May struggles to contain Brexit angst
New committee meetings and parliament debates have failed to appease critics of the British government's “chaotic” Brexit preparations.
Prime minister Theresa May, in London on Monday (24 October), promised the heads of the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to adopt a “work programme” in November for a new subcommittee on EU negotiations to enable them to “shape” the talks.
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She said that an existing joint ministerial committee, which governs relations with the devolved powers, would also meet “more regularly”.
She later told MPs in the House of Commons that she would call “a series of general debates on the UK’s future relationship with the EU” to take place “before and after the Christmas recess”.
She said the debates would cover “the high-level principles the government will pursue in the negotiations”, which are due to start at the end of March.
May, on Monday, repeated the broad principles of her approach.
These include aiming for a “bespoke” deal that allowed UK firms access to the single market, but also let Britain curb EU immigration and restore the primacy of its courts over that of EU tribunals in Luxembourg.
They include letting EU workers who are already in the UK stay there so long as British citizens who live in the EU can keep their place.
They also include close cooperation with the EU on foreign and security policy, including counter-terrorism.
She hinted, in the Commons debate, that if she could not secure an EU-level free-trade deal, she might opt for bilateral accords with member states.
Jot and tittle
She declined to reveal more, adding: “If the government were to set out every jot and tittle of our negotiation position, that would be the best way to get the worst deal for the UK”.
The new subcommittee and May’s comments did little to assuage criticism that, at this stage, she should have a more detailed plan.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon again warned on Monday that she would call a referendum on Scottish independence if Scotland, which voted to stay in the EU, risked getting a bad deal.
"There's not a bit of what I'm doing just now that's bluffing or game-playing. This is not a game of chicken. It's not a game at all”, she said in London on Monday.
“At the moment, it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”, she added.
Carwyn Jones, the Welsh leader, echoed his Scottish counterpart.
“Nothing concrete came out of the meeting [with May] and I am none the wiser as to what her proposals are … They don’t know what to do next,” he told The Guardian, a British newspaper.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said in parliament that May "quite clearly” had no Brexit plan.
“The rest of the world looks on and concludes that Britain has not got a clue. The truth is that this is not a soft Brexit, or even a hard Brexit; it is simply a chaotic Brexit,” he said.
He said that centre-left EU leaders in Brussels last Thursday had complained to him about May’s chauvinistic rhetoric.
“The tone taken by this Tory government … has damaged our global reputation and lost us a lot of good will, not just in Europe but around the world” he said. “The approach she and her party have taken has only spread anger and resentment all across Europe”.
May said EU leaders at last week’s summit had “commended” her Brexit speeches.
A poll out the same day by Survation for the ITV broadcaster said that 58 percent of people approved May's handling of Brexit so far, while 25 percent disapproved.
It also said 47 percent would vote to leave, against 46 percent who would vote to stay, if the EU referendum was held again.