War & Peace
Prime Minister, Theresa May’s, epic 585-page draft EU Withdrawal Agreement is scheduled to be debated in Parliament next week, with the crucial vote taking place the following week. However, despite the PM comfortably winning her confidence vote amongst Conservative MPs in December, getting her deal through the House of Commons will be a much harder battle. She faces much opposition from within her own party, with YouGov polling this week showing that 57% of Conservative Party members would prefer to leave the European Union without a deal on World Trade Organisation terms and only 23% backing the deal the Prime Minister negotiated. Furthermore, 76% of Conservative Party members believe that warnings a ‘no deal’ Brexit would cause serious disruption are ‘exaggerated or invented’. To add to the PM’s woes, supply and confidence partners, the DUP, have indicated that there is ‘no way’ they can support the current deal on the table, joining Conservative Party rebels (from both the leave and remain camps), Labour, the SNP and Liberal Democrats, who have all already committed to vote against. It is hard to see how the Prime Minister can close this chapter any time soon or any fairy tale ending in sight for her.
With a mere 84 days until ‘Independence Day’, when the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, some critics have described Number 10’s approach to selling the deal as somewhat ‘Orwellian’, with ‘public information adverts’ planned, and criticism of ‘The Sajid’s Home Department issuing Government advice to EU nationals that they will need to re-apply to ‘settle’ in the UK. Some MPs, such as former Transport Minister, Jo Johnson, have criticised the PM’s timing, indicating that she is trying to ‘run down the clock’, and no doubt Big Brother, Boris, is revelling in reports that Conservative Members dissatisfied with Mrs. May’s performance see him as the favourite to be their next protagonist. The EU has also come under fire, with Cabinet sources telling tales that they plan to provide reassurances in the run up to the key vote to help ease the deal through, but reports say these will likely lack any substantial concession, in a campaign branded ‘Operation Figleaf’.
Great Expectations/Crime & Punishment
The Labour Party’s confused position on Brexit remains, with Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, defying calls from within his party to back a second referendum. Corbyn said that his party’s policy remained ‘sequential’. Interestingly, there are mirrors to the Prime Minister’s narrative in terms of support, with an ‘overwhelming majority’ of Labour Party members wanting him to change course on his Brexit position, whilst remaining loyal to his leadership. Polling of Labour Party members on who they would like to see as their next leader show Shadow DExEU Secretary, Keir Starmer, as favourite on 18%. Despite his taxpayer-funded pro-EU New Year firework display, London Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s, support appears to be somewhat on the wane, with only 1% of Labour members now backing him to be their next leader. Whatever line it takes in its next story sequence, the Labour Party may have one less character to support its position, with Peterborough MP, Fiona Onasanya, expelled from the party and awaiting sentencing for perverting the course of justice.
Leave-supporting DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, warned farmers this week that the industry could face ‘turbulence’ in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, suggesting that smaller farms and food producers would be hardest-hit and that livestock might be affected. Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr. Gove attempted to demarcate his assessment from the Government’s pre-referendum assessments, branded by some as ‘Project Fear’. Gove told delegates that average tariffs on agri-food would reach around 15%, but that we could expect to see far higher tariffs – in excess of 40% – on beef and lamb, which would mean a sad story for British farmers.
Brave New World
Government figures released this week show that more businesses than ever are seeking expansion opportunities overseas. International Trade Secretary, Dr. Liam Fox, issued a press release on New Year’s Eve celebrating a ‘successful year’ for trade and investment. Figures show record highs in investment and exports, unemployment at an all-time low and GDP growing at a faster rate than the Eurozone. Interestingly, trends have shown that British businesses are also looking beyond the European Union, with a ‘clear shift’ from ten years ago when more than half of the UK’s exports went to the EU, now 54.2% go to non-EU countries. There were also glasses raised this week to talk of a potential boost for Scotch whisky sales in a new post-Brexit Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would see tariffs eliminated on 95% of goods between 11 countries around the Pacific, including: Australia, Canada and Japan, as well as fast-growing economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam. A potentially brave new world indeed for British business.