The government has begun employing civilians to work in an emergency control centre being set up to ensure that Britain continues to function normally in the event of a No Deal Brexit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s bad for the government to be planning – but doesn’t the media hysteria seem a little much?
Briefing notes to recruitment agencies, issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), state that the “EU Exit Emergencies Centre” could stay open for two years. The briefing notes were seen by The Guardian, and the newspaper suggests that the government is seeking to recruit “unflappable” individuals who will help brief ministers and the Cabinet on emergencies that might occur in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
No doubt the fact that an EU Exit Emergencies Centre is being set up will be used by Project Fear to reassert their claims that Brexit is a disaster, but it seems like sensible planning to me. No Deal planning was already ramped by Whitehall back in December, and I expect our government to do everything they can to make Brexit a success. If that means hiring professionals to keep the government up-to-date on unfolding matters in the event of No Deal, then so be it. Sounds responsible to me!
Meanwhile, back in Westminster, a group of Tory MPs today told the Prime Minister that the Irish backstop issue is “monumental” and that it could not be solved with a “few cursory tweaks”. The warning comes as the Prime Minister suggests she is looking to change the backstop by opening up the political declaration. That option might please Brussels, given EU leaders have said the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, but it’s not going to please Members of Parliament who have already told her they want an alternative to the backstop.
The three former Cabinet ministers who put together the Malthouse Compromise – Owen Paterson, Iain Duncan Smith and Nicky Morgan – warned the Prime Minister that the Withdrawal Agreement in its current form is not going to pass in the Commons. And they’re right.
They also warned that any support of Labour’s plan to keep Britain inside a customs union with the European Union would go against the promises made in the Conservative Party manifesto. That is, of course, also true. It would even be a breach of the Labour Party manifesto, which promised an end to free movement. Labour MP Shami Chakrabarti got absolutely skewered by Andrew Neil on Politics Live over that yesterday. She sat there looking absolutely terrified as Neil repeatedly reminded her that staying in the Customs Union means maintain free movement. She just told him that it would be up for negotiation. Well, it won’t – the EU will not back down on the Four Freedoms, and that means they won’t give up free movement if Britain wants to remain in a Customs Union.
So Mrs. May has found herself in a very tricky spot. The EU won’t reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, meaning the Brady Amendment was effectively pointless. The Prime Minister is now seeking a tweaking to the backstop, but her own party won’t accept it.
Should she go for the deal put before her by the Labour Party, which includes staying in the Customs Union, then she’ll have to betray her own Brexit red lines.
Your move, Mrs. May.