This week's Brexit round-up

27 Aug 2018

 

Oh yes, reader, you are in luck. Finally, after several weeks of utter stasis in Brexit negotiations and news, last week we were treated to not one but two significant Brexit news stories. 

 

Dominic Raab, the newly appointed Secretary for Exiting the European Union, met in Brussels with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, to discuss the negotiations. Meanwhile at home, if such excitement wasn't enough, the government released the first 24 'technical notices', setting out details for a possible no deal Brexit scenario and what measures the government would take to avert the worst catastrophes. 

 

 

Barnier and Raab Meet

 

Poor Dominic Raab. As a prominent champion and spokesperson of the Brexit cause, one would have thought that his elevation to the position of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, filling the barely worn boots of former secretary David Davis, would have been a dream come true. Yet even a cursory glance at him at work shows that he doesn't feel entirely comfortable.

 

Having had several weeks to mull over the details, possible compromises and proposals for his meeting with Barnier, it would have been reasonable to expect something a little more significant than what was eventually presented on Tuesday. As it turned out, the Barnier/Raab double team announced the only agreement they reached was that they required more meetings. Yes, that is correct. In fact, they went one further, saying that what they needed was to have 'continuous meetings'. Raab is truly a man earning his salary. 

 

Realistic estimates put the date required for a deal to be agreed as November 2018. This is in order for a deal to get voted through both the European and UK parliaments before the deadline of March 2019. If Raab - or, in reality, given her personal acquisition of responsibility for Brexit negotiations, Theresa May - is to achieve any kind of formal agreement, negotiations need to become considerably more serious than what was achieved this week. Hopefully next week, given the new flurry of talks supposedly underway between Raab and Barnier, we will be able to announce something slightly less absurd than what they put together this week.

 

Technical notices - yes, it really would be awful

 

In order to reassure business and the public that the government are not entirely incompetent, May and co. did the gallant thing and finally released information on what the government plans to do in the case of a no deal scenario. Some of the headline grabbing notices ranged from obvious and severe, to the strange and comic. A rise in credit card charges, for example, recently capped across all EU countries, was an obvious repercussion of a no deal Brexit. But the inability of expats to access their pensions, or of European companies to access UK investment banks, certainly have been given less focus and should give some people a real pause when considering how severe a no deal scenario would be. Of the stranger outcomes, there weren't many who were warning about the troubles of importing semen from Denmark - although the future government campaign to rectify this issue, with posters reading 'close your eyes and think of England', is already writing itself. 

 

Obviously the main reason for the release of technical notices is to allow institutions, businesses and other economic actors, as well as citizens, to be informed of what the governments plans are in a no deal scenario. Thankfully, they actually have some information on this, which is more than many people predicted. However, reading the technical notices, the regularity at which it is reassured that the government does not desire these scenarios, the relentless clarification of their intentions to avoid no deal, combined with the absolute shambles a no deal is presented as, clearly the government are also using these technical notices to make the argument against no deal as strongly as they can. 

 

This is all well and good now, but it will be to May's eternal discredit that she did not spend her energy making these arguments earlier, or is not making them more forcefully now. A no deal was not, and is not, in anyway desirable. Her job now is to achieve something resembling a workable deal in two months whilst reconciling the immovable principals the EU and UK disagree on. Or even to seek an extension for the negotiating period, given the limited time left on the clock. Let's hope Raab and Barnier can soon agree on something a bit more substantial than having more meetings.

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