The EU’s chief negotiator has rejected May’s plans. A fudge is on the cards. Emily Hohler reports.
Michel Barnier has “effectively killed off” Theresa May’s latest customs plan, warning that the European Union wouldn’t accept Britain collecting duties on its behalf after Brexit, says James Crisp in The Daily Telegraph. The EU’s chief negotiator refused to accept that Britain had “evolved its position” following “crunch Cabinet talks” at Chequers, which led to the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. May’s White Paper, which “squeaked through Parliament by a handful of votes”, envisages Britain signing up to a common rulebook and shared customs arrangements with Brussels.
This would mean that British customs officials would collect duties on goods coming into the UK that are bound for the EU. Barnier’s response was that the EU could not and would not “delegate the application of its customs policy, of its rules, VAT and excise duty collections to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU’s governance structures”. This rejection of a “cornerstone” of the customs plan has refocused attention on the “vexed question” of the Irish border. The issue remains unresolved and the “most likely to sabotage Brexit negotiations as an October deadline to finalise the deal looms”.
A clever wheeze, but no cigar
Barnier’s “non” is “unfortunate”, albeit unsurprising, says Daniel Capurro, also in The Daily Telegraph. The Chequers proposals were never going to remain intact, but the customs arrangement “was the clever wheeze” balancing hard and soft demands and “holding the whole edifice up”. But it’s not all bad news, says The Wall Street Journal.
Despite major sticking points, Barnier noted that 80% of the agreement was already in place. He softened his opposition to May’s post-Brexit plans for financial services, after British negotiators explained that the UK wasn’t attempting to remove the bloc’s “decision-making autonomy”, merely seeking to be treated like New York, Singapore or other non-EU financial centres, says Joe Barnes in the Daily Express. Barnier also said he was “pleased” with the progress on foreign policy and security, add Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian.
Kicking the can yet again
Barnier’s remarks “underline” that the Chequers agreement – “already causing ructions among Conservative activists” – is going to require some changes “if it is to become a workable arrangement”, says Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. It’s hard to see how any final agreement will secure enough support from Tory MPs, particularly since they will be “getting an earful from party members” this month and doubts are likely to have “hardened” when parliament returns in September.
The “disarray in British politics”, as May contends with eurosceptic and pro-EU MPs, has convinced senior EU leaders that a “change of tack might be needed”, says Alex Barker in the FT. Although Barnier warned London not to “bother circumventing him by approaching European capitals” – Jeremy Hunt, who warned this week of a “no-deal” Brexit if Brussels doesn’t change its approach, is visiting European capitals to persuade leaders of the merits of the Chequers plan – the EU has since said it is “willing to ‘fudge’ crucial Brexit negotiations and offer Britain a vague blueprint for “future ties with the bloc” if it helps May “avoid a ‘no-deal’ outcome and win parliamentary backing for a withdrawal treaty”. But not all EU negotiators approve, believing that a “vague statement on future relations” simply “stores up trouble” and kicks the can down the road.
Labour fails to lance its anti-Semitic boil
The “boil of anti-Semitism within the Labour movement remains unlanced”, says Alex Massie in The Times. Hardly a week passes without Labour councillors and members “promulgating – by accident, of course” – some form of anti-Semitic material and the party has now failed fully to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s definition of anti-Semitism. Last week Britain’s three leading Jewish newspapers published a joint editorial saying that they were concerned about “the existential threat posed to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government”. Labour rejected the claims, saying that they had adopted the IHRA definition but had concerns about some of the guidelines.
Choosing to “embark on a fresh dispute about anti-Semitism” at a time when our government is “imploding” over Brexit is bizarre, says Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. The cynical but expedient way to handle this would have been to “adopt the IHRA definition and guidelines in full and then fail to implement them (essentially what it has been doing for months)”. Instead, the Corbynite approach was to “redefine it and punish those who complained”. Two Labour MPs, Ian Austin and Margaret Hodge, who both lost family members in the Holocaust, now face disciplinary action for confronting the leadership. The party’s approach is creating conditions for a split that threatens a Labour electoral victory. This says much about Corbyn: that his views should be taken literally, and that he is prepared to risk everything for the “purity of his ideals”.
It also reveals Corbyn’s “darker”, illiberal side, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times: his “self-righteousness“ and “intolerance of disagreement”. It is why moderate Labour MPs no longer belong in the party, and why Corbyn would be “so dangerous” in No. 10.