So in these highly charged political times and as we face one of the biggest constitutional, political and social crises our Prime Minister has taken the course of least resistance and shut up shop. But whilst parliament may have been prorogued its been business as usual for the rest of us. This E: bulletin will focus on the work we have been doing this week, the conversations we’ve been having and what’s on the horizon for civil society.
Scottish court rules prorogation unlawful
Legislation to extend article 50 receives Royal Assent
General election likely happening this autumn
The Scottish court has ruled this week that the prorogation of Parliament was unlawful because the government's intention was to stymie Parliament. The Supreme Court will now hear both appeals by the UK government to the Scottish ruling and an appeal by challengers to the government of a ruling in England that went the other way (i.e the Gina Miller case).
Does this ruling mean that Parliament has to be recalled? Not yet. The Court of Session in Scotland has not issued an order for Parliament to be recalled yet and the idea of Parliament being recalled will wait until the Supreme Court hears appeals on next Tuesday.
The “Benn-Burt” bill received royal assent before Parliament was prorogued. This mandates the Prime Minister to ask for an extension of Article 50 if a deal (or no-deal) has not been approved by Parliament by 19th October. However, there have been rumours that Johnson is going to attempt to find a way around. It is not certain he can do this legally, at which point it becomes a question of if he is willing to break the law. He was also denied a general election once again by the Commons. Due to Parliament not returning until 14th October this means there will not be an election before the 31st.
It is uncertain when an election will be but it is very likely to happen this autumn. The opposition parties want to take no-deal off the table first and then call one. The polls are split and it is increasingly difficult to predict who will get a majority, and where their seats will be. Consequently predicting what Brexit will look like after an election is difficult.
KEY DATES IN THE COMING WEEKS:
Parliament will return on October 14th with a Queen’s speech unless court rulings and politics dictates otherwise
EU Council meeting which will be vital takes place 17th to 18th October
The Gina Miller case and the Supreme Court case from Scotland will be heard together in a three-day hearing starting next Tuesday, September 17th
A similar case on the lawfulness of proroguing parliament heard by Northern Ireland was delivered on Thursday 12th September and found in favour of the government
Yellowhammer papers published
Not enough time to replace existing arrangements before 31st October
Organisations not receiving enough support to prepare for a no-deal exit
This week also saw the publication of Yellowhammer documents with a few redacted bits. Given that The Times had already widely leaked this there were no surprises but they remain absolutely crucial in confirming what we have been saying for some time – no-deal will seriously affect all parts of civil society. As we say this briefing, with less than 50 weeks to go before exit day, there simply isn’t the time to replace existing arrangements.
What we’ve heard during events in Manchester this week is how little support organisations have received in preparing for a no-deal scenario. Those who work with local authorities are saying that increasingly there seems to be an expectation that the sector will be expected to pick up the pieces in the case of No Deal. But, as speakers and delegates said during our conference this week, a no-deal exit is another crisis coming- a lot of organisations are still dealing with the impacts of austerity. A good example is the threat to the thousands reliant on food banks (between April 2018 and March 2019 well over 3 million emergency food parcels went to people in crisis) is stark. The Yellowhammer document is explicit about the possibility of food shortages and a rise in prices with a no-deal scenario. October and November is the end of the UK growing season and we rely heavily on imported food. Any scarcity will inevitably impact on donations to food banks which by their nature rely on people having excess food to donate. See more on this from Sustain here. As one attendee said during our conference in Manchester this week- it’s a big deal, not a no-deal. Over 90 organisations have signed up to an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to engage with civil society groups about their grave concerns around a no-deal exit. If your organisation wishes to sign it, please do so here.
Finally, Michelle Hill, CEO of Talk Listen Change has written an excellent summary of the conference we hosted with NPC, Lloyds Bank Foundation and 10GM this week- do have a read of the discussions taking place on the role of the social sector in the current Brexit chaos.
Primary Brexit legislation dropped
Existing Brexit bills dropped with prorogation
Presents significant problems for scrutiny, rights and governance
Parliament was prorogued on Monday meaning Parliament shuts down for five weeks. This stops scrutiny of legislation, and debates from happening. No department questions in the Commons. No Parliamentary questions will be answered. No select committee evidence sessions. The key Brexit bills: trade, financial services, agriculture, fisheries, immigration we have covered previously have all been dropped.
The falling of this legislation means that the government will now rely on secondary legislation to deal with the negative impacts of a no-deal Brexit. This is bad for scrutiny and transparency. Secondary legislation receives little legislative time or opportunity for scrutiny compared with primary and does not require a vote in the Commons. Alexandra Sinclair and Joe Tomlinson from Public Law Project has written a useful piece on the use of secondary legislation in the event of a no-deal Brexit here.
The Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation ) Bill and the Trade Bill cannot be carried over but both will be needed shortly after a No Deal Brexit. The Fisheries Bill is according to Luke Pollard MP necessary from day one in the event of a no-deal Brexit and that there is no chance of passing the necessary legislation due to prorogation.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Bill could have seen the rights of EU/EEA citizens’ rights guaranteed in primary legislation, as the 3million has said without the Immigration Bill, ‘we will see continued moving goalposts like we have seen yesterday with the changes to the immigration rules’.
The National Farmers' Union called the fall of the Agriculture Bill as "totally unreasonable", adding that there is now "no guarantee at all that the legislation will be in place to enable the government to begin its planned transition to a new farm support system in 2021.
The dropping the Trade Bill that should concern us all and means MPs now won’t get a say in our post-Brexit trade deals. As things stand, after Brexit we will revert to a World War I convention called the "Ponsonby rule" for ratifying international deals. This convention severely limits the role of MPs.
A number of civil society organisations in Northern Ireland joined forces to say no to no deal. In doing so, they highlight a number of impacts, including how a no-deal Brexit would undermine the rights and safeguards in the Good Friday Agreement, the removal of key environmental safeguards and oversight and serious implications of a hard border. They are calling on members of the public and civil society, regardless of your position on Brexit, to say no to no deal. Please find all information about the campaign here.
Explainer on Scotland’s Court of Session ruling on the prorogation of Parliament
In Scotland there continues to be discussion on another referendum and in Northern Ireland a poll published by Lord Ashcroft on September showed that 51% in Northern Ireland would vote to unify. (https://lordashcroftpolls.com/)
Public Health England and all local authorities should be publishing details around leaving on October 31 if they have not already done so
Explainer from Institute for Government: What happens to legislation when Parliament is prorogued?
Another brilliant explainer from Institute for Government: Court challenges to prorogation