The Id(lers) of March



Another week in Brexitland and a busy one at that. This week’s developments are significant for many reasons, but for the purposes of you not spending the day reading this newsletter, let’s focus on two things: 

1) The ‘Costa’ amendment which seeks to ringfence EU citizens rights was passed unanimously in the House of Commons on Wednesday. This means that irrespective of what happens with Brexit - deal or no deal - the Prime Minister is now required to seek, at the earliest opportunity, a UK-EU joint commitment to adopt the citizens’ rights provisions as agreed in Withdrawal Agreement. Steve Peers, an expert in EU law, has provided a useful analysis onhow this could happen. This is great news and an important step in protecting citizens’ rights. When it feels like our politics is more divided than ever, it was powerful to see the protection of citizens rights achieving a consensus, across political parties and among Leavers and Remainers. Well done to Alliance members as well as groups like the 3million and British in Europe who deserves huge applause for all the hard work they’ve been doing to secure citizens’ rights post-Brexit. The next step now is to convince the European Council to change their negotiating mandate- i.e. ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ so that citizens’ rights are protected even in a no deal scenario. The 3million are therefore asking people to write to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to agree to protect citizens’ rights even in a no deal scenario- more information here.

2) On Tuesday, Theresa May made a statement in the Commons in which she committed to 3 things:

  1. The government will hold a second ‘meaningful vote’ by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Remember that MPs had their first meaningful vote on the 15th January in which the deal was rejected by 432 to 202 votes. By virtue of section 13 of the EU Withdrawal Act- get parliamentary approval in order to ratify the deal. Read useful explainer on the meaningful vote procedures here

  2. If the government is defeated on that vote then it will hold another vote on the 13th March, asking MPs if they support leaving the EU without a deal. There is currently no majority for a no deal Brexit in Parliament.

  3. If on the 13 March, MPs have rejected both the deal and no deal, the government will on Thursday 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, time-limited extension to Article 50. If the MPs agree to an extension, the government will seek to agree that extension with the EU and ‘bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit day’. The EU is likely to grant a short extension but worth noting that French president Macron did say an extension would require a ‘clear objective’.There are some questions over the length of any extension- either it could be late May (before the European elections polling day) or the start of July (the first sitting of the new European Parliament).

When pressed, Theresa May did not clarify how, or whether she would whip her MPs in March- would they support a no deal amendment or would they support an extension? Further, an extension would be ‘short’ but how long exactly was not specified, and what would happen if the EU refused an extension? 

On Wednesday, Labour MP Yvette Cooper tabled an amendment which pins down the above commitments that May made on Tuesday. This went through with a majority of 482.   

Legislating for Brexit: are we on track? 

The short answer is no, the government is not on track with primary pieces of Brexit legislation if were we to leave without a deal on the 29th March. An extension/ transition does provide some breathing space. But it cannot be stressed enough how little time is left (less than 25 sitting days) to get not only the statutory instruments through (which is possible but depends on which scrutiny procedure is used) but also the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Immigration Bill and so on. Then it is, of course, the elephant in the room- the Withdrawal Agreement Bill- which has yet to be published but is likely to attract fierce debate in Parliament. It will also contain important provisions on citizens’ rights. Our blog from last week argued why the government should publish the Bill, or at least parts of it, in draft now.  

The major issue with having so little time to legislate for Brexit is that incredibly broad powers are handed to ministers to effectively ‘fill in the details’ later-effectively leaving Parliament out of the process.  Mark Elliot, Professor of Public Law at Cambridge University uses the example of the Healthcare Bill to illustrate the implications and dangers of legislating a ‘blind’ Brexit.

Find the tracker for the Institue of Government to find out how what progress has been made with the Brexit Bills here.

No deal: impact on public services 

According to a civil service document that was leaked this week, leaving the EU without a deal could result in failures of social care providers, that may put vulnerable people at risk. This would seriously affect councils and the NHS. Key risks cited in the document include a failure to provide adult social care following a workforce disruption, because of uncertainty about the status of EU workers in the UK - which the social care sector is heavily dependent on.  The document also warns that failures of social care providers could, in turn, lead to “local authority failure” because social care providers would have to hand back contracts to councils. This would have a dramatic impact on social care fees and costs, which could, in turn, lead to councils being unable “to fulfil the statutory duty to balance budgets”. This amounts to a warning that a collapse in the social care sector could have wide-ranging financial ramifications for local government.

And speaking of impacts on public services, the Guardian this week reports on how a no deal Brexit could damage Northern Irish public services. For all the debate on the Irish backstop, too little attention is paid to the fact that a no deal Brexit will see a return to a hard border between that would not only be a direct threat to the peace process but put livelihoods in danger, for residents on both sides of the border. Cross-border checks would ultimately disrupt individuals' lives as they cross the border to work, study, access healthcare services, and to be with friends and family.  Human rights groups and civil society organisations in Northern Ireland have been raising this for quite some time and it is indeed time that parliamentarians in Westminster start to take this much more seriously. For more information read the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland paper on the significant impacts a no deal will have on rights for citizens’ in Northern Ireland. BrexitLawNI, (a collaborative ESRC-funded research project between the Law Schools of Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University and the region’s leading human rights organisation, the Committee on the Administration of Justice) has also done some brilliant work on the impacts Brexit will have on the peace process, north-south relations, border controls and more. Find their research here. The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) also has a report on the impacts Brexit will have on voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE) in Northern Ireland. 

New Report by IPPR - Regional funding after Brexit: Opportunities for the UK's Shared Prosperity Fund

Brexit brings uncertainty around the future of funding allocated to the nations and regions of the UK. EU regional policy provides significant investment in the form of European structural and investment funds (ESIF). After Brexit, the UK will need to continue to give targeted support and investment into regions with lower levels of growth and higher levels of poverty, or it risks worsening existing geographical divides.

Despite the uncertainty, leaving the European Union also brings an opportunity: a chance to redesign regional funding and create sustainable and inclusive regional economies. The government has named the ESIF replacement as the ‘UK Shared Prosperity Fund’ (SPF) – a fund committed to tackling inequalities between communities by raising productivity in areas of the country that are ‘furthest behind’.

IPPR’s latest report outlines three challenges facing the UK: regional inequality; centralisation of power; and a lack of community voice. It then provides recommendations for how the Shared Prosperity Fund could be designed effectively to tackle these problems. 

You can read the report here:

Other resources on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund: 
Equally Ours- UK Shared Prosperity Fund: Creating Inclusive Growth 

Locality- Future Places: How replacing EU funds can unlock the power of community 

Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Designing a UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Public Law Project letter to the DExEU minister 

Last week, the Alliance and 11 other civil society organisation signed a letter written by the Public Law Project (PLP) to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay. It draws attention to the fact that the requirement for effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalty schemes in retained EU law is being removed by Statutory Instruments (“SIs”). PLP’s SIFT project noticed this trend in conjunction with other civil society organisations and has written to the Minister asking what the justification for this removal is. You can read the letter in full here.

We make our podcast debut! 

Listen to the latest episode from Third Sector News on the practical, social and funding effects Brexit could have on the voluntary sector. Jane Thomas from the Alliance together with and Jo Cox Foundation chief executive Catherine Anderson and John Tizard, an independent strategic adviser and chair of Navca. How does the sector mitigate against, and respond to the impacts of Brexit? How will a no deal affect the communities and beneficiaries that the voluntary sector support? How can we ensure that civil society voices from across the UK are heard in the Brexit process? Have a listen for answers to all these questions and more here

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