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Responding to Theresa May’s Brexit speech today, Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:

“So now we know: Theresa May has given up on the Single Market before negotiations have even begun, whatever the cost - the cost in jobs, the cost in trade, the cost to our economy. Britain is leaving the European Union, but the choices about how we leave will sit with Theresa May and the government - and this looks like a Tory plan that will make most people poorer.

“And despite all of this, we still don’t have clarity on what she actually wants to achieve in terms of our future trading relationship with Europe. So despite the all the talk we still face uncertainty, putting even more jobs at risk.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2016

May is giving up before negotiations begin, warn Labour MEPs

Responding to Theresa May’s Brexit speech today, Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:

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Nearly seven months on from the referendum, Theresa May claims today to be setting out the government's Brexit plan. But while she'll doubtless make eye-catching statements on trade, the economy and immigration, will it actually be a plan? Glenis Willmott MEP looks at five key questions the prime minister should be addressing in her speech:

1. How will the government protect the economy from the uncertainty caused by the prime minister's own statements?

The mood music over the weekend seemed to signal Theresa May is intending to go for a Hard Brexit and take Britain out of the Single Market and Customs Union. The threat of tariffs, trade barriers and being cut off from our biggest market saw the pound plunge once again as panic spread. If this is indeed what the government signals as its intentions, how will May assuage the concerns of exporters, manufacturers and the financial services industry who need to maintain their relationships within the Single Market? Job losses and reduced GDP are likely outcomes of such a strategy - how will the prime minister manage this? She can’t possibly give every company and industry affected promises of a sweetheart deal like the guarantees we suspect she has offered to Nissan.

2. If we're being asked to be poorer to control immigration, what will the government’s immigration policy be?

One of the reasons for leaving the Single Market, Theresa May has said, is to end the right of European Union citizens to live and work in Britain - whatever the cost to the economy, it seems. No one in government, however, has yet outlined what the new policy will be - a points based system; work permits - nor has there been any clarity on the status of EU citizens already here, and UK citizens currently living and working in the rest of the EU. British people are being asked to give up a portion of their economic prosperity. Will they be told what they're getting in exchange?

3. Will British citizen's rights be protected, as she has previously claimed?

On Saturday, Philip Hammond gave an interview to a German newspaper in which he seemed to suggest Britain could become a low tax, low regulation outpost on the edge of Europe, as a way to attract businesses put off by our exit from the EU. Theresa May has previously claimed she would protect workers after Brexit - but how does this square with the chancellor’s vision of a neoliberal lala land in which employment, environmental and consumer rights are sacrificed, taxes are slashed and public services suffer?

4. Is the government prepared to address points raised in the Supreme Court decision?

In the next few days, it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will deliver its verdict on the government’s appeal against the High Court ruling that Parliament must have a say before Article 50 is invoked, with even ministers privately conceding it will lose. It is widely assumed that the government is working on minimal efforts to secure parliamentary assent. But the Supreme Court case raised other questions, such as the role of devolved bodies - will the prime minister set out how the government will ensure proper engagement with the whole country, something that is complicated by current events in Northern Ireland, where the breakdown of power-sharing and fresh elections add further complications.

5. How long will the current Brexit position hold?

Even if she does give more detail on all of the above, how long before the speech unravels? How soon before it's undermined either by some of her more sensible ministers if she's too Ukip, or by the extremists on her backbenches if she's steering a more centrist path? Whether she calls it 'soft', 'hard' or 'red, white and blue', the result will almost certainly be chaotic.

Glenis Willmott MEP is Labour's Leader in the European Parliament.

This blog can also be found on LabourList.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2016

Whatever she calls it, Theresa May's Brexit will be chaotic

Nearly seven months on from the referendum, Theresa May claims today to be setting out the government's Brexit plan. But while she'll doubtless make eye-catching statements on trade, the economy...

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If we thought 2016 was hard, next year could be even tougher, writes Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament.

It will be a year of big political decisions for Britain, so there must be no more fudging from Theresa May - she needs to come up with a plan for Brexit, and do so ahead of her March 31 deadline for triggering Article 50. Meanwhile our neighbours will have other things beyond Brexit on their minds...

Supreme Court case: The Supreme Court ruling on whether a vote in parliament is required to trigger Article 50 will be handed down in January. Even if the result isn't in much doubt, with most legal minds expecting the court to rule that a vote by MPs is required, the full judgement will be a key moment at the start of next year. The judges have been considering what sort of legislation will be required to trigger Article 50, and what role the devolved parliaments will play - and they may even refer the case to the European Court of Justice. But whatever the ruling, it seems likely that May will begin the Brexit process in March - and with the judgment out of the way, the new year will be the time to look beyond process and at the substance of the plan - or the lack of one.

Election of new European Parliament President: Even if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling that MPs should have a say on the triggering of Article 50, as it stands there are no plans to give them a vote on the final deal, a position reiterated by the prime minister to the Commons liaison committee - unlike the European Parliament, where MEPs must approve any EU-UK exit terms. With this in mind, the election on January 17 for the parliament’s new President will signal the political orientation of the parliament as it gears up for its role in the Brexit negotiations. However, as a reminder that Brexit isn't the only show in town, it isn't a key feature of the campaigns by candidates for the role. That's partly because there are other priorities in European politics right now: economic renewal, the environment, security. But it's also an indicator that so far, the people who will be facing Britain over the negotiating table have remained remarkably united.

Elections, elections everywhere: In the coming year, there will be key elections in Holland (March), France (April-May), and Germany (Sep-Oct), with Italy also expected to hold one. As we have seen in Britain, and further afield, populism is on the rise, and the EU will not want to encourage the Eurosceptic forces of Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Five Star Movement by offering the UK a ‘have your cake and eat it’ deal. Indeed, though it will be a priority for the EU as a collective body, Brexit will not always be a top priority for many European governments – these elections will, with extremists and previously fringe parties expected to increase their share of votes and seats. 2017 will be a key test of whether Europe's leaders will heed the warnings and take action to address people’s concerns about jobs, insecurity and our place in the world.

Acts, Summits and the Single Market: It has already happened a few times, but expect the number of EU-27 leaders’ meetings without Britain to increase in scope and frequency, moving from informal meetings to full summits. Expect the Brexit pressures to build as we head towards the next scheduled European Council meeting in March. Before then we should have had a plan put before parliament. Will it provide the details that have so far been lacking? At some point Theresa May will have to indicate whether she will act in the national interest, or whether she will continue to allow the outer wings of the Tory Party to dictate Brexit policy. For our part, Labour MEPs will continue to push for the best possible deal, and work to achieve it in the European Parliament, across a range of areas but most crucially the UK’s continued membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, outside of which we will face tariffs and trade barriers, resulting in fewer jobs and a hit to our economy.The question will be, is Theresa May strong enough to stand up to the hard Brexiters, from Farage to Fox, whose policies will be disastrous for Britain?

And the rest... Even allowing for all of the above, it’s the unforseeable and unknowable that could end up blowing 2017 off course. At the start of this year, we would not have predicted all of the issues that have dominated global politics in the last 12 months. And in Britain, for all the government’s obsessing about Brexit (and even then they’re taking forever to come up with a plan), we mustn’t forget that they’re still meant to be running the country - but with the economy faltering and public services on the brink of crisis, unless they deal with domestic issues, Theresa May’s honeymoon won’t last forever. 2016 has shown us anything, literally anything, might happen.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Goodbye 2016, hello 2017... what to look out for in the new year

If we thought 2016 was hard, next year could be even tougher, writes Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament.

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