Brexit weekly brief­ing: UK given two weeks to clar­ify its fi­nan­cial of­fer

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Jon Hen­ley and Peter Walker

Wel­come to the Guardian’s weekly Brexit brief­ing, a sum­mary of devel­op­ments as the UK heads to­wards the EU door marked “exit”. If you would like to re­ceive it as a weekly early-morning email, please sign up here.

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The big pic­ture

At the end of a brief sixth round of Brexit talks last week, the EU27 set Bri­tain a tight two-week dead­line to pro­vide vi­tal fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion on the fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments it is will­ing to hon­our as part of the di­vorce deal.

The Brexit sec­re­tary, David Davis, asked for more imag­i­na­tion and flex­i­bil­ity in a bid to move the talks on from the key ar­ti­cle 50 di­vorce is­sues to fu­ture re­la­tions, as the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment wants, but the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, was not budg­ing.

Mem­ber states will make the de­ci­sion at a sum­mit on 14 and 15 De­cem­ber and trade talks will be post­poned un­less there is “real and sin­cere progress” on the exit bill – es­ti­mated at about €60bn (£53bn) – the Irish bor­der and cit­i­zens’ rights, he said.

Those steps must be made within the next fort­night to al­low the sum­mit’s draft con­clu­sions to be cir­cu­lated and ap­proved in good time, al­though given the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment’s in­sta­bil­ity and divi­sion many on the con­ti­nent doubt this is pos­si­ble.

In an in­ter­view with the French news­pa­per Jour­nal du Di­manche, Barnier said the EU was draw­ing up con­tin­gency plans for the pos­si­ble col­lapse of the talks. This was not the pre­ferred op­tion, he said, but:

In a major con­ces­sion to proEU back­benchers and in an im­plicit ac­knowl­edge­ment of its weak­ness, the gov­ern­ment promised on Mon­day that MPs and peers will be able to scru­ti­nise, de­bate and vote on a fi­nal deal through an act of par­lia­ment.

The move was not a huge sur-

prise, since min­is­ters faced de­feat in par­lia­ment on pre­cisely this “mean­ing­ful vote” ques­tion, and Davis’s prom­ise was at­tacked on both sides by MPs who noted it would give them no say in the event of there not be­ing a deal and was in any case mean­ing­less with­out a pledge to hold the vote be­fore Brexit day.

My col­league Dan Roberts has an ex­cel­lent ex­plainer on what the of­fer of statu­tory ap­proval might mean for Brexit in prac­tice here.

The view from Europe

The bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Irish Repub­lic has sud­denly be­come as big a stum­bling block as the fi­nan­cial set­tle­ment.

Davis last week firmly re­jected an EU sug­ges­tion that North­ern Ire­land could stay in the cus­toms union or the sin­gle market, say­ing that would in ef­fect “cre­ate a new bor­der” inside the UK – one be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Bri­tish main­land.

Dublin, for its part, is adamant that Bri­tain will not dic­tate the bor­der’s fu­ture. For­eign min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney said Ire­land would re­main a “con­sis­tent, firm and stub­born” op­po­nent of any pro­posal lead­ing to a hard bor­der with North­ern Ire­land:

Ar­range­ments ac­cept­able to the EU would in­clude those adapted for Hong Kong and Ma­cau, which are part of China but have their own trade regimes. Brus­sels favours the prov­ince stay­ing under EU law, al­low­ing trade to flow freely on the is­land.

It is not im­me­di­ately clear how a way will be found out of this im­passe. There are now real con­cerns on the con­ti­nent that Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment is too frag­ile and di­vided to come up with ad­e­quate pro­pos­als on this, and other key is­sues.

Ul­ti­mately, Barnier said in a sig­nif­i­cant speech in Rome, Bri­tain is go­ing to have to choose be­tween dereg­u­lat­ing and fol­low­ing the US so­cial and eco­nomic model, or stay­ing within the Euro­pean main­stream:

Mean­while, back in West­min­ster

Those in West­min­ster who worry that Brexit is, for some pro­po­nents, al­most a cult will have had their prej­u­dices con­firmed by news that Boris John­son and Michael Gove have writ­ten to Theresa May seek­ing to toughen her re­solve on the is­sue.

The mis­sive has, in­evitably, been de­scribed as “Or­wellian”, con­tain­ing as it does ad­vice that May should en­sure her min­is­ters get fully be­hind Brexit by “clar­i­fy­ing their minds” and seek­ing to “in­ter­nalise the logic”.

The let­ter, and the fact it brought not a squeak of protest from No 10, also demon­strates an­other thing: how gravely weak May’s po­si­tion is.

This will be fur­ther il­lus­trated later this week when the EU with­drawal bill, which seeks to move EU rules and statute into Bri­tish law, re­turns to the Com­mons for the com­mit­tee stage, when amend­ments can be made. Dozens of amend­ments have been tabled, and de­spite Davis’s last-minute prom­ise of pri­mary leg­is­la­tion that will al­low MPs the chance to de­bate and vote on the fi­nal deal, dis­sat­is­fac­tion in the cham­ber is such that sev­eral of them could yet pass.

The prime min­is­ter’s pow­ers of per­sua­sion over her MPs have also hardly been im­proved af­ter she lost a sec­ond cabi­net min­is­ter, Priti Pa­tel, in a week, over a spot of off-the­books free­lance diplo­macy in Is­rael.

May is be­ing urged to con­sider a major cabi­net reshuf­fle to re­assert con­trol. But as ever, there is a ten­sion be­tween what might be po­lit­i­cally use­ful, and what a PM who is ar­guably the weak­est in liv­ing mem­ory can re­al­is­ti­cally do.

You should also know ...

EU busi­ness lead­ers tell May to agree Brexit deal or face col­lapse in con­fi­dence.

Both UK and eu­ro­zone would suf­fer from no-deal Brexit, says IMF.

Food prices would soar af­ter nodeal Brexit, warns major dairy boss.

Restau­rants fear Brexit will turn boom to bust as EU staff leave.

Weaker post-ref­er­en­dum pound adds to prob­lems of Bri­tish bak­ers.

Brexit is rev­ersible even af­ter date is set, says ar­ti­cle 50 au­thor.

Euro­pean par­lia­ment warns major is­sues still un­re­solved on cit­i­zens’ rights.

Short­age of fac­tory staff push­ing up pay rates as num­ber of EU work­ers falls.

Read these:

In the Guardian, Deb­o­rah Orr ar­gues that we should not ex­pect those strug­gling through aus­ter­ity to be benev­o­lent to EU work­ers. For many, free move­ment causes pain and un­til their lives are im­proved, Europe will re­main the scape­goat:

In the Fi­nan­cial Times (pay­wall), Gideon Rach­man reck­ons the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is so en­fee­bled and di­vided be­tween leavers and re­main­ers, and the EU so un­yield­ing, that the most prob­a­ble out­come of the Brexit talks is that the bloc will im­pose a so­lu­tion:

Tweet of the week

Den­mark weighs in, and not in a friendly way:

David Davis (l) with Michel Barnier at a press con­fer­ence in Brus­sels last Fri­day. Pho­to­graph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Im­ages

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