Top 3 developments
So much for ‘Budget means Brexit’ After widespread speculation that Philip Hammond was to deliver a ‘Brexit Budget’, the Chancellor gave the biggest economic threat facing the UK only a passing mention. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, called the failure to seriously address Brexit in the speech “jaw dropping”. With the triggering of Article 50 just around the corner, businesses and industry were hopeful for an indication of the Prime Minister’s EU negotiation tactics, or reassurance that the Treasury has built up a ‘Brexit War Chest’, but received neither.
Ministers suffer second defeat in the Lords Theresa May suffered a second defeat on her Brexit bill in the Lords this week. Peers backed an amendment, by 366 to 268, which stipulates that the Prime Minister must offer a ‘meaningful’ parliamentary vote on the final Brexit deal. 13 Tory peers defied the government to vote in favour of the amendment, including former ministers and Government advisor Lord Heseltine. Brexit Secretary David Davis has already vowed to overturn this amendment, and last week’s amendment on the status of EU nationals living in the UK, when they return to the Commons later this month. Number 10 remains insistent that the defeat will not derail the Government’s Brexit timetable; it is, however, a clear indication that the House of Lords refuses to be side-lined in the withdrawal process. It is likely, however, that the ‘ping-pong’ between the Commons and Lords on these two amendments will have cost the Prime Minister a few days, however, should the Brexit bill be passed by the 15th or 16th, the 17th (or soon after) is likely.
Stop…! Heseltine! Theresa May has sacked former Conservative Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine from the five roles he held as a government advisor in various sectors. The firing comes after he defied the Government and backed the House of Lords’ demand for a ‘meaningful’ parliamentary vote on the final Brexit deal. Speaking to the BBC Heseltine accepted Number 10’s right to sack him, saying of the Prime Minister “she’s doing very well in the polls… the public approve of what she’s doing”. However, in relation to the vote, he said “sometimes there are issues which transcend party politics”. The sacking is a clear indication of how the Prime Minister intends to quell dissent within her party as she enters negotiations – as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, ‘you’re either with us or against us’.
‘Spreadsheet Phil’ vows to destroy bad EU formula
In an interview on the Andrew Marr show this week, Philip Hammond has sent a warning to European governments that Britain will “fight back” and not “slink off like a wounded animal” if Europe does not offer an agreeable Brexit deal. As the triggering of article 50 looms, the Chancellor made it clear that Britain would do whatever was needed to ensure it is an attractive destination for business in the event of leaving the EU without a trade agreement. Hammond’s combative language also disregards last week’s call from Sir John Major for the government to tone down its anti-EU rhetoric. Hammond appears to be in tune with the Prime Minister – who has made her own ruthless approach to Brexit clear in the sacking of Michael Heseltine.
‘Divorced, beheaded, died’: Lords fear Great Repeal Bill
In a very busy week for the House of Lords, Peers on the Constitution Committee have recommended in a report that Parliament should limit ministers’ powers to alter legislation during the Brexit process without full Parliamentary scrutiny. A Great Repeal Bill will be introduced later this year to revoke the 1972 European Communities Act and grandfather into domestic British statue books from the day Britain leaves the Union. The Bill is likely to include sweeping powers to repeal or amend most laws with very limited parliamentary scrutiny – also known as Henry VIII clauses, after the 1539 status allowing the King to legislate by proclamation. Peers have warned against the Prime Minister being able to “pick and choose which elements of EU law to keep or replace”, without consulting Parliament.
UnbeLeaveable migration claims say peers A report published this week by the Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-committee stated that net migration to the UK was consistently higher from outside the EU than inside. Significantly, the report points out that this higher level of migration has been sustained “even though the relevant policy levers are under national control”. In other words, restoring control over EU migration back to the British government, “may or may not” therefore deliver a reduction in overall net migration (an important assumption for Leave campaigners).
Can EU pay my bills? In yet another report from the House of Lords, Peers on the EU Financial Affairs Sub-committee have argued that the UK could leave the EU without paying a penny of the final divorce bill. A final bill of €60bn (£52bn) has been suggested by the European Commission; however, the House of Lords say the UK is under no legal obligation to pay the £52bn, nor payments into the EU budget promised by David Cameron. In spite of no legal obligation, the final divorce bill and EU budget contributions will feature prominently in the withdrawal negotiations. Chair of the sub-committee, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Falkner, said, “the government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations”.
Sturgeon stokes the Brexit fire The Scottish First Minister said this week that autumn 2018 would be a “common sense” date for a second Scottish independence referendum. Whilst insisting that no final decision has yet been made, Sturgeon said that a second ballot was “highly likely”. Sturgeon’s comments highlight that a bad Brexit deal could have significant ramifications beyond the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Au Revoir Britain The French president, François Hollande, has warned in an interview that Britain will not be able to retain the advantages of EU membership after it leaves the Union. Hollande made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that “the UK will become an outsider to the European Union”. The French president was quick to point out that “the UK has made a bad choice at a bad moment” – citing the US “closing itself off from the world” as a key reason for the UK’s diminished economic prospects. Hollande’s comments are the latest exchange of increasingly tense and aggressive rhetoric between the UK and Europe; intended, no doubt, to project power and confidence as both sides enter negotiations.
Hollande calls for a multi-speed Europe In the same interview Hollande called for a reformed European Union which allowed for varying degrees of integration. Hollande was clear that “Europe explodes” if the EU is not able to “imagine degrees of integration”. The irony of Hollande’s comments is that it has taken Brexit for European leaders to seriously entertain the idea of a multi-speed Europe (the very ideal Brexit campaigners called for).
- 13th, 14th, 15th March – Lords amendments to the Brexit bill considered in the Commons.
- 15th March – Dutch elections.
- 25th March – 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.