Sunday

18th Feb 2018

Column / Brexit Briefing

End of Brexit phoney war? Wait and see

  • Remain supporters know that a punitive Brexit deal could just harden sentiment against Brussels. (Photo: Dave Collier)

The House of Lords has given Theresa May an unwanted headache by sending her Article 50 bill back with some unwelcome extras.

An amendment guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in Britain was backed by peers on Wednesday (1 March) by a comfortable 358 to 256 margin.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  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.

  • Theresa May is going to invoke Article 50 in March, with or without a couple of minor amendments and it is then that the shadow-boxing will end. (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

The government has insisted that it won’t accept the amendment, so a game of parliamentary ping-pong is likely to take up the first half of March.

But in truth, the machinations over the bill are a side-show. Theresa May is going to invoke Article 50 in March, with or without a couple of minor amendments and it is then that the shadow-boxing will end.

For the moment, May is impregnable. Yet while May faces no meaningful opposition at home – the Conservatives actually took a safe seat from Labour at last week’s by-election in Copeland – her position is more fragile than it appears. The Brexit negotiation process will be like carrying a Ming vase down a wet corridor, with danger at every step.

”We are going to have to see where we are in two years’ time,” said Keir Starmer, Labour’s spokesman on Brexit, at a Labour Movement for Europe conference on Saturday.

Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions already touted as a potential Labour leader, has been charged with the near impossible task of trying to unite a party whose MPs and supporters backed Remain by a margin of more than 2 to 1, but hold seats that predominantly voted Leave in June.

As a result, the Article 50 bill has been a harrowing experience for Labour. The opposition party hopes that once debate shifts to the content of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’ which will form the basis for the UK deciding which EU laws to keep or scrap, it will be easier for them to oppose the government on substance.

For the moment, Starmer is grimly realistic. “I am not convinced that the public is going to want another referendum inside two years. Let’s get a parliamentary vote first,” he says.

The sentiment against Brussels

In the post-referendum period there has been little buyer’s remorse, but soon after Article 50 is triggered reality will kick in. The next battle will not be over negotiations of a future trade deal but the divorce bill, and the way in which the divorce is handled will dictate much of the tone of the two year talks. Remain supporters know that a punitive Brexit deal could just harden sentiment against Brussels.

While Brexit minister David Davis has said that the objective of the government is to secure the exact same benefits as it currently enjoys from membership - i.e. unfettered single market access without paying for it - a growing number of Conservatives are admitting that an agreement looks unlikely.

“We have to be realistic…the only practicable outcome, is no trade deal,” Nigel Lawson, finance minister for most of Margaret Thatcher’s eleven year premiership, and a veteran ‘Leave’ campaigner, told the Lords debate last week.

If Brexiteers are hoping to soften people up to the prospect of defaulting to a trading relationship based on the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it is worth pointing out that this would make the UK the only major world economy to trade with the EU on WTO rules.

The apparent willingness to accept the WTO option verges on the reckless. On Monday (27 February), former Conservative prime minister John Major told the Chatham House think tank that the government was offering Britons “a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic”.

“Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery,” he added.

Low chances for a good deal

To Joe Bossano, former chief minister of Gibraltar, which voted by 96 percent to stay in the EU, the chances of a good deal are very low.

“The EU can only offer less than the UK already has, an offer that the UK has already rejected. By definition, that will be tough to sell,” he said on Saturday. “The point when it becomes clear that the ‘hard Brexit’ is inevitable, is when the debate changes. At that point the choice will be a clear one.”

If these are extremely bleak times for Labour and pro-Europeans, there is some consolation from the fact that Brexit will be a marathon not a sprint. This offers the main source of hope to Remainers that there is still something to play for. Like the rest of the country, they can but wait and see.

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

Irish unification on voters' minds

The question of whether to hold a post-Brexit referendum on a united Ireland is dominating Thursday's elections in the North.

Analysis

EU's Article 50: the rules for Brexit

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty contains the rules that a member state wishing to leave the EU must follow. But it has never been used and leaves many unanswered questions on Brexit.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit and the moral high ground

British government must act now to protect rights of EU citizens in UK no matter what amendments pushed through by Lords.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: Nord Stream 2 pipeline poses 'no danger'
  2. Spanish king in Barcelona next week
  3. Turkey jails journalists for life
  4. Make budget cuts in farm and regional funds, the Dutch say
  5. UN: Hungary's anti-migration bill is 'assault on human rights'
  6. Journalist Deniz Yucel freed in Turkey
  7. New organic farming bill not ready until late spring
  8. Commissioner: Western Balkans in EU is 'obvious'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  2. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  3. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  4. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  6. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  7. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name
  8. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  10. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  11. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  12. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections

Latest News

  1. EU asks charities to explain anti-abuse measures
  2. ECB, Budget, EU elections This WEEK
  3. EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill
  4. Baltic states demand bigger EU budget
  5. Germany raises concerns over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bills
  6. EU ties Brexit transition talks to divorce agreement
  7. EU divided over Western Balkan enlargement
  8. Facebook and Twitter weak on protecting users, says EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  2. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  3. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  4. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  6. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  8. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC President Warns Europe as Holocaust Memory Fades
  10. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  12. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%