Tom Goodenough

What the papers say: How to convince Brits the Brexit divorce bill is worth it

What the papers say: How to convince Brits the Brexit divorce bill is worth it
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Britain’s Brexit divorce bill offer has now risen again, if today’s reports are to be believed. 'At the very least’, says the Daily Telegraph, Britain is looking at handing over £40billion. It’s a ‘lot of money’, the paper concedes, and even though the ‘complex formula’ used to calculate the final bill will allow the government to ‘fudge’ the exact payment, ‘it will require a concerted Cabinet effort to explain to voters why it is necessary’. Doing so could be helped by presenting the bill ‘as part of an overall package’, argues the Telegraph, and the government should enforce this message by sticking to its view that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. It’s true that the EU does not see things this way, with Brussels viewing the divorce bill as a separate discussion altogether from trade talks. Despite this, Britain should still be prepared to walk away. For all the progress on the divorce bill, next month’s Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels remains critical. If the UK ‘comes away with nothing’ it might be time to have a ‘a serious reconsideration of the UK’s negotiating strategy’. This could include the possibility of asking the question of ‘whether it is even worth continuing with the process’. While this should remain a possibility, an alternative and more amicable Brexit would still be much better. So ‘what is needed is a powerful narrative to remind voters why Brexit is worth it’, concludes the Telegraph.

The Times meanwhile turns its fire on David Davis, accusing the Brexit secretary of bungling the handling of the government’s Brexit studies row. Of course the process of Brexit – as with ‘every negotiation’ undertaken by the government – ‘requires secrecy’, says the Times. But ‘no one is asking ministers to lay bare every detail of their negotiating position’. Instead, all MPs wants is for the impact studies from Brexit to be handed over to the Brexit committee. This is different from them being put in the public domain, argues the Times; yet despite this, the government ‘mismanaged the debate about these documents in every possible way’. So many questions about Brexit remain unanswered, the Times points out. How will British regulations for farm goods differ from the EU’s, for example. Or what will the relationship ‘between the Euratom Supply Agency, which oversees European nuclear supply chains, and the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation’ actually look like. Such questions apply to ‘each of the 58 sectors’ in question, says the Times. ‘Politicians and the public can make these choices only on the basis of evidence’, says the paper, which concludes its editorial by saying that the government must be ‘scrutinised by parliament which, as a sovereign institution, will always have the final say. That is why ministers must publish these assessments’.

The row in the Commons about the Brexit impact papers is ‘a battle about real power’, says the Guardian. The debate is 'about whether ministers or parliament have their hands on the wheel over Brexit policy’. But it is about more than that, too: ‘it was also a stand-off about whether the public has a right to know what Brexit involves’. So ignore those who suggest this is all just a ‘trivial matter’. ‘Ultimately’, says the Guardian, ‘it poses the question of whether parliament is a debating society…or a legislature, to which ministers are accountable’. It’s true that ‘British voters made a decision in June 2016’. But the referendum result ‘did not lay down the terms on which Brexit would take place’. Until now, the government has used this lack of clear reference to go after 'foolish, disruptive and dangerous versions of Brexit of its own selection’. The government has been ‘reckless’ in this approach, particularly in 'refusing to consider forms of leaving that would better protect jobs and the economy’. Trying to cut out Parliament and ‘refusing to tell the truth to MPs’ is all part of this unwise approach. It’s time for this to end, concludes the Guardian.