Brexit weekly: 5 things

Eurovision 2.0

The application procedure to host the two UK-based EU agencies, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) came to a close this week and 19 countries made a bid for the EMA, while eight are vying to host the EBA. The EU is keen to press ahead with dividing the Brexit loot, and the European Affairs Ministers will gather in November to decide who gets to host the two agencies.

This will be done through a typically EU-made voting system. In round one, every Member State can divide up six points that they have: three to their preferred bidder, two to their second preference and one to the bidder they have ranked third place. The country receiving three voting points from at least 14 Member States, will be the winner. If there’s no winner, the vote will go to a second round with the three highest scoring countries and, if no winner emerges from there, the vote will go on to a third round with the two remaining bidders. Nice and simple…

Meanwhile, the UK will have to sit and watch this spectacle – while it could be expected to pay as much as £520m in relocation bills for the EMA alone. The victorious Member State, on the other hand, can expect more jobs, more research capacity and more influence in the sector. While the voting is going on, just like Eurovisions past, the UK will end up with nul points.

Take one for the team

Brexit was always going to come at a price, but now it appears many Brits are willing to pay a high one. A new YouGov poll has shown that six in ten Leave voters believe sustaining significant damage to the British economy is worth it if the UK definitely leaves the EU. More notably, almost 40% say the loss of their job or that of a family member is a price worth paying. On the remain side, one in three voters say damage to the economy would be worth it if it meant the UK would stay in the EU. Nearly one in five say it would be worth it just to “teach Leave politicians and Leave voters a lesson”.

The poll comes at a time when the UK Government is considering its options on what Brexit should look like. Some politicians have called for the UK to stay in or closely aligned with the European single market. Based on this poll, however, it looks like those seeking a soft Brexit will have to convince voters in other ways than appealing to their economic sense. They have to now take into account that Brexit is not only a very political issue (not to mention continuing to be a highly charged emotive one) for, well, the politicians, but also across society. Deep divisions will make setting the course for Brexit even harder for a minority Government that is already split on many issues.

When the cat’s away…

Despite the importance of the free movement of people for both the UK and the EU, the UK Government so far still failed to provide a clear vision for a post-Brexit immigration policy. This has given some ministers the impetus to publicly push their own stances on the issue, with Chancellor Philip Hammond saying full immigration controls could take “some time” and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisting the NHS should still be able to easily recruit EU staff after Brexit. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, meanwhile, claimed it would be a betrayal of the referendum result if no control on immigration was put in place by the time Brexit happens.

These contradictory statements prompted a Downing Street spokesperson to intervene and say that ‘free movement’ will indeed end in March 2019. Two questions remain, however; the first is that, though free movement as it is understood now will indeed end when Britain leaves the EU, will this actually result in a drop in immigration? The second is how much authority No 10 has; it has become noticeably more common for other Government Ministers to try and shape the Brexit agenda since Theresa May lost the Conservative majority in the general election. In the absence of former joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, it seems ministers and other officials are more willing to publicly take their own positions on Brexit. Things could change once Theresa May is back from holiday, fully rested and perhaps ready to re-take a tighter hold of the reigns; yet the essential dynamics of this Government, weakened by an unnecessary election and run very much by Mrs May, remain the same.

Meanwhile, other mice are plotting

Some expected that, over the summer period, some Conservative ministers would be planning a leadership challenge to oust Theresa May following the election. Instead, some Conservative MPs have been tempted to join a cross-party group to force a vote on whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) for at least two years after Brexit.

The Government has ruled out an “off the shelf” arrangement for a post-Brexit transitional period, as that would mean remaining in the single market as well as continuing to accept the free movement of people. Keir Starmer, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, plans to table amendments to the Repeal Bill, which will be debated in September. It remains to be seen if the seven Tory MPs needed to pass the amendment will actually decide to rebel against their government’s position.

More referenda please!

Out of the EU27, the Republic of Ireland is probably most affected by Brexit, as it is the only country to have a land border with the UK (not to mention the tempestuous history between the two). This is why an Irish parliamentary committee has this week set out 17 recommendations on what the Brexit priorities for the Republic of Ireland should be and how it can contribute to achieving a united Ireland.

Senator Mark Daly, who compiled the report, said that it is clear that “at some stage there will be a referendum” on ending the nearly century old partition. The Irish will have to tread carefully though. Not only does the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party currently have a big finger in the Westminster pie, the prospect of another referendum is simply something the people might not support. After a Scottish independence referendum, an EU referendum, talk of a second Scottish independence referendum and two general elections (which all saw very high turn-outs), voter fatigue will make it unlikely that the Northern Irish electorate will want, in the near future, anything to do with yet another referendum.


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