Brexit deadlock: can Parliament break the impasse?



Baldrick: “I have a plan, sir.” Blackadder: “Really, Baldrick? A cunning and subtle one?” Baldrick: “Yes, sir.” Blackadder: “As cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?”

After an historic defeat of her Brexit deal on Tuesday prime Minister Theresa May must now come back with a plan B. The surprise success of Tory MP Dominic Grieve’s amendment of January 9th means that the prime minister has been given just three sitting days to set out her plan B for leaving the European Union. This means she has to outline a Brexit plan B on Monday BUT a Commons vote on a new plan and a series of amendments will not take place until January 29.

In an attempt to break the impasse Theresa May has opened up cross-party talks with ‘senior parliamentarians’.The problem is not only her seemingreluctance to change her red lines, but fundamentally it is now crystal clear that there is a lack of majority for anything in the Commons - expecting avoiding a No Deal. Adding to the impasse is Corbyn who has ruled out speaking to May unless she takes off No Deal off the table first. But to avoid a No Deal, Parliament either has to agree to revoke Article 50 or agree on a withdrawal deal. The can could possibly be kicked further down the road by extending Article 50 (more info on that below). So here we are, 70 days before 29th March, still deadlocked and still no obvious way of breaking the impasse.

In the midst of the frantic conversations happening in Westminster, the clock is ticking. By legal default, 29th March is when we leave. Deal or No Deal. The only way to stop a No Deal from happening is to secure a majority in Parliament for something else. 

It is now looking more likely that an extension of Article 50 is needed. People have different ideas about the purposes of an extension. either to allow for more time to find a solution, prepare further for a No Deal or accomodate a ‘People’s Vote’ or a General Election.In procedural terms, the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50 but an extension requires consent from the EU27. An extension could be a shorter period to give May more time to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament (plus the legislation), or a longer period in order for a general election or referendum to be held.

HuffPost reports this morning that Labour MP Yvette Cooper has tabled a bill which gives MPs the final say to rule out a No Deal and seek an extension to Article 50 if no agreement can be found by the end of next month.

Recommend reading the UK in a Changing Europe’s on seven Brexit endgame scenario here.
More info on extension of Article 50 in House of Commons briefing here.

The only certainty is uncertainty 
We’ve said that many times now, but it applies more than ever. Planning ahead is increasingly difficult for civil society as the politics is becoming more and more febrile. Highly recommended reading is this paper from the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit on what civil society organisations can do to do ‘get Brexit ready’. Also listen to this podcast.

Civil society is particularly feeling vulnerable when it comes to the replacement of EU funding. The government promised that consultation on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund would take place in 2018 but as yet  there are no more details or even an update on when the consultation will open from the government.This part of the Brexit agenda is entirely under domestic control- yet, it seems like any assurances, details or information about the replacement of funding has gone off the Government’s radar. You can read more information & recommendations from our members on aspects of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund on our website here.

Legislating for Withdrawal: running out of time 
Adding to the pressure of extending Article 50 is the fact the Government is running out of time to get all the Brexit legislation through in time for 29th March (in a No Deal scenario). The Institute for Government chart on parliamentary progress of Brexit legislation shows that there are 9 Brexit bills still to go through Parliament, including the hurdle of getting the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through. With less than 40 sitting days until 29th March it just isn’t the time.So perhaps an extension was the basis was for Andrea Leadsom confirming yesterday that all Brexit legislation has been paused for the foreseeable future (apart from the final stages of a Brexit healthcare bill & the Trade Bill’s return to the House of Lords). On top of that you have all the Brexit statutory instruments to get through, which Hansard Society is keeping a handy track of here.

Immigration Bill: second reading postponed 
The Second Reading of the Immigration Bill was postponed this week due the no confidence motion tabled in the government and no new date has been set. As has been the case with so many pieces of Brexit legislation it is a skeleton bill, giving ministerials powers to make further regulations. Read Public Law Project briefing on the the bill here and Unison’s briefing here.

Brexit’s impact on the health and social care sector
Organisations from across the UK fear that potential changes in rules, as a result of Brexit, related to the EU workforce, medicines research and funding could affect the provision of support and services to disabled people, people living with long term conditions, children and young people and unpaid carers.

A Private Member’s Bill is scheduled for its 2nd reading in the House of Commons on 25 January 2019. The Bill is introduced by Brendan O’Hara MP in response to concerned raised by those in the third sector. It would require the UK Government to conduct an independent evaluation of the impact of Brexit upon the health and social care sector across the Four Nations, following consultation with the devolved governments, service providers and others. If you would like to add your support to the bill and get more information, clickhere.

Join us in York for a roundtable discussion on Brexit & civil society 
On the 25th February, 13.00-16.00, we are hosting a roundtable discussion with the third sector in York on the impacts of Brexit & how organisations can prepare. We’ve got fab speakers & refreshments. More info and register your attendance here.


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