Morning Briefing: May's Brussels sideshow - Major soul searching - 61,000 fewer EU workers
Theresa May is heading to Brussels (again) today to discuss the Irish border “backstop” with the EU. She’s unlikely to get anything substantial, and certainly not the kind of “alternative arrangements” the hard-Brexit wing of her party is demanding. It’s all a sideshow to looming votes next week in Parliament, where MPs can stop the prime minister running down the clock and scale back the Brexit uncertainty which is crippling the country.
May’s big problem is pressure from four moderate cabinet ministers, who want a no-deal Brexit taken off the table and more time sought from the EU. They are threatening to resign - or perhaps to simply vote against the government and dare the prime minister to sack them, as The Times suggests. The series of choices May faces on February 27, all of which put her in a losing position, have been explained in more detail by Hugo Dixon for InFacts.
In the meantime, May is still faffing about trying to meet the unreasonable demands of her Brexiter backbenchers. She appears to have bought them off for now with a promise that their current fantasy proposal, known as the “Malthouse Compromise”, will be explored in talks after March 29 - arguing there is no time to do so now.
Steve Baker, deputy chair of the hard-Brexit ERG, says he’s waiting for “further precision”. Meanwhile other Brexiters have been referring to the government’s legal plan for the backstop, being drawn up by the attorney general Geoffrey Cox, as a “Cox codpiece” and “vomit”.
Ultimately the EU will never agree to the Brexiters’ demands of ditching the backstop. It is an insurance policy to keep the Northern Ireland border flowing freely whatever happens in Brexit, thus protecting the Good Friday peace agreement. And you can’t have an insurance policy with a time limit or get-out clause for one of the parties. May’s talks in Brussels are really just an exercise in running down the clock.
Another sideshow is Jeremy Corbyn’s own trip to Brussels tomorrow, where he will discuss his Brexit proposals with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. The Labour leader can expect some pushback on several elements of his plan, such as the demand to have a say in future EU trade policy or participation in EU security frameworks or other institutions.
So, a lot is happening and yet nothing is really going anywhere. That’s because both May and Corbyn are trying to deliver something that cannot be delivered. The promises made in 2016 were contradictory and cannot be kept. What’s more, any form of Brexit will leave us poorer and spending years trying to make sense of something that makes no sense for the UK. No form of Brexit is as good as the deal we already have in the EU today.
But there’s a way for politicians to break through the impossible asks of Brexit. Put the question back to the people. That’s precisely what thousands of people will be demanding at the ‘Put It To The People’ march in London on March 23.
Video of the Day
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Time for some Major soul searching
John Major will make one of his periodic sage interventions on Brexit today, in a lecture at the University of Glasgow. The former prime minister has chosen a rather existential theme, urging Parliament to “dig deep into its soul” and act to prevent a chaotic crash-out from the EU on March 29. "The decision Parliament takes next week can undermine or revive the reputation of representative politics and from that flows so much of our whole way of life," Major will say.
Politicians bogged down in Brexit minutiae and petty infighting should heed his words. Decisions made in upcoming weeks will not just define their careers but the future of this country too. History will ask whether they dragged the British people into a Brexit nightmare that they never wanted. The only way to be sure of the answer to that question is to put it back to the people.
Quote of the Day
“I believe we have a right to expect members of Parliament to vote for an outcome that best protects the future welfare and prosperity of our nation - without fear or favour and without deference to party allegiance.”
Former PM John Major demands MPs put the country first.
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61,000 fewer EU workers
Labour market statistics published by the ONS show the number of EU nationals working in the UK fell by 61,000 over the year. It’s sadly no surprise that the uncertainty caused by Brexit means tens of thousands of EU nationals have left the UK over the past year, and fewer want to come here to contribute to our society and our economy. Brexit vacancies are already damaging our NHS, our universities and industry. What’s more, the fact that EU citizens living here contribute more in taxes than they take out - £4.7 billion more net in 2016, according to the government’s own figures - means less money for public services. No one voted for a Brexodus of the EU workers who contribute greatly to our economy and to our public services.
Tweet of the Day
Scientists for EU founder Mike Galsworthy explains why the European Medicines Agency and others are leaving the UK.
‘Unacceptable’ trade deal failure
Not all of the trade agreements the EU has with other countries are expected to be rolled over before Brexit, business secretary Greg Clark admitted yesterday, specifically mentioning those with Japan and South Korea. As a statement, it was a far cry from trade minister Liam Fox’s assertion that he would have all these existing deals ready at “one second past midnight” after Brexit day.
Clark also spoke about the ships which were already setting off from the UK for the Far East without knowing the terms of trade when they got there, or even whether they would be allowed to unload their cargo. “That is unacceptable to you and it’s unacceptable for me,” Clark told business leaders. Well, quite.
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May considering early vote (Telegraph)
Top Brexit comment
John Gapper: Brexit betrays Margaret Thatcher’s carmaking legacy (FT £)
Peter Mandelson: Avoiding a no-deal crash-out won’t stop Brexit wrecking our economy (Guardian)
Nick Kent: Price hikes or bust farmers? Another miserable Brexit choice (InFacts)
Today, Wednesday 20th February
|-||Theresa May visits Brussels|
|-||Commons: motions on statutory instruments relating to Brexit|
|12.00||Prime Minister's Questions|
|16.00||Ivan Rogers evidence to Lords EU committee|
Tomorrow, Thursday 21st February
|-||Jeremy Corbyn expected to visit Brussels for talks with Guy Verhofstadt|
|09.30||Public sector finances|
|09.30||Defra questions in Commons|