May rounds on MPs as Brexit walls begin to close in

Business Week: also in the news were mortgages, housing, Google and McDonald’s

A cornered Theresa May turned on the House of Commons this week after speaker John Bercow ruled out another vote on her withdrawal deal, and MPs continued to bicker as the EU shut the door on renegotiating the agreement.

Still bristling from the heavy rejection of her deal last week, May got to work on Monday by looking for a way to bring the Democratic Unionist Party and hardline Brexiteers in her party onside in anticipation of a third vote.

But then, Bercow intervened. Adding to the sense of crisis in London, he took to his feet in the Commons and shocked May by ruling that her deal must be substantively different to be voted on again by parliament.

Later in the week, May could almost have been goading the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage when she told parliament it had “indulged itself on Europe for too long”.


Hours later, she doubled down on that as she used a televised address to tell voters she regretted having to seek a three-month extension to Britain’s EU membership and laid the blame squarely on MPs.

“Of this I am absolutely sure,” she said. “You, the public, have had enough. You’re tired of the infighting; you’re tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows, tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit.

“You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide. It is high time we made a decision. So far parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice.

“Motion after motion and amendment after amendment has been tabled without parliament ever deciding what it wants. All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.”

There was increased activity in signatures to an online petition calling for the UK government to revoke article 50 following the speech. The website eventually crashed, but not before more than 2 million people signed up.

In any event, May headed back to Brussels and secured a delay of almost two months until May 22nd if MPs approve her deal next week. If they fail to do so, Britain will leave the EU on April 12th, just two weeks after the planned exit date of March 29th.

There was further forecasts of how a hard Brexit is going to hurt us. A new German study this week suggested the Republic would be the second-biggest economic loser from a hard Brexit, with an annual loss equivalent to €720 per head of population.

Meanwhile, drug companies urged EU governments not to close the door to medicines and medical devices approved in the UK if a hard Brexit does come to pass.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations said about 1 billion packs of medicines cross the UK-EU border each year, with about 540 million of those from the UK to the EU.

Housing tops tax cuts

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spent years portraying Fine Gael as the party of tax cuts – but a survey by the OECD this week suggested the majority of Irish people may be less concerned than he is about “the people who get up early in the morning”.

The survey found that most people believe the Government should make housing more affordable even if it means raising taxes.

When presented with a range of policy options, Irish people were most likely to identify better health care (61 per cent), better pensions (46 per cent), and more affordable housing (41 per cent) as the public supports they need most.

“In these and other policy areas, the Irish are more likely than people in other countries to say they are willing to pay more in taxes to receive better public services and benefits,” the survey said.

Staying with housing, Finance Ireland, the State’s largest non-bank retail lender, launched a series of residential mortgage products in a bid to compete with the main banks.

Meanwhile, figures from the Central Bank showed new mortgage lending in the Republic rose by €1 billion to nearly €9 billion last year, which was the largest annual increase since 2009.

However, the annual total remains low by historical standards. Prior to the crash, new mortgage lending hit nearly €40 billion.

Elsewhere, a study by the Department of Finance found the risk to the economy from elevated debt levels may be overstated. It said a significant component of private-sector debt here is generated by multinationals and does not pose a risk.

EU flexes its muscles again

The legal woes of two of the world's biggest companies were laid bare this week as Google was slapped with a fine of €1.5 billion by the EU, while McDonald's launched an appeal against the decision cancelling its Big Mac trademark.

The EU found Google has breached its antitrust rules with search advertising, saying it misused its dominant position in the market for brokering online search adverts.

The European Commission had been looking into Google’s AdSense network, investigating the company for hampering potential rival search advertisers.

The tech giant is said to have abused its market dominance by imposing restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites to prevent its rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites.

Meanwhile, the latest round of the brand battle between McDonald’s and Galway-based Supermac’s got under way as the US fast food giant lodged notice of appeal with the EU Intellectual Property Office.

In other news, Supermac’s boss Pat McDonagh signalled his interest in buying popular Dublin nightclub Copper Face Jack’s after owners Cathal and Paula Jackson announced their intention to sell the venue for about €40 million.