Commanding opinion

15 May 2018

In terms of Brexit, so much is happening, but so little is moving. There is presently no hint when the EU withdrawal bill will be returned to the commons, after the House Of Lords voted for a number of amendments opposed by government which will have to be voted on in the Commons. They proposed the following:

  • The current fixed exit date should be removed from the bill.
  • The Lords be granted the power to refer statutory instruments back to the Commons.
    • Hence making implemented EU law harder for the government to modify
  • UK participation of the EEA(European Economic Area) continuing.
    • Hence continuing single market access
  • Allowing the UK to participate in EU agencies
    • Likely to affect matters like membership of Euratom

At the same time, the cabinet is trying to decide on the Customs Options of either Maximum Facilitation or Customs Partnership options. The former uses mystical, undefined technology, while the latter entails some form of arrangement UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU, both carry the hope of allowing free movement of goods between the UK and the EU. In reality, both had been initially rejected by the EU, but the Customs Partnership seems to be gaining the chance of acceptance as the Irish PM Leo Varadkar said it was “[a] welcome suggestion”. This does offer the chance that the borders at the Eurotunnel and the NI/ROI border could seemingly operate without infrastructure, which is something that could allow the UK to operate its own trade deals.

That battle is just one element of policy being faught in the open, yet this PR battle is taking many forms. Theresa May unusally posted on Facebook, in what seemed like a plea for public support crossed with general ridiculousness, where she claimed to be working to “deliver the Brexit people voted for”, forgetting the golden rule with Brexit - you can’t please everyone - so claiming to know what people voted for is quite the psychic achievement. Some voted to leave fisheries or agricultural policy(EEA membership allows this). Some voted for nationalisation(not typically blocked by the EU, but a commonly peddled ‘Lexit’ myth). Some voted for making their own trade deals(anti-CU). Some voted for removal of regulations(anti-EEA/SM). Some voted to leave political union, but wanted to remain in the same economic partnership(pro-CU,pro-SM). Some voted to reduce immigration(Yet the UK doesn’t even enforce EU immigration half as tightly as permitted). Not everyone can be pleased.

This comes as David Miliband warns that Jeremy Corbyn could be enabling a Hard Brexit, while Jeremy Corbyn is stating that he doesn’t favour the EEA/Norway arrangments. No wonder that Barnier isn’t exactly optimistic, with particular concern for Northern Ireland.

Labour and Tory MPs are lobbying their own leaders and parties, and no policy or vote is certain. The Lords doesn’t follow the government or opposition whips, and the Commons isn’t much doing so either. That said, no-one fancies a General Election just yet.