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Brexit weekly briefing: new demands threaten transition, says Barnier

Michel Barnier and David Davis
The Brexit minister, David Davis (r), hosted a working lunch at No 10 for the chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images/Best Pix

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Another week in Brexitland. Michel Barnier and David Davis provoke mutual surprise, while cabinet ministers fail to make headway in agreeing what the UK wants out of negotiations. And George Soros makes another well-timed intervention in the country’s affairs.

Barnier barney: Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis crossed swords yet again, the former arguing he was “surprised” by “substantial” new demands that risked jeopardising the transition period, and the latter professing surprise the EU was surprised. The bloc is offering a “status quo” 21-month transition during which the UK would in effect remain in the EU and obey EU laws, but Britain wants to treat EU citizens arriving in the UK during the period differently from those already here, and also wants the right to reject any new EU laws. Davis also objected strongly to the EU’s inclusion in its transition terms of a clause allowing Brussels to sanction the UK for infringing EU law, describing it as “discourteous” and “in bad faith”. Barnier said it actually was neither, adding for good measure that there was “no possibility” of a trade deal that could avoid some barriers to trade.

Soros spat: Uproar ensued after it was revealed that the billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros had donated £400,000 to Best for Britain, a well-publicised pro-remain campaign. Pro-Brexit newspapers denounced a “secret plot” to overthrow Brexit by a “rich gambler ... accused of meddling in the nation’s affairs”, drawing accusations they were reviving antisemitic cliches. Soros responded to what he called a “smear campaign” by donating an extra £100,000.

Dodgy dividend: As the inner cabinet met to finally try to agree on what it wanted from the Brexit end-state (it could not), the government’s own analyses revealed a no-deal Brexit would blow an £80bn hole in the public finances and affect the leave-voting heartlands of north-east England and the West Midlands facing 16% and 13% hits to their economies respectively. A hard Brexit would also mean an overall 21% rise in retail prices, with food and drink rising 17%.

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Top comment

In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee says Ireland is the one roadblock the Brexiters cannot drive around – and it may prove decisive:

I hear that Boris Johnson, if faced with unpalatable facts, has a habit of fluttering his fingers in front of his face, shutting his eyes and going, “Na na na na” to blank out any of his officials bearing bad news. That’s the only way these dishonest fantasists can keep going ... But there is one great question that will not go away: Ireland. The Brexiteers avoid mentioning it, because Ireland is their roadblock. The border is marked by memories of British bad faith that have been gradually healing over 20 years of peace. What a strange irony if Ireland ends up saving us all from ourselves. The border conundrum can only be resolved by forcing May to abandon her contradictory red lines – no customs union, no single market, no European court of justice – and no hard border.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley argues that neither the Tory frontbench nor its Labour counterpart is leading the debate on the EU, so parliament must fill the void:

The divisions that are paralysing the government and imperilling the national interest have a mirror in the opposition’s studied ambiguity about crucial aspects of Brexit. The government can’t govern and the opposition doesn’t want to oppose. This has put us in the highly unusual position where neither the Conservative frontbench nor its opposition counterpart is leading the national debate. How is it that Anna Soubry, an ex-minister, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, a never-was minister, have become so prominent in the arguments? It is at least in part because they are filling the vacuum left by a government strangled by its internal divisions and an official opposition made inarticulate by its unwillingness to take robust positions. Who can step into the breach and try to make some sense of Brexit? There is only one body that can fill the void. That is parliament as a collective. MPs will have to work with each other, and across party lines, to try to bring some order to the chaos.

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From a peer of the realm. So must be true.

This article titled "Brexit weekly briefing: new demands threaten transition, says Barnier" was written by Jon Henley, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13 February 2018 07.00am

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