Morning briefing: No customs crunch - Lords tackle Ireland - Legatum's Russia links
Today’s war cabinet was supposed to the “crunch” one that decided the government’s customs policy. But it look like it will be no such thing. More likely it will be a damp squib, as our prevaricating prime minister kicks the can further down the road to avoid difficult decisions.
There’s plenty of lobbying against Theresa May’s favoured “customs partnership” option from Brexiters - including David Davis, the Daily Mail front page and the backbench European Research Group.
The ERG has sent May a 30-page report opposing her proposal - under which the UK would collect tax on the EU’s behalf for imported goods destined for the continent. This is not the clean break the Brextremists want. They have threatened to “collapse” May’s government by not supporting key Brexit legislation in Parliament.
May probably realises this threat is less fearsome than it first seems. None of the ERG MPs have gone on the record with the threats reported in the Telegraph. They also haven’t gone as far as threatening to bring down the prime minister, just hold up legislation - a subtle but important difference.
Even if they followed through on their threat, would that mean waving through an amended EU Withdrawal Bill? MPs would then have no chance of overturning the House of Lords’ amendment saying we should negotiate a customs union - an idea the ERG loathe perhaps even more than the customs partnership.
The real problem with May’s “customs partnership” is that no one thinks it will work. The EU has already written it off as fantasy. But May doesn’t have an alternative. The Brexiters’ prefered option to use clever tech and trusted trader schemes, so-called “maximum facilitation”, would not solve the Irish border problem.
So May’s best option could be just to kick the can and wait for MPs to consider the amendments that the House of Lords are making to the EU Withdrawal Bill - including a demand that we stay in a customs union. If MPs tells her to do this, she can tell Tory Brexit extremists that her hands are tied and break free of her customs catatonia.
Lords to the rescue again, this time on Ireland
And Parliament is also well on its way to telling the PM what to do on Ireland. The real action today will again be in the Lords, not Cabinet, where peers are expected to pass another amendment. This one, if approved by MPs, will enshrine in law May’s insistence that there will be no infrastructure at the Irish border after Brexit.
If this happens, it looks like we may be heading for a customs union and regulatory alignment covering goods and agriculture for the whole UK, as Hugo Dixon explains for InFacts. Brexiter ministers may spit venom at the Lords, but at least they’re offering realistic solutions to the knottiest problems of Brexit.
Pro-Brexit think tank founder suspected of Russian links
The billionaire behind the Legatum Institute, a pro-Brexit think tank, was accused in the House of Commons yesterday of being a suspected Russian agent with links to money-laundering, reports the Times.
Christopher Chandler was said to be an “object of interest” to the French, who suspected him of “working for the Russian intelligence services”. The accusation was made using parliamentary privilege by Bob Seely, a Leave-backing Conservative MP. The institute, which is thought to have an influential relationship with Number 10, dismissed the claims as “complete nonsense”.
Quote of the day
“According to the French security services as recorded by their colleagues in Monaco.. Mr Chandler is described as having been ‘an object of interest to the DST [Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire, France’s now-dissolved equivalent to MI5] since 2002 on suspicion of working for the Russian intelligence services’.”
Bob Seely MP accuses Legatum founder Christopher Chandler under parliamentary privilege in the Commons.
Star wars over EU satellites
Having been told by the EU that we can’t continue to participate in its Galileo satellite project after Brexit, and the government announcing plans to launch its own satellite system, chancellor Philip Hammond now wants to sabotage Galileo by attempting to disrupt the transfer of sensitive encryption technology from Britain, reports the FT.
The ultimate losers from these star wars will be taxpayers on both sides of the Channel - with the UK bankrolling a new project and the EU having to overcome delays. If this kind of costly pettiness is not what the public expected from leaving the EU, they should have the chance to vote on the final Brexit deal once it’s clear exactly what it entails.
Tweet of the day
This was tweeted yesterday from the Institute for Government ahead of David Davis’ appearance in front of the Lords’ EU committee. But the Brexit secretary’s response time to Parliament really needs flagging.
More Brexit news…
The Times reports Theresa May vetoed ministers’ pleas not to block visas for foreign doctors. This “hostile environment” must end, especially after Brexit, or our NHS is in real trouble.
Top Brexit comment
Patrick Stewart: Sir Patrick Stewart: Yorkshire folk need to speak up and win People’s Vote on Brexit deal (Yorkshire Post)
Frederick Studemann: Brexit invades London’s local politics (FT £)
Video of the day
LBC’s James O’Brien uses a house-buying metaphor to explain the recklessness of threatening a ‘no deal’ Brexit: “If you don’t give us the home that we want, we’ll abandon the home we’ve currently got.”
Today, Wednesday 2 May
|-||“War Cabinet” meeting on future customs relationship|
|-||5th day of report stage of EU Withdrawal Bill in Lords|
|-||EU spending proposals for 2021-2027 presented to EU Commission|
|-||MPs debate “hostile environment” policy following Windrush scandal|
|09:15||Commons Brexit committee: Jonathan Faull, former EU commissioner|
|10:30||EU Home Affairs committee: Steve Smart, National Crime Agency|
|12:00||Prime Minister’s Questions|
|14:45||Procedure committee: Andrea Leadsom & Steve Baker on Henry VIII powers|
Tomorrow, Thursday 3 May
|09:30||Brexit questions in the Commons|