The UK's Brexit minister is calling for an implentation period when there is nothing to implement. Meanwhile, Theresa May has failed to impress at Davos and a love affair could spell the end of UKIP.
A group of businesspeople had been shipped off to a warehouse near Middlesbrough, or in London terms, the middle of nowhere. It was an occasion for David Davis to wax lyrical about the joys of the transition phase after Brexit: "This will be a relationship where respect flows both ways," he told them. The minister is calling it an "implementation period" — the mother of all euphemisms, given that so far, there is nothing to implement. Not even a vague outline of a future EU-UK deal can be seen on the horizon.
EU negotiators are treating the exercise more matter-of-factly. For them, it's a transition period. If all else fails, it could even be the transition to a cliff edge. The guidelines for 2019 and 2020 are quite simple: Continue with the status quo for everything, from regulation to immigration to the European Court of Justice. The only thing in a state of flow is Britain's budget contribution into the EU's coffers. The end date for that is December 31, 2020 and the UK will of course have no voting or other participatory rights during this phase.
It's a stab in the heart for hardcore Brexiteers. The UK will turn into a "vassal state," Jacob Rees-Mogg howled from the Tory backbenches. Davis is therefore trying his best to sweeten the pill: He's demanded a special review mechanism for new EU laws and the right to register EU citizens in Britain.
May Day at Davos
When Theresa May began her speech at Davos, the room was only half full. And before it ended, many spectators had already left again. Admittedly the prime minister had drawn the graveyard slot after lunch, when audiences tend to be sleepy and listless. And at least the stage did not fall apart. The luckless PM will forever be measured against her disastrous performance at last year's Tory conference.
But instead of taking the bull by the horns and going full out for her version of Brexit before this truly global audience, Theresa May once again chose safety. Britain wants to be at the forefront of technology; the country's future lies in the development of artificial intelligence, she explained. But why does her government not apply some ordinary human intelligence in order to deal with its current political chaos, instead of waiting for algorithms to solve the Brexit conundrum? No answer was forthcoming.
As is so often the case, Brexit was again the elephant in the room. May is not a riveting speaker, in fact, she's known for her somewhat robotic delivery. Maybe she should avoid too much tech talk, or the moniker "Maybot" could stick to her permanently.
A short meeting with Donald Trump on the sidelines only marginally lifted the spirit of British observers. They were "liking each other a lot," the president assured Theresa May. And it was a "false rumor" that something was wrong with the relationship between Britain and the US. "We're on the same wavelength," he insisted, though that might turn out to be a dangerous place. May nevertheless repeated her invitation to Trump to come to the UK on a "working visit." That means no Queen, but it will still be a security nightmare. May is still clearly willing to bend over backwards to achieve that elusive goal of a special trade agreement with the US after Brexit.
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Return of civil war among the Tories
It is rumored that Theresa May has put off her big next Brexit speech. It was planned for February and was supposed to determine the direction of the future relationship with the EU. But she can't make up her mind and her cabinet is split.
In Davos, Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated that he wanted only the most "modest changes" in the trading relationship between the UK and the EU. This led to screams of fury and renewed threats by ardent Leavers that they would scupper the vote in parliament or even bring down the prime minister. The number of mutineers is supposed to be close to the required 48 MPs for a vote of no confidence.
Arch-Brexiteer Boris Johnson, on the other hand, was slapped down by May's allies when he demanded an extra 5 billion pounds for the ailing NHS health system. The money should be taken from the "Brexit dividend," Johnson explained. But according to the governor of the Bank of England, there is no such thing. He's now warning that Brexit is costing Britain more than 200 million pounds a week in lost growth.
And so the two sides merrily beat each other up. Hardline Brexiteers battle cautious Remainers and even supporters of a softer Brexit. Theresa May is being buffeted from all sides and avoids making decisions. She wavers and wobbles and fights for political survival. Somebody in London should get a grip. But so far nobody has stuck their head above the parapet because it would be shot off from the enemy trenches. Observers in Brussels don't know whether they should laugh or cry.
Is love leading to the downfall of UKIP?
After UK Independence Party leader Henry Bolton left his wife and young children to pursue love and happiness with 25-year-old Jo Marney, his life and his party imploded in quick succession. The bleached blonde is described as a model but has made the headlines by being a blatant racist — most notably for using extremely unsavory language about Prince Harry's fiancee Meghan Markle.
UKIP demanded Bolton either give up his love interest or the party leadership. At first he seemed to relent, saying it would break his heart but he would let her go. Shortly after, however, the two were seen together again and Bolton admitted they were still an item, somehow, as friends. The party's governing committee felt duped and voted him out. A courageous decision, because Henry Bolton is the fourth man to front the party in the last two years and volunteers for the job are thin on the ground.
British papers had a field day with the love-struck couple. Bolton held a surreal press conference by the seaside in Folkestone and announced that he had made up his mind. He would stick to his guns — and his girlfriend. Even though his private life was "in a bit of a mess" he absolutely refused to step down as leader of the party. UKIP in the meantime is rapidly losing members and seems ready to implode. It is running out of personnel, money and sponsors. A love affair is about to bring down the Brexit's political cradle. It's a farce pretending to be a tragedy and you really couldn't make it up.
In the meantime, UKIP's creator, Nigel Farage, has seen the writing on the wall. He's announced that he wants to start a new political movement. May the force be with him.