Local Elections, National Impact
This week England (except London) and Northern Ireland has had Local elections. At the time of writing, with some result declared but many yet to come, it looks to have been a bad night for both the Conservatives and Labour. Going into the contest the Conservatives were expecting a rough night. Activists across the country have been saying how Brexit and the national party has been problematic for them on the doorstep. However, Labour was hoping to make gains among this discontent with the government, unfortunately from their point of view they, at the time of writing, have also made losses. Meanwhile, UKIP has so far also lost seats and the Brexit Party is not running candidates in the local elections.
The big winners of the discontent have been the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. This will raise questions nationally of the public's appetite for Brexit and anti-Brexit politicians will use this as further justification for a 2nd referendum. The key takeaway is that this gives the Lib Dems a stronger position as the anti-Brexit party over Change UK going into the European Elections later this month where many are seeing, and attempting to frame, the upcoming election as a proxy ‘referendum’ on Brexit.
Brexit talks between May and Corbyn for a Brexit deal are continuing with rumours that May is preparing to keep the UK in a ‘customs arrangement’ to secure a deal with Labour support. The government has set a deadline for next Wednesday to reach an agreement. More concrete details have yet to be announced. Furthermore, it is unclear if a form of Customs Union membership will be enough to persuade pro-EU Labour MP’s to pass a deal meaning there is no guarantee it would succeed. It could also further alienate Conservative MPs who see it as a step too far. The parliamentary arithmetic for this deal would be precarious.
Talking of talks, earlier this week there was a standoff in the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) between supporters and opponents of a 2nd referendum. MEP candidates were concerned the party was ignoring conference policy by not mentioning a ‘confirmatory vote’ on their election materials for the European elections. This political argument concluded with the NEC deciding to reaffirm the party conference policy of campaigning for a referendum after other options fail.
This means the Labour party is no closer to enthusiastically backing and campaigning for a 2nd referendum and further emphasises their strategy of ‘ambiguity’ over Brexit. While we wait for the full results of the Local elections Labour are doing worse than expected and analysts are blaming their ambiguity over Brexit. If their results get worse expect there to be a further argument over their positioning before the European Parliament elections as MPs and MEPs will want to stem any potential losses there. If the Lib Dems continue to do well in the local results it could place Labour in a predicament as they will be facing multiple explicitly anti-Brexit, and explicitly pro-Brexit (Farage's Brexit Party) parties at the Europeans which could both eat at their vote.
Trade deals and the devolved administrations
Trade policy minister George Hollingbery MP confirmed in the House of Commons (here) that the Department for International Trade (DIT) will set up a new ‘ministerial forum’ for a ‘meaningful role for the regions and devolved Administrations in the development of our trade policy’. This is the government setting out their plan to make sure the devolved Administrations get heard in future trade deals once the UK has left the EU.
This is important because trade policy is a ‘reserved’ power. This means that the UK government is the sole negotiator of trade policy for the entire UK and the devolved administrations have no formal role in such negotiations. The government could in theory negotiate a trade deal which impacts heavily on a devolved area without consulting them at all.
This announcement in the Commons reiterates a DIT document released earlier this year setting out the processes for making free trade agreements after the UK has left the EU (found here) The key thing to look out for is what structure these will take, and when the ‘ministerial forum’ will be established. These details have yet to be announced.
Queen’s Speech: a delay looks likely
The Prime Minister is walking a tightrope with the potential for a new Queen’s speech, which is part of the formal process that marks the beginning of a session of Parliament. Currently the PM is holding back her main piece of legislation, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, because she doesn't have the numbers to pass it in Parliament. If this piece of legislation fails to pass she is not allowed to bring it back in the same Parliamentary session therefore she would need to close Parliament and open a new session with a new Queen’s speech.
A new Queen’s speech presents multiple problems. First her £2bn support deal with the DUP ends when the current session does, meaning she will have to agree a new deal. However the DUP may not be inclined to work with her as they are currently opponents of her Brexit deal, and that show no signs of changing yet. Therefore, May loses her majority.
