Top 3 developments
- The Prime Minister is in a race against time to secure a Brexit agreement on the Irish border question by close of play on Friday.
- David Davis has said the Brexit economic impact assessments do not exist, and has avoided accusations of contempt.
- The EU (Withdrawal) Bill has emerged unamended from its fourth and fifth days in Commons Committee Stage.
DUP torpedo UK-EU draft agreement
Theresa May is in a race against time to finalise a Brexit deal on the Irish border this week, after the DUP derailed the Government’s proposals on Monday. The Prime Minister is short of time though, after EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed that the British Government has until Friday evening to agree a text on a potential deal – otherwise, talks will not progress to trade discussions any time soon.
On Monday evening the DUP – whose support May requires to win votes in Westminster – torpedoed draft plans drawn up by the UK and the EU. The proposals would have avoided border checks by aligning regulations on both sides of the Irish border – essentially keeping Northern Ireland in the Single Market and Customs Union in all but name. However, DUP leader Arlene Foster remains adamant that her party will not accept an arrangement which sees Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK – ruling out the Government’s plans for “regulatory alignment”. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson supported Foster’s point, saying the country must not be “divided by different deals for different home nations”.
However, speaking in Dublin last on Wednesday, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said May is still redrafting her agreement to find a form of words which pleases the Irish Government and her DUP partners. Varadkar said, “having consulted with people in London, she wants to come back to us with some text tonight or tomorrow”. May’s DUP partners, however, seem to lack the same sense of urgency, with one senior DUP figure reportedly saying, “we’re going to slow it all down. This is a battle of who blinks first — and we’ve cut off our eyelids”. Moreover, Foster refused to take the Prime Minister’s calls for 24 hours, whilst their officials sought to clarity their points of difference. Foster has since spoken with May over the phone, and has said she is willing to fly to London to sort the finer points of any agreement in person. Yet, it appears the Prime Minister can – unusually – rely on the help of EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who will reportedly “bend over backwards to help May out”, and is prepared to meet with her at any time to secure an agreement.
Leaked draft EU Parliament resolutions on the UK’s proposed deal show that the UK Government have conceded on the rights of EU spouses and unborn children of EU citizens to remain in the UK, but has in return secured an agreement that Brits already in Europe can settle in any EU country. There are conflicting reports about what the 15-page document says about the financial settlement; according to some, the UK has agreed to meet its full share of the costs of all EU projects signed off for almost two years after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Others say the UK will not pay an upfront divorce bill, and will instead continue to contribute “as if [it] remained a member state” by meeting its ongoing liabilities as and when they arise for decades to come. The draft also promises to establish an independent national authority to monitor citizens’ rights, and has pledged to have “due regard” to ECJ case law on the same issue – all of which is likely to ruffle the feathers of hard-line Leave Tories.
Davis backtracks on impact assessments
In a chaotic appearance before the Commons Brexit Select Committee, David Davis has said the economic impact assessments he had been told to publish do not exist – despite referencing their “excruciating detail” over the past year. Davis insisted that he has been misunderstood, saying the only work undertaken comprised of broad surveys of various parts of the economy, none of which included any forecasts of how Brexit might affect them. “Do not draw the conclusion that because you use the word impact, you have written an impact assessment,” he said. Asked later by Committee Chair Hilary Benn whether there had been any economic assessment of the impact of leaving the customs union, he replied, “not a formal, quantitative one”. The Brexit Secretary finished by saying that impact assessments would be done, but “a little closer to the negotiating timetable”. His response prompted incredulity from Benn, who said Davis’ comments were “quite extraordinary” in light of his previous remarks. Nonetheless, the Committee voted along party lines to conclude that Davis is not in contempt of Parliament. Labour’s Chuka Umunna has since written to Commons Speaker John Bercow, asking for a fresh investigation into whether Davis had misled the Commons over the assessments.
Brexit Bill continues through Commons unamended
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill – the crucial Brexit legislation enabling the UK to exit the EU smoothly – has passed through its fourth and fifth days of Committee Stage in the Commons this week. The bill emerged from the two days of Committee unamended – surviving an attempt by Scottish Tory MPs who demanded major changes to the bill’s provisions on devolution. The Government had comfortable majorities on every vote.
