Falling Apart at the Seams
Welcome back! This week as seen extraordinary scenes in the Commons. The government defeated time and time again as MPs wrestled control over the parliamentary agenda in their efforts to stop a no-deal exit. Events are as ever moving quickly and this week we're covering MPs working together to try and block no-deal Brexit, the likely upcoming General Election, the Chancellors spending review and Gove and his no-deal preparation.
As usual we have some recommended reading for you and information about events for your diary.
Parliament Is Back
Johnson suffers defeats on every vote
Johnson has no majority as he withdraws the whip from 21 senior Conservatives
Anti no-deal Brexit MPs work together and get their bill debated
It’s fair to say it has not been smooth sailing in Johnson’s first week as Prime Minister. It has been the ultimate showdown between Parliament and the government, where Boris Johnson has suffered defeats at every single vote while expelling 21 senior Conservative MPs including two former chancellors and has had his brother, Jo Johnson, resign from government due to a conflict between national interest and his family.
If the government’s hardline approach achieved one thing, it was strengthening and unifying the anti no-deal MPs. They have started working together effectively since the announcement of prorogation and at the time of writing, are in the process of passing the Withdrawal Bill (No 6) the “Benn-Burt” bill.
This bill does many things. Primarily it prevents the UK from leaving the European Union without a deal by mandating the Prime Minister to request an extension.
The House of Commons library have published an explainer on the bill here.
Specifically, the Bill outlines the following process:
It gives the government until 19th October to get the Commons to approve either a deal or leaving the EU without a deal. There is at this moment no majority for either of those options
If the government fails to get Commons approval for either of those by 19th October then the government must request an extension of Article 50 to 31st January 2020
If the EU offers this extension the PM is forced to accept it
If the EU offers an extension with a date other than the 31st Jan 2020 the PM can either
Agree to the extensions
Ask the Commons (within two days) if it wants to approve the date (if the Commons doesn’t pass it the PM has a free choice to agree or not)
The bill also forces the government to report on negotiations and asks MPs to approve the report. This gives some negotiations power to the Commons, something it officially lacks at the moment.
Finally the bill tidies up the quirk that Ministers have discretion to align UK exit date with the EUs exit date. This bill forces Ministers to make sure the two dates are aligned, solving any potential issues caused by an errant Minister.
It’s important to emphasise that this Bill does not ‘legally stop no-deal’ or ‘take no-deal off the table’ as some reports are saying. Unless the Europan Council agrees to an extension beyond 31st October, that is the date the UK exits the EU, deal or no deal.
This bill is likely to clear through Parliament (the Lords are fast tracking it and preventing filibustering by the government) by 5pm today and become law on Monday. In the business of the house yesterday the government has said it will bring a motion calling for a General Election on Monday. This means they have retreated and expect the Benn-Burt bill to pass.
General Election Time?
There is likely to be an election. Opposition haven't agreed when to hold it
Most opposition MPs want to wait to guarantee no-deal is blocked
Johnson reverses on previous claims and is now pro-election
Johnson repeatedly said he didn’t want a General Election (although everyone knows he wants one). After being defeated, he asked the Commons to approve an election in line with the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA).
Labour abstained on the motion therefore it failed to achieve the 2/3 of MPs legally required to pass and therefore start the proceedings for an early General Election.
The current consensus among opposition parties is to prevent any General Election being called until no-deal can be averted with the passing of the Benn-Burt bill. However, for those opposed to a no-deal, it would not be safe to support a general election as soon as the Benn-Burt bill has been passed. As Professor of Public Law, Mark Elliott has pointed out “it would only be safe to do so [support a GE] when (and if) the European Council had agreed to an extension”.
It is currently unclear after that when Labour would like an election. Rumours are around saying before 31st October, some after 31st. The SNP have declared they would like to go for one as soon as possible once the bill has passed.
The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told the Commons that the government will bring a motion “relating to an early Parliamentary General Election” on Monday 9th September. It is unclear what form this will take. If it is not the FTPA it could be a short motion which requires a simple majority. If the differences between Labour and the SNP are not resolved this could mean SNP joins with the Conservatives calling an election scuppering any plans Labour may currently have.
It is still unclear the exact date for when polling day will be. However it, it’s highly likely we could see an election this Autumn. Watch out for the Electoral Commission guidance and in the meantime, please find this blog from NCVO about what charities need to know about a snap election.
Negotiating with EU
No concrete proposals to replace the backstop brought forward by the UK
UK government reneges on commitments in the Joint Report 2017
It’s not as if negotiations with the EU has been going swimmingly this week either. The UK has not brought forward “any concrete proposals to replace the backstop”. The EU has been at pains to point out that David Frost has been over in Brussels, he hasn’t tabled any text setting out how the UK would replace the backstop that would still ensure no hard border, seamless trade and protection of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s also been reported that Johnson is reneging on its commitments to protect an all ireland economy and meaningful North-South cooperation as set out in the Joint Report of December 2017.
This week, the UK has proposed stripping out all the elements of the backstop out of the Withdrawal Agreement, leaving only a commitment on the all-island electricity market, the Common Travel Area and EU citizens’ rights. Further, EU member states have been told by the European Commission that Johnson is reneging on commitments in the Joint Report.
UK officials also said that any future trade agreement would not mirror social and environmental legislation. A regression in rights and standards is of course highly concerning- this week Laura Bannister, senior adviser at the Trade Justice Movement writes for the Alliance on what a future trade agreement could mean for our NHS, environment and rights. Read it here.
