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Mar 28, 2017

The Guardian | Brexit Weekly Briefing - March 28, 2017: May Remains Upbeat in Final Countdown but EU Warns of "Tragedy"

Peter Walker

The big picture

So this is it, then: time for the “Dear Donald ... Love, Theresa” letter. In the week Theresa May finally triggers article 50 to launch Britain’s divorce from the EU, the noises coming from the two camps sound ominously different.
In Britain, Theresa May is determinedly upbeat. Having (along with her ministers) long maintained “no deal is better than a bad deal”, the prime minister is insisting Britain is “beginning a bold new chapter as a prosperous, open and global nation”.
The country will finally be in a position to fulfil its ambitions, she told indy-minded Nicola Sturgeon on a trip to Scotland on Monday, arguing that together, the four nations of the UK represent an “unstoppable force”.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, meanwhile, seems less sure about the outcome of the talks. He warned in a speech last week that the failure to reach a deal, while “not what we want”, would have major repercussions for the UK.
Barnier expanded on his theme later in an article for the FT, saying a “no-deal scenario” was a “distinct possibility”. He also said the two sides would have to agree on what Britain owed the EU if the talks were to proceed smoothly.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, described Brexit as “a failure and a tragedy” in an interview with the BBC – but insisted, too, that the UK’s bill would have to be paid, even if it was not a “punishment” but a “settling of commitments”.
In an article for the Guardian, Juncker laid into those he held responsible for Brexit: British politicians. On the biggest issues of the referendum campaign, he said, the EU had been largely powerless to intervene:
‘Brussels’ should not have been constantly blamed in British political discourse for things for which the EU is not responsible.
Now the EU and British politicians are going to have to talk. It is hardly surprising some think the odds of a satisfactory deal are not great. Anand Menon, UK director of the Changing Europe thinktank, puts them at 50%:
A deal will take a lot more time, goodwill and tact than has been on display from either side ... I find it very hard to see how May gets all she wants.

The view from Europe

Last week the EU was mainly busy celebrating its birthday – the 60th anniversary of the treaty of Rome – and trying to shore up its future, so did not have much time for Brexit. Juncker told the assembled dignitaries:
We reaffirm our commitment to our undivided and indivisible union. But we do so not out of nostalgia. We do so because only by staying united can we rise to the challenges we can face together.
Only once was the 28th member state mentioned during the formalities: when Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said the EU’s failure to respond to the 2008 financial crisis had “brought forward the nationalism” that helped lead to Brexit.
EU council president Donald Tusk, meanwhile, said the bloc would hold its first post-article 50 summit to agree on Brexit guidelines on 29 April, a month after May triggers it and made clear where the bloc’s priorities lie:
We must do everything we can to make sure the process of divorce is the least painful for the EU. Our main priority for the negotiations must be to create as much certainty and clarity as possible for all citizens, companies and member states that will be negatively affected by Brexit.

Meanwhile, back in Westminster

The imminent triggering of article 50 seems to have focused a few political minds, not least in Labour, replacing the party’s previous woolliness on what it wants from Brexit with a series of red lines over what a final deal must contain.
The party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, used a heavily-trailed speech on Monday to set out Labour’s six tests for any future deal, including delivering “the exact same benefits as single market membership” and managing migration “in the interests of the economy and communities”.
All had previously been pledged by the government, Starmer explained. While some speculated that Starmer, long tipped as a possible Labour leadership contender, was partly on manoeuvres in anticipation of a future vacancy, Jeremy Corbyn also used the weekend to toughen his language on Brexit.
Labour would oppose any ministerial moves to rewrite EU laws and regulations without proper parliamentary scrutiny under the government’s so-called great repeal bill, the white paper expected on Thursday, the Labour leader said:
We’re not going to sit there and hand over powers to this government to override parliament, override democracy and just set down a series of diktats on what’s going to happen in the future.
It’s not just Labour issuing pre-article 50 demands. Ukip – now down to zero MPs after Douglas Carswell left the party at the weekend – issued its own six “key tests” on Monday, including full control of immigration, control of fisheries and (ahem) no severance payments to the EU.
Not to be outdone, the cross-party Open Britain group of former remainers was due to issue its own Labour-style list of expectations. This, however, runs to ten points, not six. Expect more lists to come.

You should also know:

Read these

In the Guardian, Mark Rice-Oxley pens an impassioned – and regretful – paean to the EU that Britain is on the point of leaving:
People say you can love Europe without loving the EU. That’s the wrong end of the telescope for my generation. It was the camaraderie and fraternity the EU fostered that helped us discover and fall in love with Europe. And that makes the divorce so much more bitter.
The Observer’s editorial on article 50 is savage on “the most irresponsible, least trustworthy government in living memory” jeopardising “60 years of unparalleled European peace, security and prosperity from which it has greatly benefited”:
With jingoistic horns and trumpets drowning out the roar of the deep, the stampede towards the cliff’s edge gathers pace. Every day produces more evidence that this hard Tory Brexit is a disaster in the making ... Truth and common sense are in short supply as Britain charges towards the precipice.
In the Financial Times, Janan Ganesh says over-optimistic UK ministers are manipulating the Brexit debate, spinning the new bottom line at every stage as if it were what they half-expected all along:
Seeing these ministers talk their way out of old promises leaves you with a sense of sinuous political skill but also smallness — of a trio pulling themselves up to their full height to look at the monumental work of exit straight in the ankles.

Tweet of the week

One of several gems from the Katya Adler’s BBC interview with Jean-Claude Juncker:

Jon Stone (@joncstone)
the BBC’s interview with Jean Claude Juncker starts off well
March 24, 2017