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What is happening with Brexit? The UK’s internal struggle

What did the cabinet agree at the Chequers Brexit meeting?

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After a full day of talks at Chequers, the UK cabinet emerged with a “collective position for the future of our negotiations” on Brexit, according to Prime Minister Theresa May. A tweet from 10 Downing Street highlights the 12 key principles that the UK will use in their EU negotiations.


The 12 key principles are as follows:
 
  • Leaving the EU on March 29 2019.
  • Ending free movement and taking back control of our borders.
  • No more sending vast sums of money each year to the EU.
  • A new business friendly customs model with freedom to strike new trade deals around the world.
  • UK-EU free trade area with a common rulebook for industrial goods and agricultural products which will be good for jobs.
  • Commitment to maintain high standards on consumer and employment rights and the environment.
  • Parliamentary lock on all new rules and regulations.
  • Leaving the Common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.
  • Restoring the supremacy of British courts by ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK.
  • No hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 
  • Continued close cooperation on security to keep our people safe.
  • An independent foreign and defence policy working closely with the EU and other allies.

The plans that emerged from the Chequers meeting, coupled with the details of the white paper were intended to give “a precise and responsible approach to the final stage of the negotiations.” 

Reactions

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The proposed alignment between the UK and the EU on trade, customs and regulations caused Nigel Farage to tweet:

“Brexit did not mean keeping the 90% of our economy that does not export to the EU trapped by their laws.”

“This Brexit strategy is a sell-out to the global corporates, as it was during Maastricht. The Tory Eurosceptics are a waste of space… No resignations means that the so-called Brexiteers in cabinet don’t have a principle between them, career politicians all.”

Fast-forward to yesterday, Monday July 16th. Since Chequers, Theresa May has faced a challenge from the Brexiteers within her cabinet. They have opposed the government’s proposed plans for a new customs deal.

Proposed new customs deal

In an effort to appease both the Brexiteers and the EU, Theresa May had proposed the idea of a facilitated customs arrangement. This arrangement would see the UK and EU act as a “combined customs territory” and in doing so avoid hard borders. 

This would result in the UK applying domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the UK, and their EU equivalents for goods heading into the EU.

Opposition

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Brexiteers proposed an amendment to the Customs Bill, arguing that it would prevent a border between Northern Ireland and the UK. Tory Brexiteers proposed the “New Clause 37” which was approved by MPs on Monday night (16/07/18)

What is “New Clause 37”

The “New Clause 37” contradicts the “Irish backstop.” The “backstop” proposes that Northern Ireland would be seen as part of the EU’s customs market. Both the DUP and the pro-Brexit Conservative European Research Group (ERG) backed the new clause. 

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood opposed the amendment to the customs bill, saying that by ruling out the backstop the government will "effectively drive us to a 'no deal' Brexit and probably a hard border in Ireland".

Government survives (for now)

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The UK government avoided defeat after agreeing to the Brexiteer’s demands regarding the proposed new customs bill. A number of Remainers were disappointed that May accepted the changes. 

Tory MP Heidi Allen was one of the Remainers disappointed with the prime minister. In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Allen commented, "What was agreed at Chequers wasn't perfect to us, wasn't perfect to Leavers either, but I think the prime minister had worked exceptionally hard to find a decent first pitch to put to the EU and move forward from that.

"We were all set [on the Remain side] to drop all our amendments and back it, then suddenly we had these rather extreme last minute manoeuvres, which seem to us to deviate the prime minister from her plan and we weren't prepared to do that."

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve (Remainer), said that May had put herself in a position of considerable weakness by meeting the demands of the Brexiteers.

New amendment proposed - Pro-EU Tories

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Today (Tues 17/07/18) Labour have confirmed that they would be backing a new amendment proposed by pro -EU Tory MPs who plan to keep Britain in a customs union post Brexit.

In response to the four amendments from the pro-Brexit ERG, Tory Remainers Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond have proposed an amendment which would see Britain being forced to join a customs union with the EU in the event that no agreement is reached on frictionless trade by January 21st 2019. With a vote taking place tonight (Tuesday 17/07/18) the pro-EU group believes it has at least 10 Tory MPs prepared to support its plans. Whether or not they do we will find out this evening.

This time last week we were eagerly awaiting the clarity that Theresa May’s white paper might bring. This week we see Theresa May fighting to stay in power. We have gone from focusing on the negotiations between the EU and the UK, to focusing on the internal negotiations of the UK government. The internal conflict is making the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit ever more probable.

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