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Brexit Briefing: Steve Baker Rises

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1) This Week We Were Introduced To ‘The Baker Doctrine’

The Brexit story which should have dominated this week was the European Union publishing its guidelines for negotiations around the post-March 2019 transition period. Instead, thanks to a top scoop by BuzzFeed News (all credit to them), it was about the economic impact of Brexit on the UK.

The document, titled ‘EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” and dated January 2018, analysed three potential outcomes of the Brexit negotiations: joining the European Economic Area; a comprehensive free trade deal; and ‘no deal’. Each analysis predicted stunted growth compared to the UK staying in the EU.

As soon as it was published a round of smearing, dismissing and ignoring began by Brexiteers.

The highlight was Steve Baker, minister in the Department for Exiting the EU which produced the document, telling MPs to pay no heed to the draft, incomplete analysis because forecasts are “always wrong.”

He then proceeded to claim that the forecasts predicted growth anyway.

A few minutes after saying forecasts are always wrong.

This shall hence forth be known as The Baker Doctrine.

One of the key questions about the whole debacle was who ordered civil servants to carry out a piece of work analysing Brexit outcomes which aren’t Government policy.

Downing Street wouldn’t 100% confirm it was a Minister who ordered the work, saying instead that civil servants were “empowered” to carry out such analysis.

The Brexiteer sense that the supposedly politically-neutral civil service has been compromised was articulated by Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Commons on Thursday, when he asked Baker if he had heard the rumour “that officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union are bad, and that officials intend to use the model to influence policy?”

Baker confirmed he had heard the rumour, but while he considered it “implausible”, he did not outright reject it.

Back to the document itself, and despite Theresa May telling reporters that making the draft report public would be wrong, she didn’t order her MPs to vote down a Labour motion to have it handed over to MPs.

Talk about being in Government but not in power.

For one Tory minister, it was all too much. Justice Minister Phillip Lee took to Twitter to argue it was time for the Government’s Brexit plan to be led by “evidence, not dogma”. Airing that view in public earned him a dressing by the Chief Whip, although Lee has not deleted the tweets.

In contrast, when Jacob Rees-Mogg and other hardline-Brexit Tories were invited in by Chief Whip Julian Smith on Tuesday to discuss their criticisms of the Government’s apparently softening position on the implementation phase, they were given home-made Victoria Sponge.

That really is having your cake and eating it too.

2) In A Shock To No One, The EU Wants Something Different To The UK From The Implementation Period

Over in Brussels, and on Monday EU negotiators agreed the bloc’s demands for the post-Brexit transition period.

Two differences from the UK’s position leapt out of the document immediately.

One is that the EU wants the UK to abide by all new laws passed by Brussels during the transition period, even though Britain will have no say in those directives. David Davis made it clear in a speech on Friday he wanted there to be a way of “resolving concerns” over laws which affect the UK during the two-year period – although many will want Britain to ignore them completely.

The other difference is the EU wants everything agreed in the first phase of talks to be “translated faithfully in legal terms as quickly as possible.” This demand would lock down the financial agreement, citizens’ rights and Irish border issue before the final trade deal is known, and goes against the long-running Brussels edict of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Putting the phase one agreement in a legally binding form would further rile up Tory backbenchers who worry the EU is calling all the shots in this negotiation, meaning this could prove another sticking point for the talks.

3) Freedom Of Movement, But Not As We Know It

One area that has particularly wound up the right of the Tories is that freedom of movement will continue during the two-year implementation period.

During a visit to China, Theresa May tried – yet again – to appease that wing of her party, saying new EU migrants coming to the UK after March 2019 should not expect to be granted full citizens’ rights.

The Prime Minister said those who arrived after Brexit would have to be treated differently from their predecessors “because they will be coming to a UK that they know will be outside the EU”.

May has already stressed that three million European nationals currently living in the country will be guaranteed voting and residency rights once Britain formally quits the 28-nation bloc.

But critics – including former Labour minister Lord Adonis – dubbed the move a “big step back for civilised European conduct”, asking what the government will do if the EU starts “mistreating” British citizens.  

Some campaigners have claimed that up to two million migrants could head to the UK during the two-year transition period before the country formally severs its existing ties with the EU.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week sparked Tory claims that he wanted to unpick parts of a deal agreed with May late last year.

Instead of ending EU citizens’ rights to vote or reside in Britain after the spring of next year, Brussels now says it wants full protections to be extended to the end of 2020, its own deadline for the end of the transition period.

Asked if the EU had “torn up” the deal on citizens’ rights she thought she had agreed in December, May replied: “No.”

“It was right that we have made an agreement that ensured they [new EU migrants] could continue their life in the way they had wanted to,” she told reporters.

People will be free to work and live in the UK during the two-year transition period after 2019, but they will be required to join a registration scheme.

However, the PM felt the “principle” of differential treatment between those who arrived before and after Brexit was worth maintaining.

4) Who Says The Germans Don’t Have A Sense Of Humour?

As hard as this is to believe, Angela Merkel is making jokes at the UK’s expense at the moment. According to ITV Political Editor Robert Peston, the German Chancellor repeatedly asks Theresa May to tell her what she wants from Brexit. In true Maybot fashion, the PM keeps responding: “Make me an offer.”

The laughter is falling flat in the UK though, with ants-in-yer-pants syndrome spreading through the Government. One Minister told me this week May really needs to make a decision on what Brexit deal she actually wants – and soon. “It’s not going to get easier with time,” they said.

Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…

At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.

Maike Bohn and Axel Antoni on how Theresa May is “adding to the woes” of EU citizens in the UK

Anand Menon and Alan Wager on how, 18 months on, the referendum is still increasingly dividing the nation

Keith Taylor MEP on why the idea of a green Brexit is a ’comic book fantasy;

George Kassimeris on the ‘political elegance’ of Emmanuel Macron

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Written by Lukas in February 2, 2018
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