How Do You Solve a Problem Like 73 Empty Seats?

Meanwhile in Brussels… the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs is meeting today to scratch their heads on a tricky problem: Brexit Britain will leave behind 73 empty seats in the chamber. The next European Parliament elections are in 2019. What to do with those empty seats…

  1. Abolish them: The simple answer would be to abolish the United Kingdom’s seats and shrink the European Parliament (from 751 to 678 – not exactly a deep cut). But cutting the number of MEPs would mean leaving a lot of officials with less work to do and would be a symbolic body-blow. Is this likely to happen in a super-massive bureaucracy?
  2. Redistribute to other member states: The obvious answer – but then the question becomes how to distribute 73 seats between the remaining EU-27. You could even out the number of seats so as to distribute them equally between the remaining countries. Or you could distribute them proportionally according to the current number of MEPs per country. Or you could distribute them to less-represented countries. The numbers on this are being crunched
  3. Create a pan-European list: The most intriguing possibility is that Britain’s seats could be re-allocated to form a pan-European list, meaning every EU citizen could have a say in who should replace British MEPs. A European electoral college would run alongside the current party system. The idea ran into trouble in committee earlier this year but is still being actively campaigned forEurophiles call this “making elections European again”…
There is one other answer, of course. Who cares?

So Spain, What About Ceuta?

The Spanish have long argued – years before the referendum – that Gibraltar existing as a British enclave means the “disruption of national unity and territorial integrity” of Spain, and that it hurts the Spanish economy. There is just one question Theresa May and Boris Johnson need ask their Spanish counterparts: what about Ceuta? Ceuta (and another city, Melilla) are two low tax Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Morocco. They are the EU’s only land border with Africa. Morocco want them back, but the two enclaves are autonomous, have their own governments, and return deputies and senators to the Spanish parliament in Madrid. Well, Spain, do Ceuta and Melilla disrupt the economy, national unity and territorial integrity of Morocco? 

Clegg to ‘Hold Government to Account on Dramatically Reduced Immigration’

Curious that Nick Clegg has pledged to “hold the government to account over their Brexit contract with the British public”, including making sure that immigration is “dramatically reduced”. Huh? Clegg has been a vociferous supporter of free movement for years. He’s said, for example: “I want to be unequivocal: freedom of movement between EU member states is a good thing”. Just a few months ago he wrote a paper arguing it would be impossible for “control to be re-established” over immigration and for the UK economy to survive. Now he says he wants to hold the government to account on immigration being “dramatically reduced”? Did Clegg actually read that sign before he stood next to it? Wouldn’t be the first time…

Ryanair Now Say Brexit Means Cheaper Flights

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, backing the Remain campaign on 24 February 2016: “Europe is the one thing that has delivered low fare air travel and cheaper holidays for British citizens.”

Ryanair advert, today: “Brexit means Bargains”

The cheek of it!

Polish MP Complains About Jean-Claude Druncker

Polish MP Krystyna Pawłowicz has written to Jean-Claude Juncker complaining that his “obvious alcohol dependency” has become a “problem of the entire European community”. Pawłowicz claims Juncker’s drinking was “particularly distasteful and out of place” during the visit of Pope Francis and accuses him of “offensive” behaviour towards “women who were certainly too polite to ask you to take a rest”.

No one would ever have known

European Parliament Resolution Response Leaked

With the support of the leaders of the main integrationist blocs; Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE), Manfred Weber (PPE), Gianni Pitella (S&D), Philippe Lamberts/Ska Keller (Greens/EFA) and Danuta Hübner, Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee this now leaked draft resolution will probably be tabled later today. Under the slogan “United in Diversity” it is a tough starting position, warning there will be no giving ground. We shall see…

To download and read the Draft-Resolution in full click (PDF).

Hat-tip: Guardian

Leavers Walk Out of Brexit Committee Over Benn’s Highly Partisan Report

Leave-supporting members of the Brexit select committee walked out of a meeting this morning after Hilary Benn produced a report they found highly partisan and overly pessimistic. Last Wednesday Benn surprised committee members by revealing that he and the committee clerks were drawing up a report to be published on Friday this week, timed so Benn could get his name up in lights over the weekend. Guido is told there were no previous discussions with committee members about the report and no discussions about its conclusions.

Today Benn presented colleagues with his 150 page report. After an hour of talks this morning, Leave-supporting committee members decided that the report was so partisan, so gloomy and so pessimistic that there was no point trying to table amendments or seek changes. They were particularly disappointed that Benn had made no attempt to achieve balance or consensus among the committee, and that evidence from Ivan Rogers and representatives from Gibraltar was selectively quoted. There was no organised walkout, but after an hour of going round in circles the Brexit committee members decided to politely leave. They left the Remain committee members (who are obviously happy with the report) in the room.

