Talking Our Way Out Of It



EU Talks and Extension

This week, the EU27 made the decision to offer the UK an extension of Article 50 to the 31st October 2019. This is longer than May wanted when she wrote to the EU Council earlier this week (30th June) and less than the EU27 wanted (about a year). Barnier and Merkel argued for a longer extension to allow for the UK to make a decision, meanwhile Macron argued for a short extension. This positioning by Macron was seen by the rest of the EU27 as political posturing for his domestic audience rather than looking to the EU whole interest and caused a split between France and Germany. October 31st has been agreed by the UK, with Sir Tim Barrow writing to the Council to legally confirm it. 

There are a few key points about what was agreed at the special summit.

  • The UK can still get out of EU Parliament elections. If a deal is ratified by both parties before the 22nd May we can cancel the elections and move to the second phase of negotiations

  • If the UK doesn’t ratify the deal and cancels the EU elections then the EU reserves the right to eject the UK on the 1st June 2019 (this is very unlikely to happen as the government laid the ‘Order’ (found here) in Parliament on Monday 8th for the UK to hold EU elections)

  • The EU laid out that the UK is allowed to revoke Article 50 at any time during the extension

What next? 

The extension opens up the chance for a range of possible events. It does feel somewhat ironic that the below possible scenarios are almost identical to what we mapped out back in early November last year. Which of these events will materialise in the coming weeks and months is of course uncertain.

  • A General Election. Requires the Commons to vote on a 2/3 majority for an early election. This legally has to be a minimum of 25 working days along with any delayed days for Bank holidays or royal deaths

  • A new referendum. The Constitutional Unit at UCL has previously calculated a shortened referendum time span would be 24 weeks start to finish. There are several obstacles in the way however the main one being whether there is political will to push it through Parliament. The full article by the Unit can be read here.

  • May could try and bring another Meaningful Vote to Parliament with the aim of passing it before May 22nd, then ratify the deal by bringing and passing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and then cancel EU elections in the UK. The UK would then move to the transition period

  • Another failed Meaningful Vote leading the way to political pressure from her Cabinet forcing May to resign and therefore a Conservative Party leadership election over summer with a new leader in time for a new Parliament session

  • Talks between the PM and Labour produce a deal that could be passed by the Commons. Currently unlikely as talks have stalled, and Labour are concerned that a new Conservative leader would remove all the concessions Labour want

  • If the Conservative and Labour cannot agree a way forward, May signalled in her statement to the Commons that if a single proposition was not brought to the Commons there could be a small selection of options ie further indicative votes but whether this would produce a clear outcome unlike the last set is unknown

Prime Minister’s statement to the House

On Thursday, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons about the EU special summit. The full text can be found here.

The key takeaway is in an ideal world May wants to be able to pass a deal before the 22nd May to allow the UK to leave the EU at 11pm on the 31st May and cancel the European Parliament elections in the UK. She states this is in the power of the House, which could be read as laying the blame for the extension and subsequent elections back at the feet of parliamentarians. Remember that this has not gone well in the past.

Importantly she welcomed the continued talks between the government and Labour stating she desired a single agreement to come from these talks to then be brought to the House. Failing this a small number of options would be brought and voted on in the House with the aim of showing a way forward. 

The Withdrawal Agreement Bill was spoken about. May warned the House that the process to get this crucial bill through would take time and again appeared to lay the responsibility of any delays on MPs. Unfortunately, no timetable was laid out as to when the bill would be published. Remember that this piece of legislation will likely attract fierce debate in Parliament, it will be a hugely significant and complex piece of legislation. The Alliance has called for it to be published in draft form as soon as possible to give parliamentarians and civil society as much time as possible to scrutinise it. MPs could also see it as an opportunity to make further changes to what direction Brexit should take. May did also indicate that the WAB could ‘provide a useful forum to resolve some of the outstanding issues in the future relationship.

Cooper Letwin - European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill

Earlier this week Parliament rushed through the process of debating and approving the Cooper-Letwin Bill. The bill required the Prime Minister to propose a further extension to Article 50 past 12th April and have MPs vote on it. It was intended to force the Prime Minister to fulfil a promise she had already made, but which MPs did not trust would be fulfilled without legislation compelling her to.

In the process, MPs approved an amendment from the Lords which allows for amending the extension date to be different to 30th June. Previously the bill specified June 30th which would have raised problems when the EU specified a different date. The Lords amendment solved this problem. The bill also changed the mechanism by which the government can change exit day in domestic law from being an affirmative process (where both Houses has to agree) to a negative one, where the government can change exit day without Commons approval.  

