Brexit Round 3 as May Shuffles in Darkness
Two events stand out today and both of them have to do with time. On the one hand, the EU side is complaining that time is passing without making sufficient progress in the Brexit negotiations, and on the other hand, Tories are criticising May for promising that she is here to stay for the long term. The horrors of pledges and commitments. Time will tell.
Barnier: Brexit means Brexit
The two Brexit chief negotiators, the EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Davis, have concluded the third round of the negotiations by giving a press conference today. But this round of negotiations has done nothing to improve the UK’s prospects. Instead, Barnier said that the EU won’t change its position on Brexit, and that there has been no decisive progress on Brexit.
Barnier highlighted the passage of time, reminding us that on “29 March 2019, at the stroke of midnight, the UK will leave the EU.” He stressed that “we did not get any decisive progress on any of the principal subjects.” He described the UK’s demands for access to the single market “impossible,” and highlighted that the single market “must not and will not be undermined Brexit.” Since Barnier has a mandate, he said that he had to focus on citizens’ rights, Ireland and financial obligations, and that, until substantial progress is made in these areas, the talks cannot move on to cover the future trade relationship.
He argued that the UK suffered from a certain “nostalgia,” wanting to enjoy access to the single market without being part of it: “The UK wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations. But it also wants to have these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible. You cannot be outside the single market and shape its legal order.” He continued: “I see a sort of nostalgia in the form of specific requests which would amount to continuing to enjoy the benefits of the single market and EU membership without actually being part of it. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe there is no nostalgia. But, as I said earlier, Brexit means Brexit. Leaving the single market means leaving the single market. If that is what has been decided, there will be consequences.”
Unfortunately, with the way things are moving, Barnier said he wouldn’t recommend moving to the next stage of the negotiations: “At the current state of progress we are quite far from being able to say that sufficient progress has taken place, sufficient for me to be able to recommend to the European Council that it engage in discussions on the future relationship between the UK and EU at the same time as we would, during the course of 2018, go on working on finalising the exit and withdrawal agreement.”
On the crucial issue of the Brexit bill, David Davis said the UK will pay what it owed but that “those obligations have got to be well specified, they’ve got to be real.” Davis claimed that the UK was more pragmatic and flexible than the EU.
The horror of time passing and not making enough progress was overshadowed in the UK by the horrors of zombie politics and undead politicians shuffling in the dark, as Theresa May’s weak leadership was questioned by Tory politicians.
We’re in this together for a “global Britain”
Theresa May has fallen on black days. During her trip to Japan, and despite wanting to sound optimistic, she told journalists that she wanted to go through another general election. I’m not a “quitter” and “Yes. I’m in this for the long term,” were May’s promises to “get on with the job.” She said: “You’re right, I said I wasn’t a quitter, and there’s a long-term job to do, there’s an important job to be done in the United Kingdom. We stand at a really critical time in the United Kingdom.”
Some Conservative party politicians responded immediately, and with wrath. After the devastating general election results, and with the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn winning, Tories want to avoid May leading the party into another election. Grant Shapps, former Conservative party chair, said that the Tories would have another leader by the time of the next election and that May should focus on delivering Brexit: “I think colleagues may well be surprised by this interview last night and I think it is too early to be talking about going on and on, as Margaret Thatcher once said. Let’s get some progress for the British people first, I think that’s the priority.”
Senior Tory, Lord Heseltine, stressed the need to make some changes in the Tory party: “There's no point changing the singer if the song is out of date." Heseltine said that Labour figured it out: it “smelled the wind” and changed its tune. He advised that “re-running the last election is not a good idea,” and that the “long term is the difficult one for Theresa May because I don’t think she’s got a long term.”
The Evening Standard commented that “Britain deserves better than this horror show,” and described Theresa May’s premiership as “the Living Dead in a second-rate horror film” staggering on “oblivious.” The article warned, echoing Heseltine’s advice, that the party needed to reinvent itself before it’s too late:
“For those who want an alternative to the dangers of Jeremy Corbyn it means the urgent task facing Conservatives — of trying to win back the young, the better-educated, the urban and the ethnic minority voters they lost — will be delayed until it may be too late. For those who want a pragmatic approach to Brexit it means the necessary compromises aren’t forthcoming because leading ministers don’t want to risk alienating the Tory Brexit wing ahead of a future leadership contest. For the country it means we continue to have a rudderless Government when we face huge challenges beyond Brexit, as our economy falls behind and our place in the world is diminished. Britain deserves a better movie than this.”
On the contrary, pro-Brexit Tories welcomed May’s pledge to get on with her job. Welsh Conservative Nigel Martin Evans, said that, “We need no more instability while the PM focuses on disentangling the UK from the EU. We have the right leader and PM to deliver this for us.”
And Boris Johnson supported May by saying that “she gets it. She really wants to deliver it.” May, he said, is “ideally placed to deliver a great outcome for our country and then deliver what we all want to see, which is this exciting agenda of global Britain.”
May’s comments have been linked by many to Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 promise to “go on and on,” in power, which was seen as the beginning of the end, for Thatcher. Unlike Thatcher, however, May has to continue fighting because she has “got a job to do,” and because she needs to deliver this exciting agenda of global Britain the ultra Brexiteers have promised us.