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Monday, September 28, 2020
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TCW’s Brexit Watch

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BREXIT watchers had much to watch this week, including the game of ‘guess what Boris is aiming at’ with his Brexit shadow-boxing. The deep nature of the government can be seen already by its actions, and that has to be a worry for Brexit. Norman Tebbit in the Telegraph judges that it has already got several key decisions badly wrong: ‘I find it worrying that too many of the big decisions that will shape the future of our country are going the wrong way. The decision to put control of our future 5G communications system into the hands of the Chinese government has prejudiced our intelligence-sharing arrangements with the USA.’ 

Are we to deduce that Boris, having won his landslide election on the back of promising to take the grassroots voters seriously, is now backsliding to support the big and vested interests, including HS2, rather than attending to the present needs of the public, e.g. upgrading the railways in the Midlands and North? Is this his ‘big idea’ of ‘levelling up the North’? As reported by Guido, 50 transport infrastructure project ideas have been found to be better value for money than HS2, the skyrocketing costs and diminishing transport returns of which are detailed by the Guardian here

Was this the advice of increasingly controversial and defensive Whitehall mandarins, who are feared to be the main roadblock to a clean Brexit? They are certainly baring their teeth with a focused and orchestrated attack on Priti Patel, both a staunch Brexiteer and the most robust conservative the Home Office has experienced in years. Yesterday Boris Johnson came to her defence, saying she is doing an ‘outstanding’ job and that he was sticking by her. The view of the Spectator’s Katy Balls is that Mr Johnson won’t give her up without a fight. 

But Rachel Sylvester of the Times thinks that ‘instead of scrapping with civil servants, the government should realise it can’t implement its manifesto without them.’ She thinks ministers cannot win this war on Whitehall. Whether another special adviser falling foul of Dominic Cummings – Lynn Davidson, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s spad, has been ousted just weeks after she criticised Cummings at a meeting  – means anything remains to be seen. Taking on a spad is a very different proposition from a senior civil servant.  

The smoke and mirrors in the war against Whitehall don’t bode well for Brexit. The EU, it seems, is well prepared for the UK’s tough talk, the Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent James Crisp reports. He writes: ‘Brussels is calculating that Britain will stage a dramatic walkout of post-Brexit trade talks in June to force the EU to make a last-ditch offer in September, it has emerged.

‘EU diplomats have been wargaming different scenarios ahead of the first round of trade negotiations, which begin today in Brussels. 

‘They believe the EU’s fresh offer will be accepted by the UK and, despite inevitable concessions, will be hailed as an implausible victory over Brussels.’ 

This is the worry. That Deus ex Machina will descend making a ‘good deal’ possible after all – cue relief from the big banks, blue chip companies and establishment – which Boris can claim as an implausible victory, but which disguises the fact of deep concessions.

Crisp continues: ‘The EU is long-used to staged walkouts from summits from leaders keen to shore up their domestic base by being seen to battle Brussels before a deal is finally secured. “We read everything through the prism of a drive towards an eleventh-hour deal. Driving up the stakes so that snatching the victory seems even more implausible and impressive,” a Brussels source said.’

It looks plausible, especially given Johnson’s previous form: finally caving in, we must remind ourselves, to May’s Withdrawal Agreement and delivering the most minimal WA himself at the cost of betraying Northern Ireland.

The same article reports: ‘EU sources warned there was no chance of the UK getting its way in financial services by June. The European Commission had suggested an agreement on financial services would be desirable by then but that is no longer on offer from Brussels in the finalised EU negotiating mandate.’

This confirms the view of economists who say that the deal on offer is not worth it: better to walk away and use WTO terms on financial services and goods – the latter giving the EU a massive annual surplus, the former favouring the UK.

Finally, US-UK trade talks have been announced, but as a kind of secondary matter and with Liz Truss pandering to the ignorant chlorinated chicken fearmongers, as I reported in TCW yesterday. It is a red herring. As to the NHS, why cannot the UK offer good medical jobs to the Americans since we are apparently in dire need of doctors and nurses? Why is the mood always negative in discussing trade talks with the Americans, who treat us a sovereign state, as opposed to the EU which means us harm? Whitehall (and the Independent) is of course doing its best to diminish the US positive approach. Yet as the Telegraph points out, the possibilities are excellent. Thankfully Truss does seem more optimistic than Sir Humphrey. She even announced the UK as ‘back’ at the WTO with much gusto, reports the Express. Brexiteers will be hoping her words are more than ‘gaming’ and soon become actions.   

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Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw
Timothy Bradshaw is a Theological lecturer and Anglican clergyman

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