Brexit weekly: 5 things

Nigel Farage, saviour of the Brexiteers Remainers

Nigel Farage, after a huge ploy for three decades, finally revealed his true colours this week, supporting calls for a second EU referendum in the hope of reversing the British public’s vote for the UK to exit the EU.

Well… not quite. He did call for a second EU referendum, but only out of frustration at the continued calls for a second referendum from remainers.

Speaking on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, Farage said, “What is for certain is that the Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never ever given up. They will go on whinging and whining and moaning all the way through this process. So maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking we should have a second referendum.”

Following those rather unexpected marks, ex-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour peer Lord Adonis unsurprisingly seized on the comments as a sign that pressure is building for a public vote on any final deal. Meanwhile, Chukka Umunna finally found common ground with Farage saying for “the first time in his life” Farage is making a valid point that the British people have “every right to keep an open mind about Brexit.”

Farage went on to argue that if another referendum was run the vote to leave the EU would be “very much bigger than it was last time.” Remainers would of course argue the exact opposite. But, as intriguing as the outcome of another referendum might be, don’t expect to see Theresa May issuing instructions to dust off the ballot boxes anytime soon.

Who needs a Brexit deal really?

Following the reshuffle this week, newly appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Suella Fernandes, Chair of prominent pro-Brexit Conservative group the European Research Group has said a “no deal” would be “great” for the UK.

Coming from the European Foundation Suella Fernandes is deeply ideological and with this comment already demonstrated that she could be a thorn in David Davis’s side throughout Brexit negotiations, from within his department no less. Although not a thousand miles from Theresa May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal,” Fernandes’ comments deviate from the Cabinet’s core message that securing a trade deal is the priority.

As Theresa May struggles not only to combat the Opposition, but also a robust group of MPs in her own party resistant to any softening of the Government’s Brexit position. The appointment of Fernandes looks to be a plan to mollify some of her own agitated MPs. If that’s the case, then Fernandes is off to a good start…

Expert in nothing EU? Its DExEU for you

This week it was reported in the Huffington Post that new job advertisements for DExEU policy advisors –shapers of policy working within the gilded walls of Westminster – need not have any knowledge of the EU or speak any other languages.

Instead the Department welcomes applications from “candidates with a background in management consultancy”. This is not to denograte the work of management consultants, they tend to be some of the brightest and best. But with some of the most challenging points of Brexit still to come, one could be forgiven for assuming that ‘hard-hitting EU expertise’ (or words to that effect) would be in line one of a DExEU job advert.

It was also reported last year that civil servants are quitting DExEU in droves, four times faster than the average rate of other Government departments and that they are the most over-worked in Government. Since it was set up DExEU, has grown from a staff of 100 to more than 600 but lost workers at a rate of nine percent per quarter.

Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government, said the turnover of staff would make it hard for the Department “to build up institutional knowledge and memory.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring the brightest management consultants and hiring fast learning graduates from the Civil Service fast stream, but retention is key. Will a bright young ambitious graduate that joined the Civil Service Fast Stream want to settle down for the next decade in DExEU (worth noting the majority of these are on rotation for the first two years anyhow)? I seriously doubt it.

Is Polxit next?

EU President Donald Tusk has warned that he thinks that the current Polish Government could be trying to drive the country out of the European Union if it stops being a net recipient of EU funds.

For Tusk, himself an ex-Polish Prime Minister, it must be a painful thing to watch from Brussels as his arch-rivals the Law and Justice Party work to ferment distrust of the EU in Poland as he champions the virtues of the bloc.

Last month, Brussels triggered Article 76 disciplinary procedures against the country over what it saw as “systemic threats” to the independence of the Polish judiciary from the nation’s right-wing government. The decision could see the country stripped of voting rights in Brussels. Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, told reports that, in two years, 13 laws had been adopted that put at serious risk the independence of Poland’s judiciary and separation of powers.

It certainly puts the EU between a rock and a hard place over how to deal with this. One of the most prevalent anti-EU establishment arguments is that the EU has too much influence over the jurisdiction of member states. However, the EU can’t simply allow the government of Poland to seize greater powers and chip away at the independence of the judiciary. But by intervening, the EU risks living up to the stereotype the Law and Justice party will be presenting. Namely that of an interfering organisation that influences the ability of democratic Governments to enact their own domestic policy agendas.

Two to tango

The normally soundbite shy Chancellor Philip Hammond came out with a whopper this week when he urged EU leaders to supply more details of their Brexit stance as he told them “it takes two to tango.”

The Chancellor protested this week that the EU has produced “little, if any signal” of how the envisaged trade links operating between Britain and the EU would function.  Hammond was speaking in Berlin, and said, “I know the repeated complaint from Brussel has been that the UK hasn’t made up its mind on what type of relationship it wants”, “but in London many feel we have little, if any, signal of what future relationship the EU27 would like to have with a post-Brexit Britain”.

Now that the EU has agreed to begin the negotiations for what a future trade relationship between the UK and EU relationship will look like – the UK’s top negotiating priority – it seems the roles have reversed with the UK complaining that the process is slow and headway not being made.

As Spreadsheet Phil pours over the UK’s account books, he will be likely concerned that we are just over a year away from the UK’s official departure from the EU and that without an agreement the UK will revert to expensive World Trade Organisation rules which by his own admission is “not (the) favoured option for Britain.”


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