Britain’s Brexit brouhaha brings down a reputation for stability and good governance

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:

The UK is due to leave the EU on Friday next week without arrangements for either a transition or a future relationship.   Prime Minister Theresa May wants a short delay to see if she can finally get Britain’s Parliament to agree to her exit plan.  The EU is likely to grant it.

This sort of end game was always probable given the importance of the issues at stake.  The delay will ratchet up the pressure on all of the parties, until one of them cracks.

Readers of this blog will know the background by heart.  Britain’s Conservative party government has spent two years negotiating a transition and exit agreement.  The draft agreement is a relatively ‘soft Brexit’ intended to align the UK with the EU’s trading and regulatory arrangements and making these hard to change without leaving Northern Ireland, part of the UK’s sovereign territory, subject to EU rules. Continue reading “Britain’s Brexit brouhaha brings down a reputation for stability and good governance”

Pressure builds as the Brexit deadline approaches

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   As Britain prepares to formally leave the European Union on March 29, little seems to have changed despite frenetic activity.   A dozen or so MPs have defected to form a new cross-party political grouping; there are fresh challenges to Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn …

But the choice facing the UK is exactly the same as it was at Christmas: accept lousy terms in return for a smooth sort-of-exit or leave without an agreement and try to patch up the useful bits of the broken relationship.

The hard choice arises because the EU is not offering reciprocity in the new relationship.  It wants the UK to compromise its sovereignty, comply with EU market rules, limit its ability to trade freely with other countries and pay money as the price of preferential access to each other’s markets. Continue reading “Pressure builds as the Brexit deadline approaches”

Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   As the Christmas truce approaches, the EU and UK have set out their respective plans for how they will respond if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March next year without a withdrawal agreement.  The announcements are proof of the increasing likelihood of ‘no deal‘ Brexit; they also have the potential to drive the parties towards the very outcome for which they are the contingency.

The EU preparations bear a passing resemblance to the War of the Roses battle cry of “kill the nobles, spare the commons”.  Steps will be taken to avoid inconveniencing individuals by keeping flights running, protecting the rights of UK residents of the EU and so forth, while going slow on measures to help UK businesses to deal with the flood of new obligations – like border and veterinary checks, licensing requirements, tariffs etc – that will descend overnight.

The hope is that the disruption, and in some cases stoppage, of trade will show the UK government and electorate the error of their ways and ideally bring them to heel. Continue reading “Brexit: no-deal contingency plans could encourage a deal being struck”

How MPs can unleash the furies by throwing barbs like ‘stupid’

Describe the leader of the Opposition as “Simple Simon”, and it’s all a bit of a lark. Yes, Jacinda Ardern did have to withdraw and apologise in Parliament after she responded to a question from Opposition leader Simon Bridges with reference to a character in a childhood nursery rhyme.

Ardern was elected on a promise to bring a kinder and nicer face to politics, of course,   as a scribe at Stuff pointed out.

So is it kind and nice to respond to Bridges’ question: ” It’s quite simple…..Simon”

Ardern might have been paying Bridges a compliment, of course, saying he is uncomplicated, clear, plain and understandable (yeah,right!).  Those happen to be among the several meanings of “simple”  – but:

“If you say that someone is simple, you mean that they are not very intelligent and have difficulty learning things.”   Continue reading “How MPs can unleash the furies by throwing barbs like ‘stupid’”

Brexit: Theresa May stays as PM in a Tory decision to postpone a decision

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:   Readers with a good memory may recall an earlier categorisation of Brexit as an endless negotiation. On Wednesday, it shifted into Britain’s governing Conservative party, when 48 MPs requisitioned a party leadership vote.

The party whips brought this on with remarkable alacrity and by the end of the day, Prime Minister Theresa May was still standing.

Unfortunately for the governing party, this looks like a decision to postpone a decision.  The Conservatives are not just the party charged with delivering Brexit: they (or at least their members and voters, if not their MPs) are the party of Brexit.  And the plan May brought back from Brussels – with so many commitments and a potentially endless ‘transition’ – does not appear to deliver Brexit. Continue reading “Brexit: Theresa May stays as PM in a Tory decision to postpone a decision”

May’s Brexit deal looks likely to fail at the first hurdle in Parliament – but what then?

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:  Britain’s parliament will decide on 11 December whether to approve the deal for leaving the European Union negotiated between the EU leadership and the British government.  Most people in the UK and the parliament – with the exception of hapless Prime Minister Theresa May and her band of loyalists – seem to think it’s a pretty bad deal.

Brexiteers hate it because it’s not actually Brexit – it would tie Britain to the EU in ‘temporary’ arrangements which look remarkably durable and which the EU has little incentive to change (see Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph for a good explanation of this).

Remainers see not a clever compromise based on their premises, but proof incarnate of the folly of the entire Brexit project.

Paradoxically, this mutual loathing gives the deal a chance of acceptance and even the possibility that it may endure for a lengthy period, while Britain tries to settle the ferocious internal disagreements which led to this pass. Continue reading “May’s Brexit deal looks likely to fail at the first hurdle in Parliament – but what then?”

UK Parliament’s voting options: safety first or a high-risk exit from the EU

LONDON CORRESPONDENT:  Per last week’s posting, the British Government and the EU have agreed terms for the UK’s transition from the EU in March next year.  First step for British Prime Minister Theresa May is to see if she gets any Cabinet resignations and fill the vacancies.  The next is to say how she plans to get endorsement from the British Parliament.

Stripped of the optics, the UK will move into a customs union with the EU, but the need to track European rules and regulations will restrict its ability to open up its markets to trade and foreign competition (and eliminating much of the scope for meaningful free trade deals).

While the deal is intended to last less than two years (during which the UK would hope to negotiate a less restrictive final arrangement – on current negotiating form, good luck with that), there are some carefully designed commitments, particularly on the political and economic status of Northern Ireland, which will likely make the transition much longer, some say permanent.

How did it get to this point? Continue reading “UK Parliament’s voting options: safety first or a high-risk exit from the EU”