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Mrs May shuffles the cards in Florence but cannot change them

 

By Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

25th September 2017

 

The limited concessions outlined in Theresa May’s Florence speech will probably have been enough to prevent the immediate breakdown of the Brexit talks, a breakdown which seemed at the beginning of the month a real possibility. They are, however, insufficient to reassure the EU 27 that enough progress has been made in the first tranche of negotiations (covering Ireland, citizens’ rights and the budget/exit bill) to move onto the issue of principal interest to the British government: future trade relations. The difficulties Mrs. May faced within her party in the days preceding (and, not least, following) her Florence speech illuminate how politically difficult, and probably impossible it will be for her to go significantly beyond the concessions she alluded to in Italy. The speech itself moreover continues to reflect a number of the crippling fantasies and misconceptions which make it difficult for this Conservative government to limit the economic damage arising from Brexit. Continue reading Mrs May shuffles the cards in Florence but cannot change them

BREXIT: Labour makes a move but is it in the right direction?

BREXIT: Labour makes a move but is it in the right direction?

 

 

By Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

1st September 2017

 

The recent article by Keir Starmer, Labour spokesman on Brexit, setting out the Party’s commitment to continued British membership of the EU single market and the customs union for a transitional period post-Brexit is a welcome and significant development in the European debate. In the short term it will give Labour a political and intellectual basis on which to criticize the government’s conduct of the Brexit negotiations, particularly in relation to the form of the transitional period to which the government is now committed. It would be overoptimistic however to claim that the Starmer initiative represents a comprehensive or sustainable approach to Brexit over the longer run. “Constructive ambiguity” stays in place, even if it is now more intelligently constructed. Continue reading BREXIT: Labour makes a move but is it in the right direction?

The Brexit transition deal debate: an exercise in futility

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

15th August 2017

 

On almost every day since Theresa May went on holiday in late July, the British public has been treated to the contradictory and often self-contradictory thoughts of various ministers about the desirability, inevitability or unacceptability of a “transition” period after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Apart from its very public and divisive nature, this debate has been remarkable in a number of respects. It is bizarre that such a fundamental discussion within government is only now taking place, more than a year after the EU referendum; the terms of the debate have remained notably confused and ill-defined; the controversy has been pursued with an insular indifference towards the views of the other members of the EU, and it is unclear towards what final goal this period of transition should serve as a preparation. This whole strange episode, which now appears to have run its course in time for the Prime Minister’s return, has reflected many of the underlying incoherent self-deceptions of the Brexit project. Continue reading The Brexit transition deal debate: an exercise in futility

No good choices for the British government in the Brexit negotiations

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

20th July 2017

 

David Davis has been criticized in some quarters for spending only two hours in Brussels this week negotiating with Michel Barnier before returning hurriedly to London. This criticism is misplaced. As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. Davis needs to exercise the closest possible control on all the negotiations relating to Brexit. Most of these negotiations are currently taking place in London, within the government of which Mr. Davis is a member. The EU’s negotiators have, as is well known, been able to impose on the negotiations in Brussels a “sequencing” of topics to be discussed. Similar “sequencing” applies to the London end of the negotiations.  Mr. Davis needs to conclude his Brexit negotiations with his colleagues in London before he can rationally engage in  Brexit negotiations with Mr. Barnier.  These negotiations in London show little sign however of coming to any early conclusion. Continue reading No good choices for the British government in the Brexit negotiations

A chaotic Brexit is still a possibility

A chaotic Brexit is still a possibility

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

28th June 2017

 

 

The terms of the political debate about Brexit in the aftermath of the General Election are gradually becoming clearer. Since the project of Brexit is an essentially irrational one, its discussion will always tend towards paradox and conundrum. Nevertheless, the weeks since the General Election have clarified the choices with which the British government and other political actors are likely to find themselves confronted over the coming months. How they will react to these choices remains as much a matter of speculation as ever. Continue reading A chaotic Brexit is still a possibility

The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

13th June 2017

 

