Stage one of the divorce/trade/ratification triathlon is over.
Theresa May earned applause from EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday as the divorce section of the Brexit negotiations officially came to an end, and today the EU27 signed off on the completion of phase one of the talks, meaning the attention can now turn to trade.
In a press conference after the decision, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested substantive negotiations will wait until March 2018, as there needs to be “exploratory talks” first to establish just what kind of post-Brexit relationship the UK wants with the EU.
Alongside the EU27 published its guidelines for moving forward, with much of the focus on any transition period.
Contained within the three pages of text are some words which will make hard Brexiteers blood boil. The two-year transition period will keep the UK in the Single Market and customs union, maintain the ‘four freedoms’ (including freedom of movement), and continue the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Indeed, any changes to EU rules during the transition period “will have to apply both in the United Kingdom and the EU.”
But it’s not all good news! The UK will have no representatives at any EU institutions, nor “participate in the decision-making of the Union bodies, offices and agencies.”
In other word, two years of obeying the EU’s laws and rules, with absolute no say in what they are. The Government will counter that as it takes so long for EU laws to be signed off, it is very unlikely anything new will introduced which affects the UK during those two years.
Still, this is going to be a hard sell for May back in the UK. Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg have already warned against her “red lines” fading, and accepting the ECJ for two more years might make them pinker than a piglet.
But that is a battle for another day, and May will just be mightily relieved to have got phase one over by Christmas.
Huff Post UK’s Executive Editor, Politics, Paul Waugh sets out what happens next here.
2) In Case You’d Forgotten, Theresa May Did Really Badly In The Election
Before the sweet smell of success in Brussels, there was the stench of defeat in Westminster.
Eleven Tory MPs conspired to inflict Theresa May’s first Parliamentary defeat as Prime Minister on Wednesday, over whether a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal should be written into law.
The Government opposed the plan, fearing it would restrict the UK’s negotiating hand in the Brexit talks. Despite last minute concessions that there would indeed be a meaningful vote, the Government couldn’t avoid defeat, going down 309 to 305.
One man paid with his job: Stephen Hammond, who was sacked as vice-chair of the Tories.
For May, the defeat was a frustration, an embarrassment, but not a fatal blow by any means.
With such a slim majority, and on such a contentious issue as Brexit, the odd defeat is to be expected. Having already conceded on Henry VIII powers on Monday, Downing Street will feel they had bent as far as they could.
I’ve written here on why the result could actually be a Pyrrhic victory for the rebels, as it could give Hard Brexiteers the opportunity to vote for the UK leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever.
Of course, for that to happen, an awful lot of Labour MPs would have to support them. And there’s no way Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes would endorse a plan which could ultimately bring down the Government, trigger a General Election and potentially install the Labour leader in Number 10…is there?
3) Theresa May Is Clearly In The Mood For Striking Deals
The fall out from the vote was played out on Twitter. Tory MP Nadine Dorries called for the rebels to be deselected, a sentiment backed by Brexit-supporting Conservative commentator Tim Montgomery.
Rebel leader Dominic Grieve revealed he had received death threats, and the Daily Mail tried to outdo the Telegraph’s infamous ‘Mutineers’ front page by branding the former Attorney General and his allies “self-consumed malcontents.”
Excuse me while I trawl through the archives to find all the times the Mail chastised anti-EU Tories for voting against Government orders…I may be some time.
If the Mail and other Brexiteers hoped their attacks on the rebels would scare them into towing the line, they seem to be mistaken.
Nicky Morgan told BuzzFeed News:“If you label people in life, they will tend to live up to those labels.
“If you label them as mutineers or rebels then you think, ‘Well, fair enough, why not?’”
The next clash was set for Wednesday, with the rebels determined to stop the Government from writing the precise time and date of Brexit into the EU Withdrawal Bill. This time, it is the rebels claiming they are trying to stop the Government’s hands being tied by in the negotiations, arguing that if the UK is close to a deal by March 29 2019, and wants to get an extension to the talks, the unamended legislation would prevent that.
It seems that a deal has been reached this evening, with a new amendment being put forward seeming to have the support of the Government and the rebels. The date will still be put into law, but there will be a get-out clause if more time is needed to finalise a deal.
It’s fudge for everyone this Christmas.
Commons People Special
Here’s a special Brussels edition of Commons People, featuring interviews with Italian Europe Minister Sandro Gozi, Irish Europe Minister Helen McEntee and El Pais journalist Lucia Abellan.