August 1, 2017 : John Downie
If you think the forecast is bleak now, just wait until Autumn
Last week many of our political leaders made the most of recess and set off on their Summer holidays after an apparently gruelling political session so far…you can almost feel the sympathy up and down the country.
With the sure footed Theresa May hillwalking in the Alps, Chancellor Philip Hammond seemed to think he was in charge and making the decisions. On the 28th July he said that the UK will seek a Brexit transitional deal for up to three years so that people “can still go about their business,” adding that “literally nobody” wants “a cliff-edge effect” the day after Brexit and that freedom of movement would continue during the transition period because it would take “some time” to introduce full migration controls.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd was on the same page, having announced a day earlier that while freedom of movement will officially end in March 2019, EU citizens will still be allowed to come to the UK to live and work after Brexit as long as they register. This suggested the existing immigration regime will remain largely unchanged during the transitional period.
However the ‘Chlorinated Chicken’ man himself, Trade Secretary Liam Fox, was under the impression that the Cabinet had in fact not yet made a decision on free movement.
Following these apparently contradictory statements from cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said on the 31st July that free movement of EU citizens to Britain will end in March 2019, adding that it would be “wrong to speculate” on what the immigration system in Britain would look like after Brexit.
Clearly it’s not the end of the argument.
No wonder the EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan said the UK’s approach to Brexit negotiations is beset by “inconsistency and lack of coordination” that “beggars belief.”
Unfortunately, the political bloodletting and settling of scores at forthcoming Conservative and Labour conferences is likely to be our politicians’ focus, and not whether the Cabinet can resolve its many differences over Brexit (especially the not inconsequential one over how firm a break Britain should make with the EU) or if the Labour party will tackle the disarray in its ranks between the hard and soft Brexiteers.
Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations between EU Negotiator Michel Barnier, and Brexit secretary David Davis are continuing (with all our focus on the almost total disarray in both Tory and Labour ranks, you could be forgiven for having forgotten all about them).
But here’s a negotiating date for your diary: Monday the 9th of October. At the end of that week of negotiations, Michael Barnier will have to decide if there has been enough progress made on the financial settlement to be paid by the UK, the acquired rights of EU and UK expatriates, and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
If he thinks it has, talks can move to phase two and discussion of the wider UK-EU trade agreement can begin.
But let’s face it – at this stage in the UK’s political and governmental decline, it is very unlikely he’ll decide sufficient progress has been made on the three key aspects of the Brexit divorce negotiations.
At the moment, it looks like relations between Britain and the EU won’t just get darker, they’ll become extremely bleak – along with our prospects of getting the best deal from Brexit.