Morning Briefing: End this lame Malthouse unicorn - Starmer's free movement - broken promises to Nissan
Last Tuesday the government backed a Brexit unicorn - the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” - in a bid to keep the disintegrating Conservative party together. Less than a week on, and the unicorn is already lame.
Even as Theresa May prepares to make a speech in Northern Ireland promising to secure a deal with the EU that “commands broad support” and a majority in Parliament, and a gaggle of soft and hard Brexiters gather to discuss the options, it’s clear that divisions in the Tory party won’t be fixed.
Many pro-European MPs have called out the Malthouse unicorn for what it really is, with former universities minister Sam Gyimah denouncing “fantasy politics”. But it is the Tory hard Brexiters, whom May is bending over backwards to accommodate, who are putting up the most resistance.
Yesterday, while meeting MPs from the Commons Brexit committee, the European Commission’s secretary-general Martin Selmayr offered legal guarantees that the controversial “backstop” would only be temporary. That could be presented as a fundamental change to May’s deal. But the two Brexiters in the meeting - Andrea Jenkyns and John Whittingdale - said they would still not be able to support it.
The problem is that the Brexiters have gone Full Malthouse: demanding a renegotiation of the backstop and relying on technological solutions (which don’t exist) to keep trade flowing freely across the Irish border. It’s a fantasy the EU can’t accept, as Angela Merkel showed by again ruling out the reopening of the withdrawal agreement.
Perhaps the Brexiters are deluded over what they can achieve. But this “compromise” looks a lot like a cynical ploy to run the Brexit clock down to “no deal” on March 29. And even if Brexiters were given everything they want on the backstop, it’s unlikely that many would support May’s deal even then. Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column yesterday made that abundantly clear, laying into the “staggering” divorce bill, “protracted and humiliating” transition period and May’s “bonkers” plans for future relations with the EU.
The more reasonable members of the Tory party need to quickly dispatch this lame Malthouse unicorn to unicorn heaven. It’s already wasted another two weeks of precious time. MPs must resist creating new fantasies and focus on rapidly exploring the remaining Brexit options on the table: Labour’s proposals, “Norway plus”, “managed no deal”...
Once all of these are written off as either unviable or disastrous, there is only one democratic way to break the deadlock in Parliament. Backing a People’s Vote.
Video of the Day
Starmer’s moves on free movement
The problem with Labour’s Brexit plan is the details have never been clearly spelled out. Keir Starmer’s Newsnight interview yesterday could provide some clues. Labour’s Brexit chief was open to a qualified version of free movement of people, claiming most Brits had no problem with EU citizens coming to join their family, or study, or take up a job as long as “it has been advertised locally beforehand”. He also suggested EU state aid rules would not be a problem.
Whether this is Labour party policy or just Keir Starmer policy is unclear. But it would move Labour’s Brexit vision towards something more realistic. It’s still bad, because we’d be left as huge rule-takers, but it’s potentially negotiable. The most important thing for Labour to do is hurry up and settle on one plan then try and get it through Parliament. If it then fails, it’s time to move on to the final part of Labour’s stated Brexit policy and support a public vote. What’s clear is that this prolonged inertia is frustrating Jeremy Corbyn’s followers and losing Labour support in the country.
Tweet of the Day
Actor David Schneider sums up why we need a People’s Vote
Promises to Nissan broken
Following Nissan’s announcement over the weekend that it will not be making its new X-Trail model in Sunderland after all, the government has said that they intend to take back the £60 million pledge for breaking its 2016 promises to investing in Britain.
This hard stance beggars belief. The whole country - and the North East in particular - knows that it is this government that has broken promises on Brexit. Far from delivering what they said they would - frictionless free trade, the easiest deal and the exact same benefits of being in the EU - the government’s proposed deal would mean the UK being £100 billion a year worse off, a massive loss of trade with Europe and less control over the rules we have to follow than we have already inside the EU.
Instead of blaming Nissan, Downing Street should be on its knees apologising to Sunderland car workers for failing them. Perhaps a suitable olive branch would be asking the people if they really want this Brexit mess after all by giving them a People’s Vote?
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The great Brexit traffic jam
In an effort to prevent miles-long tailbacks in Kent, HMRC has taken the drastic step of announcing that imports from the EU will be waved through unchecked in case of a “no deal” Brexit. This is all very well, but any solution depends on how the French react. And France will be under pressure from 26 other member states to protect the EU’s single market from sub-standard or unsafe products entering via Britain. While no such products might arrive at Dover, once the UK crashes out of the single market’s legal framework the EU cannot be sure. Who knows who might take advantage of Brexit chaos? The EU’s instinctive response will be to protect its consumers.
Quote of the Day
“Even if the government fixes 100% of the problems on it’s side of the border, the reality is that will only ever be 50% of the total picture. It’s the French authorities that will determine whether or not parts of Kent become a lorry-park.”
Joe Owen, associate director of the Institute for Government, quoted in the FT
What's your reason?
WATCH: Everyone’s reasons are different and we want to hear yours. Send a 30-second video to LGBT@peoples-vote.co.uk. Tell us your name, your age, where you are from, and why you support a People’s Vote.
Top Brexit comment
Isobel Housecroft: As a Labour campaigner I’m left wondering what we stand for (New European)
Polly Toynbee: Fantasies of Dunkirk spirit couldn’t survive a no-deal Brexit (Guardian)
Ian Davidson: May wrong to suggest MPs must not ‘usurp’ her power (InFacts)
Today, Tuesday 5th February
Theresa May speech in Northern Ireland
|10.15||Scottish affairs committee on the relationship between the UK and Scottish Parliament|
|14.30||Welsh affairs committee on Brexit, trade and customs|
Tomorrow, Wednesday 6th February
|09.30||ONS: UK productivity analysis|
|09.30||EFRA committee pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Environment Bill|
|09.30||Westminster Hall debate: UK as a financial services hub|
|09.30||Northern Ireland affairs committee on implications of EU Withdrawal and Backstop|
|10.30||Lords EU sub-committee on future UK-EU cooperation on asylum|
|11.00||Liam Fox at International Trade committee|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|