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Parliament returned from its Easter Recess on Tuesday but despite the Brexit countdown to exit day in October continuing on it has been a quiet week of Parliamentary business. No key Brexit legislation has not been debated in Parliament this week. It also looks set to be a quiet week next week in business terms. The Leader of the House of Commons set out next week's Parliamentary business (which can be read here) and again no key legislation is currently expected. This is despite rumours that the Prime Minister would bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to Parliament in an attempt to get through the impasse and avoid European elections on the 23rd May. To avoid the European elections, May needs to pass the Meaningful Vote and WAB within the next month. This time frame is deeply concerning as it drastically reduces the opportunity for proper scrutiny of the bill by Parliament and organisations outside of Westminster. Unless parliamentary business changes then the bill is not going to the Commons next week.

We have repeatedly called for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to be published in draft form to allow as much time as possible for parliamentary scrutiny. This piece of legislation is crucial for protecting citizens rights, setting out the legal relationship between the UK and EU courts, and set out the process for the ‘backstop’ in Northern Ireland (although rumours have been circulating that the PM could introduce the Bill without the Northern Ireland backstop in the hope it shows her Brexit deal could be approved without it)

However, for the PM it is politically dangerous. Firstly, the likely contents of the bill will upset her hardline Brexiteer MP’s on her backbenches and with constant grumbling, she is unlikely to want to provoke them further. Secondly, important constitutional problem is that if the bill fails to pass through the Commons the government is not allowed to bring it back a second time in the same session of Parliament. Therefore, the PM would have to prorogue (i.e. end the current session and start a new one) Parliament. This means a new Queen's speech which is another set of problems for the PM as she lacks policy and a majority, and meanwhile, she would need to negotiate a new deal with the DUP as the current deal ends at the end of this parliamentary session. Therefore the current approach appears to be keeping the WAB under wraps. 

No Planning for No Deal?

There is some confusion as to whether Government and the Civil Service is still making contingency plans for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Once the deadline for leaving the EU was extended to October 31st leaks appeared suggesting the Civil Service had been told to step down on planning for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. This angered pro-Brexit MPs in Parliament who felt it signalled the UK would not leave with No Deal and therefore the UK loses a bargaining chip in the negotiations.  

However, it has been reported since that the Prime Minister has written to all officials stating planning ‘must continue’ but with adjusted timetables. Authority for what planning continues appears to lay with the Department Permanent Secretaries. The key issue for this ambiguity from the Government is that wider society have no guidance of what planning to make. With a lack of clear information, it is difficult for organisations across civil society to prioritise what to plan for. Parliament has repeatedly ruled out a ‘No Deal’ Brexit however in the absence of a deal, or revocation of Article 50, it still remains the legal default. 

Tim Durrant from the Institute for Government has written a useful blog on this which you can find here.

See also handy blogs from the Hansard Society on legislative provisions, withdrawal agreement ratifications and implications for Parliament here andhere.  

Brexit Civil Society Alliance Campaign Toolkit!

Cutting through the noise and politics of Brexit can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task. Our new toolkit is aimed at those organisations wishing to equip themselves with tools to prepare for Brexit and engage with the decision-makers in the process. This could either be through lobbying around specific pieces of Brexit legislation or making sure members and activists are equipped to engage with key areas in the Brexit process. 

Our Campaign Toolkit is available to download as a PDF here.

Instability in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland continues to face high levels of instability. There is still no government in Stormont and Brexit is not bringing either side closer to the table. As Dr Katy Hayward sets out just like in Westminster there are deep divides in approaches to Brexit in Northern Ireland, and these are wrecking stability. 

Potential ‘No Deal’ is being used to advance each party aims with Sinn Fein arguing for a border poll and the Ulster Unionist Party happy for the reintroduction of direct rule. 

Brexit is changing people's attitudes to constitutional matters as well as the parties positioning. Dr Hayward sets out that social media and other online spaces are giving chance for different voices to be heard on the future of Ireland.  Meanwhile, according to surveys, demand for Irish unification is growing among Catholics potentially in response to calls for an increasingly hard Brexit. The full piece by Dr Hayward is worth a read and can be found here.

This points to questions for organisations about the future of all devolved nations as Brexit is raising key constitutional issues which are then unleashing further questions such as Irish unification or Scottish independence. Planning for future constitutional upheaval will not be over once a Brexit deal is agreed. 

2nd Referendum before 2021 (for Scotland)

The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech in the Scottish Parliament this week saying she would introduce legislation to set out the rules for another independence referendum in Scotland. Sturgeon has based this decision on giving the people of Scotland a choice between staying in the UK out of the EU or an independent Scotland within the EU. However to call a referendum lies in the UK government’s hands as it is not devolved. Prime Minister Theresa has consistently said she will not give permission for a second independence referendum. Sturgeon does have the power to set out the framework of such a referendum and aims to have a ‘framework Bill’ in legislation by the end of this year.

Aware of the divisive nature of the past two referendums Sturgeon announced plans to establish a Citizens Assembly to ‘help find consensus on issues where people have sharply divided opinions’. Aiming to be run by an independent chair and with a representative selection of Scotland this will be something to look out for when more concrete plans are announced. 

You can read Sturgeon’s full speech here

Birmingham Bound

We are hosting a roundtable event in Birmingham in partnership with BVSC the centre for voluntary action on what Brexit means for the third sector in Birmingham on the 29th May. The event will bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to share information and discuss how the third sector in Birmingham can best prepare for exit day. 

You can sign up to register here and please share it with any organisations you feel would benefit in Birmingham. 

How is Civil Society in the UK coping with Brexit?

Check out our latest blog! Jane Thomas has written a piece asking how civil society across the four nations is coping during the Brexit process. In the last 18 months we have travelled across the UK to listen to concerns from local civil society organisations about the impacts Brexit is having on them.

Read Jane’s full piece on our website here to find out what we have been hearing.

Save the Date - Negotiating the next phase of Brexit

The Institute for Government is hosting an event discussing the negotiation of the UK’s long-term relationship with Brussels once the UK has formally left the EU. Drawing on recent publications from the Institute for Government and theHouse of Lords EU Select Committee, this event will discuss the big challenges in negotiating the longer term relationship between the UK and EU. Brexit Civil Society Alliance will be joining the panel.

‘Negotiating the next phase of Brexit’
9th May, 18:00 - 19:00 Followed by a drinks reception
Institute for Government 2 Carlton Gardens London 

The discussion will be chaired by Jill Rutter, Programme Director at the Institute for Government. There will be an opportunity for audience questions. 

Recommended Reading

  • Institute for Government- Negotiating Brexit: preparing for talks on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, available here

  • The House of Lords European Union Committee has released a report titled ‘Brexit: the Erasmus and Horizon programmes’ which can be found here

  • Steve Peers- Trick or Treaty? The legal issues of the second extension of the UK’s EU membership, available here

Draft Environment Bill ‘severely downgrades’ UK protections post-Brexit available here


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