I'm almost tempted to feel sorry for Theresa May sometimes. But then I remember, it didn’t need to be like this. She didn’t need to call her vainglorious election. She did not need to mouth meaningless platitudes such as “Brexit means Brexit” when it was obvious to the dogs in the street that Brexit means making choices.
Above all, she didn’t need to trigger Article 50, starting a time-limited process when it was obvious to those same dogs in the street that neither she nor her party were ready for the choices they have still not made.
The ultras will accept anything to – as they see it – get Brexit over the line and call it a success. So long as there is a transition period, the pound will (probably) not collapse and business will (probably) not start leaving in earnest, so they’ll be able to leave the field and retire to their after-dinner-speaker circuit, same as David Davis (remember him?) already has.Read more
Party Conference season is always a strange, surreal time – rushing between fringe meetings and votes, a whirlwind of media appearances and chats with journalists, policy being presented and debated by the members – but this week’s SNP Conference has brought a welcome beacon of clarity. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that, if there is a proposal for another EU referendum, SNP MPs will vote for it.
At Conference, I held three Fringe meetings, where members are free to come along and put questions to the panel. On Monday, one of our EU Scots quietly told the room that she has to take sleeping tablets at night because she’s so worried about her right to stay in Scotland. This is not fair, it is not right, and it is not something we should accept as a by-product of a dishonest and mean little campaign.Read more
So the Tories have gathered for their annual conference in their own little parallel universe. In their world Brexit is wonderful and the EU is an anti-democratic authoritarian regime which can easily be conflated with the USSR.
This is utterly crass and offensive to the millions who lived under Soviet occupation and from a UK Foreign Secretary it is utterly unforgivable. Europe had begun to hope that with Boris’s departure the UK would now behave in a grown-up manner but it seems not. As for Theresa May’s surreal speech? Ian Dunt has perhaps summed it up best: “according to her conference speech, the Tories were the party of opportunity and sound finances. They were going to address abuse and hatred in politics. They were an open party, fighting anti-semitism and promoting the children of hard-working immigrants. If only any of it was true.”
As the saying goes, the darkest hour is right before dawn. Without getting ahead of ourselves too much, the events of this week may prove that statement right when it comes to Brexit.
In a major development, today the Court of Session in Edinburgh - Scotland’s Highest Court - agreed that the our case asking whether the UK can remain in the EU on the present terms (in other words unilaterally revoke the notification of Article 50) must be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union. For the avoidance of any doubt, we're not trying to 'overturn' anything; we want clarity. Before MPs vote on whatever cobbled-together patchwork deal May returns with, they need to know if it's possible to revoke Article 50.Read more
This week has been a very busy week in Strasbourg. Notably, Jean Claude Juncker gave his final State of the Union address outlining how the EU is performing, and what policies we will be looked at next year. He did, inevitably mention Brexit, though only briefly. Crucially he reiterated a few points for the benefit of those Brexiters who keep feigning deafness. Firstly, “if you leave the Union, you are of course no longer part of our single market, and certainly not only in the parts of it you choose. Secondly, the European Commission, this Parliament and all other 26 Member States will always show loyalty and solidarity with Ireland when it comes to the Irish border.”
You can read the full speech at the link below. What struck me was how the EU (except the UK) is coming together around a lot of the challenges we face. They are getting on with the day job of making Europe better.
This week has seen some good news for EU citizens as the Scottish Government unveiled its Programme for Government. Building upon existing SNP policy, the Government announced that it will bring forward legislation to ensure that all EU nationals resident in Scotland maintain their Scottish voting rights in the event that Brexit takes place.
It is very simple really: anyone living in Scotland is Scottish. We are a nation comfortable with multiple identities and nobody who lives here should be cut out of our society. After all, we need more people not fewer. I am proud that our Government is taking real moves to reassure people - who have paid us the supreme compliment of making Scotland their home - that they are welcome, valued and part of the community.Read more
So, this week the UK Government has unveiled their plans for a no deal scenario. A scenario which, according to the Government, will be simultaneously disastrous and fine. Indeed, as Ian Dunt noted, the beleaguered Brexit Secretary seemed to be like a steward explaining how in the event of a crash “the plane would hit the water smoothly, just like in those cartoons they put on the safety leaflets, and then happy families would slide down into the inflatable rafts.”Read more
Has Theresa May been talking to European leaders directly to bypass Michel Barnier? According to Alberto Nardelli, the Prime Minister had a phonecall with her Italian counterpart Guiseppe Conte yesterday – so far, so good – but instead of Number 10 listing it on the official site as it usually does, the Italian call appears to be missing.
According to Nardelli, May was pushing for the other EU member states to go beyond the Full Trade Agreement or EEA options proposed by the EU’s chief negotiator, and this isn’t the only secretive May phonecall to have taken place.
One of the reasons the EU is such a powerful trading and political unit is that 28 is a much larger number than one, and when the EU speaks, it speaks with a single voice following extensive negotiation, compromise, and discussion. For the Prime Minister of one member state to attempt to break this unity, it’s not a good look. While David Cameron put the Conservative party over the best interests of the country, Theresa May appears to be going one better and trying to put the Conservative party over the good of a continent.
“We’ll just revert to WTO terms!” shriek the Brexiteers when challenged that the EU stuff is a bit complex. I’ll let you into a secret: anyone saying that clearly doesn’t understand what they’re talking about and should be quarantined as a dangerous fool.
Scotland’s best interests are emphatically to stay in the EU, but let’s look at the reality of WTO membership. If you didn’t like Brussels, wait till you meet Geneva!
The first thing to understand is that the WTO is not dedicated to free trade or fair trade (note the lack of an “F” in the acronym), neither is it democratic nor accountable to you as a citizen.Read more
So this has been the week of ‘no deal’. The head of Amazon warned it could cause civic unrest. (thetimes.co.uk/...); the NHS would need to stockpile drugs (bbc.co.uk/...) and the Brexit Secretary himself Dominic Raab has promised to make sure we don’t starve (twitter.com/...).
I must admit, all this hyperbole is rather too much, and I agree with Tánaiste Simon Coveney that there is far too much talk of a no deal: rte.ie/...
To be clear, one of the most damaging myths which seems to be emerging is that a no-deal Brexit is somehow a realistic or desirable option. It would be a catastrophe. The laws which ensure food, people, and everything else can move in and out of the external UK borders would cease to apply. It is fall of Yugoslavia and USSR stuff. It is unconscionable.
I don’t deny there are some who are pushing for it, but I do not see it as a remotely likely scenario. The fact that it's the sorts of the people I dislike most talking about it makes me all the more suspicious.
You can read more of my thoughts on this in the my National column for the week: thenational.scot/...Read more