Morning briefing: What's May up to? - Soros' positive vision - EU reforms immigration
With MPs on recess, there isn’t that much Brexit news around. But that hasn’t stopped people speculating over what Theresa May is up to. In particular, why is she bringing the EU Withdrawal Bill back to the House of Commons next month when she will probably be defeated on the key issues of a customs union and the Irish border?
One theory is that the prime minister believes Jacob Rees-Mogg when he says she will actually win these votes if only she faces down Tory “mutineers” such as Anna Soubry. But that’s not the only explanation. It is possible, rather, that May knows losing these votes would in the long-run be less damaging for her party and the country.
To see why, consider what happens if she wins. For a start, she still won’t have a viable policy that her Cabinet can rally behind. Squabbling ministers are to spend the recess trying to agree a white paper setting out their plan, as Nick Kent explains in this article for InFacts. Good luck to them.
In the absence of a long-term plan, May’s current stopgap proposal is the so-called Customs and Regulatory Alignment Period - which has the unfortunate but appropriate acronym, CRAP. This is a second bridging mechanism that is supposed to kick in after the first transition period and continue until we figure out some long-term arrangement for customs and the Irish border. The Times says the idea is that it will last until 2023.
ARE YOU MARCHING FOR A PEOPLE'S VOTE ON JUNE 23? SIGN UP HERE.
The snag is that the EU has already rejected the idea of a time-limited back stop to keep the Irish border open. It wants a permanent solution. So if all the prime minister has to offer the European Council summit on June 28-29 is time-limited CRAP, she will be sent packing. She’ll then have to make further climbdowns over the summer, including perhaps accepting that CRAP has to be permanent. That would drive the Moggites wild with fury.
But now consider what happens if May loses the Commons votes on customs and the Irish border.
The prime minister will then have to draw up a new policy that keeps us in a customs union indefinitely rather than just as a stopgap measure. It will also have to involve keeping our rules aligned to large chunks of the single market indefinitely, because a customs union alone won’t avoid border controls in Ireland.
Boris Johnson won’t be happy. Nor will Rees-Mogg. But they won’t be able to blame May. She’ll be able to retort: “Parliament is sovereign, you know. I thought that’s what you believed in.”
There would still be further work to do to flesh out a policy that met with MPs’ demands. And the prime minister would no doubt have to make further humiliating concessions to get the EU to agree a deal. But one thing we know about May is that she has a great capacity to suck up unpleasant experiences.
Soros’ positive vision
Billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is backing a campaign to give people the final say on Brexit, has laid out a positive vision for the UK to rethink Brexit.
Despite recent setbacks, the economic case for being inside the EU remains strong, Soros argued. Furthermore, the time was ripe for the EU to “reinvent itself”. For example, it would need to clearly distinguish between the EU and the euro zone, which the UK is not part of. The philanthropist said the UK can be at the heart of this reinvention, if the British people decide to stay in the EU.
No doubt Soros’ intervention will be attacked by the right-wing media - he’s an easy target for nationalists, as Jon Henley writes in the Guardian. But his positive vision for the future, largely absent across much of the Brexit debate, is worth paying attention to.
Quote of the day
“Brexit is an immensely damaging process, harmful to both sides... Divorce will be a long process, probably taking more than five years. Five years is an eternity in politics, especially in revolutionary times like the present.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do. It would be better however if they came to a decision sooner rather than later.”
George Soros, speaking to the European Council on Foreign Relations
Our Future, Our Choice! (OFOC!) is a group of young people doing everything they can to stop Brexit democratically. Watch their video below, explaining what they do and why it matters. You can donate to the campaign on OFOC's crowdfunding page here.
EU immigration reform already underway
Speaking of reinventing the EU, Brussels is already getting on with the job. One great example is changes to the laws on “posted workers”, adopted in Brussels yesterday. The revised rules mean posted workers will be entitled to the same level of pay as their local counterparts. The potential for undercutting local workers was one of the big concerns for those who voted Leave - and has often been mentioned by Jeremy Corbyn as one of his issues with the EU.
The new rules show the EU is not, as Brexiters love to argue, incapable of reform. This was a complicated problem that has been recognised and tackled by 28 members states, helping create a level playing field for workers across the continent.
Video of the day
Remember Ciaran the van driver, who went viral after calling into LBC about his Brexit woes? Now watch him take on Jacob Rees-Mogg on customs union - on the Brexiter's own talk show!
Where will NHS funding come from?
Ruth Davidson has called on her Tory colleagues in Westminster to prioritise funding the NHS over tax cuts. The Scottish Conservative leader, tipped by many to lead the party one day, warned that “people across the UK would not forgive us” if the government failed to find “substantial extra funding” for the health service.
One thing is certain: £350 million a week is not coming back from the EU to fund the NHS. Brexit will damage the economy, meaning we’ll be less able to support the health service. The only way to find more money will be by raising taxes. Two leading think tanks calculate each UK household will have to fork out an extra £2,000 a year.
Tweet of the day
More Brexit news…
Worth a read if you want to understand the kind of influence Brits have - and are about to lose - in Brussels.
Top Brexit comment
Jason Arthur: A People’s Vote will fight the racism festering beneath Brexit (Left Foot Forward)
Sebastian Payne: Britain’s foreign policy lacks vision for its post-Brexit future (FT £)
Today, Wednesday 30 May
|-||Parliament in recess|
|09:30||ONS: Working and workless households (Jan-Mar)|
|13:30||Theresa May meets business leaders from the European Round Table of Industrialists|
Tomorrow, Thursday 31 May
|-||Parliament in recess|