Weekly Roundup – Friday 13 October
As fatigue sets in over the Prime Minister’s weak position in the Cabinet, focus has shifted to her Chancellor amid rumours she has been considering demoting him along with Boris Johnson as part of a bridge-building cabinet reshuffle. Allies of Mr Johnson said he would “just say no”, while Hammond geared up to tilt Brexit in Remainer favour.
On Wednesday, he appeared before the Treasury Select Committee resolutely affirming his intention to withhold funding in preparation for a possible no-deal, even though – depending on which Cabinet minister you speak to – that prospect is teetering between 40 and 50 percent.
Hammond’s assertion dragged back to earth soaring Brexiteer hopes following publication of two policy papers, one by Hammond’s Treasury and the other by Liam Fox’s International Trade Department, revealing planning towards a no-deal. Time and again, Nigel Farage has made the impeccably sensible argument: you cannot expect to get a good deal from a negotiation you refuse to walk away from.
Of the two papers, it was Fox’s, with its promises of re-engagement with the Commonwealth and hints at ambitions to join larger but far less restrictive trade blocs in North America and the Pacific, that attracted the most attention.
Regrettably, Hammond’s was stronger on detail, and the detail was bad. His preferred customs arrangement is for the UK to copy the EU’s and place itself inside a wider European customs union, spelling goodbye to the independent trade policy Fox is so valiantly pitching for around the globe. You can read Leave.EU’s breakdown here.
But if the Chancellor began the week in a muscular mood, his refusal to start funding no-deal contingencies has damaged him, perhaps irreparably. On Thursday, former Chancellor Lord Lawson called for the current occupant of the position to go, an unprecedented move for such a senior party figure. Lawson described his successor’s actions as “very close to sabotage”. Today, the FT reports Theresa May is increasingly fed up. About time!
In previous Cabinet meetings, both Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt had made it emphatically clear Britain needs to start paying for the necessary real estate, IT systems and personnel in preparation for a no deal. Then, at a meeting on Tuesday, the point was rammed home by Michael Gove.
The next day, Hammond published his anti-no-deal article in the Times regardless (covered here by Leave.EU’s Brexit Brunch) before striding into his now infamous Treasury Select Committee hearing. During Prime Minister’s Questions later that day, Theresa May sought to calm concerns, saying money was being allocated. The PM saved her Chancellor on that occasion, but his days are surely numbered.
Brussels staged the fifth round of Brexit negotiations this week. The concluding Davis-Barnier conference on Thursday was even gloomier than the previous four. Hell-bent on suffocating the life out of any optimism, Barnier told a visibly bored press corps, “we have reached a state of deadlock, which is very disturbing” and that there was no question of “concessions”, underlining exactly why the Florence speech was a mistaken move. The EU is a predatorial negotiator, the more you give, the more they expect.
A European Council document recommending the EU27 lay the groundwork for the trade stage of negotiations was leaked less than twenty-four hours later. Could it be that Barnier purposefully dampened spirits to make the EU look outstandingly charitable with this totally meaningless draft document? The leak is not worth the paper it is not yet even written on – we will have to wait until the end of the European Council summit when the Member States publish their recommendations to see how quickly they really want talks to progress. Jean-Claude Juncker has already cracked the façade, telling students in Luxembourg today that Britain will need to splash yet more cash.
Not to be outshone in the pointless gestures stakes, Emmanuel Macron proudly declared his intention for the EU flag and anthem (the tune he used as the backdrop to his election victory speech) to be officially recognised in France and the rest of the EU. He proposes disrupting Brexit discussions at next week’s summit to sign in a law preventing EU flags from being removed from public buildings.