A Cunning Plan

The Prime Minister has presented his ideas for a deal to the country and the EU. Will the EU accept them? Can they pass Parliament? Are they even viable? (Spoiler alert: not really). As usual, there are many questions around the future of the UK and EU. The PM also intends to prorogue Parliament again for a Queen’s speech, for 6 days instead of 5 weeks this time. In the midst of all this, the uncertainty of what comes after the 31st October remains. We have therefore published our short guide for you on how to prepare for a no-deal which you can download from our website.


In Politics

A cunning plan?

  • UK Government realised its plans for replacing the existing backstop

  • Plans propose leaving Northern Ireland in the single market for goods but outside the EU customs union

  • Remove level playing field commitments in the original backstop

  • Lukewarm responses from the EU and Ireland

This week, Boris Johnson proposed new plans to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In short, it doesn’t. It does, in fact, the opposite of what has been promised repeatedly by the previous and current government- namely, protect the Good Friday Agreement in all it’s parts and avoid a hard border.

Under the plan, the entire UK would leave the EU on 31 October with the original transition period staying in place until 31 December 2020. After the transition ends, the UK would leave all EU structures and institutions, including the customs union (which allows frictionless trade with all EU member states). Northern Ireland would also leave the customs union, but it would remain in the single market, staying aligned in the EU’s regulatory environment for food, agriculture and goods. Goods coming into Northern Ireland would have to be checked to see whether they comply with EU standards, which would apply across the island of Ireland.

Johnson thinks this plan is a winner because it would be no need for any checks on the Irish border. But what it does instead is creating two borders- e.g. light touch customs North-South and a full regulatory border East-West between the UK and Northern Ireland. The increase in inspections and random checks, while less visible than border posts, would still pose risks to the communities and officers involved. As the Institute for Government has said, “these plans might meet the UK’s new tests of avoiding physical infrastructure on the border. But they would introduce friction, costs and tariffs for those operating across the border”.

This alignment with EU regulations would then have to be approved by Stormont in advance and renewed every four years. This will, as the Human Rights Consortium has said, set the scene ‘for the continued uncertainty and antagonism in our already destabilised Assembly’. If the DUP denies this at any stage, physical infrastructure at the border becomes the default.

Further, the new plans under Johnson remove the level playing field measures that were contained in the original backstop. These measures included important safeguards on things like environmental standards and worker’s rights. We’ve long said that leaving the EU should not result in weaker standards or fewer rights and this proposal flies in the face of that.

Finally, while the EU welcomed written proposals as a basis for negotiations, this should not be confused with the fact that the EU and Ireland have a number of issues with the UK government’s latest proposals. This thread from Peter Foster is well worth reading for how the proposals have been received in the EU.

Could the Commons pass Johnson’s deal?

  • The short answer is: maybe, but maybe not

Can Johnson’s deal proposals pass the Commons? Putting aside whether the EU think the proposals are workable, is there a majority in this Parliament to pass them?

The government has no majority. If Johnson wants to pass any deal he needs to bring all of his party, the MP’s he withdrew the whip from, the DUP, and a handful of Independents and Labour backbenchers with him.

To pass a deal in the Commons Johnson needs 321 MPs to vote for his deal. This will be difficult for the PM and likely be a knife-edge vote.

So far, the mood music has been positive from Brexiteers including the DUP and European Research Group with hardliners Suella Braverman and Steve Baker saying positive things. Their vote would bring the few Labour hardline brexiteers with them.

However, he still needs the ex-Tories he expelled. Most are anti-no-deal and might back him but that will be down to his own diplomacy skills as each expelled MP is in unique political circumstances.

The Labour leadership have told their MPs not to back the deal but there are some who could. Several joined forces saying they would vote for a deal in certain circumstances. They all prefer a deal to no-deal and tend to represent seats with a large Leave vote. Their actions will be torn between what Labour wants, and what they think their constituents want.

The Guardian has run the numbers and currently have them as 322 for a deal and 317 against. It is very tight and unpredictable as so many MPs are not voting with party whips.

Remember, it is not just that a parliamentary vote that is required for getting the deal passed in the Commons. Johnson also have to implement the deal in domestic law, which requires a stable majority and sufficient time (neither of which Johnson have at the moment).

In Policy


  • New prorogation for a new Queen’s speech

  • Parliament expected to be suspended from Tuesday 9th October

  • Cancels up to two PMQs therefore less scrutiny on Johnson

The Prime Minister is set to prorogue (suspend) Parliament again next week. Once again he insists that the reason for doing so is to have a Queen’s speech and launch the government’s new legislative programme. This prorogation is expected to be from Tuesday 8th October with the Queen’s speech on Monday 14th October. Downing Street has confirmed that the period was to be for “the shortest time possible” to allow for the practicalities around a Queen's speech to be set up.

Whatever reason the government may use to suspend Parliament once again, it will likely have an impact on scrutiny. The Prime Minister’s Questions sessions on the 9th and 16th October are likely to be cancelled due to prorogation and the delay after a Queens speech for normal business to resume. This will mean Johnson has only faced the Commons in one PMQs. Considering he has new proposals for a deal to leave the EU this shows again a decision which will reduce the ability of MP’s to scrutinise the Executive.

This prorogation will give the government the opportunity to prevent the Brexit bills progressing. They were all dropped at the last prorogation and only continued because the Supreme Court declared the prorogation unlawful. This means two things. First, the government will have very little time to bring primary legislation from the new Queen’s speech before the 31st October. Any legislation brought will be rushed and will have little scrutiny. Secondly, if the government doesn't replace the Brexit bills in the Queen’s speech it demonstrates that they intend to rely on secondary legislation to fulfil their agenda which is bad news for scrutiny and transparency.

Outside Westminster

Our No-Deal Preparation Guide

  • This week we publish our guide for civil society organisations on preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

  • Download here.

This week we publish our guide for civil society organisations on preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

There is still a chance of a no-deal Brexit happening. The “Benn-Burt” Act now means if there isn’t a deal agreed by the 19th October then the Prime Minister will have to ask for an extension of Article 50. However, this pushes the cliff-edge back rather than removing it entirely. The only guaranteed way there will not be a no-deal Brexit is if a deal with the EU is passed or Article 50 is revoked and the UK stays in the EU.

It is therefore important for your organisations to think about how you will be impacted by a no-deal Brexit and what you will need to do to navigate these impacts.

We have created a “quick start” guide on what areas you should be thinking about with actions to do and resources with more extensive information. Use this to help your organisation prepare for the impacts of a no-deal.

Download your copy from our website here.

Recommended Reading

  • Our latest blog, by Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at ACEVO assess what challenges, opportunities and threats Brexit presents for civil society- read it here

  • Electoral Commission has new guidance on charities campaigning here

  • Lord Hain, previous Northern Ireland Secretary said the new Brexit plan could break the law and sabotage the Good Friday Agreement- read more here

  • Support for the Good Friday Agreement from US Congress- read more here

  • Response from Lady Hermon on Johnson’s new Brexit plan- watch it here