Top 3 developments
- Cross-party talks MIGHT be close to an agreement over a ‘customs arrangement’.
- Labour has announced that it will not support a second referendum during the European Parliamentary election campaign.
- The Queen’s Speech will be delayed until a Brexit agreement has been reached.
Frenemies: The One Where They (May) Agree
In news that seems to be shocking everyone, the cross-party Brexit talks between Labour and Conservatives might be reaching an agreement over a ‘customs arrangement’. Linking in with the theme of the week for Government, discussions from the meetings have been leaked and rumours suggest that the Prime Minister may agree to a customs union in all but name, apparently stating that both sides now agree on “some of the benefits of a customs union”.
As it stands, the proposal states that the Government would enter into a ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU at the end of the transition period. The ‘customs arrangement’ would involve Britain aligning all tariffs on goods with the EU and allowing it to negotiate trade deals on Britain’s behalf. This would remain in place until “alternative arrangements” could be found to maintain “frictionless trade” between Britain and the EU.
It has been reported that there are a few more aspects of the arrangement to be discussed between the two parties before the agreement is finalised. The Government want the customs arrangement to apply only to goods, in order to be able to negotiate a separate deal on services. However, Labour is insisting that the arrangement must apply to services as well.
It is believed that, should a deal be agreed, both parties would have support from 170 MPs each, suggesting that a deal could gain a parliamentary majority. It will be interesting to see whether the two-parties will be able to achieve a parliamentary majority over Brexit, something that has remained elusive since the 2016 referendum.
Labour puts its NEC on the line
Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) announced on Tuesday that it would not support an unconditional second referendum during the European Parliamentary election campaign. In essence, Labour’s position remains unchanged with this announcement, as Labour continues to support an alternative plan for Brexit, and they will only support another referendum if they cannot secure either meaningful changes to the Withdrawal Agreement or a General Election.
This position was opposed by the Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, who have both highlighted that any Brexit deal will need ‘further democratic approval’ and strongly lobbied for Labour pivoting towards campaigning for a second referendum. However, Corbyn and the NEC won the battle, and continued to stand by their position of sitting on the fence. Considering a large proportion of Labour (and especially Corbyn) supporters are passionately pro-Remain, it is notable that Corbyn has not changed his position on this issue, and he will certainly lose some political capital by not caving to their demands.
Corbyn may have had multiple reasons for moving against the second referendum. However, whatever his reasons, it was not a deliberate move to satisfy his base that’s for sure.
Make Britain GB Again
In fears that discussing Brexit would impact the Conservatives chances during the local elections yesterday, MPs were instructed to avoid the topic altogether in order to prevent outrage from the public for the Party’s failure to deliver Brexit. This evasion tactic has been ineffective in helping the Conservative Party as they have (at time of writing) already lost 431 seats and counting as the results will continue to be announced throughout the day. Labour is also suffering, losing 81 seats, the most notable in Bolsover, Hartepool and Wirral. These are areas which have not seen local elections since 2015 when David Cameron won a surprise majority.
Despite the low turnout, these votes are clearly demonstrating Brexit dissatisfaction across the country in that Parliament have yet to be able to deliver on the Brexit vote. The Liberal Democrats look to have reclaimed their position as the most prominent pro-Remain protest party, winning over 300 seats so far. Sir Vince Cable, the current leader of the Lib Dems, has commented that “voters have sent a clear message that they no longer have confidence in the Conservatives, but are also refusing to reward Labour while the party prevaricates on the big issue of the day: Brexit”.
It was announced this week that the Queen’s Speech will be delayed until a Brexit agreement has been reached. The Queen’s Speech marks the beginning of a new parliamentary session, and usually happens every year. After the General Election in 2017, the PM announced a two-year Parliamentary session because the enormity of passing the necessary Brexit legislation required the extra time..
Delaying the Queen’s Speech will mean that the current session of Parliament will be the longest in post-war history. It also reveals how weak the current Government is. The Queen’s Speech is an opportunity to outline the Government’s policy programme for the upcoming Parliamentary session. Theresa May knows that a new session of Parliament will require a new agreement with the DUP, and it is almost certain that the speech will be voted down by her Brexiteer backbenchers. Losing a Queen’s Speech vote (which last happened in 1923) could lead to the collapse of the Government and a general election, and after the projected Conservative losses in local and European elections, it doesn’t take an expert political strategist to understand why the Tories want to avoid this.
It was reported that the PM initially did ask Ministers to begin drafting policy ideas for a Queen’s Speech. But she faced strong resistance from the Party, because if the Queen’s Speech went ahead, and even if it somehow passed, it would mean that any future leader would in effect be handcuffed to the policies of their predecessor. Considering the PM had already pledged to stand down once a deal had been passed, this was seen as unacceptable. On a positive note, the delay of the Queen’s Speech has meant that a number of Bills that have been parked for years – due to the Commons being clogged by Brexit – will now have a chance to become law. These include increasing sentences for animal cruelty, addressing domestic abuse and increasing tenants’ rights.
Brittany confirms Grayling is Toxic
Following a week of Ministerial replacements, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling faced renewed calls to resign after it was announced that the contracts with two ferry companies (totalling £83 million) were being scrapped five weeks into a six-month deal.
One of the ferry companies, Brittany Ferries, admitted that it had been providing 20 extra cross-Chanel sailings a week under the contract since March 29 and confirmed that half of the space on these ferries were reserved for the Department for Transport and had not been used. The announcement will raise questions over why the contracts were not cancelled earlier if they were not of use to the Government. Additionally, it will increase rumours that the Government believes that a no-deal Brexit is now unlikely, as they appear to be slowing down preparations or even stopping them altogether.
Did you just assume my agenda?
At the future of Europe speech, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, urged Britain to hurry up with Brexit because of the impact it is having on the EU’s agenda. He continued to state that the EU’s focus is being “hijacked by Brexit” and that the ball is in UK Government’s court as that is where the deadlock is.
His speech can be viewed as a plea for the UK Government to make progress stating “it has been six months since the deal was agreed between EU and UK. The EU agreed to give the UK more time because the UK has requested to. Talks are ongoing in London, that is where the deadlock must be broken.” It is clear that the EU is losing patience with the consistent failure of Brexit negotiations within the UK Government.
The UK’s participation in the European Elections has impacted the EU’s post-Brexit plans as British MEPs will be present for the formalisation of the Commission and outlining of the EU Parliament’s plan of action. Additionally, as polls suggest that the Brexit Party is expected to win 30% of the vote, it is likely that this will further impact and hinder the progress of the Commission.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 22nd May: Deadline to pass a Withdrawal Agreement without participating in the EU elections.
- 23rd May: European Parliamentary elections
- 23rd June: Three year anniversary of Referendum
- 30th June: Brexit review if the UK is still a member of the EU.
- 31st October: Current Brexit Deadline