Brexit Bulletin: Truce Frays

  • Davis says Friday’s deal is more a statement of intent; Ireland hits back
  • May chairs Cabinet meeting, speaks to lawmakers about the deal
Blanchflower Says EU, UK Deal Should Lead to Soft Brexit

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The fragile truce didn’t last long. Just three days after the hard won deal to move Brexit talks along, the U.K. government has irked the Irish government and the Cabinet is once again publicly at odds.

Brexit Secretary David Davis was among those sending signals over the weekend that the U.K. wasn’t really committed to what it signed up to last week after rushed four-way talks between London, Dublin, Brussels and Belfast. A bid to placate the pro-Brexit faction of Theresa May’s Conservative Party had the side effect of angering the Irish government, and with it, probably the EU.

The agreement set out that as a fallback position, the U.K. would keep its rules aligned with those of the EU in order to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland. The wording alarmed the pro-Brexit faction, which saw the chances of a clean break receding, and delighted those who want to stay close to the EU and its rules.

Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Davis said the deal was “was more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing.”

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney hit back against the claim that the deal isn’t binding with a Twitter message late Sunday pointing to a clause in Friday’s agreement that the commitments “are made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement.” Reinforcing Coveney’s message, the Irish government issued a statement saying “both Ireland and the EU will be holding the U.K. to the Phase 1 agreement” struck on Friday.

Davis’s words will no doubt come up in a meeting in Brussels today of the representatives of EU leaders, known as sherpas, who are preparing for the summit on Thursday and Friday. After a weekend of press reports revealing divisions re-emerging in May’s core team, she chairs a Cabinet meeting today and will address parliament on the deal. Her office gave a flavor of the ambiguity she might need to pursue to keep everyone on board.

“This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit,” she will say. “Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Read more: The behind-the-scenes account of getting to the Brexit deal. 

Brexit Latest

Labour Gets Softer | Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Sunday he would champion close ties to Europe after the divorce and “easy” movement of people, in an apparent softening of the party’s ambiguous Brexit stance. Just how much a softening that is, and whether it’s shared by others in the party, remains to be seen. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said at the weekend that his party’s amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which aims to leave open the option of staying in the single market, is designed to flush out Labour lawmakers and force them to make their position clear.

Soft for Us Please | Britain’s chemicals and pharmaceuticals industries are calling on the government to let them remain within EU rules, the Financial Times reports. In a letter to Michael Gove, the pro-Brexit minister who wants a clean break from Europe, the Chemical Industries Association urges the government “to do all it can to remain within or as close as possible” to EU rules for the industry.

Clegg’s Complaint | Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is fighting Brexit, told the Times magazine that he’s had conversations with senior EU officials in recent months that suggest EU nations would have been prepared to keep the U.K. in the bloc by offering a better deal on freedom of movement. “If the cost of keeping the U.K. in the tent was a new EU-wide approach to freedom of movement, they would bite that bullet,” he said. But he says the British government never raised the issue. “Theresa May, unforgivably in my view, made no attempt whatsoever in the wake of the referendum to reach out privately to European power brokers and see whether there was some way she could finesse this.”

Aid for Trade | The U.K. government will donate £18 million ($24 million) in trade development aid to 51 of the world’s poorest countries, the Department of International Trade said. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will announce the funding at the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Argentina on Monday.

House Price Hit | London’s property market is in for another rough ride next year, according to Rightmove Plc. Home values in the capital are likely to fall another 2 percent in 2018 after a 1.8 percent decline this year. In December alone, prices dropped 3.7 percent in London and by 2.6 percent nationally. “Economic and political uncertainty tend to weigh more heavily on the capital,” said Rightmove’s Miles Shipside.

Second Referendum Debate | Lawmakers will debate the virtues of a referendum on the final Brexit deal in Westminster Hall, where non-binding, non-voting debates take place. It’s at 4:30 p.m.

And Finally...

Two former London brokers in Luxembourg have hit on an old-fashioned way to hedge against Brexit, Bloomberg’s Stephanie Bodoni writes.

Briton Mark Hollis and his Irish business partner John Heffernan set up a grocery store, offering financiers fleeing the City a steady supply of U.K. staples such as Yorkshire Tea and Marmite yeast extract. The pair say “Home from Home,” which also sells expat favorites such as Heinz baked beans in tomato sauce and Nestle chocolate milkshake mix, is already bustling ahead of the hordes of financiers expected to swap London for new lives in the Grand Duchy.

“We’ve been open a few weeks and we’ve had hundreds of people come through the door,” Hollis says.

Marmite spread.
Photographer: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

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