En Marche en Mai
Officials around Europe breathed a sigh of relief when results of the French Presidential election came in on 7th May and it became clear that Emmanuel Macron – running for elected office for the very first time – had handily beaten scion of the First Family of Vichyism, Marianne Le Pen. In truth, it would have taken an upset of monumental proportions for Ms Le Pen to have won, even by the standards of the past twelve months, but confirmation of the result, when it came, was greeted with near euphoria in Brussels, Berlin and beyond.
Mr Macron is something of a blank canvas on many issues, but on one thing he was firm – he was and is unapologetically pro-Europe and pro the EU. Unlike others across the political divide, Mr Macron never trimmed or wavered in what he thought and said about the importance of the EU or European unity. He has certainly never expressed sympathy with the idea of Britain leaving the EU.
It was a point made by Mr Macron on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street itself, following a cordial enough meeting with Theresa May, when he was still a candidate. Although some on the right looked forward to a Le Pen victory in the belief that it would help the UK in Brexit negotiations (despite the fact that having a far-right leader in charge thirty miles from Dover may have caused some longer-term difficulties), Mrs May at least was realistic enough to start building a relationship early on with Mr Macron. This was a sensible move by the Prime Minister, whose approach to Brexit discussions so far has been at times combative. Building a good personal relationship with a new, dynamic leader of what, for all its faults, is still the EU’s second most important member cannot hurt. When discussions on Brexit get properly underway such relationships will matter more, because nobody thinks these negotiations are going to be easy.
Labour, Brexit, Again
All discussions on Labour and Brexit are basically the same and can be boiled down to three words: Labour’s in trouble. Brexit poses challenges for all political parties in the UK, no doubt about it, but it poses the biggest problem for a centre-left party that is an uneasy coalition between core Remain voters, core Leave voters.
The situation is not helped by a leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who heads a strongly Remain Parliamentary Party but has often said and done Eurosceptic things (the strain of far-left Euroscepticism that he represents in Labour is another headache). Mr Corbyn added to the confusion on Brexit’s Labour position this week by repeatedly refusing to confirm that Brexit really did mean Brexit and that Britain would definitely leave under a Labour Government. A position that the leader’s office then reversed. No wonder that around half of Labour voters are confused about what their party’s position on Brexit actually is.
A way around this is to try and ignore the issue, or at least blow it out the water by leaking a radical sounding manifesto. Perhaps then the leak of Labour’s policy document – which largely ignores Brexit to focus on domestic issues such as rail nationalisation – was part of an incredibly clever plan to paper over gaping cracks in the Party? Or perhaps it was just another manifestation of a great political movement being sunk by a combination of ineffective leadership and overwhelming political challenges.
Brexit & the Premier League
The English Premier League is a fine example of the contradictions inherent in England’s attitude to globalisation and the world. On the one hand, more fans than ever turn up to see a richly diverse array of footballing superstars. Football in England has benefited hugely from the sheer quality of these foreign players and managers. And yet, even as they buy the shirts with a Frenchman’s or a German’s name on the back, many English football fans bemoan the remoteness of the Premier League (now a brand, as opposed to a footballing competition), its extravagant wealth and, more than anything, the lack of English players and managers. Some point to the lack of success for the English national football team since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 and argue that restrictive rules on foreigners are needed to breath life back into the three lions. Certainly this was an underlying theme this week as the BBC hosted a discussion on why it has now been 25 years since an Englishman last won the top English league.
Well Brexit may be an opportunity to hasten on a return to ‘Englishness’. Changes to freedom of movement, a political necessity for whatever UK government ends up negotiating a deal, will impact on footballers coming from the EU. Work permit rules for them may end up looking a lot like work permit rules for players from outside the EU, which are designed to ensure that British clubs can only buy players, and appoint managers, of a certain quality (e.g. players must have played a certain number of games for their country). This will curtail the free and easy movement of talented European players and managers into the Premier League.
OK, making sure football in England (and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with smaller football leagues) is not damaged by Brexit is hardly a priority for any Government. But the ending of free movement poses an existential threat to the openness and welcoming of the English Premier League that makes it so good and so popular. A forced return to teams made up primarily of British players, managed by British managers, won’t improve the game – and it definitely won’t make the English national team less useless.
European Commission goes to Ireland
On Thursday European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier paid a visit to Irish lawmakers to discuss, well, Brexit.
Barnier reassured Ireland’s parliament that efforts will be made to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit and that ‘nothing should put peace at risk’. While many appreciated the goodwill, Barnier’s speech included very little detail of how this will be achieved, if achievable at all.
Barnier also acknowledged the risk for the Irish economy being hit more severely by a hard Brexit, compared to other EU Member States, because of its special ties with the UK. After all, the Irish have already seen the value of its exports to the UK suffer because of a weakened pound. With or without a hard boarder, the UK divorce from the EU will no doubt mean an increase in customs controls.
These discussions follow a declaration from EU leaders earlier last week that, should Ireland unify, the north would automatically become part of the EU. While a reunification would be feasible under the Good Friday Agreement, with a majority in Northern Ireland, recent polls show that 62% of Northern Irish would vote for the territory to remain in the UK.
It’s that time of the year again
Amongst the uncertainty of the past months, what really dominated the Brexit debate this week is perhaps an even more important question: will Britain still be able to participate (and win!) in the Eurovision Song Contest despite Brexit?
Lucie Jones, this year’s UK entry, a musical theatre actress and former X Factor contestant, seems to have her hopes high that politics will not interfere with the vote. Although if we do end up getting no points again, at least we can blame the sheer unfair politics of it all.
For more information about Brexit and the impact of the negotiations, please visit https://www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk/project-brexit/