Brexit weekly: 5 things

Court Out There

Only one place to begin this week, and that is with the High Court’s ruling in London that Parliament must vote on Article 50 – effectively giving both the Commons and the Lords a say over whether and when the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.

The Government is appealing and ultimately it will the Supreme Court who decides (an intriguing subplot in itself, as this will be the biggest political test of a court that’s less than a decade old). But this rather seems to be going through the motions: even before the judgement was handed down this week the Government seemed sceptical about its own case.

Should the Government lose again then the political implications are enormous. Parliament will reassert itself and the veil of secrecy that the Government has so far tried to draw over the Brexit process will be cast aside. It’s understandable why the Government wanted to keep Parliament at arm’s length: a good deal for the UK will be hard enough to achieve with 27 other Member States, let alone with 650 MPs and even more Peers treading on your heels all the time.

Predictably the ruling has infuriated committed Leavers and enthusiasts for Parliamentary Sovereignty, despite the High Court’s decision reasserting that same sovereignty.

Perhaps more importantly, this is the first tangible victory for Remain in months. It’s certainly a morale-boosting one, although referendum result is not seriously up for discussion. But when and how Britain leaves is, and the Remain side has new fight in it.

Where are you Jeremy?

Labour’s reaction to the High Court judgement was laboured and unmemorable. The most noteworthy thing about it was their press office managed to spell their own leader’s name incorrectly.

It’s worth dwelling on Jeremy Corbyn’s position here. Everybody knows that he was and is tepid in his support for Remain, notoriously calling for Article 50 to be implemented on 24th June. He appears to have little interest in Europe, and has arguably spent more time and effort in recent months in putting his supporters in positions of influence within the Labour Party.

Knowingly or not, he’s ceded any claim to leadership of the Remain side (a majority in Parliament and only a slim minority in the country) to people within his party, such as Hilary Benn, or vocal opponents of Brexit from without, such as Anna Soubry and Nick Clegg.

That in turn means Mr Corbyn has been largely invisible in recent weeks. While saying politics will be dominated by Brexit is a cliché by now, it doesn’t make it any less true – and when the leader of the opposition doesn’t care about Brexit, he’s simply ignored. His Parliamentary colleagues, most of whom don’t disagree with Mr Corbyn’s approach, might don’t care – and it gives them the chance to get on with holding the business of opposition without interference from the leaders office or challenge from the social media hordes local to Mr Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn won a crushing victory in September’s Labour leadership election. The question is whether his supporters will realise their champion’s lack of role in the Brexit debate – and if so what might happen if they demand he re-engages.

One of Us

The late Guardian columnist Hugo Young called his biography of Margaret Thatcher One of Us. It was a question asked by the late and former British Prime Minister and her followers about fellow members of the Conservative Party – is he one of us? Meaning – is he a Thatcherite radical, can he trusted, should we lever him into a position of power and authority?

The same question now hangs over conversations about key figures in the running of the British state – at least from the perspective of those who are pro-Brexit. Are they one of us? Are they a committed Leaver? And if not, what can we do to get rid of them?

So Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney found. Many Leavers were unhappy about his fairly blunt comments on the impact of Brexit; many crowed when some of his forecasts were proven wrong; many therefore demanded his head. They won’t quite get it. Mr Carney will leave after a shorter than anticipated term but on his own terms, curiously just before the next scheduled general election in his homeland of Canada. But don’t expect the Brexiteers to stop there, now they can argue they’ve claimed a scalp.

Concerns of the Irish

What’s the most intricate, close partnership in Europe today? France and Germany? Maybe the Benelux countries? No, it’s between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

A shared language, largely a shared history (for better and for worse) and even joined the EU in the same year. The Irish romance with the EU shows no sign of fading, but what Britain’s exit will mean for the Republic of Ireland was at the centre of discussions this week at the All-Island Civic Dialogue in Dublin.

Brexit is a political and economic headache for Taoiseach Enda Kenny. But there’s a deeper concern about the peace and stability of the island of Ireland, underlined by the absence of Northern Ireland’s Unionist parties from the seminar on Wednesday. The DUP, Ulster’s leading Unionist Party, were pro-Brexit; First Minister of Northern Ireland and DUP leader declined to attend an event and listen to “grandstanding remoaners”.

This rhetoric is new and worrying to the Republic. Peace in Northern Ireland is an incomplete process that’s taken many years of difficult bargaining. That’s why constant discussions between the British and Irish Governments, and Republicans and Unionists, were and are essential. The overarching European framework that all belonged to was a helpful lubricant to these discussions.

It’s not likely that the killing will start again tomorrow. But knocking away the edifice of the EU is a shock to a still fragile peace process. Perhaps that’s why a majority in Northern Ireland voted to Remain.


Oh dear Günther Oettinger. The Commissioner for Digital Economy & Society, and a senior member of the Angela Merkel’s CDU.

The Commissioner didn’t have a good week after an amazingly misjudged speech last Friday to a German business audience, in which he managed to insult the Chinese, gay people, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and welfare recipients in Germany. Amongst others.

Commissioner Oettinger dug in his heels throughout the week and refused to apologise – I hadn’t done anything wrong, he claimed. Then, of course, yesterday came the inevitable apology – oh actually, turns I had done something wrong – adding to his reputation as being ‘gaffe prone’ and making any potential move to replace outcoming EU Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva far rockier.