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What's Up With Brexit? An Update

Brexit. Means. Brexit. But what does it all mean so far?

by Gavin Haynes
01 September 2016, 1:45pm

Theresa May holds a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's country retreat Chequers in Buckinghamshire to discuss department-by-department Brexit action plans (Picture by: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire)

It's now over two months since our national Brexit nightmare began and I write this chewing on the charred hind leg of a dog, in an underground bunker festooned with hazmat tape. Yes, the east London diner scene is increasingly out of control, but everything else seems... fine, bordering on crazy-dull, right? After the initial national gargling of emotion, after the Tory bloodletting, after every sensible person began to obey the unspoken D-notice not to talk about Brexit at parties, it's been a drowsy late summer of cabinet ministers vacationing in the Alps, prole-fodder Olympics spangles, a few press releases issued by wonks so lowly they have to take their holidays in September, but mainly just Theresa's beautiful blank tautology left hanging in the air. Brexit. Means. Brexit.

Well, on Wednesday Cabinet re-convened for the first time, to talk about what Brexit Means Brexit means re: Brexit. The results of that discussion were:

Brexit.

In fact, most of the points in the PM's debriefing were so vacuous they were recycled from a speech she gave back at the start of her tenure: that there will be no second referendum, and that parliament won't get a vote on the deal.

It appears that figuring out how to de-couple from 45 years of legal and cultural integration is more than one Cabinet's worth of back-of-envelope calculations.

At the same time, if you scrape the barnacles a few pinpricks of data did emerge over the summer. So, as term-time resumes, maybe it's time to round up exactly what we now know.

A FUTURE LABOUR GOVERNMENT WILL PUT ANY BREXIT DEAL TO PARLIAMENT, THEREBY LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN TO STAYING IN THE EU
At least, according to Owen Smith's leadership manifesto. In other words, that's never going to happen at all.

THE FRENCH ARE STICKING TO THEIR GUNS ON FREE MOVEMENT
Francois Hollande is in enough toxic trouble of his own. He's up for re-election in 2017, and fascist nativist Marine Le Pen is already leading him in some polls. Meanwhile his old playmate Nicolas Sarkozy is resurgent, talking tough on migration in a France transformed by the Nice and Paris attacks. He can't afford to let the anti-EU flag-bearers like Le Pen use Britain as a model of a way forward, which means he has dug in hard on Free Movement Of People. He met with May, he used his soundbite to reiterate that as much as Britain would like market access with immigration controls, this was non-negotiable, completely impossible.

THE GERMANS MAY BE MORE PLIABLE
Angela Merkel has taken inscrutability to the level of art form, but she did seem to be getting on with May when they met, the day after Hollande. For her part, May insisted that these were "Two women who get things done", Merkel nodded, later Instagrammed a picture of the pair's shoes and it seemed there was rapport in the air. But then David Cameron was always supposed to have had a great relationship with Merkel, rubbing his oily charm all over her, before she ultimately shafted him in the pre-referendum renegotiations. Merkel remains terrifyingly ineffable.

BREXIT MEANS LOADS OF MONEY FOR EVERYONE
In November 1939, plenty of people probably stood around saying "Well, y'know, this war against Germany isn't nearly as bad as we'd expected." That's one interpretation of what's become known as the Brexit Bounce: the unnerving phenomenon of how August brought us better consumer spending figures, lower unemployment and a lower deficit than at any point since the Great Recession. In addition, we've had the Bank of England pumping yet more money into the economy through QE and a rates cut. False dawn or no, we're in a decent position to wrangle whatever comes next. In the autumn, Philip Hammond, who has already torn up George Osborne's spending caps, may use his Autumn Statement to shower yet-more gold on our gilded shoulders.

EVERYTHING THAT USED TO HAPPEN WILL STILL HAPPEN
Before the result, a range of Remainian scientists panicked to various media that their research was funded by the EU and without Brussels, Britain would be a dismal cuckhole bereft of any world class research. But last week, Hammond came out to say that they would all receive funding guarantees up to and beyond 2020 from HM Government. The same guarantee, he said, would also apply to British farmers, who presently have money showered on them by the EU. Both of these pledges will be financed out of the money we're no longer sending abroad. So basically: everything will continue just as it was until such a time as it doesn't.

DESPITE ALL THE RECENT FINANCIAL GOOD NEWS, SOME BANKS ARE STILL PUSHING DESKS ABROAD
In the past month it's been reported that the big global investment banks are drawing up contingency plans to move some staff out of London in phases. They're already hedging their geographic futures because something called "passporting" is about to become a big bargaining chip in favour our EU foes. Passporting allows money to move instantly across the EU without much paperwork. Without it, Britain not only loses its EU entry point competitive advantage to US and far eastern investors, it becomes a particularly dismal place to do finance. This means that beyond immigration, the key point in any negotiations could come down to exactly how desperate Britain is to hang onto passporting.

THE EU ITSELF IS CLOSER TO RADICAL CHANGE
Italian PM Matteo Renzi has referendum troubles of his own, having promised a one on the Italian constitution this November. Given the present get-fucked mood of the world's electorates, he may not be around much longer, but last week he turned up for talks with Hollande and Merkel on the Italian island where the European Project was first conceived, by an Italian prisoner of war, Altiero Spinelli, some 70 years ago. The three leaders discussed revitalising the ailing project, but they didn't reveal the shape that might take. France wants more economic integration, the Italians more localised tax-and-spend, while the Germans will only pay lip service to both of these. The only thing everyone can agree on is that an EU Army is finally nearing reality. A full EU summit, on 16th September, will give all 27 leaders their first proper chance to gang up against Britain.

FOR NOW AT LEAST, THE SCOTS ARE IN NO POSITION TO WALK OUT ON BRITAIN
May's first trip as PM was an internal one, to Edinburgh, to see hopping mad Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP leader has been at "Krakatoa" on the rage-o-meter ever since her country was tugged out of the EU despite voting 62 percent in its favour. May bent over backwards to appear reasonable, agreeing that Edinburgh would always be consulted. Sturgeon has already appointed her own "minister for Brexit", to look out for Scottish interests in any negotiations. But the independence trip she was trying to lay on Westminster took a big beating this month, when it was revealed that the post-oil price crash the Scottish deficit had rocketed to 10.5 percent of GDP. That's much higher than even Greece's 7.2 percent. Right now they need the UK, and all of Scotland's hazy ideas to join the EU as an independent sovereign state have so far been laughed out by the Eurocracy.

BLOOMBERG SUGGEST THAT THERESA'S PEOPLE WILL OPEN PRELIMINARY PRE-ARTICLE 50 TALKS IN APRIL
But that's just a rumour based on them talking to two "sources" in the Cabinet Office. IDS told Radio 4 he thought The Triggering would take place in January. In truth, no one really knows.

@gavhaynes

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