Top 3 developments
- The EU have agreed for a ‘flextension’ until 31st January 2020.
- The UK Parliament have approved an early General Election for 12th December 2019.
- The UK Parliament will be dissolved on 5th November for the ‘pre-election period’ or ‘purdah’.
Winter Is Coming
Parliament held two votes on an early General Election this week. The first vote, needing a two-thirds majority to pass, missed this margin with just 299 votes to 70 against. However, the next day, the Government brought forward a one-line “Early Parliamentary General Election Bill” which required only a simple majority to pass. This motion was backed by 438 votes to 2, confirming an election date for 12th December. Parliament will now be dissolved on 5th November, and will be followed shortly by the pre-election ‘purdah’ period, during which new and potentially controversial policy announcements are not allowed. Political Parties have nevertheless already begun deploying their election messaging and key policies, in an attempt to secure votes.
This will undoubtably be one of the most volatile and unpredictable elections, with the result having significant consequences for Brexit negotiations. Each scenario of party victory could mean something different for the Brexit process. If the Conservatives gain a sweeping majority then Boris Johnson is expected to push his Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament as soon as possible, after another Queen’s Speech, for the UK to leave the EU in early January 2020. However, if the Conservatives do not have a majority then they may be forced to form a coalition with another party. It is currently unlikely that the Lib Dems or SNP would agree to such a deal, and any agreement with the DUP would potentially result in changes to the Government’s current deal. Meanwhile, if Labour win the election, the party has pledged to ‘get Brexit done’ and renegotiate a new, better deal within six months, which will then be put to a public vote. Whilst Labour have publicly rejected the possibility of a coalition their Brexit position does allow for scope of a coalition with either the SNP or Lib Dems.
Playing A Trump Card
Despite frowning on outside intervention during elections, President of the United States, Donald Trump, has interfered in Boris Johnson’s General Election campaign, before it has even really begun. The President gave an interview to the leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, criticising the current Brexit deal, claiming it could limit or stop a new trade deal between the US and UK, as well as suggesting that the Brexit Party and the Conservatives join forces. Trump also disputed claims made by Jeremy Corbyn that he is attempting to buy the NHS.
This could represent an embarrassing blow for Johnson, especially if Labour use this as a key plank of their election campaign. Additionally, there is a fear that the suggested alignment with the Brexit Party could cause scepticism in voters who advocate a soft-Brexit and those who are against a no deal. Some Conservative MPs are already concerned that the party is alienating Remain voters, and there is now the worry that Donald Trump’s interreference could be unhelpful to the campaign.
Given the unpredictable nature of this election, it will remain to be seen how detrimental these comments and interference will be for the Conservative Party.
Ursula von der (de)leyen
On Monday, the EU27 granted the UK an extension to Article 50 to the 31st January 2020, with the option to leave earlier if his Withdrawal Agreement was ratified in Parliament (dubbed a ‘flextension’). EU leaders were split over the weekend as to the length in which to extend Article 50. A shorter extension was desired by some to focus minds in Westminster and to give them the time needed to scrutinise and ratify the Bill. However, as expected, the EU consensus eventually swung towards respecting the time delay outlined in the Benn Act and extending Article 50 to the 31st January. This was a significant climbdown for the French President Emmanuel Macron, who was leading the charge for a shorter extension. But his climbdown did prevent an emergency summit being called for EU leaders, in which he would probably have lost the argument regardless.
There has been a bit of speculation as to whether the EU would offer any further extensions beyond the 31st January 2020. With this extension secured, there were rumours that if another extension was needed, then Brussels would offer a final extension to 31st June 2020. If the UK had not sorted out Brexit by then, then it would crash out without a deal. However, this is more likely an indicator of the frustration felt within the EU, rather than a glimpse at their future policy. Any further extension to Article 50 will now be negotiated by new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and new EU Council President Charles Michel. It is unlikely that both leaders would want to start their premierships by offering such an ultimatum to the UK. They will also know that however frustrating it is having to negotiate delays, and whatever harm this uncertainty is causing business and investment, it does not compare to the expected damage that a no-deal Brexit would have on both the UK and the bloc, so it is likely that the EU will continue to do everything it can to avoid this scenario.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 12th December: UK Election.
- 31st January 2020: New Brexit Deadline.