Figuring out what if anything is happening with Brexit is becoming even more difficult due to the decay in the caliber of reporting, which wasn’t so hot to begin with. I hope to post on some structural issues that the press has ignored later this week, but a bit of catch-up first seemed to be in order.
One has to wonder if the frequency of bogus stories about Brexit progress and breakthroughs are simply intended to keep the pound aloft. Recall we had a blizzard of optimistic stories before the October summit, when the push to reach closure came to naught. Then we had the flurry on a UK-EU financial services deal, which was much less connected to reality.
The idea that the press might be manipulated to support the currency would be particularly unfortunate since as vlade and other readers have said, one thing that might jolt even the fabulously rigid Theresa May into reconsidering some of her red lines. However, time now getting so limited she is boxed in by that as well.
The headfake of the weekend was a cover story in the Sunday Times about “May’s secret Brexit deal.” And in particularly misguided reporting, the writers weren’t even working off rumors of a deal. The connected the dots between different snippets they had heard and concocted a deal from it.
No. 10 quickly denied the story, but the major UK press outlets were oddly slow to pick up on that. We saw it only in Reuters:
Asked about the Sunday Times report, a spokesman at May’s office said:
“This is all speculation. The prime minister has been clear that we are making good progress on the future relationship and 95 percent of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing.”
Moreover, if you read the Sunday Times story, it made no sense. For instance, it claimed that the EU had agreed to let the UK make customs checks (which in context meant regulatory compliance checks) at farms and factories. Huh? That means accepting EU regulations, and it’s hard to see the EU not insisting on the jurisdiction of the ECJ (there’s not enough time to agree on how a joint supervisory apparatus would work even if the EU were game). As Richard North wrote:
… it looks unlikely that this “plan” has been formally presented to the EU. More likely, Mrs May is hoping that, if she can get it past the cabinet, the EU might be prepared to accept it as the basis for a formal UK offer which can then, with the blessing of Michel Barnier, be presented to the European Council later this month.
May has a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and Dominic Raab would meet with Barnier later in the week if there is something to meet about, and that meeting being a success is a precondition for holding a special EU summit on November 21. But the Telegraph has a sighting that if anything suggests that things are getting worse:
Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the EU’s Irish backstop after just three months, the Telegraph has learned, setting back the prospect of clinching a Brexit divorce deal this week.
The hardline pitch by the Brexit Secretary to the Irish government early last week is understood to have “stunned” Irish officials and exposed the continued deep divisions in Cabinet over how to prosecute the Brexit talks.
The Guardian isn’t too cheery either:
The chances of Theresa May striking a deal with Brussels on the Irish border that she can sell to the cabinet and parliament are said by EU officials to be “50-50” as the fraught talks enter their final stretch.
The British negotiating team and the European commission’s taskforce, led by Michel Barnier, are to enter a secretive phase known as the “tunnel” this week, but senior EU figures involved in the talks warned the competing redlines remain “incompatible” in key areas.
And PlutoniumKun pointed out that fishing rights may prove to be a new sticking point. Again from the Guardian:
Theresa May is facing fresh opposition from EU countries that have large fishing communities to her demands for an agreement before Brexit day on a temporary customs union to solve the Irish border problem.
A number of key member states are expected to oppose a commitment to an all-UK customs deal on the basis that negotiations are yet to start on what access European fishing boats will have to British waters after Brexit.
The EU has repeatedly said it will only allow British seafood exporters tariff- and quota-free access to the European market in return for an agreement that its fishing fleets can continue to operate around the UK.
Agreeing to a customs union in the withdrawal agreement would mean the EU had ceded its leverage by providing tariff-free trade on seafood into the internal market without reciprocal guarantees on access to British waters.
PlutoniumKun added by e-mail:
Fishing communities in countries like Spain and Portugal have a very disproportionate level of political clout. If someone gets it into their head that a deal will impact on, say, some north Spanish fishing towns, then expect lots of hand waving and threats from the Spanish government. But this is a ‘known unknown’ so to speak, I doubt if it’s something the EU delegation won’t have addressed to some degree.
Finally, the Financial Times describes how the Hauts-de-France region has asked for special breaks from France and the EU to cope with a crash out Brexit:
“It is not only the north of France that would be impacted by a no-deal but rather all of France and all of Europe,” Mr [Xavier] Bertrand told the Financial Times in an interview. “The trucks, companies and factories that will be blocked will be those of the north of France, the whole of France and Germany.”…
The Hauts-de-France region includes Calais, Boulogne-sur-Mer and Dunkirk, respectively France’s largest passenger port, its biggest fishing port and number three cargo hub.
“If we have two minutes of extra customs controls for trucks, it will mean 27 kms of traffic jams on both sides and this will result in complete paralysis,” Mr Bertrand said. “This is one of the busiest commercial arteries in the world . . . We must do everything to avoid chaos.”…
Mr Bertrand argued that, with no certainty about what the repercussions of a no-deal would be, “we therefore need as much flexibility as possible at all levels to cope with the difficulties.”
He added: “For example, we could ask for exemptions from the European Commission to reduce customs and regulatory controls based on risk analysis.”…
But he cautioned that his call for flexibility on UK-French border checks did not extend to sanitary controls. “We cannot compromise with food security,” he added.
Instead, Mr Bertrand called for more help from the French central government on this and other issues, even as he acknowledged a move by Paris to recruit 700 new customs officers.
“What about the recruitment of veterinarians and agricultural experts for sanitary and phytosanitary controls?” Mr Bertrand. “What about help to businesses to deal with cash flow problems that will inevitably arise? What about the risks to the security of property and people, if we have tens of kilometres of traffic jams? The government must respond quickly to these very concrete questions, there is very little time, there is urgency!”
Too bad not very many people on the other side of the Channel seem to feel the same way