Top 3 Developments
· Government defeated twice in the Commons a week before the meaningful vote.
· Rumours of potential Article 50 extension
· MPs launch Norway-Style Common Market 2.0 as an alternative
Government defeated twice as vote looms
A cross-party group of MPs have petitioned the Government to deny the Treasury powers to change taxes in the event of a no deal withdrawal from the EU, thus making a no deal more difficult for the Government to prepare for. MPs including Yvette Cooper and Nicky Morgan tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill, which allows ministers to implement tax changes relating to the EU after Brexit but only if Parliament backed a deal. This amendment was voted on in Parliament on Tuesday and passed by 303 votes to 296. This has placed added pressure on the Prime Minister to push the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament on 15th January, as the defeat has given rebellious MPs more cause to vote against the deal.
Adding to the Prime Minister’s bad news, rebel Conservative MPs have joined forces with Labour to inflict a further blow to the Government in a Commons Brexit vote, just 24 hours after the defeat during the Finance Bill. The vote, backed by 308 MPs and opposed by 297, means that the Government will have to come up with revised plans within three working days, as opposed to the original 21 working days, if May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs next week. The defeat has ramped up pressure on the Government to find alternatives to the Withdrawal Agreement, such as a ‘softer’ Brexit deal or, as advocated by leader of the Labour Party, a general election.
Jon Bercow, the Speaker of the House, has come under severe criticism for breaking parliamentary precedent and overruling legal advice from officials in order to allow the amendment to be tabled. A cabinet source said Bercow’s actions meant that the relationship between the Government and the Speaker was “beyond break point, it is broken”.
Whitehall ramps up no deal preparations
Following the two significant Parliamentary defeats this week, and increased expectation that the withdrawal deal will be rejected by Parliament, up to 4,000 civil servants are being asked to abandon their usual jobs and work on no-deal Brexit preparations. Whitehall sources have claimed that five government departments – defence, justice, education, international development and work and pensions – have begun extreme no deal preparations in order to ensure the necessary precautions are in place if Britain leaves without a deal. The 4,000 civil servants in question will work in a new “command, control and co-ordination structure” at HMRC and there will be eight new team leaders at the cross-departmental border delivery group. This development indicates that the Government is losing confidence that the Withdrawal Agreement will be approved by Parliament come Tuesday’s vote.
Come Vote with Me
With a BBC report predicting of a catastrophic defeat of 228 votes, the Prime Minister has stepped up her efforts to court MPs in order to sway the meaningful vote in her favour.
Tory MPs were invited to drinks receptions on Monday and Wednesday this week in a ploy to sway their opinion. However, reports from Brexiteers suggest that these have been unsuccessful so far, with many reiterating that legally binding reassurances regarding the Northern Irish backstop are required before they reconsider their opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Additionally, there are reports that Ministers are likely to accept an amendment offering extra assurances on workers’ rights in order to win support from Labour. The amendment would commit the UK to retaining EU rules on pay and conditions, health and safety issues as well as environment standards, a Government source said. These reports came after May held meetings with Labour MPs Gareth Snell, Lisa Nandy, Jon Cruddas, Caroline Flint and John Mann, as well as leaders of Britain’s biggest unions Unite and GMB, to try and stave off defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement. If Labour MPs accept this amendment there is potential for May to gain a majority during the vote on Tuesday.
Furthermore, there have been reports have May will grant more devolved powers by allowing the Northern Ireland assembly in Stormont to vote against new EU rules if the backstop comes into force. This appears to be a ploy to sway the DUP to vote in May’s favour, giving her a majority for the vote. However, this is unlikely to have the desired effect as Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit Spokesperson, stated that the concessions were “meaningless” and of “no real significance”.
Launch of Common Market 2.0
Robert Halfon and Lucy Powell have launched a new Norway-style plan for Brexit saying freedom of movement can be controlled even if the UK retains access to the Single Market. The arrangement would see the UK follow the Single Market rules, including allowing continued monitored freedom of movement, while making greater use of existing mechanisms to limit migration. It would, also, end the jurisdiction of the ECJ and take the UK out of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy. This plan has been backed by Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan and Stephen Kinnock and will likely be advocated as an alternative to May’s plan should the vote fail.
Rumours Suggest Brussels has plans to extend Article 50
Whilst both Brussels and London have denied claims that secret meetings have occurred to initiate the delay of Article 50, reports have emerged in the media this week that Brussels have a plan in place which allows for Article 50 to be extended until the end of June. This is to give the British Government more time to pass the Agreement through Parliament, but not to amend the deal any further. However, these suggestions have given some hope to MPs who oppose the deal and feel that a better deal is in sight.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 15th January: ‘Meaningful Vote’ on the UK/EU exit deal
- 18th January: Government’s released revised plans if the vote fails.
- 29th March 2019: UK planned exit from the European Union
- 30th March 2019: UK planned transition period.
- 31st December 2020: UK planned exit from the transition agreement.
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