All over the world, this is a time of new parties, new movements, of outsiders coming as if from nowhere and winning elections. So isn’t it strange that in Britain, just one week into a general election campaign, an assumption has taken hold that the UK must inevitably on June 8 hand a huge Parliamentary majority to the country’s oldest, most established political party, the Conservatives?
There are some good reasons for this assumption, most plainly the utter fecklessness and disarray of the second oldest party, Labour. But that disarray itself shows that this could also be a time of opportunity.
Politics has never been more volatile, because the long aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis has discredited mainstream parties and destroyed old political loyalties.
Donald Trump conquered the Republican Party and then won the presidential election by exploiting exactly that anger and distrust. In Italy, the Five Star Movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo in 2013 made the most successful national electoral debut in West European democratic history by simply representing something new and uncorrupt, and are now leading the opinion polls for the next general election, due at latest by May 2018.
On Sunday, Emmanuel Macron pulled off the same outsider’s trick to head the first round of France’s presidential election. It would be premature to assume he will win easily in the second round on May 7 against Trump’s favourite, the anger-exploiting Marine Le Pen, but his success in creating a new political movement based on hope should already offer inspiration to others.
The second round in France will be fought on the issue of how to define patriotism: as something that embraces an open society and close collaboration in Europe, or as something that requires the closing of borders and a new competition against neighbours over trade.
Britain’s choice on June 8 will be a similar one – but while in France the two contenders will strive to make the choice as clear and stark as possible, in Britain all the effort looks like being directed at blurring the issue.
Brexit has created a new and deep divide among voters, all over the UK. Despite every attempt to make it otherwise, through promised giveaways such as the capping of energy prices or assurances about the future of the NHS, June 8 can only really be a vote about Britain’s future place in the world.
Tony Blair is right, in his article in today’s Guardian, that the Conservative argument that a big majority is necessary to give Theresa May a stronger negotiating position over Brexit is a seductive one that cuts through all other policy positions and issues.
But that argument needs to be countered, and the effort to do so can serve to create a new patriotic vision of Britain and its future.
The Tory argument for a strong negotiating hand risks diverting attention away from the crucial issue of what sort of Brexit May wishes to achieve.
It is also a delusion: it might make her stronger when haggling over secondary matters such as Britain’s financial divorce obligations, but will have no bearing on what sort of future trading relationship with the EU emerges from the talks.
This creates an opportunity, both during the campaign and after. Seven weeks is clearly too little time to follow either Macron or his defeated far-left opponent, Jean-Luc Melenchon in building a wholly new organisation and movement. But such an effort can begin with the campaign, and then continue afterwards.
The extraordinary result in Scotland of the 2015 general election already showed that the UK is not immune to political volatility.
Well-directed and coordinated efforts to force candidates to expose what sort of Brexit they truly stand for and what sort of British place in Europe and the world they favour, could define this election as clearly as will be the case in France.
As Macron saw, this is not a matter of right or left. Old party labels no longer capture today’s issues. That means that the potential to shape Parliament and the debate over the next five years through the campaign and the result on June 8 is high.
In today’s volatile politics, no conclusion is foregone.
Edited by Geert Linnebank
During the referendum, Leavers loudly defended the rights of EU citizens legally resident in the UK. Now many pro-Brexit MPs are not practising what they preach. They have so far refused to back legislation requiring the government to guarantee these citizens’ rights.
We’ve gathered below some of the statements made before and after June 23 by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and eight other prominent Brexiters.
When a Number 10 spokesperson suggested in May 2016 that it was “possible” a vote to leave would endanger EU citizens’ rights in the UK, Peter Bone called it “absurd”. The Tory MP insisted that “any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “really grubby politics” to worry people who had established “a legitimate right to be here”. He told PoliticsHome: “It would be straightforwardly immortal [sic] to deport people who have come here legally and who have established their lives here.” Rees-Mogg also called on the government to give EU citizens an “unequivocal guarantee” they would be allowed to remain in the case of Brexit.