This bill passed all stages in just four sitting days and did so against the wishes of the executive. Introduced on Tuesday 2nd April and it received Royal Assent on Monday 8th April with Friday 5th a non-sitting day for both the Commons and Lords. A key learning point of this is it demonstrates to both Backbenchers and Government what time period need Parliament can take control of the business of the House, and pass something, all without the executive’s lead. 

Easter Recess is Back 

Finally in Parliament this week Andrea Leadsom announced in her business statement (found here) that due to the new extension to Article 50 the Commons would now have a fuller Easter Recess. Rising for the recess at the end of the day on the 11th and returning on Tuesday 23rd. This break for MPs is important. As many commentators have acknowledged the MPs are tired, and haven’t had a chance to sit back and assess the situation for a while now. The Times Red Box podcast did a special episode this week on the state of our Parliamentarians which can be found here.

Also announced was the Business of the House for the week the MPs return from recess. No crucial Brexit legislation is currently scheduled for the week while Monday and Friday are non-sitting days therefore unless the business changes it is safe to assume many MPs may spend extra time in their constituencies.

Good Friday Agreement 

Wednesday marked the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement- an international peace treaty co-signed by both the UK Government and the Irish Government and lodged with the United Nations. The two Governments are expected to act as co-guarantors of the Agreement, ensuring its implementation. The potential for a UK exit from the EU to undermine the Good Friday Agreement can be seen across a number of its provisions and the role that EU frameworks has played in supporting the Agreement read more in thisjoint briefing from Alliance members based in Belfast, including Children’s Law Centre, Unison Northern Ireland, Committee on the Administration of Justice and the Human Rights Consortium.

Charities Aid Foundation - Charity Landscape 2019 

CAF have released their 2019 charity landscape reporting (found here.) on the views of charity leaders across the sector. Brexit and the economy are high on charity leaders minds. 63% felt Brexit would have a negative impact on their organisation while voicing concerns such as staffing shortages and the ending of EU funding. Leaders are concerned about the impact of Brexit on their organisations but also the impact on the people and communities they work with.

Home Office Data Breach Error

The 3 Million highlighted that the Home Office has once again had to apologise for an “administrative error” that shared hundreds of email addresses of EU citizens that had applied for settled status. The 3 Million shared on Twitter the Home Office apology sent to applicants which you can read here.

But, as the Open Rights Group and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) has highlighted in a blog for the Alliance here, likely issues around data protection and the settled status scheme is looming on the horizon. The scheme relies heavily on automated data checks to produce a result on whether EU citizens’ are entitled to settled or pre-settled status. Currently, applicants are not fully informed about what data is reviewed, with whom this data will be shared and to what purpose this data will or might be put. Read more about this here.

New Frontiers: The Social Sector through Brexit
Friday 26th April, 9:30 to 16:30
The Human Rights Action Centre
17 – 25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA
The Brexit Civil Society Alliance, New Philanthropy Capital and Lloyds Bank Foundation 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. Three years of unanswered questions and ongoing uncertainty for charities and voluntary organisations is as big an issue as it is for businesses 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?

Key speakers include:

  • Tony Armstrong, Locality

  • John Downie, SCVO

  • Belinda Pratten, Equally Ours

  • Kirsty McHugh, Mayors Fund for London

  • Debbie Pippard, Barrow Cadbury

  • Phil Fiander, WCVA

  • Fiona Weir, Joseph Rowntree

  • John Tizard, NAVCA

  • Sue Tibballs, Sheila McKechnie Foundation

  • Duncan Shrubsole, Lloyds Bank Foundation England and Wales

Full conference programme and registration here 

Recommended Reading

  • If the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is rejected it could lead to this session of Parliament coming to an end. The Times looks at the issues with a new Queen’s speech including DUP support and a lack of legislation here.

  • Prof Steve Peers from the University of Essex published an informative blog explaining the legal details, and potential issues, surrounding the new extension of Article 50. You can find his piece here

  • Is Brexit a constitutional crisis, or a political one? The answer matters. Read more here

  • The settled status scheme for EU citizens risks being next Windrush, writes Prof Charlotte O’Brien. Closer examination reveals a number of issues with the scheme, one that will catch out women, children, the elderly, the disable and vulnerable and exploited EU nationals. Read the full article here.


NewsletterMalene Bratlie