Brexit Diaries 32: A taste of sweet solidarity | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.03.2018
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Brexit Diaries 32: A taste of sweet solidarity

Westminster is thanking its fellow Russian-dismissing friends. Meanwhile, it seems Brexit may bring about Britain's exit from space, the Leave campaign is accused of cheating and France has caused a UK passport stir.

Brexiteer Boris Johnson for once this week appeared in his day job as foreign minister to announce he was "deeply grateful" to his friends and allies for the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the cold war. Every one had acted to defend their own values and out of "solidarity with Britain." Boris was of course talking about the increasing isolation of Russia and not of the UK after Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May had returned from last week's summit in Brussels to headlines praising a "great success for British diplomacy." Instead it had been easy, sitting at the big round table with the other European leaders and pleading for their support against Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression. German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular had her back and roped in support from other member countries. She knows Putin and understands his type of power psychology. There comes a point when you have to push back.

But it is also known that Merkel thinks Brexit is an annoying mistake. How much political capital she wants to invest in Britain after they have become, in EU-speak, a "third country" is anybody's guess. The days of easy solidarity are likely to end on March 29, 2019.

Will Brexit bring exit from space?

It's like hyenas feeding out there. This description of a cutthroat business environment came from industry insiders talking about the future of the EU's Galileo program. It is Europe's answer to the US-controlled GPS system, which is supposed to take a piece from their worldwide market share and make Europe independent in the military sector.

ISS Tim Peake Selfie (ESA/NASA/Tim Peake)

Brexit may mean bad news for the UK space program

In January the EU Commission had written a letter to the British government announcing that the next generation of contracts would be put out to tender without British participation. Howls of fury are now ringing out from Whitehall and the British space industry. Brussels argues that after Brexit the UK will be barred from access to the hyper sensitive information at the heart of the project.

"It's an outrage," fumed UK Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, who cited the close security partnership his country would pursue after Brexit. But that partnership can only be agreed upon after the UK has left the EU and the Galileo contracts have to be finalized before that. London suspects that all this is just a ruse and a blatant excuse to favor French and German contractors.

Read more: EU warns of post-Brexit trade 'frictions,' rejects UK ambitions for unique trade deal

That may very well be the case. But who told British industry that Brexit would be painless? A certain Boris Johnson was involved flogging this particular fantasy by promoting his cake analogies. Now who would choose to believe in BoJo's flights of fancy? They have nobody to blame but themselves.

Has 'Vote Leave' been cheating?

The fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal has now reached Brexit. At the center of the story is the official Vote Leave campaign, headed by conservative Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Rumors about links to grey sources of finance and logistical support have been swirling for months. But now a whistleblower has claimed in the Observer newspaper that a 625,000 pound (€714,000, $885,000) donation from Vote Leave was channeled to a proxy organization called BeLeave. And from there it is alleged to have gone to the digital data firm AggregateIQ, which in turn has links to Cambridge Analytica.

Großbritannien Sitz von Cambridge Analytica in London (Reuters/H. Nicholls)

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has reached Brexit

Is that complicated enough for everybody? The point is that Vote Leave is accused of having illegally overspent on their campaign by 625,000 pounds, washing that money by rerouting it to a sister group which was no independent actor and even used the same offices. The Independent Election Commission is being called to investigate the case.

Read more: What you need to know about Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Remainers are furious and want a repeat referendum. They see this case as more proof for the mendaciousness of the whole Leave campaign and a hit against the legal standing of the vote. Not only did they use fake facts and false claims to support their cause, they also spent much more money than the other side and used the dark arts of digital influencing to change people's minds on Brexit. These are the accusations in a nutshell.

Patriotic passports made in France

Around Christmas Theresa May announced that British passports would become navy blue again. Brexiteers were overjoyed at this sign of taking back control. Even a debate about the exact color of Britain's pre-EU passports could not dampen their excitement. Whether they had been black or really, really dark blue seemed after all a minor question.

Brexit Passport UK (picture alliance/empics)

The UK is returning to its older, darker passports, but were they black or blue?

EU politicians quickly poked a hole into this patriotic balloon. Red passports were not mandatory in the EU. Britain could have changed their color to pink or baby blue any time. No need for Brexit, really.

But now the joy is replaced by anger. It turned out that the contract for printing the new British passports has gone to French-Dutch company Gemalto. They had an open tender bid lower than British De La Rue and won the order, worth 490 million pounds. Former Brexit minister Priti Patel called this a "disgraceful" and "perverse" result. How could the most patriotic of passports be made on foreign soil?

Unfortunately for the critics, Britain is still a member of the EU for another year and the transition period and has to obey the rules of public procurement.

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