Brexit weekly briefing: clarity in short supply as deadlock continues

David Davis MP

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The big picture

Do not adjust your set. The picture is fuzzy for everyone. A week on from the messy aftermath of the Brussels summit, there is still no clarity about when Brexit talks will resume, let alone whether they will make any progress in time for the next summit in December.

As Goldman Sachs chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein is now pointing out on a regular basis, this means little clarity for business. Even if the masters of the universe can work out where we are headed, the so-called “transition phase” might provide three months less certainty than first proposed by Theresa May. Senior officials in Brussels told the Guardian the most likely outcome will involve any withdrawal agreement stipulating 31 December 2020 as the date when the country now leaves the EU’s legal structures.

The deadlock also means continued uncertainty for ordinary mortals too. Despite several ambiguous hints to the contrary, there is still no guarantee that Britain will honour its proposals to protect EU citizens’ rights if it walks away from the Brexit talks with no deal. Boris Johnson told an audience of Poles in Britain that “your rights will be protected whatever happens”. Yet, just as when the prime minister told reporters “whatever happens we want them to stay”, civil servants quickly poured cold water over the idea of warm words translating into a unilateral promise. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Johnson had merely been emphasising the government’s desire to secure rights for EU citizens as a “priority”.

In a last-ditch hope of avoiding a “no deal” cliff-edge departure, the Brexit secretary, David Davis, is said to be planning a fresh round of backdoor diplomacy in EU capitals rather than inking in the date for his next showdown with Michel Barnier.

The view from Europe

Barnier may be stuck waiting for the phone to ring to find out when his next meetings are scheduled, but it doesn’t mean everything has gone quiet in Brussels.

In common with all those bankers and businessmen eyeing Britain’s service sector surplus, the continent’s lawyers have been busy working out ways to use Brexit to wrestle away the lucrative business of international arbitration. The trade magazine Law Gazette reports that “Belgium has become the latest country to announce the creation of an English-language business court to compete with London as a commercial dispute resolution centre post-Brexit”.

“Similar initiatives have been proposed by the French government and the Netherlands judiciary. However, the Belgian government announcement says the Brussels court will be ‘a novelty for a non-anglophone country’,” writes Michael Cross.

Just in case anyone thinks Brussels lawyers have no sense of humour, Jean-Claude Juncker also rushed to salvage relations with Downing Street by denying claims that the prime minister had begged for help at a recent private dinner, instead insisting she had been in “good shape” and “fighting”.

Meanwhile, back in Westminster

Theresa May might be forgiven for hoping another news story would come along to push the government’s struggles with Brexit from the headlines. And so it has – but unfortunately for her it’s about alleged sexual harassment by MPs, including her own.

At Westminster, it had been another week of slightly uncomfortable news for the prime minister, beginning on Tuesday when it emerged tha one of her whips, Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, had written to universities seeking the names of academics teaching Brexit, prompting accusations of McCarythyism.

Things were going no more smoothly in the Brexit department, which lost its third minister in four months and saw the Brexit secretary having to clarify his own words.

Speaking to the Brexit select committee on Wednesday, Davis prompted some alarm among MPs by saying parliament might not get the chance to ratify any Brexit the deal until after it had happened in March 2019, because an agreement with the EU27 would not be concluded until the last moment.

Within hours Davis’s spokesman had corrected this, saying the government “expects and intends” to let parliament have its say before Britain formally leaves. At least that’s all cleared up now. We think.

You should also know:

Tory donors are still telling May no deal is better than a bad Brexit

Britain’s attempt to divide up the EU27 appears to have served instead to impede Brexit talks progress

The UK plan to register EU citizens would be illegal, according to MEPs

The European council president, Donald Tusk, still reckons the Brexit outcome is up to UK

Tory rebels are warning they are ‘deadly serious’ about forcing Brexit concessions

The governor of the Bank of England is an ‘enemy of Brexit’, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg

Hugo Dixon writes that a second Brexit vote is possible - but only if the people want it.

Zoe Williams explains that that while irony used to define the English, in Brexit Britain, it’s self-importance

Read these

New polling in the Daily Telegraph shows rising anger at the manner of Britain’s exit - even among remainers who had previously come to terms with the referendum:

Remain voters are growing increasingly unhappy with the prospect of Brexit, according to polling from YouGov.

YouGov’s latest figures show that a growing number of Remain voters are now dead-set against the UK leaving the EU with just 28% saying that Brexit should go ahead when polled at the end of September.

This is a big drop – of 23 points - compared to the 51% cent of remainers who supported Brexit when asked the same question three months earlier, in June.

In the Financial Times, Robert Shrimsley highlights the increasing intolerance of both right and left with his piece on the “Blue Marxists” who pose the real threat to British values:

In recent months the Blue Marxists in cabinet have denounced sections of the media for a lack of “patriotism” and stood silent while their cheerleaders vilified judges as “enemies of the people”. On social media, a “patriot” army hears the dog whistle and bombards opponents with threats and misogyny.

This week Tory MPs turned on seditious elements in universities. A party whip – essentially an enforcer of government policy – wrote to colleges asking for lists of every lecturer and each course covering European affairs. The request was officially disavowed, but he remains on the government payroll. A cabinet minister defended his letter as “not at all threatening”. A fellow MP complained that his student daughter had been given an anti-Brexit leaflet by her lecturer. Well, fair point. We wouldn’t want universities exposing people to ideas they don’t share.

Tweet of the week

If you don’t have your Halloween costume sorted yet, here are a few ideas for a Brexit theme:

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