Top 3 developments
- Government fends off hostile amendments to EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
- Prime Minister prepares to make Brussels a revised divorce bill offer.
- Ministers confirm Parliament will get a final vote on Brexit deal.
Brexit Bill returns to the Commons
The Government has thus far avoided any defeats on its crucial Brexit legislation, after the EU (Withdrawal) Bill returned to the Commons this week. The Bill is currently behind schedule after it took longer than expected to pass through the House of Lords. This week MPs have had two out of eight days of debate on the Bill, and have begun considering nearly 200 pages of amendments in Committee Stage. Despite the Government’s majority falling to as little as 12 on some votes, the Bill remains unamended so far. The biggest test for the Government is yet to come though, with rebellions expected on the Government benches over an amendment tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, which seeks to undo Theresa May’s attempt to enshrine the date of the UK’s withdrawal in law. The Government itself submitted the amendment last week. The alteration would mean that, irrespective of whether a post-Brexit deal has been reached with the EU, the UK will leave the bloc on 29th March 2019 without any opportunity to extend talks. The amendment, which won’t be voted on for a few weeks, has been attacked as a futile attempt by the Prime Minister to fend off a potential rebellion of hard Brexiteers in her own party, not least by veteran Tory Kenneth Clarke, who called it “ridiculous and unnecessary”. Clarke won a rare round of applause in the House for his speech from remain-supporting MPs. Grieve also attacked the move as “thoroughly stupid”, because it limits the Government’s flexibility in the negotiations. Consideration of amendments will continue in day three of Committee Stage next Tuesday, and is likely to run until mid-December.
May to make revised bill offer, after Brussels piles on the pressure
Theresa May is preparing to make a revised financial offer to the EU in order to unlock trade negotiations, after Brussels gave the Government two weeks to make concession on the divorce bill. When asked last week whether it was necessary for the British Government to provide clarity on their financial commitments within a fortnight, the EU chief negotiator responded clearly – “my answer is yes”. The Prime Minister is now expected to make a significantly larger offer before the next EU Council Summit on 14th December. It is not yet clear, though, whether she will meet the two-week deadline set by Barnier (which expires next Friday). May is not expected to explicitly mention a precise figure, but she will promise to meet further commitments to the effect of a further £20bn – effectively doubling her initial offer. Expectations have been set after May met with Manfred Weber – a German MEP and close ally of Angela Merkel – on Wednesday. After the meeting, which Downing Street called “constructive”, Weber said the UK must “clarify” how much it is willing to pay if it wants to move on to trade talks after December. He added, “for the so-called sufficient progress question for the December council, the most important thing is not the figure. The most important thing is to clarify the commitments – the areas where Great Britain has to see its commitments… May is willing to make a step forward … so that progress can be made by December”
Government confirms Parliament will get a final vote on Brexit deal
On Monday Brexit Secretary David Davis conceded that Parliament will get a final say on the Brexit deal. Although the offer represents a significant concession by the Government, it has failed to win over many MPs – Tories included – who have criticised it as “meaningless” because it would be too late for MPs to actually affect the outcome of the process. Critics argue that, should Parliament vote to reject whatever offer is on the table, the EU is unlikely to reopen negotiations. Dominic Grieve and a number of other Tory rebels remain unsatisfied by Davis’s promise, saying that verbal reassurance is not as good as a statutory requirement. Grieve said, “it remains the case that the bill as drafted does not reflect what the government is now promising – and the bill will therefore have to be changed to meet the government’s promise”. As such, Grieve tabled an amendment to the withdrawal bill which would put Davis’s promise on a statutory footing. The amendment will be voted on in coming weeks, and looks set to be the Government’s biggest challenge yet.
MPs warn of post-Brexit customs chaos
A new report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warns that there could be massive delays, disruption and traffic jams at British ports and borders on the first day of Brexit. The report compares worst-case scenarios, and calls the Government’s plans to increase Border Force staff by 4% and HMRC staff by 5,000 “completely unconvincing”. The Committee recommend that the Home Office “plans for a significant further increase in border staffing and to ensure that arrangements are in place to prevent large numbers of staff being diverted away from other critical areas”. The report has been published in the wake of the Government’s announcement to abandon plans for a £250m lorry park to deal with disruption on the M20. The Committee says the Government’s failure to prepare means the South East could face “Operation Stack on steroids”. The report does, however, welcome an expansion of the Government’s ‘trusted trader’ scheme, which it says could be one part of a solution to combating customs queues post-Brexit.