On June 1, Vote Leave itself issued the following statement signed by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Gisela Stuart and Priti Patel: “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
The reassurances continued immediately after the referendum.
On July 3 Conservative MP Peter Lilley and UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell signed a letter in the Telegraph urging “the government, opposition parties and every candidate standing to be the next Conservative Party leader – and hence prime minister – to make an unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here, and that changes would apply only to new migrants.”
The next day Tory leadership challenger Andrea Leadsom, now a cabinet minister, declared: “I commit today to guaranteeing the rights of our EU friends who have already come here to live and work. We must give them certainty, there is no way they will be bargaining chips in our negotiations.”
Then, on 6 July, the Commons passed a motion which asked the government to “commit today that EU nationals currently living in the UK shall have the right to remain”. Only two MPs voted against.
Outspoken Tory Brexiter John Redwood also agreed that “we need to offer reassurance”. Alongside Johnson, Redwood and 251 other MPs who voted in favour of the motion (although in the knowledge that it would be non-binding and have no effect on government policy) was Carswell.
The Brexit bill
Since Theresa May became prime minister and set herself against guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights unilaterally, all these Brexiters have changed their tune – even UKIP’s Carswell and Labour’s Stuart.
Bone, Carswell, Gove, Johnson, Leadsom, Lilley, Patel, Redwood, Rees-Mogg and Stuart all voted against new clause 57 when it was debated by the House of Commons, which said: “Nothing in this Act shall affect the continuation of those residence rights enjoyed by EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016.”
InFacts approached each MP mentioned in this article for comment. At time of publication only Jacob Rees-Mogg had replied, saying: “The amendment was irrelevant to the Bill. It may be appropriate in the Great Repeal Bill.”
The House of Lords has, however, passed an amendment saying, within three months of the act passing, the government must bring forward proposals to ensure that EU citizens legally resident here lose none of their rights.
Those Brexiters who once spoke so passionately about EU citizens’ rights have one final chance to practise what they preach when the Brexit bill comes back to the Commons next week.
Brussels: The European Commission will be piling Pelion on Ossa if it decides to slap a €2 billion bill on the UK for negligent customs management while already putting together a case for a Brexit charge of up to €60 billion. But it will not be easy for the Commission to ignore the recommendation from Olaf, its anti-fraud unit, following an investigation which concluded that British customs were effectively turning a blind eye to Chinese footwear and textiles flooding into the EU at a tiny fraction of their production cost.
Even though not complicit, Olaf’s allegation implies that the customs authorities were serving the purpose of an organised crime network to minimise customs duties (reportedly, the calculated loss to the EU is €2bn) and maximise evasion of VAT worth up to €3.2bn. In considering the Olaf report, will the imminence of the Article 50 process weigh on the Commission’s judgement or will it try to deal with the issue entirely on its own merits?
Any attempt to levy a stinging fine will be grist to the mill of the pro-Brexit British press. While constantly lamenting the incidence of fraud in the EU, they will not see the irony of the UK becoming a target of the EU’s fraudbusters. Rather, it will be presented as the EU’s determination to make Britain pay for the Brexit betrayal and still more reason for shaking off the shackles of membership on any terms as quickly as possible. Like it or not, doing right by Olaf will guarantee a sour launch to the Article 50 talks.
That is not the only negative aspect for both parties. Understandably, the British enter the talks seeking to have the softest possible customs procedures applied to bilateral trade after Brexit. Any indication that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs sometimes falls down on the job will not be good for the Union’s confidence that UK procedures are up to the mark.
The Brussels authorities may also think a strict approach is necessary “pour decourager les autres”. It is now commonplace that the Commission and EU member states will not do a deal on Brexit that may incite others to step out of the Union. Similarly, the Commission will want to demonstrate to the 27 that a casual approach to applying external tariffs will not go unpunished.
