Brexit weekly: 5 things

Ready, steady, go?

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. So said Vladamir Lenin, when describing the Bolshevik Revolution which took place exactly 100 years ago.

Looking back on the past seven days, the dramatic turnaround witnessed in UK politics gives this week a revolutionary feel of its own. We arrive at Friday with a Prime Minister in government but not really in power. The damage created by the general election result has moved the axis of authority away from Downing Street. The preferred Brexit strategy looks untenable and her own personal ratings are in freefall. Having secured a net favourability rating of +10 in April, the Prime Minister now finds herself at -34. The transformation is only matched by the meteoric rise of Jeremy Corbyn, who looks increasingly assured and stateman-like since Thursday.  As MPs were sworn-in this week, the disquiet on the Conservative benches was audible.

This does not present the ideal context for the commencement of Brexit negotiations. But with the 2019 deadline looming, the show must go on. David Davis heads to Brussels on Monday for his first meeting with Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator. No agenda been finalised and the meeting will be conducted in a mix of French and English, giving the whole thing a slightly chaotic feel.  The arch-federalist apparently has a mug in his office inscribed with the phrase “keep calm and negotiate” – sage advice for all involved.

Majority of countries remain committed to European project

When Britain voted ‘Leave’ last year, many within Brussels feared it would become the thin end of the wedge, signalling the gradual decline of the 28-member Union. Yet new polling has found that only 20 percent of people in other large European countries would consider voting for their own version of Brexit, suggesting that the European Union has enjoyed a bounce in popularity among its remaining members since last June.

The poll, conducted by a research centre in the United States, asked 10,000 respondents from nine countries on their views on membership. The majority of people appeared to support continued membership, but 53 percent still expressed a desire to have a referendum, perhaps recognising that the democratic deficit in European Parliament elections is hampering reform.

Britons want May to change course on Brexit

Research this week has suggested that the role of the referendum on the general election result has been overplayed. But the new political reality has clearly been recognised by the public, and another poll has shown that less than half of Brits think the Prime Minister should try and leave the European Union on the negotiating terms established before the general election. The findings come after Mrs May suggested there would be no change in the Government’s approach – during a speech outside Downing Street which was widely criticised for misjudging the post-election mood.

The good news for the PM is that a clear majority of the public think the Government should go ahead with Brexit following last year’s referendum. Of the 70 per cent who think that Brexit should happen, 44 per cent say they believe in it, while another 26 per cent are “re-leavers” – people who did not vote for Brexit but think the Government has a duty to honour the vote.

Philip Hammond set to call for UK to remain in the customs union

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond was positioned to give a major speech at Mansion House this week calling on Britain to stay inside the customs union, before withdrawing because of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. The intervention was set to build on comments made by the former Chancellor Ken Clarke who has urged the PM to soften her tough Brexit stance.

According to news reports, Hammond was going to promise that the £48bn of funds from the European Union’s investment bank which provides funding for infrastructure across the EU, such as the building of the Crossrail train in London, and tram networks in Nottingham and Manchester, will not be put at risk.

Hammond’s moves will increase the pressure Theresa May is already experiencing to step back from her uncompromising position on the Brexit negotiations. Sources in government suggest that Cabinet ministers are engaged in secret talks with the Liberal Democrats and Labour to secure cross-party backing for a “soft Brexit” making concessions on immigration, the customs union and the single market.

Verhofstadt: UK can stay in EU but will lose perks

If the UK changes course and decides to remain a member of the European Union it could lose perks such as budget rebates and opt-outs, according to the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt,

Speaking in Strasbourg Verhofstadt, who is now responsible for coordinating the EU Parliament’s Brexit stance, suggested there would be a price to pay should Britain wish to remain in the bloc but a new arrangement would be with “a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.” The Belgian’s comments follow on from Emmanuel Macron’s conversation with Theresa May, in which the French President said that “the door remains open” if the UK ditches its Brexit plans.

Following the joint statement between Macron and Mrs May, the two leaders attended the international football friendly at the Stade de France. The forgettable match was notable for the Prime Minister’s rather garbled attempt at a joining the Mexican wave. For journalists desperate for an analogy, the visuals were perfect. The central American theme is likely to be repeated next week, with Mrs May facing a Mexican standoff between her cabinet and Brussels over her own Brexit plan.  It could all have been so different.

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