Brexit Weekly: 5 Things

Gold plated Banks

Arron Banks, the polarising multi-millionaire Brexit donor, has landed in hot water this week after the details of a seven-slide presentation made to him by Russian businesses and facilitated by the Russian embassy in London was leaked to an investigative unit funded by Russian exile and long-time Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Allegedly Mr Banks was offered business “opportunities not available to others” with support from a Russian state bank.  The offer was allegedly made through Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador in London. During the meeting Banks was offered a lucrative gold mining deal, though in the end he did not invest in the scheme.

The news follows revelations from June that in the run up to the EU referendum Banks had three meetings with Yakovenko. Banks had previously admitted having a “six-hour boozy lunch” in 2015 with the Russian ambassador.

In response Banks said “a small cabal of anti-Brexit journalists from Channel 4, the BBC and Guardian are engaged in a smear campaign against me”.

Debating debating Brexit

The Labour leadership faces a challenge from pro-remain Labour members at party conference this year where there are expectations that a vote will be staged calling for a second referendum. The rumours follow a poll claiming that 63% of party members want a vote on whether to accept the final terms of any Brexit deal with the EU.

Pro-remain Labour MP Chukka Umunna said “the poll shows that Labour voters overwhelmingly support a People’s Vote, putting them at odds with the Party’s official pro-Brexit position”.

To avoid a controversial and potentially embarrassing rebellion at conference the leadership may be forced to provide delegates with a Brexit policy statement to be voted on that would provide the option for a second referendum, but only under certain conditions.

What these conditions may be however, is not entirely clear. The Guardian expects that these conditions might refer broadly to “exceptional circumstances”. Whatever the wording it is likely to be broad enough for the leadership to justify its decision in either direction and avoid a scenario where they can be held to accountby the broader party membership.

Already nine local parties have submitted formal motions for the debate on a second referendum, but this number is likely to significantly rise between now and the end of September when the annual Party conference is due to take place in Liverpool.

Last year a decision to  debate Brexit at party conference was halted by Momentum members, with delegates urged to pick other topics for debate. However, according to a senior source in Momentum quoted by the Huffington Post, “There is absolutely no way that Momentum can ignore thousands of members calling for a debate and a vote on our Brexit position… as trade unions have, we will have to ensure a consultation happens in time to inform our position at conference.”

With the relationships between different groups within the party becoming  increasingly fractious over the last year, the party leadership will want to avoid platforming the party’s own internal power politics over its position on Brexit.

Project fear-mer

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has set out a stark warning that in the event of a ‘hard’ Brexit, were trade deals not completed rapidly, the country would run out of food supplies in just over eight months. The NFU ;largely blames the fact that the UK is reliant on food imports, and that food which is already produced in the UK is also heavily reliant on a seasonal EU workforce which may not be as easy to draw upon post-Brexit.

According to Government’s own figures, food security in Britain has been in decline, with the country now producing only 60% of what it needs to feed itself, compared with 74% 30 years ago. However, the NFU did acknowledge that despite the “long-term decline in the UK’s self-sufficiency… there is a lot of potential for this to be reversed”.

The announcement follows news that the Government was planning to stockpile food and medicine in contingency for a no deal Brexit, which, according to the Prime Minister, would provide people with “reassurance and comfort”.

Instead this week, The Guardian has been peppered with stories about people beginning to stockpile their own personal essentials in case of a no deal Brexit where supplies are threatened. Adam Roberts, 35, from Leeds has been stocking up on jars of olives and capers – and packets of Boost chocolate bars with long expiry dates. Thomas from Shrewsbury is stocking up on curry paste jars, coconut milk and, confusingly, water. Whilst Victoria from London is planning to run a cable to her shed and install a freezer do that she can stock up on frozen veg.

Industry Intervenes on Immigration

Industry lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has this week called for Government to drop its “blunt target” on immigration numbers and replace the current target-led system with one that assesses those coming to the UK on the contribution they make to the economy.

The CBI criticised the idea of shifting EU nationals into the existing non-EU immigration system saying it would be “entirely unworkable” as well as “highly complex, time-consuming and expensive, particularly for small businesses”.

The CBI has been a strong proponent for the benefits of immigration for the economy throughout Brexit negotiations, and continues to do so. However now the body is making clear that any new system should be focused on benefits rather than targets.

The UK’s targets were set by then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, with his election manifesto setting out an intention to “take steps to take net migration back to the levels of the 1990s – tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands” and that it was a “promise we’re keeping… no ifs, no buts”.

Obviously, it wasn’t a promise that was kept. Despite then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister trying her best by creating a “hostile environment” for those applying for residency in the UK as a deterrent. Since 2010 we have at no point come anywhere close to the targets that Cameron set out.

Introducing the CBI’s report; Open and Controlled, A New Approach to Migration, Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General warned on any new system “get it wrong, and the UK risks having too few people to run the NHS, pick fruit or deliver product to stores around the country. This would hurt us all – from the money in our pockets to our access to public services”.

A terrifying tsunami of solicitors

The Law Society of Ireland has reported that more than 9% of all solicitors listed in Ireland are now from England and Wales, a large proportion of whom rushed to register after the UK voted to leave the EU. Since the start of 2016, more than 1,644 solicitors have joined the Irish Roll of Solicitors, whereas before 2016 fewer than 100 English and Welsh solicitors typically registered in Ireland annually, the previous record was set in 2008 by more than 500 solicitors joining the roll.

The figures represent a huge increase of 275% compared to 2015 referred to as a “tsunami of new solicitors” by Ken Murphy, Director-General of the Law Society in Ireland. Murphy added “It’s been quite a phenomenon. I think lawyers are being cautious and practical, looking around corners and preparing the ground to keep their options open”.

It is currently relatively easy for solicitors in the UK to register in Ireland and it is understood that the trend is fuelled by a hedging strategy, with solicitors ensuring that should currently UK based companies and institutions decide that retaining aspects of EU law is more important than being based in the UK after Brexit and relocating to Ireland, solicitors will be able to continue representing those institutions.