Brexit weekly: 5 things

Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Figaro

It’s been reported this week that a German-backed clique in the European Commission has sought to block the UK from continued participation in the Galileo satellite project. The move has created internal rifts within the EU with objections to the move from France, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Baltic states. The German clique contend that there are legal issues about sharing sensitive information such as this with non-members states as its justification for shutting Britain out of the project. The fear is that this will sour security co-operation following Brexit which concerns many of these states who have significant interests in strong security so-operation with the UK, particularly those close to Russia.

The man at the centre of the clique is reported to be Martin Selmayr, Secretary-General of the European Commission, often referred to as ‘the Monster’. He has a  reputation for leaking key documents and other dubious political tactics.

The UK Government has suggested that it would demand a return of more than £1billion of taxpayers’ money if it was forced out of the Galileo satellite programme. This has prompted a stinging response from a senior official in the European Commission who has warned Britain that the EU will not negotiate Brexit “under threat”. Whoever masterminded this rift, in a matter of hours it’s certainly hit its mark and significantly increased tensions.

£20 billion to trade

The Chief Executive of HM Revenue and Customs Jon Thompson has told MPs that firms will have to pay £32.50 for each customs declaration under the so called “max fac” solution – the equivalent of up to £20 billion a year. According to Thompson any system may also take between three and five years to implement however, Downing Street has shrugged off the suggestion saying that the figure was “speculation”.

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee Thompson said there were about 200 million exports to the EU each year that could require customs declarations – and a similar number of imports. Alternatively he highlighted that a customs partnership model instead of max fac, which was branded “crazy” by Boris Johnson and “flawed” by Michael Gove would cost a maximum of £3.54 billion a year.

Asked by committee chair Nicky Morgan whether it would be a relief if parliament voted for a customs union, Thompson tactfully replied that it was for MPs to decide. A wise civil service answer if ever I’ve heard one.

The miraculous infinite transition

Theresa May will ask the EU for a second Brexit transition period to run until 2023 to avoid a hard border in Ireland. The move will be praised by Remainers, and roundly criticised by Brexiteers, particularly those on the right of the Conservative party who will view this as a cynical ploy to ensure the UK never takes back control.

The proposal will mean that the whole of the UK will stay aligned with EU regulations and customs procedures until 2023, extending a transition period that is due to end at the start of 2021. It means that seven years on from the vote to leave the EU the UK will still be subject to almost all the same conditions. By that point we will gone through the May 2022 General Election.

The new proposal hasn’t yet been tabled in Brussels so should give the Prime Minister’s team some time to prepare for the political furore that it will create both abroad and at home. The move, if approved, should however give the Government some breathing space to tackle the Irish border issue that has proved so far unassailable with no concrete plans yet proposed.

Brexit bus dreams

With the infamous slogan, “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” emblazoned on the side of a bus Brexiteers struck at the heartstrings of the nation. This slogan became the symbol for all that was wrong with the Brexit campaign, on both sides; uncorroborated statistics that could be neither proved nor disproved.

Now though, The Spectator reports that this commitment might be more than mere rhetoric. .   For the NHS’s 70th Birthday Theresa May apparently plans to boost the NHS budget by a whopping 3% extra a year, which would mean that NHS spending will be £350 million a week more than it is today.

Brexiteers will be keen to highlight that their statements about the new finances available following the UK’s departure from the EU are coming true, whilst Remainers like Chancellor Philip Hammond will want to point out that any extra money for the heath service isn’t coming from the UK’s budget contribution to the EU as we haven’t even left the EU yet and are still therefore making financial contributions.  Expect tense conversations between both spin doctors in the Conservative party and the Treasury at the moment as the Treasury raise the prospect of increasing taxes whilst spin doctors clarify o the Treasury the electoral implications for them from their core voters.

Separately, this week the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation have called for an urgent increase in Government spending on the NHS and concluded that the only way to increase NHS funding is to collect a further £2,000 in tax from every household.

The arsonist – Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings, the former Special Advisor to Michael Gove and Chair of Vote Leave has this week written to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee stating that Brexit is destined to be a “train wreck”. Accredited as one of the key architects of the campaign to get the UK to leave the EU his analysis leaves a sour taste in the mouth for those that voted for Brexit.

He blasted Theresa May’s “botched” Brexit strategy and claimed that civil servants have thus far made “no real preparations” for Brexit. In an open letter to the Committee he has accused Whitehall and civil servants of treason against the cause commenting “Whitehall’s real preparations are for the continuation of EU law and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”.

He then shifted his gaze to the power structure of Downing Street noting that the “wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional” and that without ousting the Prime Minister, there is a greater prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.