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Brexit Bulletin: Brexit Fever

  • Parliament is in recess but Brexit passions still run high
  • Brexit committee sets out 15 hurdles for successful deal

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When it comes to be written, the history of the strange times we’re living through might well be titled “Brexit Fever.”

It will highlight Prime Minister Theresa May’s reluctance to say that leaving the European Union is actually a good idea, despite its being the central and all-consuming policy of the government she leads. It will describe the weekly calls for a new centrist party that could campaign to abandon the whole project. And most of all, it will deal with the social media fury.

Brexit fever affects both supporters and opponents of the project. The main symptoms are endless angry tweets about some detail or other of the political argument. For supporters, it might be whether Big Ben will chime to celebrate Britain’s departure from the EU. Or whether that departure will happen at midnight Brussels time or midnight British time. Or whether, regardless of what time it actually occurs, Britain should pretend that it’s happening at another, more patriotic time.

For opponents, the obsession might be the accuracy of what was written on Boris Johnson’s big red Brexit bus, or whether the referendum was legally binding. The latest victim of Brexit fever could well be former Labour Transport Secretary Andrew (now Lord) Adonis. He is exercised by the level of BBC coverage of a recent stunt by Nigel Farage that saw the former UKIP leader throw fish into the River Thames. 

You’re busy, and you don’t have time to worry about why Farage was throwing fish, or what the right level of coverage from a national news broadcaster is for fish-throwing. But Adonis is deeply concerned that the BBC got the balance wrong. He argues that it is evidence that BBC stands for “Brexit Broadcasting Corporation.”

Judging which news stories to report is a subjective business, and the state-funded BBC is certainly not without its flaws. But spending your days accusing people of not reporting the news that you want is rarely a sign that you think you’re winning the wider argument. As Wolfgang Muchau wrote persuasively in the Financial Times over Easter, it may now simply be too late to reverse Brexit.

Science has yet to find a cure for Brexit Fever, but it seems to be a largely benign disease. Perhaps arguing about the color of passports is less painful than getting into the intricacies of Brexit itself.

Brexit Latest

Back to Norway | The U.K. could – and possibly should – seek a Norway-style trade deal if Brexit talks collapse, a panel of lawmakers says. The cross-party committee that’s scrutinizing Brexit set 15 hurdles they say May has to jump in order to declare the deal a success. Topping the list is the Irish border, which they say must remain open with no physical infrastructure, co-operation on security and no trade tariffs with the rest of the bloc. But if talks fail in October, it concluded the U.K. could still apply for membership of the European Economic Area.

‘Remoanathon’ | The Brexit Committee is as divided about leaving the EU as the rest of the U.K. But unlike the voters in the referendum, it has an anti-Brexit majority, which explains why its reports tend to take the slant they do. The committee’s Brexit supporters were outvoted several times about the contents of its fourth report, issued today. Jacob Rees-Mogg, their leading light, was typically pithy. “The High Priests of Remain on the Select Committee voted through another report seeking to thwart Brexit by stealth,” he observed. Rees-Mogg’s words probably carry more weight with Theresa May than the Brexit Committee’s.

Passport Hold-Up | The endlessly diverting fight about which company should produce Britain’s new, more “patriotic” passports rumbles on, with De La Rue Plc saying it may appeal against the provisional award of the £490 million ($689 million) contract to Gemalto NV. Bloomberg Gadfly’s Chris Bryant isn’t impressed with the company’s tactic.

What Strategy? | Tales of chaos within the U.K. government are hardly new, but today the Brexit-supporting Daily Telegraph reports that there are troubles in the key departments tasked with managing EU withdrawal. Britain’s trade strategy “is basically tweeting out flag emojis,” the Telegraph quotes one senior civil servant as saying.

Going Dutch | Britain is leaving the EU, Theresa May keeps telling us, but it’s not leaving Europe. To prove it, Eurostar begins its new twice-daily service to Amsterdam today. Crucially for those of us who rarely get beyond Belgium, the trains won’t stop at Lille, making the journey to Brussels, where they do stop, a little faster.

And Finally…

An unwritten rule of Brexit is that barely a week goes by without suggestions that a new centrist party could prove a hit with weary voters. Some of these calls seem to happen late at night on Twitter, where emotions run high. But some are made in the columns of national newspapers, and Tuesday’s Times saw Rachel Sylvester suggest that former Foreign Secretary David Miliband might save the nation from Brexit.

There are a few flaws with this, not least that Miliband has had more success being talked about as a potential party leader than he has actually becoming one. As well as that he is currently in New York, heading up the International Rescue Committee, where he has been since being beaten to the Labour leadership by his brother Ed in 2010. The reason he lost that contest was his inability to persuade Labour lawmakers to vote for him, even though he was the favorite to win.

None of these suggest he has what it takes to lead a new party to a breakthrough in Britain’s parliamentary system, which is famously resistant to insurgents.

David Miliband
Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg

Emma Ross-Thomas is away.

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