Weekly round-up: Hammond vs Fox, soft Labour, Trump golf

by Luke Lythgoe | 04.08.2017

It’s the start of the summer holidays for many. But while Theresa May is enjoying her walking tour of the Alps, many Brits were stuck in painfully long airport queues as staff in several EU countries struggled to cope with new security checks for non-Schengen countries. Smelling a Brussels conspiracy, some Brexiters made the ludicrous suggestion the EU had organised the whole thing as a punishment for Brexit.

Still, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary warned, it could be worse – we could leave the EU without a new aviation arrangement in place.

Cabinet kerfuffle

Despite reports that Team Theresa are now united on the need for some sort of transition period to leave the EU, it’s clear the specifics are yet to be hammered out. The end date for free movement of people has proven particularly controversial after chancellor Philip Hammond suggested free movement would be one of the “many arrangements remaining very similar” during the transition. Liam Fox said that continuing free movement would “not keep faith” with the referendum result. After a couple of days – and a deafening silence from Fox’s fellow Brexiter Boris Johnson – Number 10 moved to clip Hammond’s wings.

The business community is fed up with all of it, with the Institute of Directors calling on the government to end squabbling and nail down a final version of the transitional deal they want.

Meanwhile, Hammond was busy contradicting his own earlier threat that Britain might undercut EU rivals by reinventing itself as a Singapore-style corporate tax haven – now reassuring the Continent that the UK’s post-Brexit economic model would remain “recognisably European”. Mind you, that could mean an Ireland-style corporate tax haven instead.

Parliament unpaired

All’s quiet in both Houses at the moment, what with recess and holidays. Unless, that is, you happen to sit on the Lords EU committee who are continuing to scrutinise the ongoing Brexit negotiations. David Davis upset the peers this week by refusing to give evidence in August, providing the “inadequate” excuse that Parliament was in recess.

Looking to the future, Labour and Tory whips have failed to agree the customary “pairing” deal which lets MPs skip parliamentary votes where necessary. Autumn will be a slog as both parties hunker down for a war of attrition.

Labour softies

It’s official: remain voters seeking a softer Brexit were a leading factor in Labour’s electoral success in June – at least according to new data from the British Election Study. That could be a problem for Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike the hardened europhiles in his party, the lukewarm Labour leader seems about as reluctant to condemn the Tories for trying to drag Britain out of the single market as he is to condemn President Maduro of dragging Venezuela into a dictatorship.

But perhaps it won’t matter in the long run, with cross-bench peer and former Labour minister Andrew Adonis claiming leaving the single market is “an impossibility too far” for Whitehall’s civil servants.

The economy

It’s been a good week for the Eurozone, where economic growth appears to be accelerating. Not so much in the UK, where the Bank of England downgraded its growth forecast for this year from 1.9% to 1.7%. That’s despite arch-Brexiter Daniel Hannan insisting in the New York Times that Brexit is a good economic news story. The FT’s Chris Giles exposed as economic and statistical illiteracy Hannan’s claim that sterling was producing the hoped-for export-led rebalancing through a revealing comparison of the UK and Portugal (clue: one has rebalanced and the other hasn’t).

Over in the City, more jobs leaked away as Japan’s biggest bank MUFG announced it was setting up a new hub in Amsterdam and Switzerland’s Julius Baer Group announced their choice of Luxembourg. Pro-European Tory MP Nicky Morgan, in her role as the new Treasury select committee chair, has requested an assessment from the Bank of England of the City’s readiness for a hard Brexit.

None of this will bother some Leave voters though, with a poll this week showing 61% thought “significant economic damage” was a price worth paying for Brexit.

Across the Irish Sea

There were mixed messages from the Emerald Isle this week. On the one hand, taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged “unique solutions” for the UK-EU relationship, including a possible bilateral customs union, and said he was trying to “keep the door open” for the UK to stay in the EU. On the other hand, an Irish senator responsible for a parliamentary report said a referendum on Irish reunification was inevitable if Brexit occurred.

On the farm

It was more uncertainty for farmers as the Policy Exchange think tank called for an end to subsidies based on food production, and instead introduce incentives for other activities such as protecting the environment. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee took the opportunity to highlight all the contradictions in the relationship between farmers, the EU, the Tories and the countryside.

But surely it won’t be as confusing as Michael Gove seems to be making his new policy on Britain’s fisheries. It’s simple Michael – will foreigners be allowed to fish in UK waters or not? His answer is apparently no and yes.

What everyone else has been saying

Other people giving their two cents worth on Brexit this week included: the UK’s universities, urging Theresa May to rethink her plans for EU citizens’ rights; Alan Sugar, who wants to see Brexiters face criminal charges over their campaign pledges; and Donald Trump, who urged Scotland to stick with the United Kingdom – if only to ensure they could still host The Open on (his) Scottish golf courses.

Oh, and David Cameron’s old tutor (and constitutional oracle) Vernon Bogdanor thinks it’s increasingly likely we’ll need another EU referendum. So maybe there’s a chance to stop this madness after all.

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    Edited by Bill Emmott

    2 Responses to “Weekly round-up: Hammond vs Fox, soft Labour, Trump golf”

    • When will the members of parliament decide to do their duty and act to preserve the interests of the nation? ( as I believe they have taken an oath to do ). Defending our national interests also includes preventing the UK from becoming the laughing stock of the universe.

    • Whether or not the passport checks at airports were anything to do with Brexit, it is a timely hint of things to expect. The typical Brexit mindset is the gung-ho ‘we can have our cake and eat it’ one, or , we’ll sort the obstacles out as and when.
      A fundamental benefit of the European Single Market is to make doing business and interaction across its national boundaries as simple and uncomplicated as possible. It is therefore entirely logical that to step out of that mechanism is to increase bureaucracy and red tape. On this, as with so much else, the Brexiters continue to be in denial.