Bojo and Gove warn May with insubordinate memo
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove have written to the Prime Minister advising her to follow through on the Brexit vote. The leaked letter – which was originally handed to May’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell after the Conservative Party Conference last month – said May should “ensure Brexit is delivered”. The warning, co-authored by Johnson and Gove, came as a surprise to many as the two notoriously fell out during last June’s Conservative leadership contest; yet, they seem to have formed an “alliance of necessity”. The letter urges May to limit the influence of Remainers, and push for a hard Brexit. The two also accuse some ministers of having “insufficient energy” to follow through on the UK’s withdrawal – a thinly veiled attack on Chancellor Philip Hammond. As such, they encourage the Prime Minister to ensure her cabinet are fully behind her and that discussions are “internalised”. Whilst the position expressed by the pair comes as no surprise, their insubordinate language has been criticised.
PM meets with European business leaders
Earlier this week Theresa May and David Davis met with European business leaders to discuss Brexit. The meeting seems not to have gone well for the Government, as leaks say Davis put the prospect of a deal by the December deadline at 50/50. A DExEU spokesperson has since dismissed the quote as “categorically untrue”. The Prime Minister is said to have urged the leaders to lobby their respective governments for further progress. BusinessEurope President Emma Marcegaglia – who was in attendance – said, “they asked us to convey to our governments and to the EU that they should be a little bit more open, a little less strict on the points. We said: ‘Time has passed, we lost one year and now we really have two weeks to have a deal on these points’”.
Barnier to make ‘standard’ trade deal offer
Leaked framework documents show that Michel Barnier is prepared to offer the UK only a limited Canada-style free trade deal. The documents reveal that, because the UK is insistent on leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, Brussels is only prepared to offer a “standard” free trade agreement – an outright rejection of the “bespoke” trade deal sought by the Prime Minister. The EU’s proposed deal would offer “no direct branching in areas like financial services” and only “limited EU commitments to allow cross border provision of services”, which could significantly damage the UK’s financial services sector. The documents explain that the UK’s demands for “regulatory autonomy” and its failure to obey ECJ rulings means it is “not compatible” with a more beneficial arrangement, leaving a “standard FTA” as the only option. Such an arrangement could inflict significant political damage for May, who has publicly decried the Brussels-Ottawa arrangement as greatly inferior to the UK’s current position in the Single Market.
European Parliament cancels on May
A plan for the Prime Minister to visit the European Parliament later this month has been cancelled just one day after it was announced. According to plans made on Tuesday, May was scheduled to meet with the Conference of Presidents on 24th November. However, on Wednesday the assembly cancelled, citing that “a number of group leaders weren’t able to rearrange their agenda at such short notice”. Both sides say they are looking to reschedule.
Tajani: ‘Brits regret Brexit!’
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani has told a German newspaper that he believes most people in the UK now regret the decision to leave the EU. Tajani is quoted in Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) as saying, “the problem is not us — the EU speaks with one voice… Rather, the government in London is struggling with a lot of difficulties. The British have to tell us what kind of relationship they want with the EU — whether they want the model of Norway or that of Switzerland. Nobody knows … I believe that by now a majority of the population sees Brexit as a mistake” (though there are no opinion polls supporting this assertion). Tajani added that disillusionment had set in “even in the British government” over the process of leaving the EU, though officials would not admit as much publicly.
Figures show record numbers of EU workers in the UK
Despite an initial dip in EU citizens coming to the UK in the three months following the Brexit referendum, the latest figures show that a record number of EU citizens are working in Britain. Quarterly figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this week show that 2.37m migrants from the EU were working in the UK between July and September – a 112,000 increase on the same period last year.
- 22nd November – Autumn Budget.
- 14th December – EU Council Summit.
- 17th December – Christmas recess begins.
- 5th January – Christmas recess ends.
- 22nd – 23rd March – EU Council Summit.
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