they would insist on an all-weather “backstop” to keep the Irish border open after the four years come to an end.
This would be a sword of Damocles hanging over us, as Davis said after he resigned. Unless the government was then prepared to create a border in the Irish Sea, it wouldn’t be able to go for a hard Brexit without tearing up its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. That, as I explained on InFacts last month, could be even more traumatic than crashing out next year with no deal.
Another problem is that such a plan would attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of voters until it was too late. It would be a dishonest Brexit. If this is what Gove is scheming, it must be stopped.
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Video of the day
WATCH: Armando Iannucci, creator of brilliant comedy "The Thick of It", tells us why he's backing a People's Vote on the final Brexit deal.
Beware a blind Brexit
The Irish border “backstop” also hangs as a sword of Damocles over the idea that the EU could agree a fudged deal to keep Theresa May in power. The thinking is this will let the prime minister scrape some vague version of her Chequers’ proposal past rebellious MPs and avoid a catastrophic no-deal scenario. Even German chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be inching towards a more flexible approach, according to the FT - although German sources have denied such a proposal had been made. There are similar problems with such fudge as with the temporary EEA option discussed above: the possibility of a catastrophic crash-out if the Brexiters rip up the backstop post-Brexit; and keeping the people in the dark over what Brexit means until it it too late.
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Why not take this Twitter poll from OFOC? We think we know what the result is going to be...
Quote of the day
“We have to make a decision on Britain's future relationship with the EU by the end of this year and we have to be very honest with ourselves about the choices that we face - and we need to have these frank discussions because time is very, very short.”
Jeremy Hunt’s message to EU counterparts on his European tour. Of course, Theresa May’s endless can-kicking and refusal to have those frank discussions is the main reason time is now “very, very short” rather than just short.
Yes, there’s no deal. But Brexit is causing damage now
It’s shaping up to be the summer of no-deal Brexit warnings. The latest batch includes drug-makers Sanofi and Novartis stockpiling medicines and revelations that local councils are braced for fallout including “civil unrest”, according to a Sky News investigation.
But amidst all the no-deal panic, it’s easy to forget the damage even the prospect of Brexit is doing to this country. Today’s headlines alone contained four prime examples: House of Fraser teeters on the brink as shaky consumer confidence adds to high street woes; manufacturing growth weakened as domestic demand slows; the European Medicines Agency’s approval of new drugs is slowing due to an expected 30% loss of staff; and Credit Suisse has moved several hundred million dollars out of London to support a new hub in Frankfurt. All this and Brexit hasn’t even happened yet.
Video of the day 2
WATCH NOW: Emma voted leave in the EU referendum but is now demanding a People's Vote on the final Brexit deal because of the uncertainty she's experienced.
UK passport queues sum up Brexit mess
May’s latest Brexit brainwave, that we should have British-only passport queues at UK airports, sums up the madness of Brexit in a nutshell. The prime minister is at odds with her ministers: home secretary Sajid Javid thinks the idea is problematic but May is set to overrule him. It’s unclear if a plan has even been drawn up yet. It could cost a fair bit, and there’s no obvious benefit beyond pandering to Brexiters by drawing distinctions between Brits and foreigners. In fact, it could be worse than the current set-up because (depending on how it’s implemented) it could mean longer queues for UK passport holders. And what if EU countries respond with retaliatory measures making life harder for UK tourists and business travellers? It’s a microcosm of the Brexit mess.
More Brexit news…
Top Brexit comment
Armando Iannucci: Why I'm demanding a second referendum on the belched-up mess of Brexit (Mirror)
Allister Heath: The kamikaze Brexit strategy of this Government beggars belief (Telegraph £)
Frank Field & Nicholas Soames: ID cards could give us greater freedom (Times £)
Today, Thursday 2 August
|-||Parliament in recess|
|-||Bank of England expected to raise interest rates|
Tomorrow, Friday 3 August
|-||Parliament in recess|
|-||Theresa May visits Emmanuel Macron|