The Brief: Mrs May’s 12-point Brexit shopping list

The Brief is's evening newsletter.


The first thing to say after today’s long-overdue speech by Theresa May, setting out the UK government’s negotiating objectives for Brexit, are the wise words of Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke the Elder:

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

That is, while the UK media might be presenting this as a “12-point plan”, at the moment it is nothing more than a glorified wishlist. As you read this, Michel Barnier, the Commission’s wily and well-read chief negotiator, will be pouring over the fine text with a magnifying glass.

And that is to say nothing of the European Parliament – currently, as I write, effectively leaderless – and the parliaments of the 27 remaining members, which must ratify the deal, when and if it ever happens.

And, not least, the UK’s own parliament. One of the few “rabbits out of the hat” moments was May conceding that both the House of Commons and Lords will have a final vote on any agreement.

Although, she did neatly sidestep a question from ITV’s Robert Peston, who simply asked that if MPs vote ‘no’, does that mean the UK is still in the EU?

Sure, many elements of Mrs May’s shopping list – continued defence and crime cooperation, controlling immigration and making new free trade deals – are either uncontroversial or, at least, ‘doable’, once the dust settles and an agreement is inked sometime in 2019.

But others – such as a common travel area with Ireland, an entirely new EU customs union for the UK, and strengthening the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland – look vague at best, delusional at worst. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all massively voted to remain inside the EU, remember.

Perhaps most delusional of all was May’s hope – some seven months after the referendum, and after she today put flesh on the bone of her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ mantra – that this would put an end to any “rolling commentary” on the negotiations.

“It is not my job to fill column inches”, she scolded assembled journalists in Lancaster House.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. To paraphrase the old slogan, “Watch this [now-marginally-less-blank] space.”


MEPs are still electing a new president of the European Parliament this afternoon. There will be a third voting round at 5:30PM. Centre-right candidate Antonio Tajani was in the lead after two voting rounds but still fell short of a majority by 59 votes. He won the support of the liberal ALDE group this morning when its candidate, Guy Verhofstadt, stepped out of the race and backed the EPP. The centre-left S&D group is trying to gain support from Parliament leftists.

Tajani’s staff did not respond to EURACTIV’s phone calls and an email asking whether he still believes the children of same-sex couples are “certain to have serious psychological problems”. He wrote that in a question to the Council in 1996.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association called Tajani’s voting record on LGBTI equality “less than stellar” and said it is “particularly disappointed” that the ALDE group backed him.

Donald Trump’s advisor said today in Davos that EU institutions have to “pay more attention to the working class”. Chinese President Xi Jinping made the case for globalisation, and took a jab at the EU and US over their concerns about giving Beijing Market Economy Status. The mood might be dismal as the World Economic Forum opened today, but a majority of top business executives said in a poll that they’re optimistic about their companies’ growth prospects. There’s more from Davos in our live blog.

Pierre Moscovici said EU countries need to keep in line with the 3% budget deficit threshold, even though several French presidential candidates disagree. The EU budget chief also said he wants the candidate from his Socialist Party to stand up for Europe. Spain, one of the countries that was reprimanded for breaking EU budget rules, has plans to bring its GDP back to pre-crisis levels.

Germany’s constitutional court rejected a bid to ban the neo-Nazi party NPD, arguing that it is anti-democratic but too weak to successfully damage democracy. Udo Voigt is the NPD’s only MEP.

The European Commission and the US government published a joint report outlining their progress on TTIP, just three days before Donald Trump is sworn in as president. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said the EU “left no stone unturned” in its attempts to form the trade deal.

Around 88 million tonnes of food are wasted every year in the EU and the Commission isn’t doing enough to stop that, according to a damning report from the EU Court of Auditors.

Christopher Steele, the spy behind the now infamous intelligence dossier on Donald Trump, also did sleuth work for UK financial regulatory agencies.


Jean-Claude Juncker and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat will speak in the European Parliament’s plenary session tomorrow morning at 11:15AM.
Views are the author’s


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