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This week: uncertainty at home, firmness abroad

by Charlie Mitchell | 16.09.2016

British party politics

It was a lively week for British party politics, though the spectre of Brexit underpinned the key developments. David Cameron resigned as an MP, citing his desire to “avoid being a distraction” to Theresa May – though the consequent Witney by-election seems exactly that. Editorials devoted to the former prime minister fixated largely on one issue: a referendum punt that turned into an own goal.

Elsewhere, in Bournemouth, UKIP members elected Diane James as new party leader. As Farage departed, James christened UKIP the “opposition party in waiting”. The key issue for her will be stemming the flow of her colleagues to the Conservative Party, as her party becomes increasingly divided.

Uncertainty around UK negotiating position

It was another tough week for May, with growing restlessness from senior Brexiteers for divorce proceedings to get under way. Uncertainty continued to reign over single market access, while Brexit secretary David Davis admitted the possibility of us leaving the EU without a trade deal in place.

In a bid to push for the triggering of Article 50 as soon as possible, Boris Johnson spearheaded a new Brexit pressure group called Change Britain.

EU leaders tough on Britain

In contrast to the ambiguity surrounding Britain’s negotiating position, EU leaders were vocal this week, denying British hopes of informal discussions. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said that the UK will not have access to the single market after Brexit if free movement is restricted. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s main Brexit negotiator, reiterated this view.

Friday saw the coming together of European leaders in Bratislava. With the EU at a crucial point, Britain is not attending the talks on refugees, globalisation and terrorism.

Economic uncertainty at home

The economy underwent another week of insecurity. The Swiss stock exchange is turning to Germany for a new bridge into the EU after concluding that its relationship with London would not suffice after Brexit.

Meanwhile, statistics showed a 6.1% fall in car sales in the first month of the referendum. The UK jobs market could shrink in the coming months according to an employers survey, as Brexit concerns undermine confidence. The industries most at risk include financial services, construction and utilities. With this in mind, the Bank of England is set to cut interest rates further, to just above zero later this year.

Edited by Hugo Dixon