Top 3 developments
- MPs begin debating EU Withdrawal Bill.
- Leaked Home Office document outlines Government’s draft proposals for post-Brexit immigration policy.
- Brussels publishes Brexit policy position paper on the Northern Irish border.
Statute of Liberty: Withdrawal Bill debate begins
MPs have begun debating the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. The legislation – also known as the Great Repeal Bill – will end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and enshrine all existing EU laws in the UK’s domestic statute books. However, the Bill will face opposition after Labour said it will vote against the legislation in its current form. Labour MPs argue that the Bill constitutes a power grab by the Government, because it gives ministers sweeping powers to change laws without the usual process of parliamentary scrutiny. A Labour spokesman said “the Government is making a power grab to change a whole set of legislation and rules without recourse to Parliament… That is completely undemocratic”. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer says there are some Tory MPs who have “fundamental concerns” about the Bill, and that they should therefore vote with Labour “in the public interest”. The Liberal Democrats and Scottish and Welsh Nationalists are also expected to oppose the Bill on similar grounds. However, the Bill is still expected to pass, since Theresa May has the support of the Democratic Unionists.
The first votes are expected on Monday, but Tory rebellions are unlikely at this stage – despite vocal criticisms from many senior Tory MPs. Amongst them is senior Tory Dominic Grieve. The former Attorney General said in an article in the Evening Standard on Wednesday that the Bill risked seeing “our domestic constitution and liberties vandalised”. Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry have also vocalised their opposition to the Bill. In response to the opposition ministers have indicated that they are willing to make concessions. Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Damian Green said “people who make reasonable points, we will listen to them and hear what they have to say… What I’m saying is we will obviously listen. It’s very important the Bill will get passed”. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has also sought to allay MPs’ concerns, saying “we have made time for proper parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit legislation and welcome the contributions of MPs from across the house”. She called on her party to show “unity”, and has agreed to meet with Anna Soubry – one of the most vocal opponents of a hard Brexit – to discuss her concerns. During the first debate, David Davis also added that he was ready to “listen to those who offer improvements”, and signaled that the Government may be willing to compromise on some parts of the Bill.
RUDDerless Home Office springs a leak
An 82-page document detailing the Government’s plans for post-Brexit immigration policy was leaked to The Guardian this week. The plans propose that after Brexit, all newly arrived EU migrants will lose their rights to live permanently in the UK unless they are highly skilled; instead, they will have to register as temporary workers with a maximum two-year permit. By the time these permits will come up for renewal, a new immigration policy will have been introduced, which could include a cap on the number of people working in low-skilled jobs. Meanwhile, EU migrants working in “high-skilled occupations” will be granted permits lasting for three to five years. The document reads, “put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off”.
So far neither Amber Rudd nor Home Office officials have commented on the leak. However, the document obviously seeks to deliver on Theresa May’s promise to reduce immigration, and “take back control”; it includes a provision to give “preference in the job market to resident [UK] workers”. The current light-touch border checks will also be strengthened slightly, with EU nationals being required to show a passport to enter the UK (instead of just an ID card), although no pre-entry visa system will be implemented. The document also reveals plans to redefine family members “as direct family members only, plus durable partners” – thereby removing the right of extended family members to reside in the UK. Moreover, if an EU citizens living in the UK wants to bring their spouse from outside the EU to the UK, he or she will have to earn a minimum of £18,600 a year – a restriction previously placed on non-EU nationals only.
Even though the document stresses that the proposals are yet to be approved by ministers and are “subject to negotiations with the EU”, it has already been subject to criticism from industry leaders and employers. The British Hospitality Association, National Farmers’ Union, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Engineering Employers’ Federation amongst others have warned that the Government’s proposals would be “catastrophic” for some industries. Speaking at the first Prime Minister’s Questions since the summer recess, Theresa May refused to deny the paper’s legitimacy, and repeated her insistence that migration has depressed the wages of lower-paid workers. Meanwhile the Labour leadership has come under pressure to criticise the proposals, after Jeremy Corbyn refused to comment on the leak during Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Let’s be having you!”: May seeks Brexit support from big businesses
A second embarrassing leak from the Government this week reveals that Theresa May has urged businesses in the UK to support her Brexit strategy by signing a letter. The letter says that although “some of us personally supported the remain or leave campaigns at last year’s referendum… 15 months later, we all share an understanding that Brexit is happening, [and] a commitment to ensure that we make a success of the outcome for the whole country”. The letter, drawn up my No. 10 official Jimmy McLoughlin, also asks business leaders to express their support for a transition period. Although it is not clear how many leaders signed the letter, it is known to have angered many executives who have significant reservations about the proposed trade and immigration rules, and believe May’s strategy will damage UK business interests.