Olaf appears to have had several meetings with HMRC about the Chinese textiles and footwear problem between 2014 and 2016. Customs clearance remained as it was and, according to Olaf, “the fraud hub in the UK has continued to grow”. HMRC apparently does not recognise the numbers Olaf is circulating but does not deny it may have a case to answer.
It might be thought that an early settlement of this row would be in the interests of both sides to prevent it becoming caught up in the numerically much larger confrontation over how much the UK should pay up on its exit from the Union. But the British may want to deny any liability and defend the integrity of their customs operations through to a bitter end. After all, resisting the EU is what comes naturally.
by John Wyles | 09.03.2017
Edited by Hugo Dixon
It might seem odd that the government is so determined to reject the amendment which sets out in the Article 50 Bill the necessary steps for parliament to approve any divorce settlement with the EU or any new partnership agreement, given that the prime minister promised in her Lancaster House speech that the government would put the final Brexit deal to a vote in both Houses of Parliament – a position repeated in its White Paper.
Yet, within minutes of the vote, it had vowed to reject the amendment. And it appears to be allocating just one hour next Monday to debating and voting on each of the Lords’ two amendments – which involve the wellbeing of three million European citizens living and working here and the proper functioning of that parliamentary sovereignty for which the Brexiters campaigned to take back control.
What is there not to like about the latest amendment? Well it certainly does not slow down the triggering of Article 50. Indeed, the bill could become law instantly on Monday if the government accepted the amendments.
Is it because promising votes on any deal in both houses risks ending in deadlock, with one house approving the deal and the other rejecting it? Well, if that is a risk, it is one entirely of the prime minister’s own making, since she originally set out the formula in her Lancaster House speech. But it is not a real risk, because the government is free to seek approval for a deal through primary legislation, which ensures the primacy of the House of Commons.
Is it then because the amendment requires the government to seek parliamentary approval before walking away from any attempt to negotiate a deal at all and thus crashing out of the EU without one? The prime minister has referred to that as a possibility, so it cannot be discounted. But if such action can be carried through without parliamentary approval, where then is the recovery of parliamentary sovereignty?
The government has said that the amendment would drastically weaken the prime minister’s negotiating hand and result in our EU partners offering us a really bad deal with the aim of getting the referendum decision and the triggering of Article 50 reversed. The people using that argument are the same ones who a few weeks ago were confidently asserting that we had an incomparably strong negotiating hand because our EU partners were so keen to go on selling us BMWs, prosecco and Camemberts.
In any case, it is a perfectly sustainable argument that provisions for parliamentary approval like those in the amendment would in fact strengthen the prime minister’s negotiating hand. After all, Article 50 itself lays down the provisions for parliamentary approval of any deal on the EU side and nobody seems to think that that is weakening its hand.
It really would make much more sense for the Brexiters to get over their paranoia about EU intentions and accept that the amendments will strengthen our negotiating hand, not weaken it.
by David Hannay | 09.03.2017
Edited by Hugo Dixon
An extraordinary surge in support for Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), following the nomination of Martin Schulz as candidate for chancellor, has galvanised voters and transformed the German political landscape almost seven months before the September general election.
The implications for the UK government’s Brexit negotiations could be profound. For a start, the revival of the SPD – which is now running neck and neck with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats – has coincided with a slump in support for the eurosceptic and anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), down from around 15% to below 10% in most polls. The central contest is now likely to be between two strongly pro-European contenders. Anti-Trump sentiment, and widespread fears over the consequences of Brexit, have contributed to a revival of the centre ground.
It would be wrong to write off the influence of the AfD too soon, although the party leadership is now pulling itself apart in a power struggle with extreme right-wingers. It will win seats in the Bundestag for the first time, and greatly complicate the process of forming a new coalition government. But no one will want to govern with them.
