Morning Briefing: Biggest Brexit u-turn yet? - muddled migration - Johnson's extension
Hidden amidst the inflammatory rhetoric comparing the EU to the Soviet Union and tough language that the “ball is in their court”, is the government about to make its biggest Brexit u-turn yet: offering to stay in the customs union for potentially a very long time?
Theresa May is going to do exactly that, according to The Times. She will accept that the UK will have the same tariffs as the EU and be bound by its trade policy until a “mutually acceptable technological solution to the Irish border issue was found”. The paper says: “Britain would also accept demands that goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain must meet European standards, with the potential for checks in the Irish Sea.”
The prime minister will not be happy that this story has been published in the midst of the Tory conference when she is trying to look tough with her party faithful to head off a potential leadership challenge from Boris Johnson. That’s presumably also why she is ramping up the rhetoric about controlling migration (see below).
But back in the real world, May knows she has to make more concessions to the EU if she wants a deal. Staying in the customs union for as long as the eye can see would be a big one. And it has the merit of being viable - unlike the prime minister’s nightmarishly bureaucratic plan to separate goods coming into the UK into those that are going to stay here and those which will end up in the EU, charge different tariffs for them and track them electronically to make sure UK-destined goods don’t end up accidentally in the EU.
The government could still pay lip-service to the idea that some fancy technological solution could be developed. But with no time limit on finding such a solution and the acceptance that the EU would have to be happy with any new technology, departure from customs union purgatory would be the stuff of never-never land.
A customs union u-turn would help solve the Irish border issue, but it wouldn’t be enough. That’s why May is also going to agree that goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain must meet EU standards and that there can be checks in the Irish Sea to ensure they do, according to The Times. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed last night that the government was looking into how regulatory checks might work.
HAVE YOU SIGNED THE PETITION FOR A PEOPLE'S VOTE?
Quite how the prime minister hopes to square such a concession with her rhetoric about not accepting anything that would divide “our precious union” isn’t clear. One possibility is that she still hopes that the EU will agree some variation of her friendless Chequers proposal, under which the whole UK would follow EU rules on goods. In that case, there would be no need for an Irish Sea border.
But if the EU sticks to its insistence that we can’t have free movement of goods without free movement of people and services, there’s another possibility: that the government agrees an indefinite customs union, an Irish Sea border and agrees a conventional free trade deal between Great Britain and the EU. This would, of course, damage our economy (because it would do nothing to protect our world-beating services industries) and divide the United Kingdom. But maybe that’s what the government will be driven to. Is this what Raab meant when he told The Sun that the government was prepared to consider “alternative proposals” to Chequers?
Whichever way one looks at it, a u-turn on the lines of what The Times is reporting would make a mockery of the government’s Brexit policy.
Tweet of the day
Conservatives for a People’s Vote present their case to a packed room. More and more Conservatives are coming out in support for a People's Vote.
Theresa May and Sajid Javid are tag-teaming an announcement on the government’s post-Brexit migration policy today. The home secretary has spoken to the Daily Mail and will lay out the plans in a conference speech at noon, while the prime minister hits the airwaves this morning.
Despite the big media treatment, it’s essentially the policies in last month’s Migration Advisory Committee report, which Cabinet has agreed to adopt: end EU free movement, prioritise skilled workers. Is the government throwing out red meat on migration in an attempt to drown out Boris Johnson’s conference appearance at 1pm?
In any case, there are still lots of loose ends to the government’s migration vision. Will there be a cap on numbers? May’s limit of less than 100,000 was conspicuously absent this morning. Low-skilled workers are needed in many sectors too - but there’s scant information on how they can enter the country. Meanwhile, immigration minister Caroline Nokes told Bloomberg that deals on migration could be part of future trade agreements the UK pursues after Brexit - including, presumably, with the EU itself. On that basis, everything remains up in the air.
Video of the day
WATCH: UK Operations director Nick Hart says that “People need to make the decision themselves based on the full facts which is not what we had at the start of the referendum.” If you agree sign up HERE.
Conference giveaways are fantasies - Brexit has cost us
So far this Conservative conference, Dominic Raab has pledged to slash corporation tax to 10% and cut income tax if we crash out of the EU with no deal, while chancellor Philip Hammond has promised a “deal dividend” will boost economic growth if Theresa May actually manages to reach an agreement with the EU. This is all fantasy.
Brexit is already costing the public purse £500m a week, according to the Centre for European Reform think tank - and Brexit hasn’t even happened. If economic growth and investment hadn’t been depressed, the budget deficit would now be just 0.1% of GDP and austerity would be over. We could already be cutting taxes and pushing up spending on priorities such as the NHS, rather than merely promising them for the future with money we won’t have.
Quote of the day
“In my opinion and from the outside, the only way Britain is to reach a reconciliation and end these deep divisions through society is if it holds a referendum in which no one can say, after two years of deep discussion, they did not know the consequences of Brexit. Very few knew the full consequences of Brexit after the first referendum.”
Norbert Röttgen, foreign affairs committee chairman in the German parliament
More Brexit news…
Guardian: Referendum only way to heal Brexit divisions, says top German politician (Guardian)
Nick Kent: Government rattled as People’s Vote fervour seizes fringe (InFacts)
Polly Toynbee: This is the speech Theresa May should have the courage to give (Guardian)
Oliver Kamm: Likening the EU to the Soviets is crass and inflammatory (Times £)
Today, Tuesday 2nd October
|-||Parliament in recess for conference season|
|-||Conservative Party Autumn Conference (Birmingham)|
|from 10.00||Conservative conference speeches including Sajid Javid|
|13:00||Boris Johnson's Conservative conference fringe speech|
Tomorrow, Wednesday 3rd October
|-||Parliament in recess for conference season|
|-||Conservative Party autumn conference (Birmingham)|
|from 10.00||Theresa May's Conservative conference speech|