A feeling of phony war this week. A big bust-up may be just around the corner but all quiet on the Withdrawal front this week. The big Brexit stories in politics this week, were actually unrelated to Brexit or only partially related. There was the announcement that Honda was shutting down its Swindon plant – nothing to do with Brexit. And the emergence of the so-called ‘Independent Group’ – not as much to do with Brexit as you might think.
The real news on Brexit is happening behind the scenes, with the government taking advantage of a period of quiet. There has (predictably) been a distinct lack of positive news coming out of May’s most recent meetings with the EU Commission. The belief is that Geoffrey Cox will however come back with a codicil or an amendment to the the Political Declaration that renders the Irish backstop a bit less permanent than it currently is. The ERG is ready and prepared with a legal team to go through this with a toothcomb, but it is obvious that some of them will accept anything that gets the UK out by March 29th as long as there is some suggestion that the backstop may be temporary.
The Malthouse Compromise has predictably been rejected in Brussels and is currently off the table. But though the situation might look grim, there are also reasons for cautious optimism. The Withdrawal Agreement may well continue to be rejected by Parliament leaving a vacuum to be filled perhaps by Malthouse. In the meantime a revised Cooper-Boles amendment will go for an Article 50 extension, but this is mainly a ploy to reverse Brexit and will destroy the PM’s determination to avoid a move she views as pointless. While many have lost all faith in Theresa May her legacy now depends totally on leaving the EU in five weeks’ time.
Honda’s announcement is not good news. But it was not caused by Brexit which makes no difference either way. The car industry is going through a period of flux and readjustment, as companies have to face up to new environmental pressures. A key factor is the new EU:Japan free trade agreement which will remove the EU tariffs that led to Honda et al setting up in the UK in the first place. Not that that stopped the Financial Times’ editorial on Wednesday (20th) echoed Lord Adonis’s claim that when Honda said the closure of the Swindon plant had nothing to do with Brexit they actually meant the opposite. The Japanese are apparently a super-polite people and never say what they mean. You could not make it up, except the FT just did.
The Independent Group is in part a Remainer enterprise but Labour’s antisemitism crisis was the bigger push factor. It is part of the long retreat of Blairites from Corbyn’s party. So while the Independent Group may mark the beginning of a major shift in party alignments, as things stand it is a small movement which has not changed the Brexit parliamentary arithmetic. Whether TIG members can overcome their diverse backgrounds and priorities and make any substantial impact the party system remains to be seen. But they are certainly short of time to become the heroes of the People’s Vote campaign.
On the website this week
How Awful Are The Backstop Trade Proposals, by Harry Western
Economist Harry Western bemoans the backstop trading arrangements – which would be worse than WTO rules. He systematically explains how none of the key reasons for the backstop stand up to scrutiny – such as the way it will allegedly give frictionless trade, relax EU regulation on the UK and solve the Irish border issue.
“the UK authorities would do far better [than the backstop] by embracing an exit based on WTO rules-based trading with the EU”
Singapore wouldn’t accept EU vassalage, and neither should we, by David Blake
David Blake hails the Singaporean model of free trade as an example for the UK to follow. He explains how Parliament should heed the lesson of the island city-state which forged its success by utilising its comparative advantages and trading with the whole world – rather than insulating itself in a closed world.
“We should not be willing to settle for ‘vassalage, satrapy and colonial status’”
The Subscribers’ Views page on the website allows subscribers to submit their own articles. Submissions welcome.
We are also on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briefing4brexit, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Discussion on Facebook continues too – in response to Harry Western’s article, Anne O’Neill Radcliffe comments, ‘The Withdrawal Agreement is so bad that we will have left in name only. Still paying them a fortune, they deciding who we can trade with and the European court will still override ours!!! Not what we voted for!!’.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge