Top 3 Developments
- Supreme Hearing: The Supreme Court concluded its four day hearing on the Brexit case this week but the final judgment is not expected until sometime in January.
- A plan, finally? In order to avoid defeat on an opposition motion, the Government agreed that it would publish a plan for Brexit before triggering Article 50. Unfortunately, the motion did not specify how detailed the plan will need to be.
- Just 18 months to negotiate Brexit deal? Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, suggested that the UK might only have 18 months to negotiate Brexit to ensure that there is enough time for the European Parliament and Member States to approve the final deal.
Theresa May and the Supremes
The Loch Ness Monster and dangerous dogs made an appearance in the Supreme Court this week as the Brexit legal challenge concluded. Despite attempts by Brexit supporting MPs and parts of the media to reframe the legal proceedings as an undemocratic attempt to undermine the referendum result, the Supreme Court’s task is to determine whether the Government can use its Royal Prerogative to trigger Article 50 and so effectively start the repeal process for the European Communities Act.
Seemingly straightforward, the case requires a highly complex assessment of the relationship and interdependencies between Government and Parliament and it fell to Lord Pannick QC, acting for lead claimant Gina Miller, to explain the complexities by bringing the Dangerous Dogs Act into play, widely considered to be one of the worst additions to the UK’s statute book. While it wasn’t his key point, QCs for the Government struggled to explain why Parliament would need to approve the repeal of the Dangerous Dogs Act, but would not be given a say on the European Communities Act and all the European rights for citizens that flow from it.
The Supreme Court judges will now consider the case in private and deliver their judgement sometime in January.
May’s colourful plans for Brexit
After getting frustrated with questions about hard, soft, black or white Brexit, the Prime Minister announced this week that she wanted to see a Brexit that was red, white and blue. Apart from offering little clue to what this means for the Government’s approach, commentators pointed out that red, white, and blue are not only to be found on the Union Jack but also the flags of other EU nations. Taking this further, mixing the three colours together, would leave a purple Brexit, UKIP colours.
Going through the Motion
Just as Labour looked like they were providing an effective Opposition by tabling a non-binding motion to commit Government to publishing its Brexit plan, they were quickly outmanoeuvred by a Government amendment that also committed Parliament to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. The move quickly exposed the division within the Labour Party as Labour MPs railed against what they saw as giving May’s Government a ‘blank cheque’ to trigger Brexit early next year on her terms. In the end 23 Labour MPs voted against the motion, defying the Party Whip and undermining the notion that they finally had their house in order.
During the debate, Brexit Secretary David Davis offered some insights into the developing position on Brexit suggesting that the UK would not seek membership of the Single Market but a “bespoke outcome on terms of trading with and operating within the European market.” He also stressed that the UK would be “seeking tariff-free, barrier-free access”, also ruling the UK out of operating under WTO rules. Most notably he alluded to the fact that whilst control would be key, Government anticipates significant immigration from the EU post-Brexit, explaining ‘it is not in the national interest to cause labour shortages.’
Dave: I have no Bregrets
In his first proper speech since stepping down, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, assured us that he does not regret holding the Referendum in June despite the Leave vote costing him his job.
Speaking at an American university, Cameron stated that the fact that Britain had gone 40 years without holding a referendum on its membership of the EU had begun to poison UK politics, adding that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election had been part of a ‘movement of unhappiness’. He also joked that people often ask him ‘How are you sleeping?’ and he replies ‘I sleep like a baby – I wake up every hour calling for my mother’.
Who voted for Brexit?
A study looking at a number of election and social attitudes, provided detailed insights into the Brexit vote. While Brexit received some support from all strata of society, only some groups supported it in the majority, including those with less wealth, lower incomes or lower levels of educational attainment.
The research also highlighted the importance of the press with many voters following the instructions of their preferred newspaper rather than their preferred political party. 58% Conservative voters and 36% of Labour voters backed leave, despite the leadership of both parties at the time backing remain.
The findings illustrate what was commonly believed by many commentators, the Remain Campaign’s messages about economic doom and gloom failed to connect with the significant part of the UK population that already felt left behind. It is clear that Theresa May’s Government is attempting to win the support of this part of the electorate with her message of building ‘a country that works for everyone’.
No by-election surprises as Labour trails in fourth
The Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election failed to add to the list of electoral shocks in 2016 and the Conservative Party comfortably held the seat as a possible challenge from UKIP failed to materialise. The by-election was however a disappointment for Labour, as Corbyn’s party finished behind the Liberal Democrats in fourth place – falling from their second place finish at the 2015 General Election. As ever, it is unwise to attempt to draw significant conclusions from by-elections – this is in part due to the fact they usually have considerably lower turnouts than other votes. This adds to latest polling that gives the Government a 17 point lead over Labour.
EU Chief Brexit Negotiator: You have 18 months, no cherry-picking, no having your cake and eating it!
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, delivered his first press conference since his appointment, warning that Britain will have just 18 months to negotiate Brexit so that EU institutions and Member States have sufficient time to ratify any agreement. If the Government sticks to its timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017, this would mean a deal would need to be finalised by October 2018. The notion that Britain would be able to keep full market access was also rubbished with Barnier repeating that ‘cherry-picking’ is not an option. Barnier, did suggest, however, that a short transitional agreement to cover the period between the UK’s exit and the start of a new agreement might be a possibility.
Establishment 1 – Populists 1
The past week saw Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resign, with the Italian electorate resoundingly voting against his plans for constitutional reform in a referendum last Sunday. Meanwhile, Austria avoided the prospect of becoming the first country in Western Europe to elect a far-right head of state since the Second World War as Alexander van der Bellen, the ex-leader of the Green Party, defeated Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer to win a re-run of the country’s presidential election. Strong turnout and support from the mainstream media seemed to have helped van der Bellen, while it has been suggested that Nigel Farage’s endorsement did Hofer probably more harm than good as conservative but pro EU voters lent their support to the former Green. The vote served to underline the tumultuous journey that has taken place in European politics this year and reiterated the power of populist movements, with Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo leading the opposition to Renzi’s proposals and calling on people to vote with their gut. That said, Italy is no stranger to political instability and change.
With elections next year in France and Germany, proponents of the EU project will wait with baited breath, and the likes of Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party in France, will have been emboldened by this year’s political developments.
- 13 December Lords EU Committee session on Brexit and Gibraltar
- 14 December Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee session
- 14 December Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee session on movement of people
- 15 December Next EU Council Summit
- March 2017 Article 50 to be triggered