I had hoped to give readers a respite from Brexit, but we are in an overly dynamic phase. I’ll endeavor to stick to the salient points:
May and her pleas for relief got an even rougher smack-down at the EU Council meeting than even pessimists expected. Yours truly thought the forecast in Politico that we quoted yesterday, that the EU Council had draft language saying that they intended to start having EU members ratify the deal, was already plenty dire for May.
May managed the difficult feat of making her perilous situation worse. From the Financial Times:
Theresa May’s attempt to rescue her Brexit deal ran into serious trouble in Brussels last night… during an hour-long presentation, Mrs May succeeded in alienating many fellow leaders after making a series of ambitious proposals to appease her domestic critics, including a one-year time limit on the Irish backstop.
After Mrs May left the room, many leaders were despondent. During more than two hours of talks over dinner, EU leaders agreed to scrap plans for a formal process to provide reassurances to Britain until Mrs May decided what she wants…
Michel Barnier, EU chief Brexit negotiator, claimed that Mrs May was not seeking reassurances but was reviving old ideas rejected during Brexit negotiations. One EU diplomat briefed on the talks said Mrs May was “unprofessional”.
Another EU diplomat claimed that there was even a suggestion that it might have been better if Mrs May had been ejected from Downing Street in this week’s abortive coup by Tory Eurosceptics….
But her presentation, which also included a suggestion that the non-binding political declaration on future UK/EU relations should be given a legal footing as an annexe to the legal withdrawal treaty, went down badly.
“It was Salzburg all over again,” said another EU diplomat, referring to the acrimonious summit in September…
In a sign of the concern among the EU27, draft summit conclusions were rewritten to remove the observations that the backstop did not represent a desirable outcome for the EU and would be in place only for a short period…
Another paragraph, saying the union stood “ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” on the backstop, was cut entirely. One diplomat said that despite general goodwill towards Mrs May, she “didn’t get anything, basically”.
Donald Tusk’s short statement contains the formula that Politico wrote about yesterday (see at around 1:30), that the EU intends to proceed with ratification of the agreement.
As vlade pointed out by e-mail:
What I can see from here, the comments from politicians/media for the EU consumptions are along the lines “what the hell? We don’t understand what you’re asking for, and some things you’re asking for are already covered. Read the bloody thing and come back with specific items – not that we’re going to change anything really”.
Czech Republic, the most eurosceptic of the EU27, has (with exception of some fringe loonies) lost all patience with the UK – not just politicians, but the normal people (who were originally quite supportive). For a lot of people in the central Europe the whole long-built picture of the UK as rational, pragmatic etc. etc. country literally crumbled in the last couple of years
The EU anticipates they’ll have to hold a summit in January.
Brexit unicorns are very much alive. Silly me! I was naive enough to think that the combination of May proving her deal would not be approved by her scuppering the vote on it, in combination with the EU not blinking at that and reaffirming that they were not going to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement might lead to some sobering up.
Seven Remain ministers are now urging the Prime Minister to hold a series of non-binding “indicative” votes on the different Brexit options including Norway, Canada and no-deal.
Those pushing for the approach are Amber Rudd, David Lidington, David Gauke, Karen Bradley, Greg Clark, David Mundell and Damian Hinds. They believe it will “test the will of the House” for different options.
One Cabinet source said that it will show there is no consensus around any of the options, bolstering the case for a second referendum. “She is not going to get the numbers,” one Cabinet source said. “More and more options are being taken off the table. We are getting closer to a second referendum.”
This is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Ultras intend to force a no deal Brexit. As we said, all the Ultras need to do is obstruct to bring about a crash out. Not that their end is a surprise, but now we are learning a bit more about the intended means. From the Telegraph:
The Tories erupted in civil war on Thursday as Chancellor Philip Hammond was branded “a complete moron” for referring to Eurosceptic colleagues as “extremists” and Brexiteer MPs vowed to block the passage of the Government’s withdrawal agreement into law.
Within hours of Theresa May winning a vote of no confidence, Conservative in-fighting spilled out into the open, with Mr Hammond referred to as a “t—” and an unnamed minister reported to have bragged: “I’d like to punch the ERG in the face”, a reference to the European Research Group of Eurosceptic MPs which led Wednesday’s attempted coup.
Hardcore Tory leavers are now threatening to “disrupt” Mrs May’s Brexit legislation if she does not return from Brussels with her promised “legal and binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement. They may also go “on strike” over non-binding legislation.
An ERG source said: “Even if she wins a meaningful vote, a bill still needs to get through parliament and there will be many opportunities for rebels to disrupt it to ensure we get to March 29 without a deal.”
Another senior Brexiteer added: “We need to polish up the language around no deal and turn it into something that sounds attractive rather than frightening. No deal isn’t a cliff edge – it’s a get out of jail free card.”
Labour is not making a good show of itself. Labour looks to be all tactics, no strategy, fixated on trying to wrest power from the Tories but no conviction about what it would do if it were to catch the car. From the Guardian:
Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit…
May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts…
The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday.
That option has not been ruled out – depending on the reaction of Conservative backbenchers and the DUP when May reports back to MPs from the European council meeting on Monday.
But the party is also studying alternative, less drastic options, including tabling an urgent question on the government’s no-deal preparations; and demanding a three-hour emergency debate to allow parliament to set out its expectations for the latest negotiations over the backstop.
It could also demand a full parliamentary debate of regulations readying the financial services sector for a no-deal Brexit, which are currently due to be considered in a committee.
“Essentially we can throw the parliamentary kitchen sink at them,” said another senior Labour source, “with all the trimmings”.
Some shadow ministers are more sceptical about calling a no-confidence vote early, fearing it would only unite the Conservatives behind May. One told the Guardian: “We’ve got to wait until January now.”
But Corbyn is keen to keep up attacks on the government, amid pressure from grassroots activists to fight Brexit – and there is nothing to stop the party tabling subsequent motions if it loses.
Conservative MPs have been warned by the chief whip, Julian Smith, not to absent themselves from parliament next week, because the government must be “alive to opposition tactics in the run-up to the recess”.
The “meaningful vote” is now set for January 14 and the opposition is sure to attempt to depose May shortly thereafter if they have the votes. But they need some Tories to defect if they are to prevail, and it’s hard to see that as any more likely then than it was in December.
And the final concern: just as May (and the rest of the UK political leadership) has misjudged what the EU might give them, so too is she likely to misjudge timing, confirmed by the failure to even consider that the EU won’t give the UK the runway it needs to complete a second referendum. Has anyone worried their pretty head over how much lead time the EU would need to extend the Brexit deadline? It appears not, and that would be par for the course for this sad affair.