ABHI Brexit Update: It's all Getting a bit Desperate
This has been a week of doing deals to get the deal done. It started with Her Majesty’s Government making rather unsophisticated attempts to garner support for its Withdrawal Agreement. By rather unsophisticated attempts, I mean offering bribes. It was all to do with the money that had suddenly become available to support those communities likely to be worst affected by the economic disruption associated with Brexit. Interesting is it not, that nobody is now talking about how much better off we are all going to be once we have left.
In the event, it offered further evidence, if it were needed, that our increasingly hapless Prime Minister has something of a reverse Midas touch. She could not even make a decent fist of handing out brown envelopes. First, there was the amount involved. It is all very well coming up with a single, impressively large sounding number, but when it has landed with any given individual, it is worth about tuppence ha’penny. Within moments of the announcement, West Midlands MPs were pointing out that the total being offered for the entirety of their region over four years, was less than the austerity cuts inflicted on the City of Stoke-on-Trent alone in the same period. If you are going to bribe somebody, at least make it worth their while.
Second, there was the distribution. A secret formula was used to determine the most-needy areas. Quite astonishingly they are virtually all in Leave voting constituencies with Labour MPs. Hang on a minute, what about us down here in Cornwall? Need I remind you we are the poorest county in England. We also returned six Tory MPs in 2017. And how has that helped us now? We might just as well try diving on the wreck of the Spanish galleon that supposedly sits on the bottom of Dollar Cove. If you are going to bribe your enemies, at least clear it with your friends first.
I think it was the awful Toby Young who wrote about how to lose friends and alienate people. If that was her intention, then “Proper job, Prime Minister,” as my own MP might say.
Meanwhile in Brussels, our man on a mission, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, was also having problems getting the job done. I think I suggested, a little too glibly perhaps, that all he had to do was come up with a form of legalese that made everyone feel like a winner and that was that, Withdrawal Agreement signed, sealed and delivered. But Brussels was waiting for him. When you think about it, the nature of the place probably means that the city boasts the greatest concentration of laser, legal minds on the planet. So, all he got was polite assertions that a backstop with a time limit is not a backstop. It is not an unreasonable point and it is one that the EU has made consistently.
If that was not enough for our country’s top lawyer, his every move on this is now being monitored. By lawyers. A group made up of hardline Brexiteer and DUP MPs, who are also lawyers (there does seem to be an awful lot of them in the Fun House), have set themselves up to scrutinise the very fine detail of whatever Cox claims to have come back with. That actually might be a source of further discord next week itself. It is not unconceivable that May and Cox will be in Brussels on Sunday night with Junker and Tusk hammering out the details, deliver a statement to Parliament on Monday and a vote on Tuesday. Time for adequate scrutiny? I doubt it, and that could be more votes gone.
Back home again and more unsophisticated attempts. This time on workers’ rights. MPs will be given a say on whether to adopt EU legislation post Brexit. Two significant Directives are due to come in to force post 2020. The Work Life Balance Directive will guarantee two months of paid leave for parents with children under eight and five days paid leave a year for carers, whilst all working parents of children aged up to eight will be able to request flexible working. The Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive will set employment terms for workers from their first day and give more certainty to staff doing shifts.
It is another attempt to woo leave accepting Labour MPs, and there are around 30 votes up for grabs there, who are concerned that the rights of British employees will fall behind those of their European counterparts. But it might not be enough of a concession. The Unions have described the plans as window dressing and vulnerable to future changes in government, unless their implementation is enshrined, dynamically, into UK law.
It is all getting a bit desperate. The government lost a Trade Bill vote in the Lords on Wednesday which now means that MPs will be given a vote on remaining within the customs union. That is unlikely to be passed, but it is yet more damage. Chancellor Phil Hammond, in yesterday’s media rounds, called on his party to back the deal or else the government will lose control of the process. That is looking increasingly likely now. Lose the vote on Tuesday, parliament will take no deal off the table on Wednesday and force the extension of Article 50 on Thursday. It is probably not surprising then, that EU negotiators are not for offering further concessions. Why would they when they believe that the PM cannot get the deal ratified, and the UK will be back, cap in hand, in a week’s time.
Lest we forget, the current EU term draws to a close soon, a factor likely to be significant when we consider the prospect of Brexit being delayed. Brussels will become increasingly focused on the upcoming European Parliament elections, which may or may not involve the UK. It is, perhaps, worth spending a moment reflecting on how things look from the other end of Eurotunnel – now, of course £33 million better off thanks to our hilariously incompetent Transport Secretary. Our old friend Steve Bridges writes this thoughtful piece, doubtless Leffe in hand.
Those witty people at Bloomberg have also been at it this week, contemplating what our diet might look like if food imports were to dry up. It’s not all bad news, there will be plenty of bread and no shortage of beer. Not sure what all the fuss is about.