The AfD is the one party that is positively sympathetic towards Brexit, although the party is officially anti-euro, not anti-Europe. There are some Eurosceptics in the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, too – although they don’t want to see the EU disappear. For the overwhelming majority, EU cohesion – and its preservation – is a matter of fundamental German national interest.
Merkel and Schulz both believe their first priority is to preserve the unity of the remaining 27 member states – and the integrity of the internal market. Hence the German twin-pronged attitude to the negotiations with the UK: “No punishment, but no cherry-picking either”.
The SPD would strongly oppose any special deal for the City of London as the worst sort of “cherry-picking”. Schulz also believes, from his time as president of the European Parliament, that national capitals have grown too strong at the expense of EU institutions, and that the British have been the biggest culprits. He will not weep to see the UK go. Merkel would regret it.
A hard-fought election, followed by at least two months of negotiations to form a coalition, means that Berlin will not focus properly on the Brexit negotiations before January 2018. The future coalition could be another grand coalition – although the SPD would try anything to avoid it. It could also be a Merkel-led alliance of Christian Democrats, Greens and liberal Free Democrats. Or a resurgent Schulz might lead a “red-red-green” coalition of SPD, Greens and the far-left Linke. None of them would be very easy to negotiate, or operate. But all would put EU cohesion above making concessions to Theresa May.
For Berlin, according to one senior government official, negotiating Brexit is “a second-tier problem… The chancellor would like to have good relations with the UK, but it is not what keeps her awake at night.
“Our belief is that the Brits will take a long time to figure out what they have done to themselves. That is not our business. We have to figure out how to keep the 27 together.”
Although there is no desire to “punish” the UK, there is a real fear that the process will get poisonous. “The destructive power of the divorce negotiations will be so enormous that the co-operative stuff will be crowded out,” the official says. “You can come back to it afterwards, when you have done all the hard part.”
by Quentin Peel | 09.03.2017
To say that Brexit was the elephant in the room at the chancellor’s budget speech is an understatement. Effectively, there was no room, only elephant. Even so, Philip Hammond managed to repeat his autumn statement trick of avoiding the dreaded portmanteau.
It is now clear that Brexit comes with a hefty price tag. While Brexiters crowed at the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) upgrading UK growth this year to 2%, they made less of the downgrades in subsequent years.
And remember, the OBR has had to make some big assumptions. To start with, the government hasn’t told it what it wants to achieve from Brexit. All the OBR has to go on is Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech and the subsequent white paper.
Without any more solid information, the OBR has used the following assumptions: annual net migration falls to 185,000 rather than the government’s “tens of thousands” target; an average of external predictions for the Brexit hit to trade; and no reduction in long-run productivity growth.
These assumptions will probably not hold. Britain is headed for a hard Brexit. We are to be out of the single market and out of the customs union, while immigration may fall more rapidly in part because EU citizens don’t feel welcome. What’s more, there’s a high risk that we will crash out of the bloc without any deal at all. Indeed, one of Hammond’s predecessors, Nigel Lawson, yesterday said this was by “far and away the most likely outcome”.
So the OBR’s growth predictions are probably on the high side, even before accounting for the fact that the organisation has historically been too optimistic in forecasting productivity growth.
The OBR is expecting the government to borrow £25 billion less money up to 2021 than it was in November (see table 1.3). Hammond still thinks that we will need to borrow nearly £100 billion more than was forecast pre-Brexit – so that’s not great news.
However, let’s look on the bright side. Given that the OBR has avoided making any allowance for our divorce settlement and that the EU is expected to ask for about £50 billion, any extra cash will come in handy.
Edited by Hugo Dixon
Brussels: The House of Commons international trade committee has called on the government to evaluate rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It wants Liam Fox to publish a white paper on EFTA membership before the summer, so negotiations can commence by the end of the year.
