Brexit Weekly: 5 Things

Deal me out

On the 23rd of June 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron made the momentous promise to “give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice”. So, in the immortal words of Danny Dyer, where is the geyser? Because five years, two months and one day later, it seems quite clear that what is happening is not simple, nor indeed does it appear to be anyone’s choice.

This week, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab gave his first major speech on Brexit, during which he laid out the reality of a UK existence outside of the EU with no deal on a future relationship. The speech was complemented by the release of an overview of the Government’s preparations for a no deal Brexit and 24 policy papers discussing the implications for applying for EU-funded programmes; civil nuclear and nuclear research; farming; importing and exporting; safety and labelling of products; money and tax; medicines and devices regulation; state aid; studying in the UK and EU; and workers rights. And breathe.

But wait there’s more! The Government has promised the publication of more analyses in September, though don’t let that convince you this is something we all want. While there have been no significant breakthroughs in talks between the UK and EU in recent months, Raab downplayed the potential for the UK to depart the EU without a deal, saying an agreement is still “the overriding priority” and “by far the most likely outcome”.

It’s hard to say what the highlights of the ‘no deal papers’ really are. Ultimately, ‘highlights’ may not be the right word – as aside from headline creating warnings of increased European bank charges– the documents focused on providing very technical, prepare-for-a-rainy-day style advice for individual sectors. While Raab described the no deal warnings as “practical and proportionate”, BBC political correspondent Chris Mason labelled the publication a “vast swirling porridge of detail”. With no end or certainty in sight, let’s just agree it’s all a bit of a mad riddle.

Labour considers the alternative

This week Katy Balls at the Spectator wrote of an alleged plot to stop Brexit. While ‘plot’ reads as quite the alarmist term, the author of this piece accurately accounts for the myriad of routes taken by anti-Brexit activists to derail the process since the 52-48 decision of June 2016, including legal challenges, the creation of campaign groups and even (rumoured) new political parties.

As Katy notes, the People’s Vote campaign launched in May this year seems to have struck a clearer chord than most, and could feasibly even gain the prized support of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, has said that a second referendum should be “on the table” if parliament is not prepared to accept the final divorce deal (or lack thereof) negotiated by Theresa May and her team this year. While he clarified that Labour is not specifically “calling for it”, Starmer suggested it was common sense to retain the idea of a second vote as a consideration, should MPs reject the Government’s negotiated outcome in parliament.

Earlier in the week, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner rubbished the idea of a second ‘people’s vote’, saying it could “lead to civil disobedience” while also undermining “the whole principle of democracy in this country”. Clearly the PLP is divided on the issue, but there seems to be some momentum within the party reflecting the growing public disillusionment with Brexit negotiations, even in vociferously pro-leave areas of the country. All eyes will soon turn to this years Labour Party Conference in late September, where the issue may well be settled (once and for all?).

Stockpile syndrome

One area the no deal papers delved into is the future for medicines and medical devices in the UK outside of Europe. The fresh-faced Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has penned a letter to Britain’s pharmaceutical companies, instructing them to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines and medical devices on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by any ‘no deal’ scenario. Steve Bates, chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, called this a “massive challenge”, with only 200 days to go to until Britain leaves the EU but the Health Secretary suggested his priority was to ensure patients need not seek to store additional medicines at home.

The instructions from the Department are not as proactive as they initially appear. While the industry has warned of a tight timeframe to stockpile, Hancock’s intervention comes only days after a leaked email from NHS Providers – the body representing all NHS trusts – to NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens argued there had been “no formal communication” with hospitals and health professionals on the issue, raising concerns of supply shortages and an adverse impact on disease control across the board.

At least the issue is being taken seriously now… while the UK’s medicines regulator has been an integral organisation in the regulation and management of medicines and devices in Europe for many years, it is set to see its role significantly hampered if there’s no deal and a resulting lack of regulatory alignment. It’s fair to say that what Europe gives to the NHS is also a factor that has all too often been left out of the debate but can clearly no longer be ignored.

The talking continues

While this week has inevitably become all about the no deal option, the UK Government will gladly take the opportunity to pivot towards plan A as soon as it can, and has received some welcome news towards its chances of striking a deal before the clock strikes zero. EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said earlier this week that the EU absolutely does not favour a no deal outcome and will “negotiate continuously” to avoid this outcome.

Cabinet Office Minister David Liddington said he noted Barnier’s words “with interest”, downplaying the significance of the current October deadline while adding that, from his experience, the European Council can simply up and “call additional meetings” whenever it wants to.

At some point it will be time for the talking to end, and while there’s evidence to suggest that Britain tired of Brexit a long-time ago, it seems we will just have to grin and bear it for a bit longer. Negotiating a Brexit deal is clearly no mean feat and, after all, as new project cheer champion/metaphor maestro Dominic Raab put it earlier in the week, this is a time to “keep, as we climb the mountain, our eyes on the summit and accentuate the positives”.

Save the sandwich (note: potentially not of interest to vegetarians & vegans)

The best Brexit headline of the week has to be The New European’s, BLT Brexit: Relief as Raab confirms the snack will still be available.

It’s hard to know where to start with this one, but it is true that Raab sought to dispel some of the more outlandish food-supply related claims in his speech connected to the release of the no deal papers. This included his confirming that there will be “no sandwich famine” while specifically assuring – with no irony whatsoever – that the Great British Public will “still be able to enjoy a BLT after Brexit”.

But wait! The Guardian now says that while bacon will indeed still be available, the vast majority of rashers will be hit by tariffs without a trade deal, likely causing a price rise for the BLT.

Who to believe? While you’re pondering the answer to that question, please consider utilising at least some of your current bacon supply for the creation of these things. This writer can attest to the surprisingly tasty genius of the bacon rose and would furthermore agree wholeheartedly with “professional hardcore carnivore” Jess Pryles that “people love novelties… and people love bacon”. So, if you haven’t yet caught up with this particular fad, you can thank me later.