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Brexit Bulletin- May, 14, 2018. I Brexit Bulletin I The Telegraph
The best news and analysis from the Telegraph's unrivalled Brexit team in London, Brussels and beyond.
Ministers mull customs options as Damian Green talks up Max Fac
By Asa Bennett Brexit commissioning editor
May asked ministers to split up and examine her two customs proposals
in greater detail. They are meant to have met in time for tomorrow’s
cabinet meeting, so they can update their colleagues about how much
more viable the customs partnership or “max fac” is looking.
Michael Gove, who is among the ministerial trio looking at the partnership proposal, told Andrew Marr on Sunday
that he thought it “has flaws and that they need to be tested”.
Meanwhile, Downing Street has been briefing every Tory backbencher on
the available options, with Mrs May's chief of staff admitting that neither is workable in its current form.
suspicion of the customs partnership is well-known. So it may surprise
some that Damian Green - an arch-Remainer - declared over the weekend
that he thought max fac was the “most likely endpoint”.
May's former deputy, he will be aware of much of the internal thinking
about the available customs options. So is he trying to help the prime
minister back away from her partnership plan in favour of something
Brexiteers could accept? Quite possibly, although it cannot be forgotten
that its acceptance depends on Brussels being prepared to go with it
TUC protesters dressed as Theresa May over the weekend
Hunt tells Boris to quieten down
Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt told the Today programme that he felt it was “important” ministers discuss
how to progress over Brexit “in private” rather than in public. He was
“not very sympathetic” to those who have criticised Mrs May, all of
which was clearly aimed at the likes of Boris Johnson - who last week
blasted her customs partnership plan as a “crazy system”.
irony has not been lost on Brexiteers that the Health Secretary may
prefer cabinet dialogue to happen in private, but he chose nonetheless
to make his rebuke in public.
Brexiteers believe they are in control. But their position is far weaker than they think
By Juliet Samuel Telegraph columnist
time it seems as if Theresa May is about to betray the Eurosceptics,
she pulls back. But her conciliatory feints disguise the truth: the
Brexiteers are in a weak position, and it’s getting weaker.
the heart of this weakness is the agreement that Mrs May struck in
December. Few Brexiteers except Mr Gove seem to realise it, but that was
the moment when the Prime Minister gave up on everything they want. Her
policy since then has been to drift until confronted, and then make a
“strong statement” to convince the Eurosceptics that she’s still on
board. Surprisingly, this seems to be working.
surrendered on two major issues: the cash and the Irish border.
Regarding the cash, she not only agreed to pay up (which hardly matters,
since we would have paid up anyway if we had stayed in the EU); she
also gave up on using the cash as leverage to secure a trade deal.
Without any legal conditionality attached our EU payments, Britain’s
biggest bargaining chip disappeared.
Then there’s Ireland. In her
desperation for a “breakthrough”, the Prime Minister agreed to a form
of wording that is wholly incompatible with her Brexit promises. The
December document says that if Brussels doesn’t fancy our alternative
suggestions for the Irish border, Britain will maintain “full alignment”
with EU rules.
The “customs partnership” idea now preoccupying
our government is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, a smokescreen for
effectively staying in the customs union, as Ireland wants. Simon
Coveney, Ireland’s deputy Prime Minister, said as much on the BBC
yesterday when he voiced support for an EU-UK “customs partnership”.
May is preparing to capitulate, and there is little Boris can do about it Despite
all of this, the Brexiteers act relaxed. When I asked Parliament’s
chief Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg, why, he shrugged it off. The Irish
backstop is a “meaningless” piece of paper, he said. Legally, perhaps.
But diplomatically, that piece of paper is a set of shackles, and it’s
one that the EU and Ireland fully intend to use.
tend to repeat its comforting mantra: “Nothing is agreed until
everything is agreed.” The problem is that Mrs May’s concessions have
now made “everything” a very unpalatable option. And they cannot be sure
that, given the choice, Mrs May will choose “nothing” over
Unfortunately, without being willing to risk
“nothing” – a “no deal” Brexit – we will not break the impasse over
Ireland. The EU will stick to its guns, betting that our Prime Minister
doesn’t have the stomach to walk out for real.
It is just about
possible that it is wrong. Perhaps, in the autumn, Mrs May will undergo a
personality transplant, jump up and shout: “Non!” God knows she will
have left it horribly late to take her stand, but stranger things have
The Brexiteers might huff and puff, but they have lost
control of Brexit. With every day that passes, it gets harder to see how
they can take it back.
The Italian catastrophe officials fear is coming to pass
By Peter Foster Telegraph Europe editor
in January a senior German diplomat covering EU affairs was in London
for a conference on the future of Europe and the subject of a populist
government taking power in Italy soon came up for discussion.
German delegate, usually a mild-mannered fellow, made absolutely no
attempt to gloss over the ramifications for Europe if Italy’s internet
start-up 5Star Movement won the general election: “That,” he said,
“would be a catastrophe.”
