The Brief – A declaration of independence

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter

The US declared independence from the UK 242 years ago today. As the always loquacious Brexiteer Dan Hannan put it in on Twitter: “things worked out OK for them”.

Perhaps but ‘taking back control’ was so much easier in 1776. Thomas Jefferson and co didn’t have to worry about disputed referendums back then, though they did need an actual shooting war to obtain independence from the British.

Most of the Brexit civil war takes place over the airwaves. But it doesn’t just centre on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, the spin war over the referendum itself is also still unresolved.

Vote Leave head honcho Matthew Elliott took the unusual step on Wednesday (4 July) of briefing the media that the UK’s Electoral Commission was about to find his organisation guilty on a series of charges of breaking election law.

That was a smart piece of spin by Elliott, giving him a chance to make his defence before the charges are formally made.

The allegations centre on a £680,000 donation passed on by the Vote Leave campaign to a separate youth Brexit group called BeLeave, led by fashion student Darren Grimes, then 22 years old.

Whistleblowers say that BeLeave was just a proxy for Vote Leave, and that the money was channeled to them to get around the fact that Vote Leave had exceeded its £7 million campaign spending limit.

The money was allegedly spent by both groups on target social media messaging by Aggregate IQ, itself a proxy for the now disgraced data firm Cambridge Analytica.

Vote Leave insists that it kept to the law. Brexiteers say that the Remain campaign fiddled their own spending figures by using proxy organisations.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, one of Vote Leave’s front-men, has already warned that the Electoral Commission’s findings (which, like Theresa May’s elusive White Paper, has still not been published) will be “challenged legally”.

Nobody is likely to serve any jail-time over this, though Grimes faces a £20,000 fine, and nor is the Electoral Commission about to say that the referendum should be nullified.

Even if the poll was rerun there is little evidence that these revelations would changes people’s minds about how to vote. Around  9 out of 10 voters would vote the same way as they did in June 2016, polling guru Sir John Curtice told EURACTIV last week.

But it is further evidence of quite how entrenched the Brexit culture war is.

With nearly half the country believing that the Leave campaign cheated to win the referendum, and most Leave supporters thinking that (a) it was worth it, and (b) the other side were just as bad, the deadlock in Theresa May’s government, and across the country at large, shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The Roundup

By Sam Morgan

The Strasbourg plenary session continued, with Poland’s PM giving the latest speech by a head of government to the Parliament. Protests raged back home as Poles denounced the government’s judicial reforms.

Last week’s EU summit still rankles clearly, as MEPs slammed Council boss Donald Tusk for failures at the marathon meeting.

US President Donald Trump might try to wreck NATO next, but at least EU lawmakers were able to endorse the creation of a half-billion-euro military defence fund ahead of a July summit in Brussels.

Greece’s main opposition party scolded EU tax boss Pierre Moscovici for comments he made about the country’s clean exit from the bailout programme. The French Commissioner has replied to EURACTIV, check the site later for the full story.

Look out for…

Jean-Claude Juncker heads to Vienna to commemorate the start of the Austrian EU Presidency. The Alpine Republic hopes to use its six months to push for dialogue on the US-EU trade dispute.

World Cup Watch

England managed to squash decades of World Cup penalty shootout misery by putting Colombia to the sword. They now get the chance to make the semi-finals by defeating Sweden who made it past Switzerland earlier in the day. The last time the Swedes played the English, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one of the goals of the century.

QUARTER FINAL LINE-UP, FRIDAY: URU-FRA | BRZ-BLG

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