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Britain’s plan for Brexit: bankers first, £350m for the NHS never

The deal works for the British and European economies. It may prove hard to deliver politically.

The government has published its white paper on its plan for Brexit. It largely confirms what we already knew: we are committed to leaving the single market, escaping the reach of the European Court of Justice and ending the free movement of people.

We hope to retain our financial services’ easy access into Europe and to continue to participate in science and research projects.  And here’s what we hope to negotiate with: security and money.

On security, the government wants to continue to be an active participant in Europol and in the defence of the European periphery. That means that Conservative civil libertarians are bound for disappointment, as the white paper implicitly assumes our continuing participation in the European Arrest Warrant and a variety of Europe-wide security projects.

From Britain’s perspective, the internal security of the European Union is win-win. The threats that Europol faces – organised crime, trafficking and international terrorism – don’t respect borders and can’t be left merely by extracting ourselves from the European Union. Crucially, there is no country in the European Union that can easily replace the British commitment so there is significant leverage here.

As far as the European periphery is concerned, that’s less of an easy trade-off. Whoever emerges from the French presidential election will be much more dovish towards Russia than François Hollande. After the election of Donald Trump, Britain is far and away the most vocal critic of Russia left worldwide, and interposing ourselves between Russia and the Baltics might help secure a better Brexit deal but it’s certainly a high stakes gambit.

The other pressure point is money. Britain’s exit from the European Union creates a financial headache for the EU27 and that Britain’s economy is still growing healthily means that continued large payments into the European Union are very doable from a British perspective. What that will likely involve is payments that are notionally earmarked for our continuing participation in security and research-based programmes but are well above what we pay for those programmes now.

What might that deal look like? It would mean a jointly-agreed regulatory framework for financial services, British security services in Europol and British soldiers on the Russian border. It would likely also make travelling to and working on the Continent trickier. But you can see the outlines of a deal that is doable for both sides and works for the British economy.

The big question of course is whether Downing Street has the ability domestically to sell an agreement that is geared towards the banks and involves continued large payments into the European Union. 

And then there's Northern Ireland, and the whole question of how to maintain an open border between the North and the South. The government's position is basically the same as Brussels and the Republic of Ireland's: that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The difficulty - and the fear is that this becomes symbolic of the entirety of the Brexit talks - is that just because there is agreement on the need for a solution, doesn't mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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