Brexit weekly: 5 things

By Isabella Sharp February 1, 2019 5:26 pm

This week’s playlist from Brexit: the musical 

The Carousel Waltz 

So the carousel goes round again. Following the latest tranche of Brexit votes on Tuesday, Theresa May’s attempts to get some give from Brussels were met with yet another resounding and inevitable non. The British premier now finds herself on a complicated merry-go-round with Juncker, her own parliamentary party and the opposition.  With every rotation of the carousel, the stakes get higher, and the prospect of an eleventh-hour deal slip further and further away. 

I have confidence 

And yet, are there signs that senior UK politicians are open to compromise? And by ‘compromise’, I mean putting the pieces in place to delay Article 50. As sure as Sajid Javid follows Graham Brady follows Jeremy Hunt, we have seen a government-backbench accord emerging that could prevent a freefall into no deal. For now, at least. Do they have the impetus to bring a majority of MPs onside? That remains to be seen. At this moment in time, MPs’ power relationships are so nuanced that it is difficult to predict how the vote will be split when it comes back to Parliament in two weeks’ time. I can’t help thinking that the current Fin De Siècle atmosphere, stoked by fevered announcements on College Green, only encourages more risk taking. The emergence of a strong coalition could create a tide of common opinion and a sense of certainty which MPs can unite around, giving them a strong basis on which to report back to their constituents.  

Who will buy my wonderful Brexit? 

And talking of constituents, the heat is on for May to secure support from all corners of Parliament and we all know that there are a range of ways for the government to do this. Laura Kunnesburg writes for the BBC about how the bartering process between government and MPs (which has always existed) has become increasingly blatant. One Labour MP has openly suggested that the PM pay off the PFI bill of their local hospital in return for their support. Indeed, the whole process has caused something of a moral furore within the Labour party, where some remain-supporting MPs have found themselves trying to meet the wishes of their Leave supporting constituencies – a healthy gift from the government is one way of getting round this. Perhaps the fact that these conversations are happening so openly is a reflection of how vital every MP’s vote is at this most critical time for the UK’s future. Is it simply too difficult to negotiate trade-offs quietly under the eye of today’s all-seeing media? Either way, these deals may die in the blaze of sunlight – integrity is still a prized virtue for MPs. So both sides would be advised to remain discreet.  

Empty chairs at empty tables 

Remainers are still casting withering looks at arch Brexiteer James Dyson for his escape to Singapore. The irony is almost too bitter for them to palate. But, in the business world at large, there are bigger moves to be worrying about. Research this week from the Institute of Directors found that a third of businesses would consider leaving the UK in the event of a no deal. Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses pleaded desperately for the EU and UK governments to find a ‘centre of consensus’ for fear of a crippling impact on small and medium businesses. And a number of European business associations reported a dramatic increase in UK businesses moving to the continent. The real fear, of course, is the uncertainty, which is making itself felt already: despite UK stocks going cheap, the FT finds that investors are simply too perplexed by Brexit to buy.   

Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down 

What’s more important, medicine or food? Matt Hancock made it clear this week that, should imports grind to a halt, medicine will be prioritised over food. The Health Secretary took steps to reassure the Health and Social Care Committee that there is a plan for the continuity of supply for all medicines in the event of a no deal. His opposite number John Ashworth responded incredulously. He said the idea that one necessity should be prioritised over the other was ‘simply astonishing’ and accused Mr Hancock and the government in general of playing ‘Russian Roulette with the national interest’.

By Isabella Sharp February 1, 2019 5:26 pm

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