Guido is told the Brexiteer committee members now see no other option but to publish a minority report. To be fair to the Leavers on the committee, they have worked with Benn and the Remainers on previous reports and tried to constructively seek a consensus. This was always going to be the problem with Benn being committee chair. Select committees are supposed to hold the government to account but also help them shape policy – highly partisan Hilary is just trying to obstruct the process…

Taxpayer Billed £100 Million After Government Breached EU Procurement Rules

The taxpayer has been hit with a £100 million bill after the government breached EU procurement rules over a contract to decommission nuclear power plants. Business Secretary Greg Clark today confirmed the compensation will be paid to American companies Energy Solutions and Bechtel after the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority awarded the £6 billion contract to Cavendish Fluor Group. Energy Solutions argued the decision breached the EU’s public procurement rules as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority did not “award the contract to the most economically advantageous tenderer”. This went against the EU’s Public Sector Directive, and therefore Energy Solutions were qualified for a remedy under the Remedies Directive. A giant cock-up by the government, but it’s EU law that has cost the taxpayer the equivalent of the salaries of 4,500 NHS nurses…

Early Deals ‘Ready to Go’ After Article 50

The government is ready to announce a series of early deals with the EU in the first few weeks and months after Article 50 is triggered. Government figures say they have been holding ‘informal’ talks with EU countries, in particular Germany, over a number of agreements that aim to show goodwill at the beginning of the negotiations and the potential for a mutually beneficial Brexit. This is at odds with the EU’s public line that there has been no negotiation before notification. A government source says: “There are deals ready to go. The Germans have agreed to them, but we can’t do it before Article 50”.

Examples of possible early deals being considered include over migrants and defence arrangements in Eastern Europe. Andrew Lilico has speculated about the kinds of early reciprocal deals that could be struck, for example formally granting Britain permission to negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries in return for some olive branch to Brussels and Berlin. The issue of Britons’ and migrants’ rights is obviously something Theresa May has said she wants to address early on. There is optimism in Whitehall that Germany – so far, behind the scenes – wants to work constructively…

Article 50 Triggered Next Wednesday March 29

The UK’s Permanent Representative to the European Union Sir Tim Barrow has this morning informed the office of European Council President Donald Tusk of the UK’s intention to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29 2017. Soon…

Triggering date is the birthday of both John Major and Norman Tebbit. Happy birthday!

May Launches “Plan For Britain” After Another Day of Dire Headlines

What do you do when your Chancellor is fighting for his political life and 13 of your MPs are facing CPS charging decisions and the possibility of election re-runs? What about throwing down the gauntlet to Nicola Sturgeon at lunchtime by rejecting IndyRef2, and then at tea time launching your “Plan for Britain”. Here it is…

UPDATE: Plan For Britain site down. Unfortunate. 

Davis Dismisses Major’s Claim That No Deal is Worst Outcome

Speaking to the Brexit select committee this morning, David Davis has dismissed John Major’s claim that no deal is the worst possible outcome. He made clear the government’s position is that no deal is “not as good an outcome as a free trade, friction-free, open agreement”, though insisted it would not mean a hard border with Ireland and offered this sensible assessment of a WTO Brexit:

It’s not as frightening as some people think but it’s not as simple as some people think. In the event that we don’t get [a deal] we will have a fairly extensive contingency plan which is already underway. And we will have, whatever happens, a sharply improved access to the rest of the world off the back of a large number of free trade agreements which will be coming into effect shortly after we leave… [No deal] is by no means the worst possible outcome. By no means.”

As Guido reported on Monday, this is the argument senior Leavers want the government to make a bit more forcefully. You can’t go into a negotiation if you aren’t prepared to walk away. 

Sir Keir Starmer, the Guardian et al are jumping on Davis saying no economic assessment of a WTO Brexit has yet been carried out. This is a bit of a red herring, they have repeatedly said planning is underway and Davis says they will have an assessment in a year’s time.

Hammond: Brexit Bill Won’t Be €60 Billion

Hammond says he doesn’t “recognise” the EU’s €60 billion Brexit bill figure though says Britain will pay what it owes…

And we will “fight back and forge new trade deals around the world” if we don’t get a trade deal with the EU…

The Lords Who Voted to Frustrate Brexit Process

Even most Remainers can surely see that the Lords voting down the government last night was about frustrating the process rather than helping either EU migrants or the Brexit deal. Goes without saying that tacking this amendment onto the Brexit bill oversteps the constitutional role of the second chamber. Below are the Lords that voted to delay the process. How many have you heard of?

Aberdare, L.
Adams of Craigielea, B.
Addington, L.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Allan of Hallam, L.
Allen of Kensington, L.
Altmann, B.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Anderson of Swansea, L.
Andrews, B.
Armstrong of Hill Top, B.
Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.
Bach, L.
Bakewell, B.
Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B.
Barker, B.

