Winter is Coming: Leaks, Brexit, Tory Wars
Today, the second round of the Brexit negotiations began and on Thursday it will conclude with a press conference. From Monday to Thursday, the negotiating teams will discuss issues including citizens’ rights and the Brexit bill.
In a picture circulated in the media, the Brexit negotiating teams are sitting around an oval desk with three representatives on each side, but there’s a worrying detail. While the EU’s Brexit negotiating team, Michel Barnier and his colleagues, Sabine Weyand and Stéphanie Riso, all have their notes and bundles of papers in front of them, the UK side has nothing. One might say that we don’t need any notes, since everything is memorised, but the UK chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis and his team—the UK’s EU ambassador Tim Barrow and top civil servant Oliver Robbins—are embarrassingly shown to be unprepared. Is it because Davis has a good memory, or is it because there is nothing to remember on such a memorable occasion? The Brussels deputy bureau chief for the news agency Agence France Press (AFP) tweeted that “The EU team seems to have a lot more papers. And female members,” while Matt Zarb-Cousin jokingly explained that the UK team didn’t have any notes because “It’s all up here!,” meaning in their head. The deputy political editor of The Independent, Rob Merrick, tweeted: “Let me show you our plans…I’ll just find the fag packet.” But, to be fair to Mr Davis, this week’s discussions will be held by the appointed officials and not the principals. He has already left Brussels today, not “because he left his notes at home,” and will be returning there again on Thursday.
Speaking to journalists, David Davis said “Now it’s time to get down to work and make this a successful negotiation,” and Barnier added that he was looking forward to the negotiations: “We will now delve into the heart of the matter. We need to examine and compare our respective positions in order to make good progress.” And this is what will happen this week. The two sides will outline their differences without reaching any definitive conclusions or agreements.
What will be discussed this week
Gathering at the European Commission’s Berlaymont Building, the two teams opened the discussions with a session on objectives followed by working groups’ discussion on the three crucial issues on citizens’ rights, financial settlement and other separation issues. On Tuesday, the leaders of the working groups will meet, followed by meetings on Ireland, governance and concluding with working groups’ discussions on the three key issues. On Wednesday, they will focus on the three issues, while, on Thursday, they will finish with briefings, plans for future negotiating rounds, a working lunch and a press conference.
European Court of Justice (ECJ)
The discussion this week will centre around citizens’ rights, money and what is called as “other separation issues,” which will include the European Court of Justice.
Theresa May has pledged to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the ECJ, the highest legal authority of the EU, so that British courts are responsible for anything that relates to EU law. May might have said that "We are not leaving (the EU) only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That is not going to happen," but the ECJ has its tentacles on all aspects of trade and EU institutions, that the only way for the UK to break away from the ECJ is to get rid of it completely. To do so, however, will mean that the UK would have to create from scratch new UK regulatory bodies that will replace the ECJ’s jurisdiction and would be able to solve EU citizens’ rights or trade without the European court’s interference. The call to take back control was partly about the UK being a sovereign and independent nation, thus the UK government is big on terminating the ECJ’s influence on the UK.
At the same time, EU citizens’ rights are also entangled with the ECJ. For the EU, European citizens should continue to be protected under the ECJ rules after Brexit, while the UK cannot accept it.
Bad Brexiteer Michael Gove is the leaker
Back in the UK, Theresa May is urging politicians to stop leaking details of cabinet meetings after the chancellor Philip Hammond was quoted saying, in a private Cabinet meeting last week, that public sector workers were overpaid and driving a train was so easy, that “even a woman can do it.” The leaked information was quite damaging, and the purpose was to smear Hammond for his soft Brexit position. Hammond’s friends identified the culprit with the new Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, an ardent Brexiteer and great opportunist.
Hammond explained to BBC1’s Andrew Marr show that “If you want my opinion, some of the noise is generated by people who are not happy with the agenda that I have. Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to advance ensuring that we achieve a Brexit that is focused on protecting our economy, protecting our jobs and making sure that we can have continued rising standards in the future.”
Pro-European Lord Heseltine, talking on the World at One about the leak, said:
“My guess is it’s a leading Brexiteer. I have no evidence, but that’s where the self-interest lies. And she can’t sack leading Brexiteers because she has no authority. So you have an enfeebled government. Everybody knows this. I don’t like saying it, but I’m not telling you anything that every journalist is not writing every day ... The Europeans have worked it all out. This is a government without authority. This is a deeply divided government and what they know, what the Europeans know, and what our national press knows is every day there’s a more depressing headline.”
While last week, talks among Tories to get rid of May were dismissed by justice secretary David Lidington as “gossipy stories in the media,” the result of which was “too much sun and too much warm prosecco,” now it seems that the gossipy stories are infecting more Tory members with the latest victim being Hammond. A senior Tory accused Michael Gove and Boris Johnson for leaking information in an attempt to embarrass him. Hammond is considered by some as a soft Brexiteer and by others as a rival for the throne at No10. Hard Brexiteers David Davis and Johnson are also competing for the keys to No10 and embody the pure desire to Brexit hard. Not to mention, that there is a whole line of other cabinet ministers who might want to claim the iron throne: Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, Jeremy Hunt, Justine Greening, Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom. With May weakened and many Tories at war for Brexit and the Tory leadership, the future looks uncertain.
On the eve of the Game of Thrones season 7, it appears as if the medieval games of past kings and queens are transposed to modern day London, where an ongoing war between hard and soft Brexiteers can only mean that winter is coming.