The Brief – May muddles through… again

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [Peter Powell/ EPA]

Eighteen months after surprisingly winning the referendum that they had craved for so long, British Eurosceptics are increasingly depressed. They fear that the UK is sleep-walking into remaining a de facto member of the EU that will be paying into its budget and adopting EU laws without a say over them for the foreseeable future.

The charge of inertia is well-grounded. A meeting of Theresa May’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ of ten senior ministers on Wednesday afternoon (7 February) was supposed to finalise the government’s demands for what will follow the long-expected ‘transition’ period.

It didn’t.

Nor did a second meeting of ministers on Thursday. The government still doesn’t know what it wants.

From the ‘Brexiter’ faction, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is expected to give a speech on his vision of a ‘liberal Brexit’, although it is highly unlikely to be heavy on detail.

“I have never seen a government so divided,” one official told EURACTIV.

It seems that the best that Brexiters are hoping for from the Article 50 talks is to have a ten page ‘Heads of Agreement’ document in March 2019 that leaves most of the detail on future relations to be agreed by EU and UK civil servants and lawyers.

In the meantime, the idea of seeking an extension to the Article 50 process has gained a surprising amount of support in Whitehall, EURACTIV has learned.

Many Eurosceptics feel that Theresa May triggered Article 50 prematurely. The government’s International Trade department has made glacial progress on striking new third country trade deals. However, the government’s legal team has, apparently, vetoed an extension to Article 50.

Ministerial dithering is effectively handing power to senior civil servants, who have found themselves the unlikely target of Brexiter opprobrium in recent weeks. Leading Brexiters, including Steve Baker, a minister in the Department for Exiting the EU, have effectively accused the civil service of trying to undermine Brexit.

The charge is not entirely without foundation – the civil service, particularly the Foreign Office, is hardly a hotbed of Euroscepticism – though impugning the integrity of your officials is never a smart tactic.

“Olly Robbins (May’s Brexit advisor) is basically being left in a room to negotiate for the UK without a mandate,” one insider said.

On the other side of La Manche, the Commission’s Brexit supremo Michel Barnier is timetabled to brief the Brussels press corps on the week’s negotiations on Friday afternoon. It’s unlikely to eat into his lunch hour.

The Roundup

EU finance boss Pierre Moscovici is in an optimistic mood and is not worried about market volatility. If you want to hear more from the French Commissioner then sign up to our event, being held next week. There’s only a few seats left so be quick.

Mosco’s jobs and growth colleague, Jyrki Katainen, is on board with the Plastics Strategy. Check out all you need to know about how the EU wants to tackle plastic waste here.

Biofuels continue to be problematic, both for agriculture and energy. A new study warns that their advanced variants are still not ready to roll out on a large scale.

Germany’s green energy production has shot up 1,000% since 1990 but the new coalition agreement doesn’t seem to have pleased many people. The criticism against the EU’s list of priority energy projects continues.

Poland will later this month appear in court over illegal logging and then air quality infringements. Bulgarians are reportedly denied an acceptable level of environmental justice.

Romania’s government got a grilling in Strasbourg yesterday, right in front of the justice minister, and it is still unclear if Turkey will press on for visa liberalisation or not at a summit next month.

Some of us hate it, others don’t care but MEPs voted to start a thorough examination into Daylight Savings Time. Check out how one of the lawmakers illustrated his point

We encourage yew to vote fir the European tree of the year award here. There are some real chestnuts in there, with some poplar choices.

Look out for…

Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker meets European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer, fresh from the EIB’s decision to grant a new pipeline billions of euros.

Views are the author’s

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