Chancellor spending review truncated from three years to one
Spends £2 billion extra on no-deal preparation
Offers little addressing concerns of civil society about no-deal
This week Sajid Javid, the new Chancellor, held his spending review. An event that usually forecasts three years of spending was truncated to focus on only a year. It is widely seen as a pre-election budget for the Conservative party to campaign on. Health, schools and police were the key winners reinforcing the messaging Johnson has been using all summer.
For civil society it gave little to alleviate the impact of a no-deal Brexit or austerity.
First as the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes clear he is making spending allocations before having them most recent forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsibility, not due until later this year. Coupled with the unpredictability of Brexit this could mean any spending commitments made has been misallocated or ineffective.
Javid allocated an additional £2billion to no-deal Brexit planning however civil society, and their concerns have been ignored. “That means more Border Force staff, better transport infrastructure at our ports and more support for business readiness.”
Javid did announce funding for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to “set world leading environmental standards”. However with the lack of concrete details and the draft Environment Bill (and the establishment of the Office of Environmental Protection) still not progressing, how we protect the environment post-Brexit remains uncertain. This means the concerns outlined by over 85 organisations in an open letter to the Prime Minister are ignored once again.
The Chancellor provided extra day to day spending for departments but as analysis from the IFS demonstrates if you remove the Department for Health and Social Care spending it is set to be “around 16% below its 2010-11 level”. “Only around a quarter of the cuts to non-Health areas of spending will have been reversed, and only around 15% of the per capita cuts to those areas.” This will be of little reassurance to civil society who deal with the issues caused by these cuts.
Local authorities are due to get a boost of £1.5 billion ringfenced for social care however £500m of that will come from a 2% council tax precept. This allows councils to increase council tax and explain it to payers as a seperate line on the bill.
Overall this spending review gives little assurance to civil society for preparing for the impacts of no-deal Brexit nor did it give any further details on the replacement of EU funding. Read Charity Finance Group briefing on the Spending Review here.
Gove Faces Select Committee
Few details or answers given by Gove
UK citizens in member states relying on bilateral agreements to protect rights
Yesterday Michael Gove, who is responsible for no-deal planning by the government, answered questions from the Exiting the European Union Select Committee. Watch the proceedings here.
In his answers to the committee Gove gave few specifics. It is still unclear what will happen to lorries in Dover/Calais if their paperwork is not correct. It is unclear whether the government believes there are enough palettes for food to be transported on (the EU will have specific requirements in the event of no-deal).
For citizens rights it is still worryingly vague. The government is relying on bilateral agreements with individual member states to secure UK citizens rights who are currently residing in member states. He offered no further details about what rights have been agreed where.
Sadly despite MPs best efforts to scrutinise the government and draw out answers on a range of issues to do with no-deal planning Gove avoided answering, or giving details to many questions.
Prorogation and Delegated Legislation
Prorogation gives “government a blank cheque to make laws via delegated legislation”
Concerns growing about use of Statutory Instruments in prorogation
Last week, as we wrote last week, as the 31st October is rapidly approaching, every day matters. The fewer days MPs have to scrutinise the implications of Brexit, the less opportunity for open and transparent debate. A blog by the Public Law Project published this week demonstrates this issue even further- proroguing Parliament will result in even less scrutiny of Brexit legislation. Highly recommended reading- it’s available here.
New Frontiers: The social sector through Brexit
When: 11 September 2019, 9.30 am- 4.30 am
Where: The Mechanics Centre, 103 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6DD
Together with Lloyds Bank Foundation, England & Wales, 10GM and NPC, the Alliance is hosting a free conference, bringing together the social sector to discuss the potentially momentous changes Brexit will have on charities, voluntary organisations and the communities they champion and represent.
Brexit continues to present serious challenges for the UK social sector. The three years since the country voted to leave the European Union (EU) have thrown up a series of questions—how best to respond to it, how to prepare for it, how to mitigate against it where needed—that remain unanswered.
Ongoing uncertainty for charities and voluntary organisations is as big an issue as it is for businesses, the likely impact on the people, places and causes they represent, just as great—but neither have received the debate and attention they rightly deserve.
We believe there is an urgent need for the social sector to discuss the momentous changes that Brexit will bring, provide a public platform to raise concerns and begin to develop a greater sense of collective understanding of, and responsibility for, the challenges ahead.
The key question that New Frontiers in GM will address is:
What should the role and mission of the social and wider voluntary sector be through (and post) Brexit? What might existing trends tell us about potential new directions in activity and need? How do we gear up to actively shape the agenda not just observe? Are we prepared for the possibly momentous change that is coming our way? And how is the sector going to overcome disruption to funding as a result?
Sign up here.
No To No Deal Campaign
Northern Ireland civil society work together on no to no deal campaign
This week, 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.
Today the House of Commons Library are doing a live Q&A on Youtube/ Twitter at 2pm. Find out full details here
Peter Oborne, a leave voter, visits Ni and sees the impact a hard border would have on the peace process watch it here (9 minutes long)
UK in a Changing Europe has released their latest new no-deal report. Download here
NCVO and DCMS are hosting a joint webinar on the potential implications of a no-deal Brexit for charities on Wednesday 11 September. The free webinar will explore areas where charities may be affected if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, suggesting practical steps that your organisation may wish to take.
See this brilliant piece from Katy Hayward on alternative arrangements vs the backstop.
Our briefing to Parliamentarians on the impacts of no-deal Brexit on civil society here