Top 3 developments
- Less progress than the Government had hoped as fourth round of negotiations conclude.
- Boris Johnson continues to frustrate No. 10 by undermining May’s Brexit strategy.
- European Parliament proposes delaying vote on Brexit trade talks.
Trade talk delays look inevitable after fourth round of talks end with little agreement
Brexit Secretary David Davis and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier have failed to break the stalemate in the latest round of UK-EU talks. Davis claimed “decisive steps forward” have been made on key issues – including on the crucial issue of citizens’ rights. They agreed that EU citizens would be able to invoke their rights before the UK courts, but there is still disagreement about what role (if any) the European Court of Justice will play in overseeing this; this remains a “stumbling block” for both sides. The two also disagree on the issue of family reunification. The Government had hoped that a breakthrough would occur in the fourth round of negotiations, after Theresa May’s speech in Florence. But whilst Barnier recognised that it had been a “constructive” week, he said “big gaps” still remain, and added that it could be “weeks or months” until talks progress to trade – dashing the Government’s hopes of progressing the negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator criticised the UK’s unwillingness to specify which financial commitments it would meet; “for the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments taken at 28 [member states] are honoured at 28”. With no clear financial settlement in sight, the European Parliament has said that EU leaders should postpone their decision on whether to move on to trade talks until after their summit in October.
Lords Committee publish damning Brexit Bill report
The House of Lords Delegated Powers Committee has published a scathing report on Theresa May’s Brexit Bill, claiming the legislation gives ministers “excessively wide” powers. The Bill was introduced to Parliament earlier this month, and is designed to transfer all existing EU law onto the UK’s statute books. Ministers argue that the new powers created in the Bill – so-called Henry VIII powers – are necessary to avoid legal chaos on Brexit day. However, the report claims “the Bill gives ministers excessively wide legislative powers beyond what is necessary to ensure UK law works properly when the UK leaves the EU”. The report goes on to say “the Bill contains insufficient parliamentary scrutiny”, and that “Parliament should be given a greater say” on the procedure. The report also proposes a new system for ensuring important legislative changes are overseen appropriately. The report is an indication of the opposition the Bill is likely to encounter once it enters the Lords next month.
BoJo can’t contain his MoJo
Boris Johnson has once again aggravated Downing Street after undermining the Prime Minister’s Florence speech by calling for a shorter Brexit transition period. Speaking at the launch of the Institute for Free Trade, Johnson said “you can imagine what our brilliant companies are able to do… when they are finally – and let’s hope the date is soon upon us without too long a transition period – finally unbound, unshackled”. The Foreign Secretary’s remarks have been seen as a direct challenge to the Brexit strategy announced by the Prime Minister on Friday, under which the UK has called for a two-year transition period to prevent a shock for businesses. In a show of force, Liam Fox, Priti Patel and Michael Gove were also present at the launch – showing their support for a liberal post-Brexit trade policy.
Johnson’s speech is the second time this week he has appeared to contradict the Prime Minister, after he announced on Tuesday that he does not expect the UK to be subject to EU laws after the UK official leaves the bloc in March 2019. Speaking in the Czech Republic Johnson said “the relevant date for cutting the current model of free movement of persons and EU immigration into Britain is still 2019. We must be clear about this”. Though the Prime Minister’s speech was vague on exactly which EU rules the UK would still be subject to during a transition period, she implied that the UK would stick to the current arrangement as closely as possible.
“Deal or no Deal, that is the question”
The House of Lords EU Select Committee has launched a new inquiry into the implications of a ‘no deal’ scenario post-Brexit. The committee will also examine the legal basis of a transition period. The inquiry’s launch comes in the wake of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, in which she conceded that “neither the UK, nor the EU will be in a position to implement” a post-Brexit UK-EU deal before the March 2019 deadline. A core focus of the committee will be on whether May’s speech is a good foundation on which to base future negotiations.
May’s civil servant Brexodus
DExEU has confirmed that top civil servants are to be transferred to the Cabinet Office, following last week’s announcement that Oliver Robbins (previously the top official at DExEU) would be moving, as May attempts to tighten her grip on the Brexit negotiation process. The department has not yet confirmed which specific civil servants will be moving, but it could be as many as twenty (including four senior civil servants). The move is indicative of the competing power hierarchies in Whitehall, and could be seen to undermine Brexit Secretary David Davis’ role.
Businesses call on May for clarity
The CBI has warned the Government that businesses require more clarity on what Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU will look like. CBI President Paul Drechsler said that 40% of businesses in the UK have delayed or cancelled investments because of Brexit uncertainty; he warned, “business can’t wait. We need clarity right now”. Drechsler voiced the building irritation and impatience felt across the business sector over the Prime Minister’s persistent ambiguity – even after her long-awaited Florence speech; he called for the as yet “ambiguous negotiations” to “urgently morph into a transparent game plan”.
Verhofstadt tells Home Office “Stop these Ruddy mistakes!”
The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has warned that the Home Office’s recent ill-treatment of foreign nationals could “colour” MEPs’ attitudes towards a Brexit deal. Writing to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Guy Verhofstadt referenced recent administrative mistakes at the Home Office, such as the deportation letters sent in error to 100 EU nationals. He wrote, “an increasing number of these incidents have been reported in the media in the past months”. He went on to say that the inconsistent application of EU law in relation to EU citizens’ rights would “inevitably colour Parliament’s attitude to provisions on citizens’ rights in any final withdrawal agreement, to which, as you know, Parliament must give its approval”. Verhofstadt closed his letter with a reminder that “until withdrawal the UK remains a member state of the union and fully bound by its obligations under EU law, including EU legislation on free movement of citizens”.
EU leaders don’t get May’s Flo
British officials have said there are “no excuses” for blocking Brexit progress after EU leaders responded coldly to the Prime Minister’s call for fast-tracked talks on a transition deal. Despite welcoming May’s “constructive spirit” at the opening of the fourth round of talks in Brussels, the EU’s chief negotiator said his mandate only allows him to discuss a transition once “sufficient progress” has been made on the terms of divorce. Barnier reiterated that it is London, and not Brussels, who is requesting a transition period – “we are not asking for it”. Thus, the Prime Minister’s calls to restart the stalled talks appears to have fallen on deaf ears. Although EU leaders unanimously welcomed the Prime Minister’s change of tone, they remain adamant that more clarity is needed on the UK’s financial commitments.
29th September – Theresa May to meet EU27 leaders in Estonia
1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference
9th October – Expected start of fifth round of Brexit negotiation talks
10th October – EU (Withdrawal) Bill Committee Stage expected
19th October – EU Summit