Secondly there is a chance, due to the parliamentary arithmetic and unhappy MPs, she could be defeated on a new Queen’s speech. If May can’t unite her party, and can’t get support from the DUP she could have her new Queen’s speech defeated meaning she cannot govern. This would present huge political pressure to resign, and a likely no-confidence vote brought by Labour. This should result in either a new government or a General Election.
Finally the government has no policy. A new Queen’s speech would contain major Brexit legislation and not much else. The government has been all consumed by Brexit for so long not much domestic policy development is occurring. The Commons frequently goes home early as the government has no policy to legislate on other than Brexit, which it does not want to bring to Parliament in fear of government defeat.
Procedurally, parliamentary sessions can be of unspecified length and there is no requirement to end a session at a set date.
This final point is currently important as there are rumours the PM is going to keep the session going through Summer to delay a new Queen’s speech by finding smaller less controversial bits of legislation to push through the Commons and therefore buy more time to find a way to pass a Brexit deal. This tactic is unlikely to get much support from MPs for two reasons; May has used delay tactics before and irritated MPs by doing so and secondly when using them May has not changed her position during the delay and so the time feels wasted to MPs. Importantly for civil society this potential delay to the Queen’s speech does not appear as if it is to be used to provide fuller scrutiny time on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which once again has yet to be published.
MEP Seats Confusion
With the European elections coming up it is worth considering the impact on the allocation of MEP seats. In 2018 the European Parliament agreed to reduce the number of MEPs from 751 to 705 with most of the UK’s 73 seats being removed as a result of the UK leaving the EU. However, 27 seats would be kept and redistributed as so: France (+5), Spain (+5), Italy (+3), Netherlands (+3), Ireland (+2), Sweden (+1), Austria (+1), Denmark (+1), Finland (+1), Slovakia (+1), Croatia (+1), Estonia (+1), Poland (+1) and Romania (+1)
The problem now is that these seats are unlikely to be made vacant by the UK as the government has not yet introduced or passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill which means the UK has not left the EU and forces the UK to participate in the European elections. However, these seats will be made vacant in the future when the UK leaves. This has left those countries gaining extra seats in limbo. They continue to hold elections but several elected winners will be left in stasis waiting for the reallocated seats to be vacated by British MEPs. This has caused discontent among various parties in France, a big winner of the reallocation. This is likely to be factored in October should a deal not have been passed in the UK, and the PM is forced to ask for another extension.
#NewFrontiers: the social sector through Brexit
Last Friday we hosted our first New Frontiers conference with NPC and Lloyds Bank Foundation England and Wales. We brought together leading organisations from the third sector to try and map out the role and mission for the social and wider voluntary sector through (and beyond) Brexit.
The day asked key questions about sector preparedness for Brexit, the future funding environment, how will the sector champion the rights of EU nationals, the future role of the sector and what do we want the country to look like in the future, what role with the sector play in this.
Jane Thomas wrote a post-conference blog reflecting on the conversations brought up throughout the day that you can find here
John Tizzard spoke on the day about the dangers of the Brexit on the sector and wrote up his thoughts here.
We released our brand new Campaign Toolkit on the day too. Physical copies were available for attendees. It is designed to help you through the parliamentary procedures, understand what is happening, and get your voice heard by decision makers. You can download a PDF on our website here.
We will be hosting another day of the conference in Manchester, with NPC and Lloyds Bank Foundation England and Wales on the 11th July so keep a lookout for upcoming details on that soon.
PMQs at the Liaisons Committee
The Prime Minister went before the Liaison Committee this week. This Committee is powerful as it is made up of the chairs of each of the select committees and questions the Prime Minister usually three times a year on matters of public policy.
The PM repeatedly stated she wanted the UK to leave the EU on a deal when asked if she would contemplate a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. However, in response to being asked when the PM intended to bring her Brexit deal back, she declined to give a date stating she wants to bring it ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘well before’ the 31st October. This indicates it could be some time until we see the Withdrawal Agreement Bill published, especially as next week's business of the house does not give time for it in the Commons either.
