Wednesday 16 May 2018 - People's Vote

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Wednesday 16 May 2018

Here comes a White Paper! - devolution deadlock - Mail's economic spin

Theresa May is promising to finally tell us what Brexit means next month, in a White Paper that the government says will be its “most significant publication on the EU” since the referendum.

Don’t hold your breath. Expect, rather, another woolly mishmash of proposals that amount to the prime minister wanting to have her cake and eat it. Expect, also, for her to have to eat her words when she confronts the reality that the EU won’t agree to what she wants.

The White Paper is supposed to set up negotiations on our future partnership with the EU in advance of the next European Council summit on June 28-29. A Cabinet source told the BBC it would "allow the UK to go and actually negotiate". It will be more than 100 pages long, as if verbiage guarantees detailed policies.

One hot potato is what policy to pick for customs. The Cabinet is in a state of perpetual war over whether to plump for May’s favoured “customs partnership” or Boris Johnson’s preferred “Max Fac” scheme. Further discussions yesterday failed to resolve the matter. The snag is that neither plan is viable - and the Cabinet has been told the customs partnership may not even be legal under international law, according to The Times.

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The BBC’s  Laura Kuenssberg says several cabinet ministers think we could just stay in the EU’s customs union - which is viable - until a solution is developed. Such epic can-kicking would be entirely in the prime minister’s character - but would also be a dereliction of duty, as I explain in this column for InFacts.

But customs aren’t the only problem that May is set to duck. The FT says the White Paper isn’t expected to describe in detail the “backstop” plan to keep the Irish border open if we fail to reach a trade deal that solves the problem. Stopping the return of frontier controls in Ireland is a key objective for the EU. It won’t be impressed that the prime minister is refusing to engage seriously on the topic.

Then there’s the issue of “regulatory alignment”. The government seems set to propose that our rules should match the EU’s immediately after Brexit and then diverge over time. Brussels has already reacted coolly to this cockamamie scheme - and for good reason. The EU will not agree to be tied up in endless discussions with us about what is acceptable regulatory divergence and what is not, and what should be done if we do diverge.

We’ve been here before. First, May gave her Lancaster House speech. That was followed by the government’s White Paper, setting out its Brexit wishlist. It has since had to surrender on most of its “red lines”. Here’s a handy reminder of the prime minister’s biggest Brexit flip-flops.

May is in such a mess because she triggered Article 50 without securing any concessions from the EU. Our former ambassador to the bloc told her we’d get “screwed” if we did that.

The prime minister’s most recent big Brexit speech was at Mansion House in March. In it, she said she wanted to be “straight” with the people and “face up to some hard facts”. It would be nice to think she’ll do that in her new White Paper. But leopards don’t change their spots.


Quote of the day

“If the cabinet can’t take the decisions, parliament will.”

Fighting talk from Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield.


Devolution dispute deteriorates

The Scottish Parliament voted last night to refuse to consent to Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill, with every party but the Tories rejecting the Bill. MSPs see May’s flagship Brexit legislation as a “power grab”, with Westminster denying Scotland the ability to exercise powers devolved to it 20 years ago but in practice controlled from Brussels before Brexit.

The UK Parliament has the power to ignore Scotland’s concerns, although this would be the first time Westminster has gone ahead without Edinburgh’s consent - potentially a very damaging moment for the devolution settlement. The two sides will return to the negotiating table in an attempt to iron things out. But the deadlock continues - 23 months after the referendum.

Brexit has opened a constitutional can of worms which risks weakening our Union. If people don’t like the sound of that, it’s another good reason for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.


Video of the day

Wondering what that vote yesterday in Edinburgh was all about? Here's an explainer from the Scottish Parliament on legislation consent. Try to keep up!

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The key part comes at the end: Scotland doesn't have legally enforceable veto over laws made by the UK Parliament. But refusing to consent can send a powerful political message.


Mail spins Brexit economy

“Brexit Britain is booming!” bellows the Daily Mail front page this morning. The paper points to high employment figures, but ignores the broader economic picture.

The Telegraph front page has a rival view, reporting a Bank of England chief saying the economy is suffering a “menopausal moment” of slowdown. Last week also saw the Bank downgrade the UK’s growth forecasts and the ONS describe the economy as “very sluggish”. Since Brexit we’ve gone from the fastest growing of the large advanced world economies to the joint slowest.

And remember, this is all before Brexit has even happened.


Don’t celebrate Brexodus

Talking of the jobs market, the number of Eastern Europeans working in the UK is at its lowest since records began - with a drop of 100,000 in the last 12 months. Brexit and the weak pound (caused by Brexit) are being blamed.

While many Leavers may have voted for this, it’s not good news for our country. The majority of Eastern Europeans in the UK come to work. They pay taxes into government coffers, helping fund public services - and being generally young and healthy, they take less from the system than they put in.

If this Brexodus continues, who is going to care for old people, who is going to nurse the sick and who is going to build our homes - all areas where Eastern Europeans play a big role?


Tweet of the day

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More Brexit news…

What can UK learn from other external EU borders? (BBC)

Answer: even the most technologically advanced example (between Norway and Sweden) doesn’t avoid customs checks.

Why the future of Northern Ireland is crucial to Brexit negotiations (Times)

Michael Gove warns Tories need to move on from Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s to win over young  (Telegraph)


Top Brexit comment

Paul Taylor: How Britain made me a citizen of nowhere (Politico)

Menzies Campbell: While Brexiteers fight among themselves, ministers are trying to sign back up to EU security co-operation (Times £)

Rosie McKenna: Students will desert Corbyn over Brexit betrayal (InFacts)


Looking forward…

Today, Wednesday 16 May

- EU Withdrawal Bill 3rd reading in Lords
09:15 Expert evidence to Commons Brexit committee on science, research and higher education
10:30 Fisheries minister gives evidence to Northern Ireland committee in Commons
10:45 Ex GCHQ chief gives evidence to Lords EU home affairs committee
12:00 Prime Minister's Questions
14:00 AIQ boss Jeff Silvester gives evidence to DCMS committee's "fake news" inquiry
19:00 Labour Campaign for the Single Market rally in Parliament Square
c.19:00 Vote on Labour humble address for government to release Brexit "war Cabinet" papers 

Tomorrow, Thursday 16 May

09:15 EU summit with Western Balkan countries
09:30 ONS: Personal well-being in the UK (2017)