|Author (Person)||Savage, Michael|
|Series Title||The Guardian|
As Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom moved to Phase 2 (discussing the implementation phase and the future nature of the long-term relationship) in February 2018, the governing Conservative Party in the United Kingdom seemed increasingly riven by division between those arguing for a clear break (Hard Brexit) with the EU and those arguing for the UK to maintain a mutually beneficial close relationship with the EU (Soft Brexit).
As part of this leading Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP, Bernard Jenkin, MP and Lord Lawson (the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson) suggested that the Civil Service were actively campaigning against a hard Brexit by leaking sensitive information concerning the likely economic impact of Brexit.
In this commentary feature Andrew Turnbull, a former head of the UK Civil Service, suggested that these Brexiteers were adopting dangerous tactics similar to those of rightwing German nationalists between the two world wars.
Robin Butler, another former cabinet secretary, said he believed the actions were part of a deliberate 'Brexiteer process of intimidation'.
The divisions within the Conservative Party led to a questioning of the leadership of Theresa May.
News sources quoted on the 5 February 2018 said that a Downing Street spokesman had made clear that the UK would leave the EU customs union after Brexit. However, commentators noted that this might not preclude an agreement on some form of special customs arrangements.
In response, EU lead negotiator Michel Barnier said while on a visit to London on the 5 February 2018: 'our future partnership between the UK and the EU. On that point we need also clarity about the UK's proposals for the future partnership. The only thing I can say now is that without a customs union- and being outside the Single Market - barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice'.
News sources over the weekend of 10-11 February 2018 indicated that Downing Street had made it clear that the Prime Minister and senior ministers would make a series of six Road to Brexit speeches over the coming days to try and clarify what it wanted from the EU.
Conservative MPs belonging to the hard Brexit European Research Group (ERG) wrote to Theresa May in a letter dated the 16 February 2018 saying that the UK must have 'full regulatory autonomy' after March 2019.
Another Conservative MP, Nicky Morgan, who advocated a soft Brexit responded 'This isn’t a letter, it is a ransom note. The ERG clearly think they have the prime minister as their hostage'.
These skirmishes came in advance of a special meeting of the 'Brexit war cabinet' at Chequers on the 22 February 2018 at which Theresa May would attempt with her senior cabinet colleagues to firm up what the UK would ask for in a future trading relationship with the EU.
In advance of this meeting, and in formal response to the European Commission Position Paper called Transitional Arrangements in the Withdrawal Agreement on the 7 February 2018, the Department for Exiting the European Union issued a Draft Text For Discussion: Implementation Period on the 21 February 2018.
No formal announcement was published after the Chequers meeting, but news sources on the 23 February 2018 suggested that an agreement had been reached within the Brexit war cabinet on a strategy of 'managed divergence' for future UK-EU relations. Theresa May was due to clarify more in a speech on the 2 March 2018.
The attacks on the civil service took place in early February 2018 just as the United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and key cabinet ministers were due to meet on the 7 and 8 February 2018 within the Brexit sub-committee to try and agree on a UK position on the details of a final deal with the EU that could keep the Conservative Party together.
During the same week the UK Prime Minister Theresa May held meetings of senior Cabinet Ministers within the Brexit Sub-Committee on the 7 and 8 February 2018 to attempt to try and agree on a UK proposal for of a final deal with the EU that could keep a divided Conservative Party together. News sources quoted on the 5 February 2018 said that a Downing Street spokesman had made clear that the UK would leave the EU customs union after Brexit. However, commentators noted that this might not preclude an agreement on some form of special customs arrangements.
Michel Barnier said in London on the 5 February 2018 in this context: 'our future partnership between the UK and the EU. On that point we need also clarity about the UK's proposals for the future partnership. The only thing I can say now is that without a customs union - and being outside the Single Market - barriers to trade and goods and services are unavoidable. The time has come to make a choice'.
On the 9 February 2018 Michel Barnier gave a downbeat assessment of the state of the negotiations. In particular, in connection with the issue of preventing a return to a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There would be a need to maintain full regulatory alignment with the rules of the Single Market and the Customs Union – current or future – which supported North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday Agreement. As a result, and because the UK had come up with no practical operational solutions, the European Commission would need to legally define how this scenario would work in operational terms.
Commentators saw this as an ultimatum from the European Commission forcing the UK Government to come down on the side of a continued participation in the EU Customs Union or to take the Brexiteers line and not accept any such continued participation and, potentially, no agreed transitional period deal.
Other continuing disagreements between the two sides involved:
+ the UK's refusal to guarantee permanent rights to EU nationals who came to live and work in the UK after March 2019 during the transition period
|Countries / Regions||United Kingdom|