Brexit weekly: five things

If you thought this week would give a chance to catch your breath after ‘Marmite-gate’, think again.

It’s been another busy week across Europe as the political leaders lay the groundwork for formal negotiations before the UK eventually leaves the EU. Although, according to Donald Tusk, there’s still a possibility Britain could reconsider the decision it made in June.

After a week that’s seen Theresa May’s debut in Brussels, here’s our top five stories for Brexit over the last seven days.

With you ‘til the end…

With Donald Tusk insisting it wouldn’t be so much a lions’ den as a nest of doves, Theresa May made the short hop to Brussels this week to meet her EU counterparts for the first time.

European leaders were adamant: if Britain wants a ‘hard’ Brexit, then it’ll mean hard negotiations. But despite the rhetoric, the message from Mrs May was that UK intends to remain fully engaged in the business of EU until the second of its departure.

It was a succinct message from the British PM – one designed to show a willingness to collaborate with Europe both before and after the British withdrawal. But she had to wait until one in the morning to deliver that message, with issues including the crisis in Syria taking precedence. A reminder then that while Brexit is important, neither the UK nor the EU can allow it to dominate the agenda in coming years.

Hilary gets elected

More than one Hillary was successful in an election campaign this week. While Mrs Clinton was fortifying her position as the front runner in the US presidential election (infinitely helped by what only be described as a meltdown by Donald Trump), another Hilary – Hilary Benn – had cause for celebration as he was appointed Chairman of the new Brexit Select Committee.

It was an election of significance. An arch-remainer, Mr Benn established himself as being among the new generation of ‘big beasts’ in the Labour Party during his time as Shadow Foreign Secretary. His new committee will be scrutinising the work of David Davis’ department, and Mr Benn has already used his new position to insist MPs must have a vote on the Government’s Brexit negotiations.

After weeks of questioning as to the role of Parliament in determining the UK’s negotiating position, campaigners for MPs having a role have gained a powerful new champion.

Should I stay or should I go?

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. That seemed to be the message in Scotland this week as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon published a consultation on a new Scottish Referendum Bill. If passed, it would lead to another vote on Scottish independence after Scots elected to remain within the UK in 2014.

The revived push for independence has been driven by the UK’s decision to leave the EU in June, with the majority of Scots voting to Remain. Mrs Sturgeon has insisted the will of the Scottish people must be acknowledged and that Scotland must not be penalised by leaving the EU.

But before anyone starts planning for passport checks at Hadrian’s Wall, the SNP have also set out a series of additional powers – including the ability to negotiate trade deals – they want devolved from Westminster. If Theresa May grants those, the push for independence may be forestalled, at least for the time being.

The most powerful Philip in the land?

Before Theresa May made her European debut, Chancellor Philip Hammond was up in front of the Treasury Select Committee. The Chancellor had a turbulent week, starting with suggestions from Conservative circles that his position could be under pressure as he ruffles feathers with Cabinet colleagues over his desire to see a softer Brexit.

Mr Hammond admitted there were differing opinions within Cabinet in a frank appearance before the Select Committee. His appearance was designed to reassure businesses and financial services ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. The Chancellor has quickly established a reputation as the most powerful man in Cabinet, but while Downing Street insisted he enjoyed the PM’s full confidence, officials also slapped him down on suggestions foreign students should be removed from net migration figures.

There will continue to be speculation over Mr Hammond’s position in the coming weeks – and his retention of authority will give an indication as to the British negotiating position.

Have a vote? Yes, they can!

Will they or won’t they? That’s been the question on the lips of MPs for weeks – will they get a vote on the UK’s deal to leave the EU? This week Theresa May confirmed they would.

The announcement is unlikely to please many if any in the Palace of Westminster, however. Leave campaigners have warned the vote could allow arch-Europhiles like Nick Clegg to try and stall, or even block an agreement between the UK and EU. Meanwhile, remainers (including now the new Select Committee chairman Hilary Benn) have expressed concern that a vote to ratify a British agreement doesn’t provide the necessary scrutiny of the negotiations.

This one will run and run. But campaigners aren’t done calling for Parliament to have a greater hand in determining the negotiating position, which could influence the British approach to migration (to this point a red line for the Prime Minister) and access to the Single Market.