Brexit weekly briefing: a softer stance, or wishful thinking?

Jon Henley
Emmanuel Macron on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

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A hint of French hope? Emmanuel Macron has rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for the City, insisting that Britain will not get full access to the single market, including for financial services, unless it pays into the EU budget and accepts its rules.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the French president repeated the “no cherry-picking” line the bloc has maintained since the referendum, adding that the UK could secure a “special” trade deal, but only if it accepted preconditions.

Macron said Britain might end up with “perhaps something between this full access and a trade agreement”, but any future relationship would “by definition be less deep” and depend on “what the UK puts on the table”.

Some observers felt they had detected a softening of France’s position: the hint of a possibility of a “bespoke deal” somewhere between the Canadian and Norwegian models, with some access for financial services.

Others – including the French embassy – insisted that Macron had not departed from the EU line at all; any other interpretation was down to wishful thinking on the UK’s part and the French president’s good but not flawless English.

Business bites back: Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, has urged Britain to continue to participate in the single market, but also remain in a full customs union until it is clear that new post-Brexit trade deals with non-EU countries will offset the economic cost of leaving the EU:

There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU … But that day hasn’t yet arrived.

Insiders suggest the logic behind the industry body’s most sustained attack yet on the government’s Brexit strategy could eventually imply a harder message still: that Brexit should be reversed, perhaps in a second referendum or election.

Needless to say, the comments infuriated leading Leavers such as Boris Johnson, for whom leaving the customs union so as to negotiate free trade deals around the world is one of the main points of Brexit. But as the CBI spokesman Charles Naylor said:

We are simply pointing out that you need single market access and you need a customs union. If someone concludes that we therefore need to retest this, that’s a political decision. We are just being very practical.

MPs at odds with their parties: In news that may spell trouble as the Brexit talks advance, a poll by Ipsos Mori for UK in a Changing Europe found that many Conservative and Labour MPs hold starkly differing views from their parties’ official lines.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Tory MPs said free movement was unacceptable during a transition period (Theresa May has suggested it could be), while 90% of Labour MPs dispute Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the UK must leave the single market after Brexit.

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In the Guardian, the Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk says Europe must “wake up to the drastic consequences of a hard Brexit” – but whatever it is, it will still be less than the cost of giving Britain a preferential deal:

The Dutch government has said it “is up to businesses to start preparing”. The logic is simple: while the economic shock of a British crash out of the EU will hurt the Dutch economy, blowing up the EU from within by giving Britain a sweet special deal is even more damaging. So next time you hear a Brexiteer proudly declare that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, remember that for once this Brexiteer is correct. For EU member states, painful as it will be, no deal with Britain is indeed better for them than a bad deal.

In the Observer, Philip Inman argues that Britain’s “tired old economy” isn’t strong enough for Brexit, and leave campaigners’ visions of national renewal depend on a level of commercial vibrancy that the UK can no longer muster.

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A gentle reminder from Germany’s Brexit coordinator, as everyone focuses on the transition period and future trade deal, that phase one is not done and dusted:


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