Brexit Update 23rd August 2019

By September 2, 2019Brexit Updates

Top 3 developments

  • A secret Whitehall dossier known as Operation Yellowhammer was leaked over the weekend, outlining the Government’s assessment of a no-deal scenario.
  • Boris Johnson met with EU leaders ahead of the G7 Summit this week.
  • Jeremy Corbyn has called for Tory Remainers and other opposition parties to hold emergency talks on blocking a no-deal Brexit.

UK Update

Yellow Fever

The Sunday Times published a leaked Government dossier warning of the impact of a no-deal Brexit. The warnings included three months of chaos at ports, shortages of fuel and food, nationwide unrest and a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Additionally, the Government stated that not all companies were adequately preparing for no-deal. Representatives of the UK’s business lobby groups have admitted that companies are ill-prepared for a no-deal Brexit on October 31, confirming that “EU exit fatigue” has set in after two delays to the UK’s departure. This “exit fatigue” rests in the idea that Parliament will prevent the Government from pursuing a no-deal Brexit and that an extension of Article 50 will be granted before the current Brexit deadline, which Remainer MPs continue to campaign for. This belief has also reduced the EU27’s willingness to offer concessions and to continue with renegotiation meetings, as there remains belief amongst some that  a vote of no confidence will occur to prevent a no deal from taking place.

Downing Street sources have been trying to downplay what they have described as “project fear”, stating that it was leaked by a former Government Minister as part of efforts to block Brexit. The Government has added that the document was old and that they have taken “significant” additional steps since the document was drafted. Unfortunately, the Times has been told that the dossier was dated for this month and was completed after the new Government had been formed. Since this document was published, the Prime Minister has made significant strides to begin renegotiation with Brussels and find an alternative to the backstop.

Deal or Deal

John McDonnell placed further pressure on Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, this week when he declared that he would campaign to remain in the EU as opposed to backing a Brexit deal negotiated by Labour, a move that was supported by numerous MPs including Dianne Abbott. This backed Corbyn into a corner to back Remain under all circumstances, not just in the event of a no-deal.

Reacting both to this pressure, and the leaked Government dossier, Jeremy Corbyn has cancelled plans for a four-day trip to Africa so that he can hold urgent talks on blocking a no-deal Brexit with Tory Remainers and other opposition parties on Tuesday. The Labour leader called for a discussion of “all tactics” that could be used to stop Britain leaving the EU without an agreement with Brussels. Reports have suggested that one tactic Remainers are already using is to pursue separate talks with Brussels to push through an extension of Article 50.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats have rejected the idea of Corbyn as a ‘caretaker PM’, it is understood that Corbyn still believes that other MPs should back this decision. Tory Remainer MPs, such as Guto Bebb, have suggested last week that they would favour a Corbyn premiership over a no-deal Brexit, boosting his hopes of leading a caretake government. However, James Cleverly, the Conservative Party chairman, said that if Corbyn became prime minister he would wreck the economy and fail to stand up for Britain.

What is clear is that Corbyn will do all that is possible to prevent a no-deal, most likely calling a vote of no confidence in early September. However, it is not yet clear whether Johnson will be able to win this vote were it to take place. Additionally, it is unclear whether Labour would be able to command a Commons majority to install a caretake Prime Minister before an election would take place.

See EU Later

The Government announced this week that British officials will stop attending most EU meetings starting in September. Due to the lack of negotiating progress between the UK and Brussels, and also to begin to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK will now only attend EU meetings when it is in their interests, “with particular regard to meetings on UK exit, sovereignty, international relations, security or finance” it has been announced in a statement. Legally, the UK is completely entitled to stop attending meetings and can choose to entrust its votes to the Finnish presidency of the Council of the EU in meetings where no British officials are present.

EU Update

Tusk Love for the Backstop

At the beginning of the week, ahead of meetings with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Macron, Boris Johnson sent a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. The letter asked for renegotiations of the Withdrawal Agreement to begin and the removal of the backstop, claiming that it would jeopardise the Good Friday agreement and undermine the UK’s sovereignty, as it ties it into a customs union with the EU. Tusk has accused Boris Johnson of risking the re-establishment of a border in Ireland by failing to propose “realistic alternatives” to the backstop. A spokesperson later stated that this was a matter of “personal interpretation” and not the view of the whole European Commission.

From Paris to Berlin

Boris Johnson met with both Macron and Merkel this week, ahead of the G7 Summit, which starts today. Papers have focused on the positivity of both meetings towards future Brexit negotiations, where Merkel and Macron suggested that it could be possible to find an alternative to the backstop in 30 days, giving time to find a new deal by October 31st. However, Macron has been less positive than Merkel, stating that whilst it may be possible to alter the backstop in 30 days, it would not be possible to greatly amend the Withdrawal Agreement.

The onus was put on the UK Government to lead on finding alternatives to this predicament and appeared to give hope to a lot of Brexiteers in the UK, that there was potential to remove the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement and leave the EU with a deal come October. Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, will now ramp up work to find an alternative to the backstop within the 30-day time limit that has been suggested by Merkel and Macron.

Upcoming Key Dates

  • 3rd September: House returns from recess
  • 14th-17th September: Liberal Democrat Party Conference
  • 21st-25th September: Labour Party Conference
  • 29th September – 2nd October: Conservative Party Conference
  • 17th October: EU October Summit
  • 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline.