Top 3 developments
- May escapes Commons defeat
- Labour MPs rebel on EEA
- Future security partnership in flux
You only live twice 1000 times
With 15 amendments making their way to the House of Commons earlier this week, Theresa May’s position looked shaky at best. However, with the whips office in overdrive she managed to head off a rebellion from her own benches, satisfying a rejection of all the amendments. This was not without cost however, with assurances given to rebels for a rewording of amendments to satisfy both camps. An amendment on holding the government to a customs union, became an amendment to compel the government to report to parliament on a customs arrangement. An amendment on giving parliament a say if negotiations break down, a so-called meaningful vote, became an amendment for the Government to update the House if they do break down.
Conservative rebel MPs however remain reluctant to give the Bill their full backing with many still seeking for Parliament to have a more meaningful say on negotiations in the event of a no-deal. Something the Government is reluctant to give. The amendments will now pass back to the House of Lords in a process known as ping-pong. The Government will seek to assert the primacy of the House of Commons as the elected chamber if disagreements over the Brexit Bill continue to rally – this however must be passed by a majority vote in the House of Commons. Something that can only be done, of course, with majority support.
Dodge the Brits
With the Republic of Ireland currently highly reliant on the UK for its exports, the Commission is drawing up plans to pull the Republic closer to the Continent post-Brexit. Not physically we must add… but instead through a series of new routes that avoid the use of Britain’s transport and maritime links for freight. The plans are part of a wider push to connect markets in the EU, with funds likely to be diverted from the channel tunnel to fund new links. The move is likely to ensure that goods from the Republic are not held up in UK ports under expected new restrictions following the UK’s exit from the Single Market and uncertainty over the future customs arrangement. Commission officials have described the move as both ‘symbolic and practical’, whilst freight companies in the UK are likely to be concerned by the proposals.
SNP defiant over Brexit Bill
SNP MPs stormed out of Parliament on Wednesday, following the expulsion of Westminster leader Ian Blackford by the Speaker after refusing to sit down. Blackford was protesting the decision to allow just one hour to debate over 50 devolution amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill. No.10 criticised the walkout, calling it a stunt. Blackford’s expulsion meant he was unable to vote on additional amendments to the Brexit Bill that day, although given the majority in the Government’s favour, his absence would not have had the effect it otherwise would have in a closer vote. The SNP has called the walkout the start of a campaign to disrupt the passage of the Brexit Bill, after the Scottish Parliament voted against support of it in its current form.
Whip? What whip?
Labour saw its largest rebellion yet as 90 MPs voted against the party whip to support or oppose an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would compel the Government to seek continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) post-Brexit. Labour tabled its own amendment to the Bill that instead sought ‘full access’ to the Single Market through shared institutions – something that was rejected by MPs in a later vote. Corbyn released a statement following the rebellion, which included six resignations, saying he understood the dilemma faced by those representing Leave voting constituencies. MPs remain reluctant to vote in a different way from their constituents, particularly those with slim majorities.
Did I say 9 years? I meant 10
Whilst House of Commons Speaker had previously announced that he would step down on June 22nd 2018, it has emerged that he plans to stay on until at least Summer 2019 – citing the need for an experienced speaker to oversee Brexit votes in Parliament. Brexit supporting MPs remain critical of the Speaker, who famously has a ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ sticker on his car, with worry that he may allow a vote in the house on a second referendum or other delaying tactics to the UK’s exit. There is no requirement for the Speaker to step down, however in modern times it is almost an unwritten expectation that they do so after a give term – normally spanning two or more parliaments. As Speaker of the House, Bercow sets the agenda on what amendments can be debated in the chamber, as well as the broad timetable for business within the House.
Migration, migration, migration
A new approach to asylum is being discussed at an EU level between member states following the decision by Italy to turn 600 migrants away, building on the dissent over the current policy by an increasing number of Visegrad and southern EU states. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, was incensed by Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of Italy’s decision, insisting that France immediately accepts 9,000 migrants in a distribution initiative. Mr Salvini announced that 10,249 migrants had been turned away from France after entering through Italy, seeking to show that other states too had been reluctant to accept the current regime.
With Austria soon to take up the EU presidency of the EU Council, a new axis appears to be forming, designed to outnumber the “Franco-German motor” which seeks a distributive system for asylum seekers across the EU. Supporters of the axis include Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, with conservative elements from other states also seeking a new deal. The Netherlands and Denmark were also named as two states who needed greater asylum and border protection in a conference called in Berlin.
Break on future security
Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has warned that “nothing must change” after Brexit that would put EU citizens at risk, in a stark warning on the EU’s current negotiating ‘principle fortress’. The view is at odds with others in the EU, including the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who remain firm on their belief that the UK cannot benefit in the same way from EU institutions when it leaves the EU. The balance of opinion in Germany remains critical to the success of the EU’s negotiating position, due in part to the precariousness of Germany’s coalition, which has left Merkel in need of compromise to assure support.
The UK is seeking continued access to the European Arrest Warrant, the European Criminal Records Information System and SIS II which tracks who is entering and leaving the Schengen area. Brussels is trying to contain the comments, with a series of discussions taking place at a bilateral level to alleviate the concerns over risks to EU citizens post-Brexit. Whilst the UK and the EU have expressed the support for a future security partnership, we are yet to see the extent to which this can occur given constraints on both sides over what they are willing to accept.