Time’s ticking to EU summit, and PM’s clueless what to do

by Hugo Dixon | 04.06.2018

MPs return from their half-term holiday to find the government exactly where it was before: clueless. Meanwhile, time is ticking towards that crucial European Council meeting just over three weeks away. And going into the summit clueless is not the best way to promote the national interest.

The logical thing for Theresa May to do would be first agree a viable plan for customs and the Irish border with the Cabinet; then persuade Parliament to back it; and finally sell it to other European leaders at the summit.

But the prime minister has, yet again, fallen at the first hurdle. Her favourite “customs partnership” option is seemingly dead. The group of ministers trying to make it work has only met once.

Meanwhile, the rival “maximum facilitation” option mutated into a cockamamie scheme for Northern Ireland to follow both UK and EU rules, buttressed by a 10-mile wide buffer zone along the border. This was trashed within hours of it being revealed in the Sun last Friday.

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Not surprisingly, the government’s 150-page Brexit White Paper has been delayed until after the summit, according to the Sunday Times. That’s because the document, which is supposed to tell us finally what Brexit means, is “riddled” with red ink – passages which ministers can’t agree.

What this means for the EU Withdrawal Bill when it comes back to the House of Commons, probably next week, is anybody’s guess. But it could be hard for May to persuade MPs to overturn the amendments passed in the House of Lords on things like customs and the Irish border if she can’t say what her own plan is.

It’s not as if she has the fallback option of crashing out with no deal, either. The UK would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within a fortnight if it did this, according to a “doomsday” scenario drawn up by David Davis’ senior civil servants, according to the Sunday Times.

The government tried to dismiss the report, with a spokesperson saying “we know that none of this would come to pass”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg accepted the document was genuine while dismissing it as “project fear on speed”. Other Brexiters were more worried. One senior government source told the Guardian: “There must now be an urgent change of mentality by the Treasury, Cabinet Office and No 10 to prepare to be a ‘third country’, if we are to stop the UK drifting into being an EU colony.”

Brexiters used to pretend negotiating our divorce was going to be a walk in the park. That was never true. But the government has played a bad hand terribly. All the more reason for the people to get a vote on the final deal.

5 Responses to “Time’s ticking to EU summit, and PM’s clueless what to do”

  • I’m not sure a vote on the deal will be needed, because the way this is going there won’t be a deal and it will be a straight choice between no-deal and cancelling Brexit. It’s hard to see even May, Johnson, Gove, Davis and Fox actually pushing the button on no-deal knowing what will happen.

  • A vote on the final deal? No, now the pressure needs ramping up on her to come out and say the whole thing has been an error. The two years since the Referendum has shown that it is not practical or advantageous to leave the EU and the government is not going to go through with it, Article 50 was designed to make leaving difficult, not to facilitate it! Has she the courage? Can she be a modern day Robert Peel, one of the few Tories to act out of conviction rather than personal interest over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The way things are we are heading for disaster and we, as remainders, are pussy footing about. Come on, stop the nice politics and lay into them.

  • We know know that Brexit is going to be an economic disaster. The government are running out of time. No Deal is not an option. No peoples vote please, parliament is sovereign and should simply vote to cancel Brexit and we should then apologise to our EU partners.

    Longer term I believe this will destroy the Tory party and Labour will win an ensuing election. Corbyn then needs to do five things

    1 Set up his succession plan, only serving one term
    2 Legislate on future referenda including Scotland on a minimum 60% vote majority
    3 Institute electoral reform
    4 Introduce a financial transaction tax to clear our deficit
    5 Reverse Austerity policy

  • I agree wholeheartedly with William Taylor. We should stop pussyfooting around with the Brexiteers who want to wreck our country – and lay into them. Like William I hope that Mrs May can have the vision to be a modern day Robert Peel and reverse the madness of Brexit.