If we have to quit the EU, hitching our wagon to EFTA wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Britain was a founding member of EFTA until it joined the European Economic Community, the EU’s forerunner, in 1973. The current members are Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Rejoining the group would not only mean that we would have access to these four European markets (which we now gain access to via our EU membership), but also be in a good position to piggyback on EFTA’s trade deals with 38 other countries. In total, these markets account for 19% of our exports, according to the international trade committee.
Accession to EFTA would not prejudge the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU. EFTA per se only regulates relations among its member states as well as the free trade agreements (FTAs) the organisation has with other countries. EFTA has no such agreement with the EU. Instead Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein share the European Economic Area with the EU, while Switzerland has negotiated its own arrangements with the EU.
In acceding to EFTA, the UK would have to join in EFTA’s existing trade deals with other countries. The legal text says that new EFTA members “shall apply to become a party to the FTAs between the [EFTA] member states on the one hand and third states, unions of states or international organisations on the other”. The 38 partner states would have to agree to this individually.
Where EFTA has no trade deal itself, its member states are free to negotiate their own, as is already the case with China (Switzerland, Iceland), and Japan (Switzerland). This flexibility could suit the UK since several countries high on the government’s list of free trade targets – the US, Australia and New Zealand – don’t have deals with EFTA.
Another advantage of acceding to EFTA is that piggybacking on the group’s existing deals could reduce greatly the amount of bilateral negotiation with third countries. These agreements are simpler and less deep than the EU’s 50 or so FTAs in most cases. This means it would be quicker to join the EFTA deals than seeking to re-negotiate the EU’s deals, unless the latter can be “grandfathered” – essentially copying and pasting them with minimal technical and legal adjustments.
So rejoining EFTA seems like a good damage limitation exercise. But we shouldn’t take it for granted that we will be able to do so. After all, each of the other members would have to approveour application. EFTA today is a compact group of small states with a high level of common interest and mutual trust. Whether the insertion of a qualitatively bigger and more complicated member state would be welcome has not been tested.
A passage on “grandfathering” was added to the penultimate paragraph soon after publication
by Michael Emerson | 08.03.2017
Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).
Edited by Hugo Dixon
Amber Rudd says it is a “priority” to stay within the European Arrest Warrant “arrangement”. The government should be able to achieve this goal without crossing its red line of ending the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction.
Responding to MPs’ questions on Monday, Rudd said: “It is a priority for us to ensure that we remain part of the arrangement, and I can reassure members in all parts of the house that our European partners want to achieve that as well.” Rob Wainwright, the British head of Europol, echoed her comments yesterday while giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee.
Although the EAW has its critics, no extradition treaty in the world allows as deep cooperation. It lets law enforcers move suspected criminals around Europe rapidly to face justice. Between 2004 and May 2016 official statistics show that 8,671 wanted individuals have been surrendered by the UK to other countries and 1,273 have been brought back to the UK.
There is little chance the UK can remain an official member of the EAW after Brexit, as it is an agreement specifically between EU member states. But the government should be able to negotiate a similar agreement as non-EU members Iceland and Norway have done. They benefit from the EAW’s streamlined system for surrendering suspects.
One advantage of such an arrangement is that the UK would not technically be under the ECJ’s jurisdiction – something that would ring alarm bells among the hard Brexit brigade. Norway and Iceland are required to ensure their courts take account of ECJ case law; but the ECJ is also required to take account of their courts’ case law.
A Norway-style agreement would put UK courts and the ECJ on an equal footing. EU countries could bring disputes to the ECJ if, for example, Britain refused to surrender a suspect despite having agreed to previously. But the ECJ’s powers would only apply within this specific agreement, and its ultimate sanction would probably be to suspend or cancel the agreement – something the UK courts would have equal power to do.
