The Friday Fizz is Not Enough Champagne's review of the week's news. You can read previous instalments here.
Last time Theresa May gave a major speech, her cough and collapsing scenery felt like a metaphor for her failing Premiership. Today she was meant to be speaking in Newcastle, but horrendous weather meant that the speech was given in London instead. Not being able to reach her preferred destination because of forces beyond her control feels like a cruelly apt metaphor for her government's position on Brexit.
This was the latest of a seeminly never-ending set of speeches by Cabinet Ministers trying to spell out the UK government's position on Brexit. Boris Johnson spoke about carrots, Liam Fox talked about crisps, and nobody remembers what David Lidington said.
It also comes after a week in which pro-Remain campaigners seemed to get properly organised. Open Britain seem to have capitalised on Jeremy Corbyn's speech supporting “a” customs union by coordinating Tony Blair and John Major to give speeches attacking the government's position. Both these interventions were either excellent examples of statecraft from a master, or sour grapes from someone who doesn't like democracy, depending on your point of view. What makes me most nervous is that rolling out important people to tell us how much of a disaster Brexit is going to be did not work during the referendum and may not be the best way of changing minds, however accurate their analysis is. More of that on Sunday's podcast, in which we discuss the prospect of a second referendum.
If Corbyn's speech moved Labour fractionally towards a sensible position on Brexit, May's speech moved the government fractionally towards a more realistic position. For instance, it conceded that Britain would remain part of some European agencies such as Euratom and would pay contributions accordingly. There was even softening of the red line on ECJ jurisdiction, though it was worded carefully enough so as not to annoy the Brexiters too much. May also said that access to markets would be reduced, something no government minister has admitted before.
One still gets the feeling, though, that May was still aiming her speech at her party rather than the EU. Katy Balls has an interesting line on this here:
Ahead of Theresa May’s speech, a Conservative arch-Eurosceptic told me that the best way to judge its success was not to focus on whether the majority of MPs were happy but instead watch how his side and Anna Soubry’s side reacted. He said that should either group feel able to gloat then the prime minister would have a problem.
Still, then, May did not make the truly hard choices for fear of offending those Paleosceptics. Donald Tusk had already rejected May's "solution" to the Northern Ireland border before she had even given the speech, whilst existing objections to the "three baskets" proposed by the UK have already been rejected by Michel Barnier. Indeed, a large part of May's speech was just asking the EU to be a little bit nicer and allow the UK to cherry pick. The practical obstacles to be overcome are spelled out by Chris Grey here and here, whilst a great quick take by Stephen Bush can be found here.
The problem is that Theresa May seems to be proposing a soft Brexit, but will not actually get Britain to join any of the institutions that could facilitate a smooth transition to a soft Brexit like the EEA or EFTA because this will annoy the Paleosceptics and possibly bring down her government. Which means that, eventually, something will give. As I argued in last week's Fizz, a soft Brexit borne out of desperation is still a significant possibility.
Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
Old: One of the episodes we have used as part of an entry to the British Podcast Awards is this discussion on New Labour, 20 years on. It's still one of my favourites. Hope you enjoy
New: As well as the article on Jeremy Corbyn published on Wednesday, in our Midweek Shot we talk about the chances of a third party breaking into the two-party system at the moment.
Borrowed: Having said on a previous episode that we talk about issues that no political podcast dares to talk about, like buses, Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd have only gone and devoted a whole episode of Reasons to be Cheerful all on buses. You know what they say: where Not Enough Champagne leads, others follow.
I was also fascinated by this Politico piece about 12 Men Who Ruined Italy. The policy proposal in number 8 has to be read at least three times to be believed.
Blue: Peter Oborne has written this review of a book into the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham which deserves a wider readership.
Pop Culture Recommendation
That news of a new Elvis Costello album has appeared on my Twitter feed in the last 10 minutes is the most exciting news I've had since, er, Yeproc said that there were plans for a new Nick Lowe record this year as well. Maybe 2018 won't be so bad after all.
That's all for this week. Our 100th episode is released on Sunday.