Chancellor contradicted by No.10
Chancellor Philip Hammond had to be corrected by No.10 after telling the Treasury Select Committee that Britain would meet its financial obligations to the EU, even in the event that a free trade deal is not agreed. Addressing the Committee, Hammond said the Cabinet is yet to agree a desired “end state position” for the UK post-Brexit, and that he finds it “inconceivable that we as a nation would be walking away from an obligation that we recognised as an obligation”. A Downing Street spokesperson was subsequently forced to clarify that the financial settlement is conditional on the final deal – “the position we set out is dependent on us forging that deep and special future relationship with the EU that the Prime Minister has spoken about”.
Grayling tackles Ireland
Chris Grayling has said the UK does not have to have identical laws to Brussels in order to align regulations to allow free-flowing trade. The Transport Secretary said that acceptable forms of alignment would not necessarily mean that the UK has to accept all of Brussels’ regulations. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said “plenty of countries have what you call regulatory equivalence where in one country you have one anti-money laundering law and you have another in another country”. Grayling’s intervention could be a nod towards the kind of solution the Prime Minister is frantically pursuing.
Lords report warns against no-deal Brexit
The Lords EU Select Committee has published a report warning against a no-deal Brexit. The 60-page report predicts legal and economic chaos in the event of a no-deal scenario. “‘No deal’ would mean the abrupt cessation of over 40 years of economic, political and legal partnership”, the report says. It goes on, “to is difficult, if not impossible, to envisage a worse outcome for the United Kingdom”.
Sturgeon joins the fray
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to allow Scotland to remain closer to the EU than the rest of the UK post-Brexit, if such an arrangement is allowed for Northern Ireland. Sturgeon argued that if “regulatory alignment” is allowed for Northern Ireland, then this kind of “special status” should be offered to Scotland too. The SNP’s Foreign Affairs and Europe spokesperson in Westminster, Stephen Gethins, added, “given the jobs that rely on the single market, customs union and a relationship with Europe, if there is to be a deal done for Northern Ireland there is no reason we can’t look at having similar arrangements for Scotland”. However, the Government will be all too conscious of the slippery precedent this sets – especially after London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo echoed Sturgeon’s call. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has also waded in on the debate and backed the SNP, saying that any deal must apply to the whole of the UK.
Tory Brexiters set out ECJ red lines
A group of hard-line Conservative Brexiters have set out new red lines for the Brexit negotiations. Former Cabinet ministers Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Nigel Lawson and John Redwood have said the European Court of Justice must not have any jurisdiction over the UK during the planned two-year transition after Brexit. The group’s demand seemingly ignores the fact that the Prime Minister conceded in October that rulings of the ECJ will continue to have affect in the UK for the duration of any implementation period at least.
Anti-EU Farage to accept EU pension
Nigel Farage has been accused of hypocrisy after saying he will not give up his taxpayer-funded EU pensions after Brexit. As an MEP the former UKIP leader is entitled to an annual pension of £73,000 when he reaches 63. Ironically, the arch-Leaver’s pension could be funded in part by the £50bn Brexit divorce bill he has vehemently opposed. Responding to accusations of hypocrisy, Farage said, “I have just voted to get rid of my job. I was the turkey that voted for Christmas. How is that hypocrisy?”
Blair confirms Brexit war-plans
Tony Blair has said unequivocally that he is trying to reverse Brexit. The former Prime Minister said that voters deserve a second referendum because of the vitriolic nature of last year’s campaign. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World this weekend, Blair said that what is happening to the “crumbling” NHS is a “national tragedy” and that it is now “very clear” that the Vote Leave promise to send £350m per week to the NHS after Brexit would not be honoured. He added, “when the facts change, I think people are entitled to change their mind”.
- 8th December – Formal deadline for agreeing a withdrawal bill in time for a “sufficient progress” decision at the EU Council Summit.
- 11th December – National special envoys gather to discuss detailed responses to the UK’s offer.
- 12th December – European Affairs ministers meet for General Affairs council to confirm ambassadors’ and envoys’ responses.
- 12th December – EU (Withdrawal) Bill sixth day (of eight) in Commons Committee Stage.
- 13th December – EU (Withdrawal) Bill seventh day in Commons Committee Stage.
- 14th – 15th December – EU Council Summit.
- 17th December – Christmas recess begins.
- 20th December – EU (Withdrawal) Bill final day in Commons Committee Stage.
- 5th January – Christmas recess ends.
- 22nd – 23rd March – EU Council Summit.
*If you wish to receive these updates when they are sent, please contact Michaela@political-intelligence.com