Theresa May: push on with Brexit
Downing Street says the Cabinet agreed that Article 50, the formal move to Brexit, will not require a parliamentary vote. It also spelt out that while the devolved assemblies including Scotland would be consulted they had no veto over the timing or content of Brexit.No. 10 says that Theresa May told the Cabinet she wanted to “push ahead” with Article 50. She’s given commitments to EU leaders including Angela Merkel that the process will start early in 2017. I understand that she feels very strongly she wouldn’t want to break that commitment and that she does not regard March as “early next year.” If her plans run to schedule the formal application to leave triggering 2 year time-limited negotiations would come in January 2017 or February at the latest.
It looks warm in the pictures of the Chequers Cabinet meeting. David Davis appears to have broken into quite a sweat. Boris Johnson and Liam Fox compete for supportive nods as the Prime Minister says how a second referendum was out of the question (wasn’t that Boris Johnson’s pet idea not so long ago?).
Sitting by a window, side by side, you see the PM’s joint Chiefs of Staff, her special advisers from her time at the Home Office, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. They are seen by ministers and civil servants as real powers in the land, a sort of triumvirate with the PM herself.
No. 10 said the deal Britain was looking for “must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services.” This isn’t how everyone in the Tory Party sees things. Quite a few MPs think there should be an absolute rejection of Freedom of Movement not controls or tweaks to the principle. It’s not clear the EU is up for such terms.
Theresa May has been pretty consistent on Freedom of Movement. At her leadership campaign launch in July she chose her words very carefully. She said the referendum result showed “there is clearly no mandate for Freedom of Movement as it has worked hitherto.” She went on: “We must do something on Freedom of Movement, we must bring some controls in.” That could mean any number of different restrictions of Freedom of Movement but, once again, there’s no sign the EU is ready to make such concessions.
Back in Whitehall, the departmental shake-up triggered by Brexit, is taking shape. Theresa May decided early in the leadership contest to succeed David Cameron that there needed to be (probably for political rather than administrative reasons) a new separate department for negotiating the exit with a Brexit supporter as its Secretary of State. She could have just boosted the European and Global Issues Secretariat in the Cabinet Office but felt Brexit supporters wouldn’t trust a process that was hugged so close to No. 10.
It’s looking like David Davis’ department will actually end up with about 175 to 200 staff, making it smaller than the Department of Culture. Whitehall is hoping that individual departments will all contribute to the process building up specialised knowledge of what their stakeholders want from the EU deal and any future trade deals outside the EU which the Brexit Department and the Trade Department can tap into.
Big money hirings from outside the civil service haven’t really started. Some big name accountancy and consulting firms have been more than happy to fill the gap and lend some pro bono expertise to the Brexit effort. Hannah White of the Institute for Government says they are hoping for business in the future and that Whitehall will want to police the Chinese walls carefully with such an influx of outsiders at such a critical time.
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