The Brexit behemoth rolls on whether we want it to or not and still uncertainty persists. Meanwhile the political changes across Britain and the EU are well and truly being rung, with Tory and Lib Dem leadership contests in full swing, as well as new EU nominations and appointments.
Magic money orchard
Since it was announced that Jeremy Hunt would be going up against Boris Johnson, these potential future PMs have been battling it out in order to win the backing of the Conservative party membership. In what seems to be the political rendition of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’, Hunt and Boris have been outdoing one another with increasingly lavish spending claims.
First up, Boris Johnson has pledged to raise the higher-rate income tax threshold to £80,000 from the current level of £50,000 which would cost £9bn. He has also unveiled plans to ensure that there are more ‘bobbies on the beat’, with an additional £1 billion cash boost. The schools budget is also set to bolstered, with a £5 billion annual pledge of extra money.
Not to be outdone, Hunt has vowed to cut corporation tax to 12.5%, ‘turbo charging the economy’. This plan, however, would cost £13bn a year in foregone tax revenues. He also wants to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP over the next five years, reaching 4% of GDP by 2020. A £20 billion Brexit ‘war chest’ was also announced as a way to mitigate the economic impact of a no-deal departure.
For the party of fiscal responsibility, these announcements seem irresponsible, especially as we are no closer to resolving Brexit. The Conservative party doesn’t just have a magic money tree stashed away at CCHQ but a magic money orchard.
A rising revolt
While both Tory leadership candidates have been hard at work creating new spending pledges, their other commitment that we will leave the European Union by 31 October looks less assured. On Wednesday, some of Britain’s major supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco – has said that a no-deal scenario could create difficulties ahead of the key Christmas period. These challenges range from a lack of toys to concerns that stocks of food will not be adequate. Mike Coupe, Sainsbury’s CEO said that the 31 October date was “about as bad as it gets”.
There is also a growing group of rebels within the Conservative party, dubbed the “Gaukward squad”, who look set to block a no-deal Brexit. Around 30 Conservative MPs, led by Philip Hammond and David Gauke are thought to be meeting regularly in order to secure a date in October on which MPs will control the agenda and can force through legislation.
Whether such a challenge will be successful is uncertain, given that when presented with this opportunity to take control of the parliamentary agenda before, MPs failed to support it fully. What could change things is the upcoming by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. A remain alliance has now been formed, with the Greens and Plaid Cymru stepping aside to allow the Lib Dems a free run at the seat. If the Lib Dems are successful, then the governments working majority drops down to three, which could prove pivotal.
All change in the EU
Late on Tuesday evening, the European Council agreed its candidates for the EU’s top jobs, who are due to take up their posts by late 2019. Replacing Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission will be German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, a key ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel. This was a surprising nomination, with only one third of Germans believing their defence minister to be a good choice to lead the EU Commission. There was also anger from MEPs, with Esteban González Pons, a Spanish MEP and vice president of the European People’s Party (a conservative grouping in the European Parliament), declaring “I would urge you to think deeply: The future of Europe can no longer be decided behind closed doors and through secret plots.” MEPs are set to vote on von der Leyen’s nomination in the week of July 15, so it’s not yet certain that she will end up taking the top-job.
Elsewhere, the current Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, will replace Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. On the chances of a no-deal Brexit, Michel previously stated earlier this year that “at least it would be clearer.”
Ode to Joy
Tuesday marked the opening of the European parliament, with a rendition of the European anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. In a display of dissent, all 29 of the Brexit party MEPs turned away to face the back wall. The European parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, was quick to criticise the protest. “If you listen to the anthem of another country you rise to your feet.” I’ve got a feeling that a statement like this is exactly why they were protesting.
But it wasn’t only the Brexit Party making a scene. The 16 Liberal Democrats turned up in yellow t-shirts with ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ emblazoned on the back. Overall, these displays have given the EU a glimpse of just how divided Britain still is.
Change is the buzzword affecting domestic and EU politics this month, with leadership battles and European nominations dominating headlines. Persistent uncertainty still remains however, and what these changes could mean for Brexit is even less clear. Is Boris Johnson guaranteed to become leader of his party? Will parliament block no-deal once and for all? And whoever will the next leader of the Conservatives face a more favourable or hostile EU negotiating environment? Only time will tell.
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