The Tories can’t stop talking about Brexit – POLITICO


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MANCHESTER, England — Brexit might not happen after all.

Fuel and labor shortages, triggered at least in part by Brexit, are overshadowing the Conservative Party’s annual rally, which kicked off in Manchester this weekend and will last until midweek.

Meanwhile, a big row over checks on goods being transported from Britain to Northern Ireland – which the UK Prime Minister signed following his 2019 Brexit deal – is likely to spark further fighting between Johnson’s government and Brussels.

Johnson is still struggling to emerge from the EU battle he is most famous for, and some in the bloc believe the Tories actively want Brexit to remain an issue because it keeps his party in mode. ongoing campaign.

“It fits well with the political rhetoric,” said a senior EU official. “Because if you don’t do something, you can always keep complaining and playing the blame game with the European Union which is bureaucratic, not flexible enough and all these false and not very helpful statements.”

Added to the conspiracy theories is the bloc’s conspicuous absence from Liz Truss’ first opening speech as foreign secretary, EU diplomats have said, with Truss instead calling for closer ties with allies such as the G7, NATO and the Commonwealth. “It’s almost as if they don’t want to recognize the EU as a legitimate partner,” said an EU diplomat.

Many frontline Tories appeared to fully embrace Brexit at the conference with a speech on the main stage on Monday morning and a series of sideline appearances by de facto Brexit minister David Frost. Other key ministers involved in the Brexit fallout, including Cabinet Minister Steve Barclay and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, are scheduled for the main stage later in the afternoon.

“All history, all experience, shows that democratic countries with free economies, which allow people to keep more of the money they have earned, to make their own decisions and to manage their own life, are not only richer but also happier and more admired by others,” Frost will tell party faithful. “This is where we need to take this country. The opportunities are enormous. The long bad dream of our EU membership is over. The “British renaissance” has begun. »

Never waste a crisis

If this “British renaissance” had a bumpy start, Johnson did not let it show. Indeed, the Prime Minister appears keen to extract political capital from Britain’s lorry driver shortages and fuel worries, which have been blamed by industry on a combination of tough post-Brexit immigration policy and a COVID-19 delay for new driver testing.

Asked by the BBC on Sunday, Johnson suggested the lorry crisis as well as a shortage of slaughterhouse staff and butchers – a shortage that risks seeing tens of thousands of animals cremated rather than used for food — were just getting started on the road to a better future.

“What we had for decades was a system where basically the trucking industry…didn’t invest in truck stops, didn’t improve conditions, didn’t improve wages, and we relied on very hard workers who were willing to come, mostly from Europe. candidate countries to work under these conditions,” he told Andrew Marr’s show.

“When people voted for change in 2016… they voted for an end to a broken model of the UK economy that was based on low wages, low skills and chronically low productivity, and we are moving away from that. .”

Chris Rogers, senior supply chain economist at freight forwarding firm Flexport, compared Brexit to the Force in Star Wars – “it will always be with you”, he said. “All of these areas across politics, logistics and visas will continue to have an impact, not only in 2021 but also well into 2022.”

Brexit Chicken Game

As the Tory conference unfolds, Johnson’s party also wants to keep the EU guessing about its final decision in Northern Ireland’s long-running post-Brexit protocol row.

Checks on goods transported from Britain to Northern Ireland – required by protocol – have caused turmoil for businesses and drawn the ire of Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland, who see the post-Brexit setup drives a new wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK

The Conservatives want to renegotiate the deal, while the island’s Unionist parties want it scrapped. But the EU, which is assessing its response to a UK paper on the issue, insisted only small changes were possible.

That leaves London hanging in the balance about using Article 16, the protocol’s nuclear clause that allows either side to suspend some of its functions. Frost will repeat his line on Monday that the “threshold” to trigger Article 16 has been reached, and there were fears the government would use the conference to pull the trigger. British officials have informed reporters, however, that this will not happen.

For now, the EU has some tentative confidence that Johnson’s government will not go there this week – not least because negotiations are ongoing and it would seem unreasonable to take the plunge and risk lose the blame game.

Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said over the weekend that he understood the UK government “was not likely to trigger Article 16”.

The EU also welcomes Johnson’s visit to the White House last month during which US President Joe Biden again urged him not to risk peace in Northern Ireland. “We hope there could be, through St. Joe in Washington, a conversion on the road to Damascus,” said the EU official quoted at the top of this article, who hoped Johnson would use the conference to “changing the narrative and actually trying to solve the issues that arise from Brexit, starting with the protocol.

Others think the government isn’t too worried about what Washington thinks. Raoul Ruparel, former Downing Street adviser on Brexit, urged commentators to ‘stop talking about the US’ because it has ‘no impact on UK decision-making or approach’ on Northern Ireland or Article 16.

When Brexit issues collide

Some members of the European Commission fear the UK supply chain crisis and the Article 16 line could collide in high-stakes political theatre.

“The Prime Minister could decide he needs to divert public opinion,” the EU official said, noting that Johnson is a “passionate historian” who could opt for a Roman approach. “Whenever there was a political issue, they would open the Colosseum, throw big parties, entertain the crowds; do something to keep them from thinking about the problems.

Just in case, in recent weeks, EU leaders have pressured Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič to come up with a response plan. Triggering Article 16 would force the Commission to reactivate two pro-Brexit lawsuits against the UK, suspended since July to make room for negotiations. If that fails to convince Britain to implement the deal, then the EU would move on to retaliate, with tariffs and a possible trade war on the table.

In public, Johnson doesn’t give the EU much reason to relax. When asked over the weekend if he could pull the trigger on Article 16 this week, he told BBC Northern Ireland he wanted to see a ‘real negotiation’ – but left the door wide open. He said the options were “to fix it or abandon it”.

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