We were supposed to leave the EU today. It’s safe to say that things have not gone exactly to plan. 11 p.m today remain significant nonetheless, the withdrawal agreement needs to be signed by then in order to secure an Article 50 extension to 22nd May. If Parliament does not pass the deal by then, the UK will have to decide whether to leave with no deal on April 12, revoke or seek a longer extension. The EU sees the UK as having two choices if May's deal is defeated again today- no deal or a much longer extension (which requires UK's participation in European elections).
On Monday, MPs passed an amendment which gave them control over the parliamentary timetable and agreed to hold a series of indicates votes on Wednesday (see explainer on indicative votes here). By Wednesday night, however, it was clear that there is no majority for any of the eight main Brexit options. But it did show where consensus may emerge in the coming days with the two most popular options being a confirmatory referendum on a deal and permanent customs union. Institute for Government has a helpful overview of Wednesday’s voting here.
Oliver Letwin, the architect of the amendment passed on Monday said the results on Wednesday were a ‘disappointment’ but the most popular options will now go to a run-off vote on Monday- Business Motion for Monday available here.
Today in Parliament: meaningful vote 3.0
The third meaningful vote will go ahead today (about 2.30pm). This followsJohn Bercow’s ruling that it can now take place as the Government will just be laying the Withdrawal Agreement- (the terms of the divorce, including the £39 billion, citizens rights and the Irish backstop)- and NOT the political declaration (the long-term relationship with the EU). However, approving the Withdrawal Agreement on its own will not allow it to be ratified as Section 13 of The EU Withdrawal Act requires the Political Declaration to be approved as well as the implementing legislation (i.e the Withdrawal Agreement Bill). If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved today, the European Council’s decision to extend Article 50 to 22nd May will kick in (rather than the shorter, default extension to 12th April).
It is expected that if the Withdrawal Agreement goes through today, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be published next week. The Bill will implement the deal in domestic law will have significant political, legal and constitutional implications and will likely attract fierce debate in Parliament (read our briefing on it here). The Alliance has been calling on the government to publish the bill in draft form as soon as possible so that parliamentarians, civil society and other stakeholders have as much time as possible to scrutinise it.
How likely is it that the Withdrawal Agreement is goes through today?At the moment, it doesn’t look like the numbers are there. Both the DUP and Labour said they were not prepared to back it and some 25 Tories saying they will vote against it. It is also unclear what status the Indicative Votes on Monday will have if May’s Withdrawal Agreement is voted through today.
NEW FRONTIERS: THE SOCIAL SECTOR THROUGH BREXIT
When: 26 April 9.30-16.30
Where: Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA
The Brexit Civil Society Alliance and New Philanthropy Capital are hosting an all-day conference, bringing together the social sector the potentially momentous changes Brexit will have on charities, voluntary organisations and the communities they champion and represent
Brexit presents 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.
Key questions we will address is:
• What should the role and mission of the social and wider voluntary sector be through (and beyond) 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 the constitutional challenges ahead?
New cliff-edge in two weeks?
While we’re no longer due to leave today there is still a possibility of facing another cliff edge on the 12th April. The possibility of facing a cliff-edge in two weeks remains worrying and the government is frantically preparing for it at the moment. Read our briefing on no deal impacts here, the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit’s guide to how you can prepare here and Human Rights Consortium 'rights at risk' report here.
Here is an overview of the government’s no deal technical notices that may be relevant to your organisation:
Settled and pre-settled status for EU citizens and their families
European Social Fund (ESF) grants if there’s no Brexit deal
European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) if there’s no Brexit deal
The farming sector and preparing for EU exit
Public-sector procurement after a no-deal Brexit
Workplace rights if there’s no Brexit deal
Guidance on environment and EU exit
EU exit: no deal preparations for higher education institutions
EU exit: health and social care
Making policy changes behind the scenes
While most attention is focusing on indicative votes and the next steps of the Brexit drama, a blog by Alexandra Sinclar and Joe Tomlinson from the Public Law Project has highlighted that the government is using powers under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 to make ‘significant policy changes’. This is exactly what the Alliance and many of our members feared when the Withdrawal Act went through Parliament, despite the government offering assurances that ministerial powers would only be used to correct ‘deficines’ in retained EU law.
Immigration Bill strips EU citizens in the UK of rights after Brexit
This week the Joint Committee on Human Rights published a damning report on the Immigration Bill- labelling it effectively a “blank cheque”. This is the piece of legislation currently going through Parliament. Its purpose is to end free movement of EU nationals, making it possible for the government to bring them under the domestic immigration regime. In doing so, it grants exceptionally wide powers to ministers to achieve this aim.
The report from the Joint Committee highlights how the Immigration Bill will remove EU citizens’ rights “without any legislative protection in place to guarantee those rights”. Although the government has said it is not its intention to strip EU citizens in the UK of their rights, that is exactly what the Immigration Bill will do. It does not address the situation of those EU citizens whose rights may be removed and could result in individuals and families in a ‘situation of precarity’ with respect to their futures, including housing, social security and property rights.
The Joint Committee also notes the issue of the Common Travel Area and how Irish citizens rights in Northern Ireland will be protected. The Common Travel Area is a series of mutual understandings between the UK and Ireland that accord UK and Irish nationals the right to enter and reside and work in either country as well as a series of related rights concerning healthcare, social security and social care. These rights have, by virtue of EU membership, been overtaken by EU free movement of rights. However, with the removal of these protections due to Brexit, the rights flowing from the Common Travel Area (CTA) will now have greater importance. It’s important to note that most rights contained within the CTA are political promises and not a legally binding agreement. Authors of a recent report for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission described the CTA is being “written in sand”. Clause 2 of the Immigration Bill tries to remedy this gap, but the overall effect is that some existing EU rights are diminished.
On that basis, it is important that the rights flowing from the CTA are properly legislated for. Member of the Alliance, the Committee of Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland have raised this issue on a number of occasions as well- see more info here and here.
Read the report from the Joint Committee here.
Recommended reading & events
Constitution Unit- Could innovative voting rules break parliament’s Brexit impasse?
UK in a Changing Europe report- Article 50: two years on
Professor Mark Elliot (author of Public Law for Everyone blog): Meaningful Vote 3: The legal implications of separating the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration
The Public Law Project is hosting a conference in Cardiff on 25 April, covering issues like Brexit, access to justice, legal aid, migration and settled status, online courts, strategic legal work. More info here.