Brexit weekly: 5 things

In the same week that it was revealed that Mamma Mia 2 ‘Here we go again’ was on the brink of topping the box office total of its 2008 prequel, yours truly (an ABBA super-fan) couldn’t help but draw some comparisons between Sophie Sheridan’s adventures on the island of Kalokairi, and Theresa May’s escapades with Europe.

Just as Sophie wanted to know which one of Sam, Bill or Harry is her real father, so too is an eager Theresa waiting to see whether the final Brexit deal will be hard, soft, or something completely new. Indeed, just as viewers settle in to watch Mamma Mia 2, not sure of what they will find; so too as Brexit inches ever closer, we onlookers pensively wait for what’s to come…


One of us is crying, one of us is lying

The war of words has continued within the cabinet this week, with Leavers attempting to reassure the public that a no-deal Brexit would have no major impact on their day-to-day lives. At the end of last week the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, said “our institutions will be ready for Brexit – deal or no deal”, intimating that if no agreement was found little would change for the vast majority of the public, and they would still be able to tuck in to a great British BLT.

But dark clouds gathered quickly, and just days later, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, warned that economic growth would be damaged if the UK were to leave without a deal. He pointed out that any no-deal would hinder economic growth, with seven percentage points of GDP falling from the British economy as it forges a role for itself outside of the EU. So too, has the Bank of England slashed its growth forecasts for 2019 to 1.7 per cent, well-below the estimated level of growth predicted prior to the referendum.

In the words of the Swedish stars, One of us is lying…

And so it fell to Theresa May to break the deadlock and stop the infighting. Playing down Philip Hammond’s warnings, she repeated her earlier claim that leaving without a deal “wouldn’t be the end of the world.” That’s a relief.


I have a… dream?

A former Tory minister has warned that the no-deal “dream” which Brexiteers are trying to pursue would be blocked by Conservatives if it came to a vote in the House of Commons. Nick Boles, former Minister of State for Skills, has warned that at least 40 fellow Conservatives would be willing to vote with opposition parties to prevent the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. Personally, he said, he would vote “in whatever way is necessary” to stop a no-deal Brexit.

For those calling for a second referendum, the dream of another plebiscite inched just a little closer this week, with the backing a number of highly-prominent and influential organisations. On Wednesday, the Royal College of Nursing announced it was backing a second Brexit referendum, saying that departing the EU could exacerbate existing problems in the NHS.

The influential GMB trade union is also polling members about Brexit, as Labour campaigners for a second referendum look to trade unions to exert pressure on the party to change its official policy. The grassroots movement Momentum is also expected to ballot its members on Brexit in the coming weeks. If it becomes clear, as recent polls suggest, that a majority of members favour a second referendum, then we could see a battle played out at the Labour conference between the warring factions. Watch this space…


Dancing queen

The Prime Minister has been abroad on a tour of Africa this week in an attempt to shore up trade agreements with the continent’s key players, and she even had time for a little dancing.  The trip was sold to the press as an opportunity to “deepen and strengthen” the ties between the United Kingdom and the continent, with trips to Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya in the diary. The Government was hoping the tour would be an excellent opportunity to promote British business abroad, and show the world that the country is ready to make trade deals post-Brexit.

However, many of the agreements made in Africa offer nothing more to either partner than the deals already in place. Many of the grand treaty-signing ceremonies would be better described as formalities, as the UK introduces its own legislation that will allow African businesses the same access to the UK market as currently exists.

Currently, a complicated set of separate arrangements operate for African nations. For the least economically developed nations, an Everything But Arms system exists which allows duty-free access for goods entering the EU. Nigeria and Kenya enjoy tariff-free access to the single market for 57% of their products, whilst the EU has a separate agreement with South Africa, allowing fully to partly duty-free access for 98% of its products. Simple, right?.

If the Prime Minister wants to create similar or better deals than currently exist through the EU, she will have to invest time and money in unravelling the current details, and mark out areas for improvement. The UK lags behind the US and China in the 21st century race for Africa, and there’s no definitive sign that Brexit will give Britain the boost it urgently needs.


Money, Money, Money

Plans to set aside six weeks’ worth of vital medicines to avoid disruptions to supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit could cost £2 billion, the campaign group Best for Britain has warned. The group, which is campaigning for the UK to remain in the European Union, used data from the King’s Fund, which found the total drugs bill for the NHS in 2016 was £17.4 billion. It is unclear whether the taxpayer will bear the cost of the stockpiling scheme, with a Department of Health spokesman confirming that at this stage the Government was simply “asking suppliers to provide specific information on their stockpiling programme”.

Pro-European MPs jumped on the news that stockpiling could cost so much, with Labour’s former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith  attacking Leave supporters, saying that “I don’t remember anyone warning that Brexit would mean that we’d have to stockpile drugs or that this would cost the NHS and taxpayers up to £2 billion.”

In response, many Leave-supporting MPs branded the claims that the stockpiling of medicine could be costly  as nothing more than another attempt to scare the public.  The Conservative MP Marcus Fysh branded such the revelation as part of “dodgy project fear”.


Knowing me, knowing EU

By the end of the week, there were signs that negotiations were bearing fruit, with Michel Barnier saying that the EU was “prepared to offer Britain a partnership such as there never has been with any other third country”. It proves that – despite what ABBA said – perhaps this isn’t where the story ends, this isn’t goodbye.

At the same time, President Macron announced his intentions to use a summit in Austria next month to outline a new structure for European alliances, with the EU and the euro at the core and Britain in a ‘second ring’. Upon the news, sterling rose strongly against the Euro and Dollar, after a sluggish month saw the currency fall to yearly lows.

Whatever happens, come March 2019, Britain will be saying ‘Thank you for the Music’ and ending the final chapter in its membership of the European Union. Whilst ardent remainers will, perhaps, always wonder ‘Why did it have to be me’, the country will be saying ‘I do, I do, I do, I do’ to new trading relations and a life outside the 27-member bloc.