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Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, on what we’ve learnt from Theresa May’s first EU summit…

1. Negotiating with our EU partners will be tougher than the Brexiters think: For all the internal government wranglings over what kind of Brexit it will be – crystallised in the May/Hammond disagreement on migration – this summit has reinforced that ultimately it is the rest of the EU that will have to agree what kind of deal we get. French President Francois Hollande summed it up by warning that if Theresa May wants a “Hard Brexit” she should expect “hard negotiations”. The Brexiters’ fantasy of a pick ‘n’ mix, keep all the good bits deal is disintegrating before our eyes.

2. Theresa May will say one thing in Brussels, and another at home: Just like her predecessor David Cameron, Theresa May will play whatever tune she thinks her audience wants to hear, reprising her role of backbencher-appeasing tubthumper at the recent Tory Party conference (plans for lists of foreign workers etc.), while acting the responsible stateswoman abroad, insisting she wants the EU to be strong and for Britain to remain at the centre of EU decision-making. It is of course vital that we are, but under Theresa May’s premiership, the opposite is true – her disaster of a Tory conference has hardened views and has made the job even tougher.

3. May has isolated Britain more than ever: Far from being at the heart of Europe until it leaves, Britain is now even more isolated than before, with the prime minister “sidelined and snubbed” in Brussels. If she thought September’s meeting in Bratislava of the other 27 EU countries was a one off, she can think again – there’s another one planned for Malta in January. The rest of the EU meeting to decide our future, and discuss the present, without our presence. Britain has voted leave, and lost control.

4. The European Parliament has asserted itself into the Brexit debate: Theresa May does not just need the agreement of her fellow EU leaders for a Brexit deal, but the European Parliament as well – the EP must approve any deal that is reached. And at the summit we have seen the parliament show its teeth, with President Martin Schulz reiterating the EU’s position on membership of the Single Market: “The fundamental freedoms are inseparable, i.e. no freedom of movement for goods, capital and services, without free movement of persons.”

5. CETA impasse highlights difficulty UK will have in striking EU trade deal: The other main agenda item this week was the deadlock over the EU-Canada trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Negotiations on CETA began seven years ago, and remain unconcluded. All 28 EU governments back it, but it has been blocked by the Wallonia Parliament. If a small Belgian region has the power to block CETA, it has the power to block a future EU-UK trade deal; if international trade secretary Liam Fox still believes Britain can wrap up a deal post-haste, he really is deluded.

Five summit takeaways

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, on what we’ve learnt from Theresa May’s first EU summit…

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Love it or hate it, Marmite hitting the headlines is a first sign of reality starting to bite after the Brexit vote, writes Paul Brannen MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson on agriculture.

As the pound decreases in value on a daily basis the cost of imports to the UK increases.

Take almost any processed food product off the supermarket shelves and you hold a mini example of the global supply chain in your hand. While UK ingredients haven’t increased in price, imports have and with nearly half of our food being imported we, as a country, are in no position to simply ‘Buy British’ as a way of stopping our supermarket shopping costing more.

As a net importer of food the UK isn’t in a position in the short term to simply sell more food abroad to offset increased import costs, which is why customers will be looking at increased food bills in the next few months.

Indeed, the National Farmers Union warned in the run up to the referendum that a Leave vote would in all likelihood put up food prices in the UK, and while it’s too late to change the referendum outcome it’s not to late to make sure we make the right decision about what Brexit actually means, including whether we remain inside the Single Market.

It’s clearly turning chilly as we prepare to leave the EU but it is likely to be much colder still outside the Single Market - so let’s wise up before it really is too late.

Theresa May told the Tory Party conference: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

She should have said:

‘No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.’

This was true when John Donne penned it in 1624, it remains true today, hence Ms May and the hardline Brexiters need to stop talking up a hard Brexit, with its macho ‘we’re going it alone’ rhetoric, as it simply talks down the pound.

We don’t have the option to stop trading. We don’t want to stop trading. We’re a trading nation, we have built our wealth and our character by trading. Outside of the EU we need the most favourable trading relationships we can get with as many countries as possible. This must start with the EU because they are our biggest trading partner.

It’s really not rocket science: inside the Single Market reasonable prices; outside the Single Market increased prices.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Marmite price row a sign of things to come if UK leaves Single Market

Love it or hate it, Marmite hitting the headlines is a first sign of reality starting to bite after the Brexit vote, writes Paul Brannen MEP, Labour's European Parliament spokesperson...

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As Westminster returns from recess, Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament, looks at the contradictions underlying Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.

In the Single Market or out? Hard Brexit or Soft? Parliamentary assent or not? It is now three months since Theresa May became prime minister, yet though the Tory Party conference proved instructive as to the tone and mood of the government, we are still no clearer as to what exactly will happen. And nor, it appears, is her party.

The weekend saw further disunity in the Conservative Party over Brexit, from former adviser Steve Hilton’s excoriation of home secretary Amber Ruud’s anti-foreign worker policy - ministers might as well announce that “foreign workers will be tattooed with numbers on their forearms,” he said - to ex-chancellor Ken Clarke’s comments that “nobody has the faintest idea” about Brexit, to current chancellor Philip Hammond’s fears of the ‘bull in a china shop’ behaviour of the three Brexit ministers David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox, to education secretary Justine Greening’s on-air u-turning of Ruud’s plan to force companies to publish the number of foreign workers they employ.

Where, then, does the government actually stand on Brexit? And what are we to make of the prime minister’s various pronouncements on the European Union?

Theresa May says she wants to give British companies the “maximum freedom to trade with and operate within the Single Market”, and “let European businesses do the same here” - yet she also says she wants “our laws made not in Brussels but in Westminster; our judges sitting not in Luxembourg but in courts across the land; the authority of EU law in this country ended forever”. The Single Market operates on the basis of commonly agreed rules, with a common court to settle differences of interpretation over what we have agreed - her stance on this point would rule out membership.

Another barrier to membership of the Single Market is her increasingly populist stance on foreign workers, EU migration and freedom of movement. Everyone from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to French President Francois Hollande, from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt have hardened their own line against any Member State staying in the Single Market without upholding its four freedoms: the free movement of goods, services, capital and, crucially, people.

Will the UK try to continue to be part of the single market, in which case it will have to follow the same rules as everyone else for that market, or it will leave it entirely, in which case Britain will face tariff barriers and regulatory obstacles to its main export market, vital to its economy. The answer will have huge implications for Britain and Europe - and could also see many Leave voters complain that that is not what they were told, nor what they voted for.

At no point did Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or any of the other Leave ayatollahs say a vote to exit the European Union would mean exiting the Single Market, closing the door on all migration and foreign workers, with the voting public suffering from the resulting job losses, reduced incomes, loss of trade and general economic chaos that would follow. Indeed, the Remain campaign’s warnings on this were dismissed as “Project Fear” by leavers.

So which is it to be? What does Theresa May really want? When will she reveal her choice to the public and stop trying to pretend you can be in the Single Market and ignore is rules? Will the public, through Parliament, have a say on this choice? Leaving the European Union will be bad for Britain, that is not in doubt; just how bad depends on how hard Brexit will be, on what exactly “Brexit means Brexit” really means.

Richard Corbett MEP is Labour's Deputy Leader in the European Parliament.

This blog originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Amid u-turns, contradictions and infighting, we still don’t know what Tory Brexit policy is

As Westminster returns from recess, Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Deputy Leader in the European Parliament, looks at the contradictions underlying Theresa May’s Brexit strategy.

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