Top 3 developments
Oh my Lord!: The Brexit Bill overcame its first hurdle in the House of Lords passing unopposed at Second Reading. However, more significant opposition is expected next week at Committee Stage when Peers will attempt to amend the Bill.
Juncker Brexpects Brexpensive Brexit: President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned that the UK faces a “hefty bill” as part of its withdrawals. Reports have put the figure at some £51 billion.
Danger! Cliff ahead: The UK’s former Ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, used a Brexit Committee appearance to warn that a “cliff-edge” Brexit in which the UK had not secured an exit deal would be “insane” and damaging to both the EU and UK economies.
Lordy Lordy The Brexit Bill had its Second Reading in the House of Lords this week after a two-day debate involving nearly 200 speakers. Highlights included speeches from Lord Mandelson making a last ditch attempt to stop Brexit and the PM sitting in on the debate from the royal steps. Whilst Prime Ministers have the right to sit in the Lords, the move has been criticised by some as an attempt to stamp her authority upon the debate. As expected, the Bill passed unopposed, however, more opposition is expected when the Bill reaches Committee Stage, when the Lords will seek to pass amendments. Amendments which guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and a commitment to allow Parliament a final ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal are expected, along with a host of others. However, once again Labour have made clear they will not seek to block the Bill, Lady Smith, opposition leader in the Lords, stated that whilst Labour peers would press for amendments, they do not foresee any ‘extended ping pong’.
Has Ivan Got Views For You? Appearing before the Commons Brexit Select Committee, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, offered a gloomy forecast for Brexit negotiations, stating that Brexit talks will inevitably descend into “name-calling” and “fist-fighting” before any agreement can be found. He also stated that there would be major consequences for the UK economy if the negotiations are mishandled, describing exiting the EU with no deal as “insane” and like “going off a cliff edge”.
What to do with a problem like…Scotland? The Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, and Greg Hands, the Minister of State in the Department for International Trade, both gave evidence to Holyrood’s Culture, Europe and External Affairs Committee on the implications of Brexit for Scotland. Hands stressed the strong interactions that the Government has had with the Scottish Government so far. Mundell fared slightly worse in front of the Committee, confirming that when the UK leaves the EU, once the Article 50 process is complete, so too will Scotland. On the suggestion that Scotland could go for independence through a second referendum and then re-join the EU, Mundell made it clear that Scotland would have to apply for membership from scratch and there is no idea as to how long this will take. This statement comes after two academics concluded it would take a minimum of five to six years after an independence referendum for Scotland to become an EU member state. The Committee accused Mundell of not listening to the concerns of the Scottish people and questioned whether the Government were stringing the Scottish Government along in terms of negotiations.
Five-years for Brexit The Institute of Directors (IoD) has warned its members to prepare for the worst when it comes to Brexit. The IoD has called for a deal which allows for a five-year transition period to temper the economic impact of Brexit. The IoD also demanded an immediate guarantee that three million EU citizens living in the UK be allowed to stay after Brexit, something which has been left in doubt after MPs rejected an amendment which would have guaranteed this right. The chair of the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, Dame Judith Hackitt, also suggested that a five-year transition would be best as it would allow businesses to acclimatise to the new post-Brexit environment.
The Tony Blair Witch Project Tony Blair made a speech last week on Brexit, saying it is his “mission” to persuade Brits to “rise up” and change their minds on this issue. He claimed that people voted in the referendum “without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit”. His comments have been interpreted in two very different ways, one as being patronising and showing disdain for the will of the people, the other as pointing out the obvious – the Government are only focusing on Brexit and nothing else. Blair gained some support for his speech from familiar sources, such as Lord Mandelson, however, he also received a great deal of criticism, not just from Conservatives, but also from the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn who described the speech as “not helpful”, adding ‘the referendum happened, let’s respect the result’.
Juncker’s Massive Bill President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has warned the UK faces a “very hefty” bill for Brexit. Reports suggest the UK could have to pay the EU up to 60 billion euros (£51bn) after Brexit talks start. Discussions are said to be taking place in Brussels on the size of the bill to be presented to Mrs May when she launches the talks. The amount will cover the UK’s share of the cost of projects and programmes it signed up to as a member, as well as pensions for EU officials. Stephan Mayer, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, has retorted that Mr Juncker had not been “very clever” in making the statement before formal negotiations had begun. It is very likely that the UK will have to pay a fee for leaving the EU – whether it is £51 billion or ‘peanuts’ (as Ian Duncan Smith put it) remains to be seen. Meanwhile eurosceptics are pressing for the Government to take back its share of EU assets, which some claim amounts to more than €150 billion.
Macro(n) Economics Emmanuel Macron, the centrist candidate and current favourite to win the upcoming French presidential election, has met with Theresa May and Phillip Hammond in London. In an exceedingly pro-European speech Macron endorsed ‘communal European politics’, and said that the UK should not be granted access to the Single Market without respecting the four freedoms of the EU, including the free movement of people. Whilst advocating a fair Brexit deal, Macron pointed to a ‘series of initiatives’ aimed at attracting British ‘banks, talents, researchers, academics and so on’ to France which, he claims, is now ‘a very attractive space’. He also suggested the Touquet agreements governing the border between Britain and France would have to be revised.
Don’t divide and blackmail us Tomáš Prouza (Czech minister for EU affairs), Elmar Brok, (German MEP and close ally of Merkel) and Guy Verhofstadt (leader of the liberal ALDE group and the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator) are amongst European politicians who told the Guardian this week that any attempts by UK ministers to use ‘divide and blackmail’ tactics will only slow down and complicate Brexit negotiations. They claimed that Theresa May’s current approach involves talking European politicians out of certain ideas, which risks a ‘crash-landing’ Brexit with no trade deal for the UK.
- 23rd Feb Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central By Elections
- 27th Feb Committee stage debate of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords
- 7th March Brexit Bill expected to receive Royal Assent
- 8th March 2017 Spring Budget
- 9th March Possible date that UK Government triggers Article 50
- 9th / 10th March European Council meeting
- 25th March 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome