Top 3 Developments
Article 50 to be triggered by end of March: Theresa May announced that the Government would trigger Article 50, the official starting gun for two years of Brexit negotiations with the EU, by the end of March 2017. The two year negotiation period can only be extended if both parties unanimously agree to extend beyond this period – if no such agreement is reached then the UK will be out of the EU by spring or summer 2019.
Brexit means hard Brexit?: During her speech on the final day of Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister made it clear that limiting immigration would be one of Government’s key priority when negotiating Brexit. May also hinted that the UK might not seek membership of the Single Market as this required freedom of movement.
No Merkel Access: During a speech this week German Chancellor Angela Merkel asserted that the UK could not expect to gain access to the Single Market without accepting freedom of movement. She suggested that to do so would lead to a system in which “everyone does what they want”.
Theresa’s New Path
This week saw Conservative Party Conference and Theresa May made it clear throughout that things under her premiership would be different. Although there was mention of David Cameron and the work that he did for the party, this certainly wasn’t dwelled on. The Conference focused on moving forward and what had to change. The two major announcements were regarding Article 50, which won’t be triggered until the end of March 2017, and that the government is no longer committed to the UK economy being in surplus by 2020. May’s speech that concluded the Conference set out policy that was right-wing, in terms of immigration and education, as well as more left-leaning criticisms of corporatism. One thing that she remains clear on is that when it comes to Brexit there will not be a running commentary in regards to the negotiations.
What was continually stressed during the four-day Conference by Ministers was that the Conservative Party want to set a path towards politics that is built on fairness and opportunity. Their slogan was ‘a country that works for everyone’, which is something that Theresa May has made clear she wants to cultivate.
Freedom of movement likely to be curtailed
In her clearest indication yet that freedom of movement is likely to be curtailed as part of the UK’s renegotiation with the European Union, the Prime Minister stated in her closing speech that “we are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again”.
May made a series of comments both in interviews and in her Brexit speech on Sunday that suggested that the United Kingdom will not seek membership of the Single Market as this would require the freedom of movement with all remaining 27 Member States – a position that she feels would be unacceptable to the general public.
In a further sign of the Government’s desire to reduce overall levels of immigration, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested in her keynote speech at the Conference that businesses could be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British. However, Rudd has since highlighted that this is not an official policy and the Home Office will consult on what steps are needed to control immigration.
At a fringe event, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox suggested that the Government wants UK nationals to be allowed to remain in EU states post-Brexit and also wants to see EU nationals remain in the UK. However, he highlighted that this cannot be guaranteed until negotiations have taken place.
The Four Pillars of Brexit
Brexit Secretary David Davis MP’s parliamentary aide, Stewart Jackson MP, told a Conservative Party Conference fringe event that Brexit negotiations were based on four central tenets – an end to freedom of movement, making laws in Westminster, freedom from the jurisdiction of European judges and no more contributions to the EU budget. The government refused to comment on Jackson’s statements who as Davis’ parliamentary private secretary is one rung below ministerial level.
The Great Repeal
The Prime Minister also announced that the introduction of a ‘Great Repeal Bill’, to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, the law that binds EU law to the British statute book. This law, which will take effect on the day Britain leaves the EU, will transpose all EU legislation into British law. Future governments will then unpick those laws as desired.
Report suggests hard Brexit may cost £38bn
Following the suggestion that the UK may now opt for hard Brexit, TheCityUK have published a report stating that the financial industry could lose up to £38bn if the UK leaves the Single Market. The report looked at numerous scenarios ranging from retaining access to the European Economic Area to fully quitting the bloc and found that hard Brexit could cost the industry up to 35,000 jobs. However, the Treasury has said it was working to ensure companies continued to have access to the Single Market, even if the UK does to retain full access.
In contrast, at the Conservative Party Conference there were a number of fringe events where many “Brexiteers” felt the impact of leaving the Single Market would be less severe as forecast. Their view was either a free trade agreement could be achieved in some form (which would be in the interest of the EU) or the basic WTO rules could be applied as a basis for trade to continue and would be less painful for the UK, given the key exports would have relatively low tariffs.
UKIP leader steps down
Following her selection as leader just 18 days before, Diane James stood down as leader of UKIP on October 4th citing a lack of support from her party colleagues. This left Nigel Farage to step back into the role temporarily whilst the party finds a new leader. UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe had been touted as a favourite to take over the role, however, following an altercation yesterday at a UKIP meeting, Woolfe collapsed in the European Parliament with bleeding on the brain, he is now said to be in a stable condition.
Labour begin (another!) reshuffle
Following his re-election as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has begun a reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet. The reshuffle, which is still ongoing, has seen Sir Keir Starmer appointed Shadow Brexit Secretary. He has taken responsibility for this from the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
Barnier gets to work
Michel Barnier formally started his work as the European Commission Brexit negotiator this week and despite having to wait until next year to start, he has wasted no time in building up his team and beginning the internal negotiations before Article 50 is invoked.
Despite not being able to do any negotiating, the man previously dubbed “the most dangerous man in Europe” (for his tough stance on the City of London) has been consulting with EU Governments and setting up new office space in the Berlaymont building. He has also appointed 10 experts and will have a staff of over 20 people when negotiations start.
Merkel and Hollande: No compromising on freedom of movement
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel told German business leaders the UK cannot access the single market if it limits immigration from the bloc. She said the fundamental principle of free movement had to remain intact saying “If we don’t say that full access to the internal market is linked to full acceptance of the fundamental freedoms, a process will spread where everyone does what they want”.
French President Francois Hollande added to this by telling Europe to take a tough stance on any deal that compromises on freedom of movement. He addressed a think tank saying “Britain wants to leave, but doesn’t want to pay. That’s not possible.” Using tougher language, he added “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price. Otherwise we will be in a negotiation that cannot end well.”
Macron outlines plans to renew EU democracy
In what has been interpreted as a prelude to joining the French Presidential race, former Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron said he wants proportional representation in France and for British MEPs to be replaced by an EU wide party list to make Europe closer to its citizens.
Free train tickets to make people love Europe
The EU is considering giving free inter-rail tickets to European teenagers to strengthen their bonds with the Union. German MEP Manfred Weber said “People all around Europe must get to know and learn to cherish each other. Our wish is that as many youngsters get to know other countries and make new friends.” The FreeInterrail campaign said “Imagine it is your 18th birthday and you find a personalised letter from the European commission in your postbox. In it: a voucher to travel Europe. Your life will change.” Despite the novelty of the idea, the campaign has won the backing of Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
- 20 – 21 October Next European Council summit
- 23 November Chancellor to give the Autumn Statement
- March 2017 Article 50 to be triggered