Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Brexit picture starts to emerge

  • The challenge to come is that once her letter triggering Article 50 is in the hands of European leaders, May will have very few cards left to play. (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

After months of smokescreens and delaying tactics, a clearer picture of the government’s Brexit strategy is gradually emerging.

MPs backed the government’s timetable for launching Article 50 talks on Wednesday night (7 December) after two days of procedural manoeuvres.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Under a compromise struck between the government and Labour, Theresa May and her team are committed to submitting a Brexit negotiating plan to MPs in the new year.

About 20 Conservative MPs, easily enough to overturn May’s slim majority, had threatened to vote with Labour until the government intervened.

While the government’s promise to end its self-imposed vow of silence marks a significant climbdown, the compromise brings significant tactical benefit for ministers. In return for accepting a Brexit blueprint, they have a mandate to instigate the Brexit negotiations.

Eighty-nine MPs, including 23 Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party en masse, refused to back the motion. Veteran pro-European Conservative Ken Clarke was the only Tory to vote against his government.

For their part, "hard Brexit" Tories who just want guarantees that Britain will leave the EU get a promise from the government that it will invoke Article 50 before the end of March.

In essence, it allows all sides to declare victory, although Keir Starmer, Labour’s recently appointed Brexit spokesman, can claim the most credit for bouncing ministers into a concession they would not otherwise have offered.

"We're moving in the right direction, which is that Parliament should have these debates and Parliament must trigger Article 50,” said Conservative MP Anna Soubry, a Remain campaigner. “The government need have no fear - we will vote to leave the EU because we have accepted the result of the referendum."

Brexit makes more political upsets

Wednesday’s vote offers some more flank to the Liberal Democrats, who are basing their short-term electoral strategy around making themselves the party of the 48 percent of Remain voters.

As last week’s shock win in a by-election in Richmond shows, tapping into the fears of Remain voters is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to take Labour votes.

Publishing a paper does not have to mean any substantive deviation from May’s promise not to give a "running commentary" on their negotiating strategy - the Brexit plan conceded by ministers can still be as much, or as little, detail as the government sees fit.

It is still a step towards greater transparency.

So far, a now not so secret agreement with Nissan in October, under which the government gave written assurances that the Japanese carmaker’s business will not suffer from Brexit or face tariffs, even if the UK is forced out of the EU’s customs area, is the only indication that the government has given of its priorities.

The timing, midway through the four-day Supreme Court appeal brought by the government against the ruling, that it must consult MPs before triggering Brexit, is also noteworthy.

Regardless of the eleven justices’ final ruling, Gina Miller’s challenge to Brexit by executive decree has emboldened MPs, even if the idea that Parliament could be bypassed in the process was always fanciful.

Hilary Benn, the Labour chairman of the Exiting the EU committee, told EUobserver last week that he “can’t see any circumstances that they trigger Article 50 without telling Parliament what the plan is.”

The press briefing by commission Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Tuesday underscored that the window for settling the terms of Brexit is very tight, his deadline of October 2018 taking Downing Street slightly by surprise.

Assuming no substantive movement can be made until after next year’s elections in France and Germany in May and September are settled, that leaves just over a year to agree on the divorce terms.

This will increase the pressure on Theresa May to seek some form of post-Brexit transitional arrangement, to mitigate the risk of Britain facing a "cliff-edge" between divorce and a new settlement, a move Barnier hinted that he was open to, commenting “you can’t do everything in 15 to 18 months.”

The week in Westminster and Brussels highlight the difficulty Theresa May faces in trying to keep control of the Brexit timetable.

The challenge to come is that once her letter triggering Article 50 is in the hands of European leaders, May will have very few cards left to play.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Davis brings Brexit back to reality

Brexiteers will be shocked to hear the government is considering slaughtering the sacred cow, offering up contributions to the EU budget in exchange for market access.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Warm words in London, isolation in Brussels

British PM Theresa May found herself in not so splendid isolation at Thursday's EU summit, where Brexit garnered 20 minutes of time from EU leaders, suggesting Britain is fast approaching European political sidelines.

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy