Brexit Diaries 38: (Un-)Happy Brexit Day | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 19.06.2018
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Brexit Diaries 38: (Un-)Happy Brexit Day

Theresa’s magic money tree, broken promises and the boomerang, preaching Brexit and sucking at the teat in Europe: Two years after the referendum, smoke and mirrors still obscure the Brexit view.

This is Brexit anniversary week. Two years ago on June 23, 2016, a small majority of British voters decided to leave the EU and thereby inflict upon their country the most spectacular act of self-harm since the Suez crisis, as historically minded Remainers are wont to point out. The prime minister who oversaw the referendum has since been consigned to history himself: David Cameron went, Theresa May came in. She inherited the so-called will of the people and assured everyone that "Brexit means Brexit."

But, so far, she has yet to expand on that initial definition. May contrived to almost lose an unnecessary snap election intended to strengthen her hand and is still caught in an endless loop of false starts and denials. Her Cabinet is split between Brexiteers and Remainers, a sure recipe for a sustained lack of progress. Brexit Minister David Davis is reported to have had all of two meetings with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier since Christmas. Davis is not a details man and seems bored by the intransigence of the bloc on regulations and contracts.

All we have as of today is the outline of a divorce settlement that is now stuck behind the impasse of the Irish border question. Either condemn the Irish to live with a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland or accept a border running though the Irish sea or accept something like the Norwegian model and enter the European Economic Area. All of which May and the Brexiteers deem unacceptable.  

For months on end now, May has let her cabinet play with two solutions for a future customs agreement, neither of which the EU thinks acceptable. A Brexit White Paper will only be published in July, conveniently after the EU summit in Brussels and in the midst of the summer vacation. Anyone expecting any viable solutions may be sorely disappointed.

The whole process is a game of smoke and mirrors. Some attest Theresa May with a clever strategy. Others say it is simply chaos reigning. Only eight months till Brexit day and Britain does not know how food will be imported, medicines will reach hospitals, factories will receive the necessary materials. "The clock is ticking," Michel Barnier likes to repeat.  

Read more: Brexit Diaries 36: Another round of sound and fury

Theresa's magic money tree

The most devastating headline of all appeared in the usually harmless Metro. Thousands of Londoners pick up in the free paper in the mornings at their local stations. "Magic Money Theresa" screamed the front page. That hit home because during her election campaign last year, May had proven particularly tone deaf to the plight of voters.  When a nurse complained about her low salary, Theresa answered: "I don't have a magic money tree." But one seems to have grown in her garden now. 

Just this weekend, May promised GBP 20 billion ($26.3 billion, €22.8 billion) additional funding for the ailing National Health Service (NHS). And she suggested that part of that money could come from the so-called Brexit dividend. That is truly magic money. Because countless economists and the official Institute for Fiscal Studies in London have definitively stated: "There is no Brexit dividend."

Whatever Britain might save in EU contributions in later years will be swallowed by increased border controls, falling growth, production slow-downs and so on. Even the the conservative Times ran with an editorial saying that the statement about the Brexit dividend was "as mendacious as the lie on the big red bus."

The money for the health system will simply come from a tax rise. But that is unspectacular and rather bad propaganda.

Read more: Brexit Diaries 35: Theresa May begs for the UK's trust

A campaign bus promising 350 million pounds for the NHS

Extra funding for the NHS was a key pledge of the Leave campaign

Broken promises

Broken promises usually come back to haunt you, as the prime minister discovered at great cost. Last week, she only managed to avert a defeat in parliament, because she promised the Brexit-rebels in her party a meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. That secured their last-minute loyalty and they towed the government line. A day later, however, May could not remember what she had promised. Or had the rebels totally misunderstood her? The prime minister simply denied everything. 

The rebels were furious because they felt duped. And they managed to get their revenge with a little help from the Lords in the upper house. They again added a clause to the EU-Exit law, which would give parliament the final say on the Brexit deal or no deal. Lawmakers should not be in a position to tie the hands of government, the PM asserted. The Brexit rebels argue that it cannot be trusted to do the right thing for Britain because of sectarian warfare amongst the Tories.  

Read more: Brexit Diaries 34: Brace yourself, Theresa May

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Britain: Out of the EU, out with Europeans?

Preach water and drink wine

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the leading Brexiteer and a constant thorn in Theresa May's side. He is also being talked up as her possible successor. At the same time, he seems to have been outed as a blazing hypocrite as a man who does not let his politics interfere with his money making. The MP earned his fortune on the financial markets, even though he cultivates the image of the 18th century landed gentry. Now it was revealed that one of the city firms that he has helped set up has established an investment fund in Ireland.

"Somerset Capital Investment" fears for the earnings of future clients and explicitly cites Brexit as a cause for concern. It is the honorable Rees- Mogg however, who fosters that particular risk with a vengeance. As the front man of the "European Research Group" he stands for the cleanest possible break with the EU. Why does Britain need a customs arrangement with the EU at all? We can go it alone, is his credo.

But preaching this and placing your money where your mouth is, are two different things. The new SCI fund in Dublin states in its prospectus: "During, and possibly after (Brexit) there is likely to be considerable uncertainty as to the position of the UK and the arrangements which will apply to its relationship with the EU and other countries after its withdrawal." That sums things up pretty well one year after the start of talks. The fund also warns its clients about the consequences of a hard Brexit, which would "increase costs" and make it difficult to achieve its objectives (i.e. earn money).

But Jacob Rees-Mogg fended off all accusations of hypocrisy. The language was just legalese and setting up the fund had "nothing whatsoever” to do with Brexit. When in his career has the Moggster lost the capacity to blush?

Most of the online comments upon publication of this story are not fit to print being too heavy on four-letter words. "Odious” is one of the few quotable attributes.

Read more: Brexit Diaries 33: The House of Lords to the rescue

Brexit quotes of the week

What will you do with your Brexit dividend? Personally, I'd open a flying school for pigs…. Smo180

Brexiteers are like people who fly twice around the world and still pay an annual subscription to the flat earth society… Jason Beattie, Mirror

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