It's 153 days until 31st October. Aside from that giving you about 5 months to plan your Halloween costume, it’s also the exact number of days until the UK is due to leave the European Union.
So how prepared is the UK to leave without a deal? To prepare the UK statute book for a ‘clean exit’ so to speak, a number of Brexit bills need to pass through Parliament. Many of them have currently stalled- the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Immigration Bill are all awaiting their return to Parliament. If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal and without the necessary legislation in place, there will likely be uncertainty and unpredictability as to what laws apply. The government could, in theory, push these pieces of Brexit legislation through at the last minute, but parliamentary scrutiny will then likely be poor and we may see ministers being given more powers to legislative speedily.
The government will also need to take a range of practical measures, introducing new systems and international agreements as well as preparing the business, civil society and citizens. The Institute for Government has a handy tracker of what the government needs to do to prepare for a no deal Brexit. The Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit also have a great guide for how organisations can prepare for no deal, available here.
The debate about whether Parliament can, in fact, stop no deal has continued this week. The article from the Institute for Government published last week set out that Parliament has no clear legislative means to stop no deal except to bring a vote of no confidence in the government. But as this blog sets out, how willing is a new Prime Minister to override Parliament’s will to avoid no deal? The new Prime Minister may find themselves unable to pass any legislation, including Bills crucial for no deal preparation. Similarly to what we said last week, while the legislative or procedural routes remain limited, what political reality the new Prime Minister will be confronted with remains to be seen.
No retirement party for John Bercow yet
In an interview with the Guardian this week John Bercow announced he would not be resigning from being the Speaker of the House of Commons until after Brexit is resolved. He was expected to leave the post this summer as he has been in the position for longer than he originally promised when running to be elected Speaker.
The key thing for Brexit watchers here is that he has previously given opportunities for MPs to take control of the House of Commons business and pass legislation. This was the so-called ‘Cooper Bill’. As highlighted by the Institute for Government (here) one of the only ways for Parliament to block Brexit is if the Speaker chooses to ‘be even more flexible in his interpretation of parliamentary convention’. Bercow did indeed say this week that while No Deal remains the legal default, it must be recognised that “the interplay of different political forces in Parliament will facilitate”.
Conservative leadership candidates and Brexit.
The Conservative party leadership election continues on. There are now 12 official candidates in the running. There are likely to be a few more who will throw their hat into the ring. Some candidates have clarified their position to No Deal Brexit this week.
Rory Stewart gave an interview laying out why he believed leaving the EU on a World Trade Organisation rules (the default international trading rules if the UK left with no deal) was a bad idea, mirroring comments he has previously made outlining opposition to No Deal.
Jeremy Hunt argued that forcing a No Deal through Parliament would be bad as it may lead to a vote of no confidence and a General Election. His concern with an election at this point is going to the country without Brexit resolved would result in a defeat for the Conservative Party.
Esther McVey meanwhile argued for a No Deal rather than delaying leaving the EU any further than the 31st October 2019. She argued it would be ‘political suicide’ to not leave on the 31st.
Dominic Raab has similarly argued that the UK needs to leave on the 31st October regardless of a deal or not.
The race is revealing some of the strategies the next Prime Minister may take, depending on who wins the race. We will keep you up to date on what direction is looking likely for the future PM to take.
The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on the EU Settlement Scheme (also known as Settled Status). They have serious concerns on the current design of the scheme, which could leave many EU citizens in an uncertain situation. At the core of their recommendations, the committee argues that the Government should enshrine EU citizens rights in law to prevent them from being left in an insecure legal position.
The Committee is concerned people are going to fall through the gaps, something we have heard from organisations working with EU citizens too. The Chair of the Committee argues that the Government are not learning from the Windrush scandal and people, through no fault of their own, will be suddenly at risk. Read the whole report here.
Meanwhile, this week the Home Office released some data on the Settled Status Scheme. It revealed over 750,000 people have applied for settled status. Which is significantly fewer from the over 3 million EU citizens estimated to be living in the UK. They also announced that further data will be published in a monthly report, followed by more details stats on a quarterly basis. You can read the full announcement here.
On Sunday the results of the European elections were announced. The new Brexit Party shot to the top, having previously not stood in elections before and ran on an explicitly pro-Brexit line. Meanwhile, on the anti-Brexit side, the Liberal Democrats and Greens also made large gains. With an increase of the vote share of 13.4% and 4.2% respectively (figures here).
For both Labour and Conservatives, it was a disappointing night. Labour’s vote share decreased by 11.3% and the Conservatives by 14.8%. The large losses of vote share by both major parties were only beaten by UKIP who lost a huge 24.2%.
The result of these elections is an increasingly polarised electorate. In this election no-one was expecting to have at the beginning of the year, the voters chose to vote according to pro or anti-Brexit lines. As a result, both of the two major parties were punished. Following the EP elections, movement on the issue of Brexit by Labour and the Conservatives has been slow. Theresa May resigned before the results were announced and therefore a leadership contest is starting which means any changes to the direction of legislation isn’t going to be until a new leader is in office. Labour meanwhile, are continuing to have the same internal discussion around a second referendum they have had for a while with neither side seeming to be winning. This means despite a dramatic political result, the direction of Brexit remains the same as before which appears to not be satisfying either side on the Brexit divide.
Electoral law across the Irish Sea.
There have been recount difficulties in Dublin as a result of the UK having not left the EU yet. As we’ve said in a previous bulletin (here) when the UK was meant to leave in March 2019 this was intended to be before any European elections. Therefore the EU decided to redistribute the seats currently held by the UK. Since we haven’t left yet, and we did elect MEPs those seats are not vacant.
In Ireland - a beneficiary of the redistributed seats - there has been a dispute as to how to distribute votes in their voting system to account for the potential seat they will gain when the UK is scheduled to leave later this year. The Journal live blogged it here. It demonstrates how some of the repercussions of our gridlocked Parliament is being felt in neighbouring countries.
Sheffield roundtable: Brexit & Civil Society - Save the Date!
We will be hosting a roundtable in Sheffield. We will be in Sheffield on Tuesday 25th June, 13:30 to 16:30 at the Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row.
We will bring civil society and relevant stakeholders together to network, share information and discuss what happens next and how the third sector in Sheffield can best prepare for exit day. Get your ticket here now!
New Frontiers: The social sector through Brexit. Coming to Manchester.
We are partnering with the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales, 10GM and NPC to hold our New Frontiers conference in Manchester. It will bring together the social sector to discuss the changes Brexit will have on civil society and the communities they work with.
It is an all day conference, free to attend, and is on Tuesday 11th July. Sign up for your ticket here.