The House of Commons has produced a detailed Brexit timeline of the events leading up to the UK’s exit from the EU. The full report can be downloaded here. Highlights to look out for in the future are here below. Note 1st June 2019. If the UK renegades on its responsibility to hold European elections and did not pass a deal this is when the EU would force the UK out on ‘No Deal’ terms. Unlikely to happen as the European elections are already in motion, but a date to be aware of.
22 May or earlier 2019 - The Prime Minister will attempt to get approval from MPs on her Brexit deal. Ratification of the deal with ensure the UK avoids participating in EP elections 23-26 May 2019 - European Parliament elections take place 1st June 2019 - ‘Brexit Day’? If the UK did not ratify the Withdrawal Agreement and did not hold EP elections in May, this will be Brexit Day – with or without a deal 2nd July 2019 - The first sitting of the new European Parliament 17-18 October 2019 - Meeting of the European Council: the last such meeting before ‘Brexit Day’ 31st October 2019 - ‘Brexit Day’? Following the European Council meeting in April 2019, this is the date by which the UK must leave the European Union. But a further delay cannot be ruled out. November 2019? - A special summit of the EU27 is expected soon after the UK formally leaves the EU. Following Brexit, trade and future relations talks begin between the UK and EU. 31st December 2020 - If the UK has ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, this is when the transition period ends (unless it is extended past 2020). 1st January 2021 - Agreement on future relations expected to enter into force (unless transition period is extended).
Brexit, Devolution & Civil Society
This week, we’re at the Brexit, Devolution and Civil Society conference hosted by the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit, the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland and the Civil Society Brexit Project in Scotland.
Speakers of the conference have already included: Kevin Hanratty, Professor Tobias Lock, Professor Chris McCrudden, Jeremy Miles AM, Joanna Cherry MP, Claire Hanna MLA, Professor Dan Wincot who have raised many key issues affecting civil society across all four nations. Issues to be aware of include the danger to the rights enshrined by the Good Friday Agreement, the changing narrative in Scotland around independence as support for independence has reached 49%, missing voice of much of England (not to be confused with voice of Westminster) and fundamental questions over the sustainability of our constitution going forward. It is clear we need a narrative of what sort of society we want to see and we need civil society to lead on this discussion.
Follow the discussion today on Twitter #BrexitDevo
Save the date
Negotiating the next phase of Brexit
Thursday 9th May, 18:00 - 19:00
Institute for Government 2 Carlton Gardens London
Jane Thomas from Brexit Civil Society Alliance will be on the panel discussing the challenges in negotiating the longer term relationship between the UK and EU.
Lord Ricketts, member of the House of Lords EU Select Committee and former Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Stephen Adams, Executive Director, Global Counsel
Jane Thomas, Brexit Civil Society Alliance
Tim Durrant, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government.
The discussion will be chaired by Jill Rutter, Programme Director at the Institute for Government. There will be an opportunity for audience questions.
To book a place at this event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, job title, organisation and email address.
Full details here.
Birmingham roundtable: Brexit and Civil Society
In partnership with BVSC- the Centre for Voluntary Action, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance is hosting a roundtable discussion on what Brexit means for the third sector in Birmingham on the 29th May, 14.00-17.00.
The event will bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to network and share information and discuss what happens next and how the third sector in Birmingham can best prepare for exit day. It will also be an opportunity to express thoughts and concerns about Brexit's impact on civil society.
Registrations/ Meet & Greet
Introductions and a brief outline of the Brexit Civil Society Alliance
Belinda Pratten (Equally Ours): UK Shared Prosperity Fund
Alexandra Sinclair (Public Law Project): Brexit & legislative changes
Questions & Discussions
Update from the Department of Exiting the EU engagement team
General horizon scanning and where next
How can Birmingham best prepare for Exit Day
Full details can be found on our website here.
The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have released a report on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill which can be found here.
The Brexit ‘flextension’. A blog by Hansards Dr Brigid Fowler goes through the implications for Parliament here.
A useful thread from NCVO’s Douglas Dowell on what the European Elections means for charity campaigners here