Continue reading

Bloomberg Thinks Bankers Bluffing About Brexodus

Remember that mass exodus from the City of London that was supposed to happen after the vote to Leave? In October British Bankers’ Association boss Anthony Browne predicted major banks would relocate in the first few months of 2017. The Observer reported:

“Britain’s biggest banks are preparing to relocate out of the UK in the first few months of 2017 amid growing fears over the impending Brexit negotiations, while smaller banks are making plans to get out before Christmas.”

At the time Guido offered Browne a £1,000 bet that not one leading bank will give up its UK banking licence next year to relocate to the EU.

As we enter March, even the City’s Remain-campaign-funding house journal Bloomberg is wondering “Are banks bluffing?”. Today they quote several City bosses who believe talk of an exodus is bluster. Jason Kennedy, CEO of finance recruitment firm Kennedy Group says:

“[The banks] are a bit like dogs backed into a corner and barking — it’s just noise. This is all about applying as much pressure as possible on the government to get the best deal. What have the banks have got to lose? Scream the house down and see what happens.”

“Barclays is planning to move only 150 jobs from London, if any”, Bloomberg reports, quoting their CEO Jes Staley:

“We don’t believe Brexit will result in a significant move of people away from London.”

“senior bank executive” believes “The banks are bluffing” and HSBC won’t move as many people as they have been threatening. And “One European banking boss quipped that the only way France would be top of his list would be if you turned it upside down”. Guido’s bet is still open to any takers…

Britain’s Brexit Negotiating Cards

Bloomberg has a handy series of charts showing the strength of the UK’s negotiating position relative to the EU. On defence, among the EU states, only Britain and France have nuclear weapons. Britain’s defence spending outstrips all other EU nations by at least £20 billion. The EU will still rely on British expertise for defence and security after Brexit…

The UK has the joint second largest number of votes on the IMF board among EU countries.

Brussels will face a shortfall of almost 12 billion Euros in their budget when Britain leaves. Preparations for the next EU budget round will begin around the time the UK leaves, increasing the pressure on Brussels bean counters.

The City of London is home to the continent’s largest banks and trillions of Euros of their assets.

The UK is one of the richest European economies and its GDP per capita far outweighs the EU average.

Obviously, Britain was one of the EU’s most attractive destinations for internal migration. Remember, the negotiating hand is strong…

Top Merkel Ally Slaps Down Juncker Over Brexit Bill

A top ally of Angela Merkel has strongly criticised Jean-Claude Juncker for threatening Britain with a “very hefty” Brexit bill on day one of the negotiation. CDU Home Affairs spokesman Stephan Meyer told the Today programme:

“I am not very happy, to be frank, with the statement of Jean-Claude Juncker. The negotiations haven’t started yet and I think it’s not very clever and it’s not very fair also to mention such sums and such amounts… It’s not very smart now to start these negotiations with such amounts which are mentioned.”

This backs up the report in yesterday’s Times which said Merkel was siding with Britain over Juncker and Michel Barnier over an immediate Brexit bill. It is possible that Britain will end up paying a smaller charge for the future aspects of the relationship we want to keep, for example the Erasmus programme for students. What Theresa May cannot accept is a €60 billion bill on day one of the negotiations. The government’s plan has always been to appeal to German self-interest rather than deal with, as ministers call them in private, the “ayatollahs of the European Commission”…

May in the Lords

Theresa May and Commons leader David Lidington are sitting on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords as they begin their Brexit debate this afternoon, to remind peers of the democratic mandate issued by the elected chamber. Sound.

UPDATE: Another angle:

68% Want Government to Get On With Brexit

A new ICM poll for Change Britain confirms Tony Blair’s delusion. 68% of voters want the government to “get on with implementing the result of the referendum”, compared to just 15% who disagree. Even more Remain voters (42%) agree with the statement than disagree (33%). When this question was last polled in December, 26% of Remainers wanted the government to get on with the job compared to 40% who disagreed. The Blairite / Open Britain talk of Leave voters changing their minds is fantasy – it is Remainers who are changing their minds and now want the government to deliver Brexit…

UPDATE: Dominic Raab says:

“These figures show how out of touch Tony Blair is with the mood of the country. Far from wanting to reverse the referendum, the overwhelming majority want the result respected and for politicians to get on with making a success of Brexit.”

Boris: Rise Up and Turn TV Off Next Time Blair is On

BoJo adds for good measure that Blair’s speech was “insulting the intelligence of the electorate” and points out he would have taken Britain into the Euro and “dragooned” us into the Iraq War. The Labour and Tory leaderships are united in condemning Blair’s speech…[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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