Top 3 developments
- UK set to introduce ‘no-deal’ legislation
- Brexit Secretary reveals plans to bypass Calais in ‘worst-case’ scenario
- May seeks to placate dissent as negotiations enter make-or-break stage
UK set to ‘concentrate minds’ with no-deal legislation
According to The Times and other news outlets, parliamentary preparations for a no-deal Brexit are set to be launched in the second week of November, with other routine parliamentary business effectively suspended to allow no-deal legislation to be presented before Parliament. Emergency legislation is set to include guarantees on EU citizen rights and the reassertion of UK control over its waters, which could effectively include shutting off access to EU fishing vessels if no agreement is reached.
The plans, which have remained a secret given sensitivities around the negotiations, have been drawn up over the past year. Whilst both the UK and EU remain committed to forging an agreement, with “95% of the withdrawal agreement complete”, the upcoming implementation of the plans are deemed necessary given the time it would take for them to gain Royal Assent. Speaking on the matter, a senior government figure said the legislation would ‘concentrate minds’ whilst insisting that the longer the Government left it to reveal the plans, the harder it would become.
On concentrating minds, the plans are likely to be watched on both sides of the Channel. Thus far, EU member states have been reluctant to enter full bilateral discussions with the UK to avert crises in areas where they hold competence or can work on solutions within EU law. Assurances on citizen rights, as well as other areas, are likely to set the starting point for how member states may respond if UK-EU talks break down. The UK and EU are however working hard to reach agreement, with more clarity on both the Irish backstop and future relationship expected in the coming weeks, and a snap EU Council summit in November expected if agreement is reached.
Go slow, sweet chariot
The UK is stepping up preparations for a ‘worst-case scenario’ at UK’s ports if a no-deal Brexit materialises. Speaking on the matter of no-deal planning in Parliament, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the House that the UK was looking to ‘more amenable ports’ than French ports such as Calais which could introduce ‘go-slow’ instructions to border officials, slowing down the shipment and movement of goods between the UK and EU. Reacting afterwards to the comments, Xavier Bertrand, president of the Haute-de-France region which encapsulates Calais, said he did envisage closing Calais or the Channel Tunnel to the UK, and that everything must be done to ‘guarantee fluidity’. The UK’s own representative in the region also sought to bring reassurance, saying there are no plans in France to close the crossings, or to introduce long delays which would be a ‘suicidal economic mission’ by France.
Indeed, the political impact too would be high, given the economic benefit of goods passing through France to other EU states and beyond. Preparations by the UK and reassurances from France on the border go some way in placating the present perceived threat of mass disruption. However, uncertainty over how supply chains may be impacted by even short-term delays, from sanitary checks for example, continues to cause concern across the EU.
Looking towards a ‘new partnership’
HM Queen Elizabeth II welcomed King Willem-Alexander from the Netherlands to Buckingham Palace this week, speaking fondly of the “enduring alliance” between the two countries. On Brexit, the Queen said the UK was looking towards a ‘new partnership’, whilst the King said “Brexit does not mean farewell”. The King further spoke from Westminster’s royal gallery of the people that work between the two countries.
With friends like these…
Argentina’s foreign minister has signalled that the country will seek to exploit the UK’s exit from the EU and with it, the EU’s Duty of Sincere Cooperation that has thus far legally obliged EU member states to support the UK’s sovereignty claims over the Falklands. The minister, Jorge Faurie went on to say that a no-deal Brexit would enhance the possibility of the issue being brought to the table.
As an overseas territory of the UK, the Falkland Islands has enjoyed tariff-free access to the EU’s Single Market, something that is set to change when the UK leaves the bloc. Given 70% of GDP on the islands is reliant on exports to the EU, a no-deal scenario, which means no free-trade agreement, would severely impact the overseas territory’s economy which would have to trade on WTO rules with the associated tariffs.
There’s always another fish in the sea
The government has introduced its Fisheries Bill in Parliament, promising to ‘take back control’ of the UK’s fishing waters after it leaves the EU. The legislation, which will re-establish the UK as an independent coastal state, will allow the UK to decide who can fish in the UK’s waters for the first time since 1973. The EU has thus far insisted that future access to the UK’s waters must form part of a future UK-EU trade deal, something the UK rejects, with Fisheries Minister George Eustice saying trade and fishing access were ‘two separate things’. At present up to six times the amount of fish is landed from EU27 states drawn from UK waters compared to what is caught by UK fishing vessels in EU27 waters. Spain and the Netherlands are just two of the EU’s states that have industries that rely on access to UK waters, setting up future conflict as the UK and EU try and thrash out a trade deal.
Placating the 1922
Theresa May faced down her party on Tuesday as she addressed the 1922 committee, made up of Conservative backbench MPs. Remarks made prior to the meeting, which called for the PM to ‘bring her own noose’, and another that the meeting would see her ‘stabbed in the front’ as opposed to the back, over her handling of Brexit, were condemned across parliament. The PM was said to have all but placated large swathes of her MPs in the meeting, with a call for unity in the face of the EU “who would use deviation to their advantage”. May is said to have made a passionate speech during the meeting about why she thought the party should come together at this crucial stage in negotiations, further talking of the need for a deal to be concluded with MPs able to pass judgement at a later stage. She also sought to reassure her own MPs that she would not concede to EU demands for a separate regime for Northern Ireland compared to the UK as part of the backstop solution.
As negotiations enter their most critical phase, a breakdown of the UK or EU’s position is likely to be jumped on by the other side to force concessions. However, thus far, both sides are refusing to blink on the issue of the Northern Irish border, with Dominic Raab saying EU “intransigence” makes a no-deal outcome more likely. The meeting between May and her MP’s appears to have removed the threat of May stepping down before negotiations are concluded. Nicky Morgan MP speculated however, that a new Conservative leadership was likely within the next 12 months.
Spain talks of ‘historic mistake’ of Brexit
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addressed the Spanish Parliament this week to update MPs on Spain’s no-deal preparations. Telling them that he thought Britain was making a “historic mistake” that would “diminish the influence and prosperity of the British people” he went onto say that it was regrettable that the EU could not “reject the request for the UK to withdraw from the EU” in a sign of the sadness felt from the UK’s departure from the 28 member union. Sanchez further called for Spain to learn from the UK’s mistake and give priority to the union of Europe and Spain. Spain and the UK concluded talks last week over the status of Gibraltar post-Brexit, with further discussions ongoing between Spain and the overseas territory.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 13th December: EU Council Summit
- 29th March 2019: UK planned exit from the European Union
- 30th March 2019: UK planned transition period.
- 31st December 2020: UK planned exit from the transition agreement.