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Friday 1 February 2019

Somewhere in the depths of Downing Street, some poor sod has the loathsome responsibility of putting together the Project Fear PR grid. There are only so many topics to try and get people scared about (how many times have the same security fears qualified for the the top news bulletin, backed only by waffley jargon?) today it’s shortages. Unilever are stocking up on that vital nutrient, Magnum ice creams. Although, in turn, all of Europe’s Unilever manufactured deodorant is made in Leeds. Smelling bad versus a glorified choc ice, tough call.

And thrown in for good measure is the persistent “risk” of an exodus of British businesses. That impartial body, the Institute of Directors claims one in three business have either moved part of their operations to mainland Europe or are considering it.

We’re guessing the vast majority of these businesses will be in the financial sector, which has been setting up subsidiaries on the Continent to channel financial services into the Single Market post-Brexit. The mass redundancies that a wholesale relocation would entail – British employees will not have the automatic right to work in the EU in the event of No Deal – would be significantly more damaging than reduced access to European markets.

Newsnight yesterday was also guilty of this moving vs. setting up conflation, citing measly figures of 50 odd companies establishing offices in Frankfurt, Paris and the like. The report was riddled with qualifications, “we have no centralised source for this information… some of these operational decisions may not have anything to do with Brexit.”

In the case of Luxembourg, the figure “might” be as high as 83. Wow! Apparently, companies making the move don’t want to draw attention to themselves. We’re sure they don’t, but try moving a car or chemicals plant to continental Europe without anyone finding out. Britain has not been hit by a wave of redundancies, in fact, employment is at it’s highest in 40 years. There are 5.7 million businesses in the UK, the figures uncovered by Newsnight only serve to emphasise how minor the effect Brexit is having. That was not the message being transmitted by the BBC of course.

Away from the fantasy-led world of British public broadcasting to the real business of public policy, there is in fact, little to report.

There’s been a predictable backlash to the cash-for-backing the government no deal campaign being executed in the Labour heartlands. Number 10 is seeking the support of 20 or so MPs. Brexiteer Frank Field said he’d be happy to take the money, while the usual Remoaners like David Lammy complained any MPs accepting an injection of finance in their underprivileged constituency would be “cowards and facilitators”. As Field wryly pointed out, all well and good for Lammy, who represents a London seat – in his case the borough of Haringey, which is the 8th most affluent in London out of 26, London itself is the 5th wealthiest city on earth, but the MP for Birkenhead could do with the money, besides, Field supports independence.

ITV’s Robert Peston was adamant that the ERG will not succumb amid rumours the Customs Union may inexplicably form the government’s negotiating position. Following the success of the Brady amendment, the backstop is dead and so is the CU, the only offer Brussels is putting on the table… for now. With that course eliminated the prime minister is charting a new one through the Labour Party. As discussed in yesterday’s Brexit Brunch, May hopes to accompany her cash offer – which will also apply to impoverished Tory seats – with a soon to be unveiled bill around preserving EU employment and environmental regulations. Given that the Cooper and Grieve amendments failed even though they were both highly speculative, the PM is confident that enough opposition MPs want Brexit so long as they win some concessions. They know they can’t get the Customs Union because of the ERG, but they are determined to avoid a no deal so the cash and regulations offer will have to do.

Once the prime minister gets that consensus she will be able to go to Brussels and demand terms. What she will demand in place of the backstop, we still don’t know. 

Quote of the day: “In this country we are resilient, we are going to find a way around these problems, it is going to take a little bit of time, there will be some disruption, but we have got companies and corporations who have already found ways not to pay taxes in this country, are you telling me they are not going to find a way to get a few lettuce from Spain to England?”

Audience member in Lincoln on Question Time last night. Magnificent.