Morning Briefing: Backstop blues - Brexit fails science test - Mail's changed tune
Theresa May’s statement in the House of Commons yesterday laid out exactly why there’s been no breakthrough in Brexit talks in Brussels. The prime minister’s four-step proposal to keep the Irish border open is clearly unacceptable to the EU. As ever, her offer looks like a desperate exercise in keeping the Brextremists in her fractious party on side, as the country hurtles towards a cliff edge.
It’s all about the “backstop” - the insurance policy that the EU, strongly supporting the Republic of Ireland, is demanding to ensure that the post-Brexit border is as invisible as it is now, thus safeguarding the Northern Ireland peace process.
The EU’s idea for a “weather-proof” insurance policy is that Northern Ireland would stay in the same customs and regulatory system as the single market, if no better solution can be found in a future UK-EU trade agreement.
May wants a UK-wide backstop, and is floating the idea of an extension to the Brexit transition period to buy time if a solution hasn’t been found by December 2020. But what she is proposing is a “short extension” which would have to be over “well before the end of this Parliament”. She is also clear that the UK should “not be kept in either (an extension or a backstop) indefinitely”.
As an insurance policy, that simply doesn’t work. This would be like having an insurance policy that the insurance company could cancel the first time you tried to claim.
Nor are Brexiters likely to trust May’s proposal. They fear being stuck in a customs union with the EU ad infinitum. The mere fact May has confirmed that extending the transition period is an option will set their alarm bells ringing.
While this huge problem remains deadlocked, May’s claim to have settled 95% of the Brexit withdrawal deal means nothing. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of a breakthrough. The EU’s offer to drop references to Northern Ireland staying within the bloc’s “customs territory”, reported in the FT, doesn’t go far enough. And May’s statement yesterday certainly didn’t.
The alternative is crashing out of the EU without a deal at all. But MPs must balk at the chaos that will unleash. Thankfully there is a way through - letting the people bail the politicians out of the mess they’ve got themselves into by calling a People’s Vote.
Video of the day
Brexit fails science test
Brexit could be devastating for British - and European - science. That’s the verdict of 29 Nobel Laureates and six winners of the prestigious Fields medal, who have written a letter to Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker urging that science needs “the flow of people and ideas across borders” to flourish. Sir Paul Nurse, head of the Francis Crick Institute, said the “overwhelming negativity of scientists towards a hard Brexit should be a wake-up call to the country and the government.”
Many scientists are considering leaving the UK because of Brexit. An internal survey of 1,050 scientists at the Crick Institute, 40% from other EU countries, found that more than half (including the Brits) said they were less likely to stay. 97 per cent thought Brexit would be bad for British research. And 45% of lab heads said Brexit had already affected their work - either recruiting new scientists, being excluded from EU programmes or facing increased costs after the fall in the pound.
Quote of the day
“I'm currently funded by the EU - also for my PhD which I did in the UK - and I know that lots of this money will not arrive in the UK any more. And of course that's a big concern.”
Jasmin Zohren, a post-doctoral researcher from Germany, facing difficult decisions thanks to Brexit
Tweet of the day
Parliament running out of time to implement Brexit?
Who remembers the EU Withdrawal Act? It was designed to shift all EU law onto the UK statute books before Brexit. Between 800 and 1,000 changes to legislation, known as statutory instruments (SIs), are required to make that happen before March 29. But although almost half the time has passed, only 9% of the necessary SIs have come before Parliament, a study reported in The Times reveals. Scrutinising them in time is looking like an impossible task.
Video of the day 2
WATCH: Kicking off their Week of Action, a group of young OFOC supporters in York went to visit their MP, Rachael Maskell, with over 350 signatures and dozens of postcards to give her - watch her reaction!
Mail’s changed tune should keep changing
Oh, how the Daily Mail has changed its tune since long-standing and notoriously foul-mouthed editor Paul Dacre departed. Today the pro-Brexit paper carries an editorial declaring: “Enough is enough. The peacocking saboteurs out to knife Mrs May are dragging their country - and their party - towards the abyss.” It goes on to condemn the “loathsome” and “vulgar” language being used by Brexiters against the prime minister. These are exactly the people the Mail used to support just months ago, using exactly the same tone that newspaper once did: who can forget the “enemies of the people” splash or calls to “crush the saboteurs”?
But new editor-in-chief Geordie Greig must realise that it’s not just the Brexiters dragging us into the abyss. It’s the “shortcomings of the Chequers plan”, recognised in this column. Perhaps it’s time for another editorial shift: to champion a People’s Vote.
More Brexit news…
Kira Lewis: I joined the march to secure UK youth’s future (Evening Standard)
Zoe Williams: The People’s Vote march showed it’s not just leavers who are angry and patriotic (Guardian)
Rachel Sylvester: Brexiteers are running scared of democracy (Times £)
Today, Tuesday 23rd October
|-||King and queen of the Netherlands to begin state visit to UK|
|09.30||ONS: Young people’s earnings progression and geographic mobility 2012-16|
|10.00||Justice minister evidence to Commons justice committee on no-deal Brexit|
|12.30||Energy minister evidence to the Lords’ EU energy committee on no-deal preparations|
|14.30||Health secretary to give evidence to Commons health committee on no-deal Brexit|
Tomorrow, Wednesday 24th October
|-||1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs|
|09.30||ONS: Trade figures published|
|10.15||Leader of the Lords and Leader of Commons to give evidence to Lords’ Constitution Committee on Brexit Process|
|12:00||Prime Ministers Questions|