The Brief – Stand well back for the Brexit relaunch

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

Whitehall is not a cheerful place right now. Brexit overshadows every department. The collective sense is that Michel Barnier’s team have consistently outmanoeuvred David Davis and Theresa May, who drift without a plan.

So what’s needed is a Brexit relaunch, replete with more speeches than you can shake a stick at.

On Valentine’s Day (Wednesday), Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will seek to whisper sweet nothings to Brexiters and Remainers as he sets out a long-promised vision for a ‘liberal Brexit’. BoJo still has his eyes on Theresa May’s job, but his Teflon touch and popularity is long gone.

Cabinet minister David Lidington will promise the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales that Brexit will not be used as an excuse for a Westminster power-grab, Liam Fox has promised a treatise on trade. May, for her part, will speak at a security conference in Munich on Friday and has trailed a Brexit policy speech later this month.

On Sunday, International Development minister Penny Mordaunt promised that ministers would offer “vision” and “meat on the bones”. That remains to be seen. Speeches may give politicians something to do and reporters something to write about, but are no guarantee of any substance.

Things are scarcely more harmonious on the Labour benches. Despite the near civil war in the Conservative government, opinion polls put the beleaguered Theresa May level with Jeremy Corbyn’s party. Corbyn and his inner circle are not natural pro-Europeans – they come from the tradition of left-wing Euroscepticism – and have a distinctly tense relationship with Keir Starmer, the party’s spokesman on Brexit.

While collective inertia reigns in Westminster, the UK’s pro-European forces outside Parliament are getting mobilised. George Soros’s Open Society Foundation already funds a swathe of transparency and development civil society group. Now he has turned his hand to opposing Brexit.

Last week it was revealed that Soros was the biggest donor to Best for Britain, to the tune of £400,000. That prompted a series of angry headlines (and free publicity) in the right-wing papers about foreign interference in British politics. Soros has now handed over another £100,000 to Best for Britain.

For the moment these groups are reminiscent of the skit in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ about the difference between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front.

Best for Britain, Open Britain (the shell of the defeated ‘Stronger In’ campaign from 2016), and the European Movement are just a few of a plethora of groups ostensibly campaigning for the same thing, with Tony Blair’s Change Foundation also on the radar.

European Movement UK has incidentally has also received a chunk of Soros’ cash and has its highest membership numbers in a generation.

For the moment, these groups are shadow boxing, fighting mini turf wars amongst themselves and competing for the air-waves. In the event, albeit still unlikely, that the UK holds another referendum on Brexit, which one of them will effectively run the ‘In’ campaign?

The Round-Up

Where’s our food from? Sarantis Michalopoulos explains the Commission’s vaguely worded proposal on voluntary or mandatory food labelling for country of origin?

As if Brexit were not enough. London is now trying to reassure Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that their devolved governments will not be ‘robbed of power’ after the transfer of powers from Brussels to London in 2019.

European battery giants? Not really. A European battery alliance, initially branded as an Airbus-style consortium, is more likely to be a network of smaller industrial and innovation clusters, Commissioner Šefčovič says.

We take care of our own.  Juncker and Tajani have stepped in after Ska Keller, co-president of the GREEN/EFA group, was insulted and threatened in Bulgaria last week. End result? A mild government statement containing no apology or condemnation.

Having the single price of CO2 should not be the key element of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we’re focused too much on the importance of carbon pricing, a researcher tells La Tribune.

Migration has the potential to help EU economy grow more than expected, but EU leaders must act fast. Read our interview with the head of International Organisation for Migration.

Look out for…

Commissioner Ansip goes to Zagreb for a Digital Single Market conference. And it’s Shrove Tuesday – dust out your fancy dresses.