Theresa May has pledged to unite her cabinet around a third possible model for the UK’s post-Brexit customs relationship with the EU this week. Few details have been released about the possible plan, which will be separate to the current options of maximum facilitation and the customs partnership, but EU officials who have seen draft copies of her white paper have already dismissed it as unrealistic. The cabinet will be meeting at the PM’s Chequers residence today and into this evening to thrash out a plan they can all agree on.
The need for a third way in respect to custom arrangements with the EU stem in part because of the continued cabinet divide. Michael Gove is reported to have ripped up Theresa May’s plan for a new customs partnership at a meeting last week, expressing his deep frustration at a model many consider bureaucratic and unworkable.
Meanwhile, pro-EU Tories including Philip Hammond have been pushing for a closer arrangement with the 27-member bloc. Much to the anger of the pro-Brexit MPs, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, has indicated he would like to see a longer transition period. This, he claimed, would provide business with more confidence, protecting jobs and the British economy.
A healthy NHS
The National Health Service is carrying out planning for a “no deal” Brexit scenario, according to NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens. This comes as civil servants warn of shortages of food, fuel and medicine within weeks if the UK leaves the European Union without a customs arrangement in place.
The UK imports 37 million patient packs per year from the EU, and products are developed in largescale supply chains which span the continent. The duplication time for the manufacture and quality control testing of drugs should the UK leave the EU without a deal has been estimated at over 42 months and would inevitably cause serious delays to patients in need of urgent treatment. Simon Stevens’ comment that the NHS is now preparing for all scenarios will be news to many in the health industry, after he told MPs last October that the NHS had not been asked to prepare any contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit.
Earlier this year Niall Dickson, co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, called on the UK government to work closely with its members to ensure preventable diseases could be tackled quickly; whilst the Health and Social Care committee has raised concerns about implications for the future of medical research and development should Britain leave the EU without any customs arrangement in place.
97 and still fighting
A 97-year-old British expatriate who fought in Italy during World War 2 and helped liberate Rome challenged the legality of the Brexit referendum result at the European Court of Justice this week, arguing that the vote was illegal because Brits living abroad were denied a say.
Harry Schindler, who moved to Italy in 1982, will be joined by 12 other Britons who live across the continent, and will argue they were treated like second-class citizens and should have been granted a vote. Although his previous attempt to widen the franchise to include expatriates failed at the Supreme Court before the referendum, Harry still believes he can derail Brexit. As it stands, there is a 15-year time-limit on British expatriates being able to register as overseas voters and, although there is a Bill currently in Parliament to overturn this limit, it is not yet clear whether it will have sufficient cross-party support to pass.
Schindler’s objection is the most recent in a tide of legal challenges to Brexit. In June Elizabeth Webster failed to win a judicial review on whether parliament had properly been consulted about the decision to hold a referendum, whilst Gina Miller won her legal battle in January of last year to force a vote in Parliament on triggering Article 50. This doesn’t faze Harry, for he may have lost the battle, but he thinks he can win this war, too.
Businesses stuck in the slow lane
A slurry of businesses lined up this week to ask the Prime Minister for further details about any planned customs arrangements and warned that a “bad” Brexit detail could threaten billions of pounds worth of investment plans for the UK, and even lead to job losses.
At the beginning of the week the Airbus chief executive Tom Enders warned that the organisation could pull out of the UK in the event of a hard Brexit. Now, Jaguar Land Rover has warned that a “bad” Brexit deal would threaten over £80 billion worth of investment plans for the UK. The company has warned that it would have to “drastically adjust” its spending profile, with further investments in jeopardy.
Indeed, it appears that car manufacturers specifically are worried about the consequences of a hard Brexit. German Industry UK (GIUK), which represents firms including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, announced its worries that businesses would be stuck in the slow lane without a trade deal being made. GIUK, whose members also include the travel firm Arriva, asked for “certainty and clarity about the way forward”. Clearly, businesses are concerned that a hard Brexit could lead to British manufacturing running out of fuel, with momentum shifting to the continent should no trade arrangement be reached.
It was revealed this week that the Brexit dividend Theresa May promised would lead to further investment in the NHS may not actually be funded by savings made from leaving the European Union. It’s been widely reported that ministers are intending to lift the freeze on fuel duty in order to fund the £20 billion NHS boost.
Any inflation linked increase on fuel would raise nearly £1 billion, whilst lifting the freeze on alcohol duty would rake in another £200 million a year. This news has been met with anger by the public, who believed that the dividend would be funded by the savings made on the UK’s contributions to the 27 member-state organisation. Sending money to the NHS instead of contributing to the EU was one the main promises made by Vote Leave during the referendum.
There’s been a mixed reaction from across the political spectrum. Some MPs support the lifting of the tax freeze, arguing that an increase in fuel tax could pay for thousands of extra nurses and doctors. Other MPs, meanwhile, are angry at what they consider to be the real truth: that there was never such a thing as the Brexit ‘dividend’.
Indeed, a growing consensus is emerging which suggests that the dividend may not end up paying for that much at all.