Tories ERGe May towards hard-Brexit
Senior Tory MPs have launched a drive to stop the Government softening its position on Brexit. Tory MPs in the European Research Group (ERG), which comprises around 60 pro-hard Brexit MPs, are sending a letter to the Prime Minister urging the UK to fully pull away from the EU’s regulatory structure after it leaves the bloc in March 2019. The letter – already signed by 40 MPs – was due to be published on Sunday by chairwoman Suella Fernandes, but has been leaked to the BBC. It reads, “continued membership of the single market, even as part of a transitional arrangement, would quite simply mean EU membership by another name – and we cannot allow our country to be kept in the EU by stealth… The government must respect the will of the British people, and that means leaving the Single Market at the same time as we leave the EU”. The ERG has meanwhile come under fire from transparency campaign group openDemocracy, who claim that members of the hard-line pro-Brexit group have used over £250,000 of official expenses to fund it (in clear violation of expenses rules).
Messy divorce bill spat drags on
David Davis has reiterated that the UK and EU’s positions on the Brexit divorce bill remain distant. Updating the House of Commons on the progress made during the third round of negotiations, Davis said the two sides have “very different legal stances” over what is owed. He remained adamant that the divorce bill will not be settled any time soon, saying, “my expectation is that the money argument will go on for the full duration of the negotiation”. Despite Brussels’ insistence that the bill must be settled before trade talks begin, Davis repeated his desire to widen the scope of talks to include trade in October, even though talks have been “tough and at times confrontational”.
“I Just Can’t Get No Satifact(ory progress)”
David Davis has said he is ready to “intensify” talks with his European counterparts. Talks are currently held on a one-week-a-month schedule, but Davis looks set to increase this. His announcement comes after EU leaders collectively called on the British Government to “start negotiating seriously”. Brussels has repeatedly warned that talks will not progress to the terms of the future EU-UK trade relationship until “satisfactory progress” is made. This week European Parliament President Antonio Tajani joined the fray, warning that not enough progress has been made; he said, “so far we have noted that no concrete proposals have arrived, only very foggy proposals”.
Brussels publishes Brexit policy papers
The European Commission has published five papers setting out Brussels’ position in relation to intellectual property rights, data protection, customs, public procurement, and the Northern Irish border.
- Intellectual Property Rights – Intellectual property rights are to be maintained in both the 27 member states and the UK following the withdrawal of the UK. This will include rights of priority in relation to applications for intellectual property rights in the UK for those granted and pending in the EU before the withdrawal date, as well as the continued protection of databases in both member states and the UK following Brexit.
- Data protection – The UK’s access to networks, information systems and databases established by Union law is terminated on the date of withdrawal, and the UK must abide by existing rules on data protection until this date.
- Public Procurement – On-going public procurement procedures by contracting authorities should continue to be carried out until their completion under the national law applicable at the time of launching the procedure. The non-discrimination principle should continue to be complied with by contracting authorities from the UK or EU27.
- Customs – Generally, the customs rules applicable in respect of an import or export operation when it is commenced should continue to apply to that operation until it is completed. In other words, goods which began movement before the withdrawal date (but arrive on or after the withdrawal date) should be treated as intra-EU movements.
On the much-discussed issue of the Northern Irish border the EU says there needs to be a political commitment to the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement, with the aim of continuing the operation of the Common Travel Area arrangements, whilst also avoiding a hard border and respecting the place of Ireland in the internal market and customs union of the EU. However, Brussels does not suggest what a workable solution might look like, saying instead that the “onus” is on the UK to propose solutions. Speaking at a press conference today, Barnier appeared to reject the UK’s proposal for a more “flexible” approach to the border issue; he said, “creativity and flexibility cannot be at the expense of the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union”. However, he did recognise that any solution would be “unique”.
Davis put in the Junck(er) yard
Recently released minutes from Brussels show that Jean-Claude Juncker voiced concerns about the “stability and accountability” of David Davis during a meeting with Michel Barnier on 12th July. The European Commission President said the Brexit Secretary’s “apparent lack of involvement” in talks “risked jeopardising the success of the negotiations”. Speaking at a press conference today, Michel Barnier tried to soothe tensions, saying “seven days ago exactly we arrived at the end of the third round of negotiations and David Davis was standing here, and I paid tribute to his professionalism and the competence of the whole of the UK team”.
11th September – First votes on EU (Withdrawal) Bill expected
18th September – Expected start of fourth round of Brexit negotiation talks
24th – 27th September – Labour Party Conference
1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference
9th October – Expected start of fifth round of Brexit negotiation talks
19th October – EU Summit