Brexit weekly briefing: farce over Big Ben bong a fitting end to the saga | Politics

Welcome to the Guardian’s weekly Brexit briefing, which, after more than three and a half years and nearly 170 instalments, will be landing in your inbox for the last time on 4 February – four days after Britain formally leaves the EU.

Full live and daily coverage of the key talks on the future relationship between the bloc and its first ex-member will, of course, continue in the Guardian as they advance, while our Brexit Means … podcast will provide monthly in-depth insights.

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A farcical row about whether Big Ben should ring out as the UK leaves the EU dominated the week, with Boris Johnson – who said government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” – forced to backtrack.

With the cost of halting Westminster restoration work and getting the bells into a ringable state put at £500,000 and diehard Brexiters howling with indignation, various crowdfunders were set up to raise money, one amassing more than £227,000.

But the government had no plan and could not accept public donations, so now a giant clock will be projected on to No 10 counting down the minutes until 11pm, union flags will fly in Parliament Square and a commemorative coin will be unveiled.

In all, the whole sorry saga felt very fitting for Brexit. Rather more significantly, meanwhile, the chancellor, Sajid Javid, sparked business alarm by telling the Financial Times there would be no alignment with EU regulations after transition:

There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union – and we will do this by the end of the year. We’re … talking about companies that have known since 2016 that we are leaving the EU.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said alignment “supported jobs and competitiveness for many firms, particularly in some of the most deprived regions of the UK”, while the British Chambers of Commerce said continuing uncertainty about the degree of future divergence now “risks firms moving production elsewhere”.

With the next phase of talks just weeks away, trust between Brussels and London will not be improved by the Guardian’s revelation that Britain had failed to pass on the details of 75,000 convictions of foreign criminals to their home EU countries, then concealed the scandal for fear of damaging the UK’s reputation in Europe’s capitals.

And as the government said an estimated 900,000 EU citizens in the UK had yet to apply for the settled status most will need to remain long-term after Brexit, MEPs said those who had settled status risked discrimination in jobs and housing because the government will not issue physical documents.

What next

Talks on trade and the future relationship, due to start in early March, are not going to be straightforward.

In the latest of the its briefings to member states, the EU made clear that if the UK wanted “to encourage trade and investment” it would have to maintain higher labour and environmental standards than some of the 27.

The bloc also said it expects the UK to sign up to Brussels’ state aid rules, and that it would put the “socioeconomic interests” of the bloc’s fishing communities at the centre of its post-Brexit negotiating strategy.

The EU would also be granted the possibility of interim measures to react quickly should the UK lower its standards, the European commission said. Its president, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed the difficulty of reaching agreement on the many issues in trade and beyond by the end of 2020:

We have to make enormous progress before the summer … You cannot expect to have a level playing field if there’s a huge divergence in taxation or social standards or environmental standards. So it’s the choice of the UK how far they want to align or diverge. But this is decisive for how good the access to the single market will be or not, in short. You cannot have the cake and eat it at the same time.

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In the Guardian, Fintan O’Toole argues that Brexiters may be lamenting the fact that Big Ben will not ring for Brexit – but being thwarted is just how they like it:

Brexit is inherently anticlimactic. This is because the act of liberation itself is fundamentally spurious. Revolutions unleash euphoria because they create tangible images of change and inaugurate, at least in the fevered minds of their supporters, a new epoch. Brexit can’t do either of these things. The problem with a revolt against imaginary oppression is that you end up with imaginary freedom. How do you actually show that the yoke of Brussels has been lifted? You can’t bring prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps back into the shops, or release stout British fishermen from the humiliation of having to wear hair nets at work on the high seas, or unban donkey rides on beaches, or right any of the other great wrongs that fuelled anti-EU sentiment – because all of it was make-believe. And so is the golden age to come.

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David Allen Green

That Boris Johnson could not get Big Ben to bong on Brexit day, even with a gung-ho attitude and promises to throw money at the problem is…

…in its way a perfect symbolic way for Brexit to formally begin

January 20, 2020

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