Politics 18 October 2018 | 7:04

Brexit Crunch Week: Day Four Update

18 October 2018 07:04

Still tuning in? We salute you. Many people threw in the towel on Day Two, understandably bored by the bewildering technicality of Brexit. But – as I’ve said all week – this stuff really matters, even if it has the box-office draw of watching paint dry. So stay frosty. As Churchill probably didn’t say: it pays to be alert when the future of the country is at stake. Latest news from the diplomatic abyss:

  1. Brexit – the Extended Version! Opinion polls suggest that what most Britons want from Brexit is for it to be over and done with. Unfortunately, it seems more likely now that they will be getting a Director’s Cut – extended by at least another year. At her meeting with her fellow EU heads of government last night, Theresa May indicated she was open to the ‘implementation period’ – the months spent putting whatever deal is agreed (assuming one is reached) into practice – being extended beyond the end of 2020, perhaps for another year. This, according to some estimates, will cost the taxpayer an extra £6-14bn in extra payments to the EU.
  2. November summit cancelled. This week’s meeting in Brussels was meant to be the setting for the agreement of at least a preliminary deal. As it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen, a separate EU gathering was pencilled in for the middle of next month. But Luxemburg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, said yesterday that he wasn’t prepared to return in November ‘just to have a cup of coffee and some shortbread.’ Would Nando’s swing it?
  3. The truth hurts. Not to be outdone by Luxemburg, Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, nailed the problem she and her fellow heads of government face in dealing with May. ‘If you have a negotiator on the other side of the table that has no strong mandate, it is very difficult for us to negotiate,’ she said. ‘Today, we do not know what they want. They do not know themselves what they really want. That is the problem.’ Remember, the reason that the PM called a snap election in 2017 was precisely to avoid this: she wanted to go to Brussels with a hefty Commons majority, unambiguously in control of the UK’s diplomatic trajectory. Unfortunately, that gamble didn’t go to plan, and the other 27 EU nations know perfectly well that she is living on borrowed time, at the helm of a minority government, desperately trying to manage a mutinous parliamentary party, and hang on to the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (whose votes she needs in the Commons if her government is, say, to pass its Budget later this month).
  4. Thanks, guys. As if to press home this embarrassing reality, five former Cabinet ministers, including Boris Johnson and David Davis, warned the PM that she would not be absolved by the British people if Brexit were reduced to a ‘choreographed show of resistance followed by surrender’. They want a ‘super Canada free trade deal’ – an enhanced version of the agreement between the EU and Canada – that would avoid the dreaded prospect of a ‘backstop’ (the device that would keep the whole UK or Northern Ireland in the EU customs union indefinitely). This, they say, is ‘a trap being set by the EU which it is vital we do not fall into.’
  5. The Irish border. Still the main sticking point, though there are hundreds (and probably thousands) of smaller ones. Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, showed his EU colleagues a news story about a 1972 IRA bombing of a border customs post, which cost eight lives. His point was that the border issue is not just a technocratic or narrowly commercial question. It is essential to the maintenance of the peace established by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
  6. Meanwhile, back at the ranch. The fact that a deal is nowhere in sight did not prevent MPs arguing furiously over the basis upon which they might vote on one. It emerged last night that Dominic Raab, the Brexit Secretary, had written to MPs on October 10, warning them that the ‘meaningful vote’ they were promised on any Brexit plan would be a straight choice between deal or no deal. Confusingly, the letter leaves ambiguous the status of amendments to the main withdrawal motion. Would they be real amendments or mere ‘points of view’ expressed by the Commons? This is causing considerable confusion at Westminster today.
  7. People’s Vote. All of which makes the idea of a fresh referendum on Brexit even more appealing. As DRUGSTORE CULTURE has argued since our digital launch a month ago, the fiasco of the Brexit negotiations has radically strengthened the case for a new vote on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. How many of those who opted for Leave in June 2016 can really have been voting for such a omnishambles? They, no less than dyed-in-wool Remainers, deserve the opportunity to change their minds.

Watch our Vodcast with Alastair Campbell for more on the People’s Vote campaign (and much else) and join the march in central London on Saturday. DRUGSTORE CULTURE will be there – we hope to see you.