Brexit weekly: 5 things

The Colour of Money

The week began with a report that the UK was willing to pay a £36 billion Brexit ‘divorce bill’, providing that the EU is willing to negotiate the settlement as part of a wider deal on trade. The apparent offer is an attempt to break the deadlock in EU negotiations, but predictably the proposal has enraged Eurosceptics: only three weeks ago, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs that European leaders could “go whistle” if they expect Britain to pay an “exorbitant” divorce bill for leaving the EU. However, the intention is to present the payments to the British public as part of a deal to access the EU market during a three-year post-Brexit transition – £36 billion being more or less three years’ worth of gross UK contributions to Brussels. This number would still be below the EU’s likely opening demand of £59 billion, but would create room for negotiation.

Ultimately, whilst there’ll doubtless be howls of betrayal from Eurosceptic quarters, such payments to sustain market access are the only political option for the Government. The core Conservative Brexit strategy now seems to be inexorably tied up with the 2022 election: delay economic separation from the bloc until a few weeks before the polls open in the hope that none of the impact is felt until after polling day.

The Cable Guy

New Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has come out swinging against Brexit and those who voted for it. Accusing Brexit-backing pensioners of being “self-declared martyrs” who have “comprehensively shafted the young”, the 74-year old political veteran pulled no punches.

It has to be said that the data on Brexit vote is less conclusive than Sir Vince portrays it, although it is certainly true that the young and the old were deeply divided: 71% of those under 25 voted to remain, whilst 64% of over 65s voted to leave. Given the high elderly turnout (89%), even a modest increase in the number of pensioners opting to remain would have tipped the result.

Predictably, Brexiteers were swift to retaliate. Nigel Farage called for the Lib Dem leader to “get over” the loss of the referendum. Labour’s Frank Field was similarly unreceptive, declaring that “Here we see the birth of Britain’s Donald Trump to lead the Remainers.” Perhaps someone would like to remind Mr Field that Trump won.

Judge (expresses) Dread

Outgoing president of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger, the UK’s most senior judge, has said that Parliament must be “very clear” in telling judges what to do about decisions made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after the UK leaves the EU. “If [the Government] doesn’t express clearly what the judges should do about decisions of the ECJ after Brexit, or indeed any other topic after Brexit, then the judges will simply have to do their best,” he told the BBC.

If approved, the Repeal Bill will withdraw the UK from the ECJ’s jurisdiction. However, the Government has made clear that past judgements of the court and the precedents they represent will remain. The confusion arises from the Government’s stance that any UK court may take heed of post-Brexit decisions of the ECJ “if it considers it appropriate”. Conservative MP and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve agreed with the judge’s concerns, telling Radio 4 that it “leaves a very wide measure of discretion to our own judiciary, and what he’s saying is there’s no point in those circumstances turning around at some subsequent point and saying: ‘Well, the judges are interpreting this in a way that is causing us, for example, difficulties.’”

24 Hour Party (political) People

Meanwhile, David Davis’ former Chief of Staff James Chapman has called for a new political party to be formed to avoid the “catastrophes” of Brexit. Writing on Twitter, he proposed that Remain-supporting MPs such as Chuka Umunna, Vince Cable, Rachel Reeves, Nicholas Soames, Pat McFadden, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Stella Creasy should be involved.

The issue with this idea is that his proposal – which is essentially a call for a new centrist party to be formed for those excluded by the Hard Brexit Conservatives and Hard Brexit Labour – would be near-impossible to succeed in the inertia-driven UK party political system. Any chance of the idea making headway was also dealt a major blow with Labour’s unexpectedly robust election performance and the subsequent willingness of many within the party to make their peace with Corbyn. Whilst it is far from impossible that a disastrous Brexit will see politicians change their stance on the issue, it will only be though moderates wresting back control of the major parties that would enable the UK to either stay in or return to the EU.

Burn After Reading(?)

In response to those with the temerity to point out that it might be a good idea for negotiators to have some idea of what the Government is attempting to accomplish with Brexit, No. 10 has pledge to publish several policy papers in the coming weeks. The documents will outline the Government’s position on matters such as the customs union and the Irish border. “These papers are meant to facilitate collective decision-making based on facts and evidence,” said a senior source.

Most importantly, the policy papers are likely to formalise the Government’s stance on transitional arrangements for Brexit. There now appears to be a broad Cabinet unity around some form of bridge following the UK’s March 2019 departure from the EU – a stance that, as noted above, is likely based above all else on the timing of the next general election. No doubt this will coincide with a threat from Nigel Farage to return to front line politics.