All the signs now are that that
“catastrophe” is coming to pass. After a weekend of haggling, the
leaders of 5Star and the hard-right League (formerly Northern League)
indicated on Sunday they will make a deal to form a government. They could name their prime ministerial candidate as early as today.
now, the markets are sanguine, but you do not have to peer too far into
the future to understand why such an outcome so unnerves the stewards
of Europe’s political project in Brussels, Berlin and Paris.
now, they have been able to reassure themselves that the populist
‘threat’ has been confined to the peripheries of political Europe.
the east, Hungary and Poland have defied Brussels and Berlin over
immigration and ‘rule of law’ issues, but are ultimately seen as small
enough to be squashed back into line with budget squeezes and the threat
of legal proceedings.
Meanwhile to the west, Britan’s vote for
Brexit, while a much more economically significant and serious blow to
EU credibility, could still be brushed off as the ‘final opt-out’ from a
country that had never embraced the European dream anyway.
if the Eurozone’s third-largest economy is indeed run by a 5Star-League
coalition government, there will be no escaping the fact that - as the
Italian president Sergio Mattarella warned last week - the “edifice of
Europe is shaking”.
Such a government is highly unlikely to be
stable, and given the inherent contradictions in the two parties’
interests and supporter-bases, it may not be that long-lived.
a look at Italy’s sharply divided electoral map, and it becomes clear
that this government yokes together Italy’s poor and unproductive south
(where 5Star dominated) with its and richer industrial north (core
League territory) in an alliance that contains conflicting economic
The two parties’ flagship economic policies - a
flat-tax for The League and a guaranteed ‘citizens income’ for 5Star -
appeal separately to those core constituencies at an estimated combined
cost of some €90bn, or 6 per cent of Italian GDP.
extravagant campaign-trail promises - along with the repeal of a deeply
unpopular pensions reform that increased retirement age at the cost of
another €20bn a year - are fiscally impossible to deliver upon.
only would they smash the EU’s budget deficit rules, which the parties
appear willing to observe in the short term, but as Mr Mattarella
reminded the parties last week, the president has the power to strike
down unfunded laws.
These realities leave Matteo Salvini and
Luigi Di Maio - the respective leaders of 5Star and the League - with
little option but to disappoint the voters with, at best, anaemic
versions of what they originally promised.
constraints, Mr Salvini and Mr Di Maio will - penny to a pound or,
rather cent to a euro - have no political option but to direct their
voters’ frustration at the austerity ayatollahs in Brussels and Berlin.
And they will be pushing at an open door.
Italy is a deeply
unhappy country. Eurobarometer opinion surveys show 80 per cent of
Italians think their economy is bad and the number of Italians viewing
Brussels favourably has halved to under 40 per cent in the last decade.
well as austerity, Brussels will also be blamed for Italy’s immigration
crisis, where Mr Salvini’s popular promises to “clean house” in Italy
and deport thousands of migrants will, if enacted, shred any last
semblance of an united EU migration policy.
Anger will now have a voice Similarly,
a 5Star-League government, when it takes its seat at the top-table of
EU affairs, will not feel restrainted in voicing Italy’s long-standing
opposition to Russian sanctions, further exposing Europe’s divisions
when it comes to the big geopolitical issues. The Kremlin will be
These will be the obvious targets of a populist
government will need to signal a break with the past. After a lost
economic decade and with Italy is still only growing at 1.5% (the
weakest in the Eurozone) those same opinion surveys show that some 78
per cent of Italians “don’t trust” their government.
It was that
state of affairs that the League and 5Star were elected to rectify
following a succession of bland, unelected technocratic governments
beginning with the installation of Mario Monti during the 2012 eurozone
Indeed, it was to block Mr Mattarella from appointing yet
another technical government that the two parties were galvanised to
agree a deal.
Both leaders have put aside their personal prime
ministerial ambitions to forge a chalk-and-cheese alliance, where the
‘who’ of Italy’s next prime minister is far less important than the
‘what’: as Mr Di Maio noted, what matters is that he or she, will be a
“a politician, not a technocrat.”
And that is what will truly
scare Brussels, Berlin and Paris, where Mr Macron’s hopes of rebooting
Europe around a revivified Franco-German core now seem to be receding
still further into the realms of fantasy.
For a decade since the
financial crisis, the sullen fury Italian politics - a proxy in many
minds for the failures of the Europe itself - has been contained. A
5Star-League government, whatever its practical limitations, will now
give that anger a voice.
In the news
CBI's warning shot:
Theresa May will cause a "major setback" to British business if she
does not urgently make a decision on Britain's future customs plans, the
head of the UK's largest business lobby group is warning. Carolyn
Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, accused the government of
pursuing "ideology over evidence" with its plan to leave the EU customs
union after Brexit, risking thousands of jobs and business in the
Gyimah's Brexit theory:
Britain must return to its roots as a “science and technology
superpower” if it is to make the the most of Brexit, the Universities
and Science Minister has said. Sam Gyimah has called on Britain to
rediscover its “spark of genius” and to turn bright ideas generated in
universities and laboratories into commercial success. [Telegraph]