Top 3 developments
- Prime Minister prepares for an important Brexit intervention next week.
- Government’s repeal bill passes its first test in the Commons.
- Juncker offers an optimistic vision of Europe’s future.
Florence and the Maychine
The Prime Minister is to make a crucial speech in Florence next Friday in her first intervention into the Brexit process since triggering Article 50. Last week European Parliament Brexit lead Guy Verhofstadt warned that the next round of negotiating talks are likely to be delayed until May can make an “important intervention” in the Brexit proceedings. A spokesperson declined to discuss the content of Mrs May’s speech, beyond saying that she will give an “update on Brexit negotiations so far”, and underline the UK’s desire for a “special partnership”. The Prime Minister will be travelling to Florence – chosen because “the UK has had deep cultural and economic ties spanning centuries” with the city – just to make the speech. The announcement comes as ministers agree to delay the fourth round of talks by a week. The talks in Brussels – previously due to start on Monday 18th September– are now due to start on Monday 25th. Downing Street denied that May’s speech was the cause of the delays to the fourth round of talks. A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU added, “both sides settled on the date after discussions between senior officials in recognition that more time for consultation would give negotiators the flexibility to make progress in the September round”.
May’s repeal bill passes first test
The Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has passed the first stage of the legislative process in Parliament. The Bill – formerly known as the Great Repeal Bill – passed its second reading by 326 to 290 votes. The Bill’s primary function is to transpose all existing European laws into UK domestic law; however, the legislation would also give ministers so-called “Henry VIII” prerogative powers – allowing the Government to change important legislation without full parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill’s provisions have been criticised as an unabashed power grab, with Labour calling it an “affront to parliamentary democracy”. Ministers are seeking to reassure MPs ahead of committee stage by considering calls for safeguards over their use of new powers. Nonetheless,157 amendments have thus far been proposed to the Bill – with several penned by senior Conservative backbenchers. The Bill is expected to begin committee stage when Parliament returns after the party conferences.
Standing room only
The Government has overcome a second crucial hurdle in its ongoing battle to pass Brexit legislation in the House of Commons. May’s controversial motion allows her to alter the makeup of standing committees in favour of the Government. Conventionally, membership of standing committees has matched each party’s proportion of votes in the last general election. However, with the Tory party currently lacking a majority in the Commons, the motion ensures that the Conservatives always have the most seats on crucial public bill committees. With support from the DUP, the motion passed by 320 to 301 votes, despite criticism that the bill is another “sinister power grab” by May.
Hammond urges status quo
Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the Government will seek a Brexit transition deal that “looks a lot like the status quo”. Speaking to the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, Hammond said “a transition, or interim, period would need to look a lot like the status quo, otherwise businesses will be making one set of changes at the beginning of the interim period and another set towards the end of it”. Hammond’s vision of an implementation period represents a departure from the one May set out in her Lancaster House speech – the Prime Minister did not say that she expects the UK to remain a member of the customs union and single market indefinitely. In contrast, the Chancellor said ministers would seek almost identical trading arrangements – implying that the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget, and abide by ECJ rulings.
Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has called on Theresa May to agree an urgent side-deal on EU citizens’ rights post-Brexit. Grieve said it was paramount to ringfence a deal that secures employment and social rights in order to protect both the estimated 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million British nationals on the continent in the event that the UK suddenly leaves the bloc without a deal. Speaking at a gathering of EU citizens and trade unionists in Westminster, Grieve said “I would regard it as essential to be able to ringfence a deal, otherwise it is going to be a serious problem for both EU nationals and UK nationals, which I think is unacceptable”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said it is “open for discussion” whether the UK can remain a member of the single market post-Brexit. Speaking during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, Corbyn said “we want a relationship which allows us to trade within the single market. Whether that’s formal membership, which is only possible, I believe, if you’re actually a member of the EU, or whether it’s an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion”. Corbyn’s comments appear to signal yet another change in the Labour party’s position on Brexit. However, shortly after the interview a Labour party spokesman appeared to refute Corbyn’s comments, saying “we won’t be ‘members’ of the single market after the transition”.
Brex and the City
Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the Government intends to strike a “bespoke” deal with the EU to protect the City’s financial services sector. During a speech at the UK Finance annual dinner, Hammond said ministers “will not accept protectionist agendas, disguised as arguments about financial stability”. Recognising that financial services are “our most important EU export sector”, he said the UK would seek a “new paradigm” for trade in financial services with the EU. Hammond acknowledged that the EU has “legitimate concerns” about the future regulation and oversight of the City of London, and said he would develop proposals for a new relationship with the EU on the issue of supervision. The Chancellor sought to reassure the sector that the Government intends to preserve London’s status as Europe’s financial hub and demonstrate to Brussels that UK regulation would remain in line with European norms after Britain leaves the bloc.
Government publishes Brexit defence policy paper
The Government has published a policy position paper on foreign and defence policy after Brexit. This week’s “Future Partnership Paper” is constructive and pragmatic in tone, saying the UK will continue to support EU military operations and sanction efforts after Brexit. It talks about how the UK and EU need to continue agreeing “joint positions on foreign policy as part of a deep security partnership”. The paper will come as a relief to many European leaders, who were concerned by Theresa May’s comment in her Article 50 letter that “a failure to reach agreement would mean our co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened”. In stark contrast to the combative tone of the Article 50 letter, this week’s paper ends: “the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining European security”.
Three Brexiteers in da hood
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said this week that he and fellow Brexiteers Davis and Fox are like “brothers from a different mother”. Gove made the comments when asked about his relationship with the Brexit secretary and international trade secretary by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Gove said the ministers and their departments were “constantly in touch with one another”.
Juncker: Soon you’ll regrexit
Jean-Claude Juncker gave an optimistic and personal State of Union speech this week which had a clear message – “we will move on because Brexit isn’t everything”. Outlining an expansive vision for the future of the Union, Juncker declared that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails”. Whilst very clear that Brexit is a “very sad and tragic moment in our history” – and one “we will always regret” – Juncker reiterated that “it isn’t the future of Europe. It isn’t the be all and end all”. In order to progress the European project, Juncker proposed more measures to encourage all EU countries to join the Euro, so that it could be truly “the single currency of the European Union”, along with a wide range of institutional changes, including the creation of an EU finance minister and the widening of the Schengen area, in which passport-free travel is allowed. The Commission President also called on members to arrange a special summit to be held in Romania on 30th March 2019 – the day the UK leaves the Union. During a subsequent debate in Strasbourg former UKIP leader Nigel Farage called Juncker’s speech “worrying”, and said Brussels has “learned nothing from Brexit”.
- 22nd September – Prime Minister’s Brexit speech in Florence
- 24th – 27th September – Labour Party Conference
- 25th September – Expected start of fourth round of Brexit negotiation talks
- 1st – 4th October – Conservative Party Conference
- 9th October – Expected start of fifth round of Brexit negotiation talks
- 10th October – EU (Withdrawal) Bill Committee Stage expected
- 19th October – EU Summit