The parallels between the European referendum of 2016 and the General Election of 2017 are striking. Both were risky and avoidable events, called into being exclusively by the perceived political advantage of the Conservative Party. They were both carried out with complacent incompetence by the Prime Ministers of the day and led to precisely the opposite outcomes to those desired by Mr. Cameron and Mrs. May. Mr. Cameron’s foolishness paved the way for the potential national catastrophe of Brexit and cost him his Premiership. Mrs. May is not expected to remain long as Prime Minister after the electoral humiliation of 8th June. It is however too early to calculate with precision all the consequences of a minority Conservative government in a hung Parliament. Those who now see a possibility of “softening” or even preventing entirely the looming disaster of Brexit may be premature in their optimism. A yet more disorderly and damaging Brexit is a distinct possibility emerging from the election of 8th June. Continue reading The dilemmas of Brexit have not been changed by the election

After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

 

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

 

 

It should have come as little surprise that the election called by Mrs. May, supposedly to set the tone for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, should have contained so little serious discussion of that crucial issue. Opinion polls have long demonstrated that the European Union is a matter of consuming interest only to a small portion of the electorate; the main party of opposition, the Labour Party, has naturally wished to focus its criticism of the government on policy areas in which the Conservative Party is generally regarded as weak, such as the welfare state; and the Liberal Democrats, who had entered the election campaign with high hopes of garnering an “anti-Brexit” electoral bonus, are still too politically enfeebled to be able to generate a European debate within the electoral campaign by their own efforts. It is not only Mrs. May’s European partners who are indifferent to her claim that a reinforced Parliamentary majority will help her in the Brexit negotiations. It appears the British electorate do not care much either. Continue reading After the election comes the painful Brexit reality

The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

 

by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust

 

Announcing her decision to call for a general election in June, the Prime Minister claimed that “every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with … the European Union.”  Although she did not say so, Mrs. May reportedly also believes that an increased Parliamentary majority after the election will strengthen her hand in dealing with internal dissent on the European issue within her own party. Mrs. May’s hopes are likely to be disappointed in both cases. Continue reading The Brexit election will not make Brexit easier for Mrs. May

Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

 

 

By Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

 

In a controversial article last week the associate editor of the Financial Times Wolfgang Muenchau asserted that after the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty it was now inevitable that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. Those who had voted “remain” in last year’s referendum should renounce their anger at and resentment of the present government’s negotiating tactics. They could more usefully devote their energies to reappraising the unsuccessful arguments they had put forward in last year’s referendum. They could thus prepare themselves better for future debate about eventual British re-entry into the European Union.   Wolfgang Muenchau is a respected and influential commentator, but on this occasion his arguments are unpersuasive.  The fortnight since the triggering of Article 50 has shown with embarrassing clarity the frivolous and incoherent nature of the whole Brexit project. It is a strange conclusion to draw from these developments that the United Kingdom cannot in any circumstances abandon the self-damaging path on which the Conservative government, or more precisely a segment of this government’s supporters, have set themselves. Continue reading Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit

Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority

Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority

 

By Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

 

During the EU referendum of last year, there was much talk of the supposed estrangement between British voters and their political representatives. The narrow victory of the Brexit camp has since often been cited as proof of this estrangement, given that the overwhelming majority of Parliamentarians favoured remaining in the European Union. If there was indeed some gap of political preferences on the European issue between Parliamentarians and voters last year, this gap has now been replaced by another, more flagrant asymmetry. Voters wishing to leave the European Union may have been statistically underrepresented in Parliament in 2016, but those wishing to remain in the Union or to leave only on consensual terms are in 2017 deprived of any effective Parliamentary representation whatsoever. The Conservative government has met disturbingly little Parliamentary opposition in its chaotic course towards the most disruptive of Brexits. Almost without exception, Parliamentarians have allowed themselves to be cowed into submission by the novel and dangerous concept of the “popular will” supposedly manifested in the advisory referendum of 23rd June 2016. Continue reading Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority