Wednesday 16 November 2016

News round-up

With so much happening – and not happening – around Brexit, it is hard to keep up with developments and certainly beyond my ability to post about each and every one. So in today’s post I will provide a round-up of some of the more interesting and important articles, news items and opinion polls I have read in the last few days.

Much attention is focussing on the emerging realities and complexities of undertaking Brexit, given added emphasis by the leaked memo from consulting firm Deloitte about the lack of an exit plan and the chaos within the civil service in seeking to develop one. Although dismissed by the government, the memo seems consistent with The House of Commons Library’s briefing on the “legal, constitutional and financial unknowns” of Brexit, published last week.

The theme of constitutional and civil service chaos is taken up by Anand Menon on KCL’s UK in a Changing Europe site. The LSE Brexit blog carries a good post on the “legal and political headaches” involved whilst on the New Europeans site Charles Freeman has an excellent essay on the Brexit emperor’s lack of clothes, a metaphor also deployed by Rafael Behr in an article in the Guardian to point out the government’s lack of a Brexit strategy. Bloomberg is also carrying a withering assessment of the chaos and an IPSOS/Mori poll for the Evening Standard shows that 48% of the public think that the government are handling Brexit badly (though presumably for various different reasons).

In a sign that the Labour Party are beginning to develop a potent line of attack against the government, Jeremy Corbyn used today’s PMQs to quiz the Prime Minister effectively on what its approach would be, a line also pursued by the SNP leader in Westminster. Teresa May’s response got no further than to say that she would “seek the best possible deal” for Britain. One reason why this is a difficult line (or non-line) to hold is that her ministers are far from shy in being more explicit than May is prepared to be. Most notable this week was Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement that the UK would “probably leave the customs union” (although, apparently, also staying in the single market and having restrictions on free movement of people).

Indeed, public and political debate is still going around in circles over the issue of trade versus immigration, partly because of the continuing lack of understanding of the difference between single market access and single market membership. Thus a poll today from NatCen Social Research shows that the public generally support “free trade” with the EU but also limits on EU migration, a combination that EU leaders, most recently Carlo Calenda, the Italian Economic Development Minister, have repeatedly said is impossible. Calenda also described as “insulting” Boris Johnson repeating to him (a version of) the evergreen Brexit meme that EU exports (in this case of Prosecco, rather than the more usual ‘German cars’) must mean that the UK will get a good deal. It seems almost unbelievable that the British Foreign Secretary is still parroting these kind of nonsenses despite, presumably, having received detailed briefings from his civil servants.

In this context a statement yesterday by Angela Merkel that free movement may be negotiable was seized on as a sign of a significant shift, but as this New Statesman piece makes clear this was not a proposal for a special deal for the UK, or an abandonment of the free movement principle; rather an indication of some possible EU-wide changes around benefits eligibility. It is not entirely insignificant, though. I continue to think that a soft Brexit on this kind of basis could be fudged and, with skilful political leadership, sold to the British people. Back on the KCL site, a version of this based on the kind of association agreement that Ukraine has with the EU is mooted in an interesting article by Andrew Duff.

Within all this uncertainty, one ray of hope for those of us who view with alarm the loss of our EU citizenship: a proposal has been made to the European Parliament that citizens of member states leaving the EU be eligible to apply for associate citizenship of the EU, allowing continued free movement. How likely it is to come to anything I don’t know, but it is interesting not least because I suspect that for many ‘remainers’ it would do much to sweeten the Brexit pill, and could therefore make it easier politically for the UK government to enact a hard Brexit. Interesting, too, but also depressing to see the furious reaction to this proposal from Brexiters who decided that it meant that only those who voted ‘remain’ would have access to this, were it to happen. Interesting, because why should those who want nothing to do with the EU complain about being excluded from the rights associated with being in the EU? Depressing because of course the proposal does not discriminate (and would have no way of discriminating) between leave and remain voters: even in their moment of supposed triumph, Brexiters continue to lie. Oxford Dictionaries have today announced their word of the year: it is “post-truth”.

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