Some Brexiters might still be unhappy with such an arrangement. But given Theresa May’s own history of backing the EAW, the government is unlikely to pay too much attention to them on this
There is, though, one way in which such “shadow” membership of the EAW would fall short of our current position. Many EU states, such as Germany and Poland, have provisions in their constitutions banning the extradition of their own citizens. This is waived for other EU states. It’s not clear that these governments would go through the hassle of changing their constitutions to accommodate Brexit Britain. So we may have to accept that even the best EU-UK agreement is a weaker crime-fighting tool.
by Luke Lythgoe | 08.03.2017
Leave.EU struck social media gold on Monday. Putting up pictures of a smiling refugee arriving in Britain and a man being arrested by balaclava wearing officers, the pro-Brexit pressure group wrote: “A terror suspect arrested in Poole, Dorset at the weekend looks very similar to one of the 40 year old “child refugees” let in last October”. The post has been shared over 12,600 times on Facebook, and retweeted over 800 times.
There are two problems with this. The first is that there were no “terror” arrests in Poole. The second is that the people in the two photos are not the same person.
Moreover, all of the men arrested were Liverpool residents in their mid-20s. Merseyside police have confirmed that none of them were refugees.
Leave.EU knows this. In a comment given to the Mirror, a spokesman for the group said “I got it wrong. Apologies. The danger of Twitter and fake news”, and said the posts would be deleted.
They haven’t been. Nor have they been corrected. “Fake news” indeed.
Edited by Hugo Dixon
Most famous for having six wives and dissolving the monasteries, Henry VIII is remembered by constitutional experts for something rather different: the Statute of Proclamations 1539. This allowed the King to change legislation by order, rather than through parliament; a method of lawmaking convenient for those in power but wholly at odds with democracy and accountability. The present government seems likely to enact something as far-reaching as Henry’s law.
To give legal certainty as the UK leaves the EU, the government promised to bring forward a bill to preserve current EU law in Britain unless and until parliament voted to repeal or modify that law. Somewhat ironically, ministers called this the “Great Repeal Bill” on the grounds that it will repeal the current legislation through which the UK is a member of the EU.
The difficulty for ministers and for parliament is that although there are vast areas of our lives barely touched by EU legislation – health, education and social security are some examples – most business regulation has been agreed at Brussels since the single market was established and we have also adopted many joint measures to tackle cross-border crime and terrorism.
Repealing all these laws would lead to chaos. As the UK has not yet left the EU, we do not know which we will want to keep and which we will want to amend. Furthermore, some of the EU’s regulations, such as those to do with agriculture, impact directly on the responsibilities of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those administrations may well argue that they should determine new policies in their area and not the UK government.
The government’s solution to these problems is to ask parliament to pass primary legislation – the Great Repeal Bill – that will enable ministers to repeal or modify UK law in the manner of Henry VIII by ministerial orders. But this approach would deprive parliament of the opportunity to amend the proposals (such orders are unamendable) and some may not be put to parliament at all. Far from parliament taking back control from Brussels, it would be giving away its power to ministers.
The House of Lords Constitutional Committee has today argued that there should be a distinction between converting EU legislation into UK law, a largely technical process, and replacing EU legislation with new policies. The latter is not technical but highly political and in some cases (agriculture is a good example) likely to be highly contentious. The government’s Brexit White Paper did not draw such a distinction but instead talked of using ministerial orders to repeal EU legislation that would not “function sensibly” once we leave, an unusual form of words whose meaning is not clear.
Leavers sometimes argue that the European Communities Act 1972 contains a Henry VIII clause that enables EU law to pass without proper scrutiny, but they ignore the fact that EU laws have already been subject to wide-ranging debate and scrutiny before national legislation is brought forward to implement them.
The prospect of a Henry VIII clause in the Great Repeal Bill has unsurprisingly raised concernsthat it might be used to scrap key EU measures, such as employment rights for workers. Having tried to evade parliamentary scrutiny over triggering Article 50, ministers need to show proper respect for our constitutional practice and not use the Great Repeal Bill to enact new policies.
by Nick Kent | 07.03.2017