The UK finally revealed its hand on Thursday, publishing a 104-page White Paper that looks awfully like continued membership of the single market and customs union. Just don’t call it that, whatever you do.
So closely guarded was the aforementioned Paper in London and Brussels that reporters were given copies to read but not allowed to take them from the briefing room. If that felt like liberties were being taken, it was still much better than what UK MPs were offered.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab delivered his statement on the White Paper before MPs had seen it, prompting a bitter row in Westminster which ended with House of Commons Speaker John Bercow suspending Parliament for 15 minutes so that MPs could get a copy.
Whether that was a cock-up or deception is unclear, though it sums up the mess that Theresa May’s government has got itself into over Brexit. Either way, it amounted to a baptism of fire for Raab, who was only anointed three days ago.
In fact, by lunchtime on Thursday, two White Papers were in circulation, after the ‘hard Brexit’ supporting Conservative Home website started publishing extracts of an alternative paper which appears to have been written by Raab’s predecessor David Davis before he resigned earlier this week.
“An utter shambles” was the verdict of Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer, and it is hard to disagree.
Having spent the last couple of months watching their political masters dither and delay, UK officials are understandably keen to speed up the pace of Article 50 negotiations.
But whether Mrs May’s blueprint can avoid being strangled at birth by her own MPs remains to be seen.
The reactions of Conservative MPs this afternoon tended to range from the sceptical to the downright hostile. More ministerial resignations are thought likely, and those who are tempted to defy Mrs May might be further emboldened by the latest intervention that came from none other than the US president.
On the eve of his first (and controversial) trip to the UK, Donald Trump appeared to side with the hard Brexiteers, warning the UK that being “partially involved” with the EU could be a betrayal of the referendum results.
“I don’t know if that is what they (the British people) voted for,” he said.
Michel Barnier’s Brexit Taskforce and other EU countries would be wise to take the White Paper seriously, because the Paper is, by a distance, London’s most detailed and realistic offer so far.
The single market on goods deserves serious consideration by Brussels, and the UK’s ‘red lines’ on regulatory harmonisation and the role of the European Court of Justice have shifted.
The UK wants to remain part of most EU policy instruments on defence, security and policing, and the most difficult demands to accommodate are likely to be over financial services.
It was telling that Guy Verhofstadt’s Brexit Steering group in the European Parliament gave an encouraging reaction. The White Paper is, lest we forget, rather similar to the Association Agreement outlined by MEPs earlier this year.
The May government is extremely fragile. Humiliating her further would probably increase the chances of a chaotic ‘no deal’. And that is something no one wants.
By Freya Kirk
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Macedonia was officially invited to join the NATO Alliance and will become its 30th member state.
As Central Europe starts the exit from coal, some campaigners argue that everyone should be part of the process.
The President of the COP21 said the world needs to ‘triple its efforts’ to reduce emissions with Europe taking the lead.
Commissioner Marianne Thyssen has decided that “There’s life besides politics”, as she will officially leave after the end of her mandate at the end of 2019.
The 104 page-long Whiter Paper on UK relations with the EU post-Brexit is finally out, it plans for a Ukraine-style association agreement.
Look out for….
Friday the 13th and ECOFIN where the VAT reverse charge mechanism proposal will be discussed.
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