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15 December 2016updated 07 Jun 2021 8:29am

Politicians in Britain and the EU are both heading to the hardest of Brexits

By Stephen Bush

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu, and the PM may feel that especially keenly this evening. Leaders of the EU27 will meet to hammer out the negotiating team that will be tasked with negotiating the terms of Britain’s exit deal.

One of the running sub-plots of the Brexit talks is the running battle as to who will take the lead for the EU27: would it be the European Commission or the member states? The result is a score draw; both the Commission’s point man, the Frenchman Michel Barnier, and Didier Seeuws, the Belgian diplomat appointed by member states, will attend talks. The Commission has done slightly better in that Barnier will lead the talks, but that Seeuws will be looking over his shoulder shows that the Commission won’t have it all its own way.

The biggest loser so far is Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s negotiator, who will not be present, which has today led Martin Schulz, the departing president of the Parliament, to warn that the European Parliament will vote down any deal if it is not sufficiently consulted on it, leading to the “hardest of Brexits, to the detriment of everybody”.

We may be heading towards the hardest of Brexits anyway. Despite the various internal crises and the multiple threats outside the EU’s borders, the EU27 is unified on one thing: that the integrity of the single market and the four freedoms cannot be diluted or challenged. But there’s little sense about what else either member states or the European bureaucracy want to achieve from the Brexit talks.

Similarly, Labour and the Conservatives are both united in what they want out of the Brexit talks: they want to punch a fairly large hole in the integrity of the single market by securing control over Britain’s borders while maintaining as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible.

Neither side at present seems to have much idea of what they are willing to give up in exchange. That could be good news for Britain, as unanimity among the EU27 gives way to disorder. (One thing that Theresa May has done is start to reach out to the other centre-right parties in the European Parliament, for instance.) But that both sides are coming into the negotiations with two diametrically opposed objectives out of all this makes it likely that the terms of Brexit will be very hard indeed.


The centre-piece of our Christmas issue, which is now in WHSmiths and all other good stores, is an interview with our editor Jason Cowley and Jeremy Corbyn.


The EU’s border agency, Frontex, has accused charities attempting to save those making the sea crossing to Europe of colluding with people smugglers. In a confidential report, seen by the FT‘s Duncan Robinson, Frontex accused the NGOs of leaving light beams for the boats to follow, and attributed the increase in rescues from boats that have been found in difficulties but have yet to give a distress signal to collusion. NGOs in the region, which include Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, have reacted angrily to the change.


Lloyds of London, the insurance market, will move some of its operations to inside the EU in order to shield its businesses from the consequences of Brexit, the FT reports.


The Greek government is on course for another showdown with its creditors after the European Stability Mechanism chose to freeze its programme of debt relief in response to an announcement by Greece’s embattled Prime Minister, Alex Tsipras, that the 1.5m Greek pensioners receiving less than €800 a month would be given a pre-Christmas bonus. Tsipras denies that the bonus will derail his budget targets. Helena Smith has the story in the Guardian.


The EU will attempt to enforce rule changes to move Euro clearing to within the Eurozone, a move long resisted by the United Kingdom before Brexit, in another blow to the City of London.


Labour MPs including Angela Rayner and Dan Jarvis have recorded a cover version of Do They Know It’s Christmas Time? lambasting high-street stores for cutting back on overtime and other Christmas perks for their workers. The recording, which can be viewed here, is the brainchild of Siobhain McDonagh.


Anoosh and I interview James Graham, whose play, This House, is on at the Garrick right now.


This year’s NS Christmas charity is Lumos. JK Rowling, its founder and the author of the Harry Potter books, talks about its work with Eddie Redmayne here. If you can, please donate here.


Jason interviews Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May have something in common, says George

Sophie Walker on the chance MPs have to save lives

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