Waiting for answers (again)

Erskine May, the bible on all things parliamentary procedure is now available to read online, significantly improving transparency and access to information on how the Commons work (Plus the Hansard Society has got a great blog on it here). As if that wasn’t enough, the government has published retained EU law- available here (i.e. all those laws from the EU copied onto the UK statute book by virtue of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018). This is further great news for increased transparency and an opportunity for organisations to better familiarise themselves with key legislative changes arising from Brexit. In other words, that’s your weekend reading sorted.

Got 1 minute? Read the bullets
Got 15 minutes? Read the analysis
Got 90 minutes? Read the links

In Politics

Break up of the union?

  • Theresa May says her successor must protect the union as the UK exits the European Union

  • So far in the Brexit process, the UK government has failed to respect the devolved nations

Making her final speech as PM yesterday, Theresa May called on her successor to protect all parts of the UK- saying that her failure to achieve this was a source of regret for her. She also argued that Brexit does mean that the Union cannot be protected.

However, so far in the Brexit process, there has the abject failure of the UK government to engage in any meaningful way with the devolved nations and the inability to reflect or even understand the nature of the asymmetrical devolution settlements and how that can be protected as we go through negotiations. Instead, it's been a “command and control” attempt to govern from Westminster and Whitehall and this flies in the face of how many have engaged with their communities in the devolved nations - particularly in Northern Ireland where consent is such an important part of political life.

Johnson said this week that Brexit ‘done right’ could ‘cement and intensify’ the union. The reality is that so far, Brexit has exposed the many fault lines in both our political system and our constitution. Particularly around the devolution settlements where the weaknesses are most apparent. During the passage of the EU Withdrawal Act, the constitutional tensions were laid bare, with the UK government’s treatment of the devolved nations the EU Withdrawal Act and specifically with Clause 11, when it became apparent that Brexit creates those "special circumstances" that shows that London can overrule anything from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

This has led to accusations from the first ministers of both Scotland and Wales of power grabbing by the centre. Whilst to some extent this has abated in Wales, the heady mix of a recent referendum on independence and a Scottish Nationalist Party on the rise ( look how many seats they have taken off the Tories) is adding to the tensions between Scotland and the centre.

Of course, Northern Ireland is the issue that gathers most column inches and is the one that has to be resolved. In leaving the EU there was always going to have to be a border somewhere. The real problem is not only a natural border but one that is historically fraught and one that only recently has had some type of resolution.
We are now in unchartered waters. We are undertaking a huge legislative change in a relatively short space of time when our politics is being sorely tried and tested. The UK's hard-won devolution settlements are just that - hard-won- but also relatively new. The Scottish parliament, Stormont and the Welsh Assembly are not yet 20 years old and yet the EU referendum result is a huge challenge for our governance.

These tensions would have emerged at some stage. Brexit has just exposed them more starkly and possibly quicker. What is now required is a steadier, less reactive hand in negotiating Brexit and a long term devolution settlement that covers ALL the nations and regions of the UK.

MPs attempt to block no deal 

  • Commons Speaker Bercow turn down amendment aiming to block no deal

  • Autumn will be crunch point for MPs to stop no deal

Meanwhile, Monday saw Commons Speaker Bercow turning down an amendment Dominic Grieve had laid down with former Labour’s Foreign Secretary Fame Margaret Beckett. The amendment would have cut off cash to government departments in a no deal scenario. There is currently no clear parliamentary route to stop no deal, so there’s little suprise MPs are being inventive in their methods to try and avoid a cliff-edge exit.

However, as reported by Paul Waugh here, Labour MP and chair of the Exiting the EU Select Committee in the Commons, Hilary Benn said that it may take MPs until October to ‘see the whites of their eyes’ of a no deal exit and when MPs would probably take action. Bernn has backed the idea of an SO24 debate route, in which the speaker allows an emergency motion to be amended, to give MPs a veto. It’s also being reported that MPs will use the small window between the Commons return from conference recess to Halloween. If the Commons decides to go ahead with this plan, it’ll be a rerun of March this year, where two weeks before exit day, civil society and business still did not know whether we’d leave the EU with, or without a deal. The only certainty is uncertainty.

In Policy

No Deal Preparedness

  • Both Conservative leadership candidates say the UK needs to be prepared to walk away without a deal’

  • Civil society, individuals and business still need clarity about what preparations are being done

Both leadership candidates have said the UK needs to be ‘prepared to walk away without a deal’ come 31st October. So exactly how prepared is the government for a no deal? And how will the impacts be mitigated?

As set out by Lord Bridges, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Exiting the EU- the government must clearly set out what preparations have already been made and how they plan to complete remaining preparations in one comprehensive summary. This must available to parliament, business, civil society and individuals. To date ‘there have been at least 750 communications [from the government] of one sort or another since October alone. Print them off and you create a compost heap of press releases, reports and statements’. And that is exactly the issue- individuals, business and civil society have no clear sense of what the plan is exactly.

Key questions that need answering is how prepared the UK government and devolved administrations are to keep the movement of people, goods, transports and services flowing in a no deal scenario? What exactly will happen to the Irish border? How does the government plan to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement? What legal guarantees will be in place to ensure citizens’ rights are protected? What happens if the government cannot get the necessary legislation through? How do you replace EU infrastructures and agencies in four months? How do you make sure that organisations have certainty about the replacement of EU funding in time for a no deal?

As we set out in this blog, there are still issues with the lack of time to get the legislation for a no deal in place. The Immigration Bill, Agriculture and Fisheries Bill, as well as the Trade Bill, have to be enacted before we leave without a deal, to avoid gaps in legislation and legal uncertainty about what laws apply post 31st October. Technically these bills could receive royal assent before 31st October but rushing legislation through means effective scrutiny will likely be poor and there will be little opportunity for civil society to meaningfully engage.

Despite the government pushing out over 100technical notices around a whole range of no-deal issues for citizens and businesses in August and September of last year, it is obvious there are sectors that will not be ready in time. Prepared for a cabinet discussion on 21 May, a leaked confidential cabinet note that was never circulated but makes clear that it will take “six to eight months” to build up supplies of medicines “to ensure adequate arrangements are in place to build stockpiles of medicines” and “at least 4-5 months” to make traders ready for the new border checks that might be required, including incentives to register for fresh schemes. Read our full blog on no deal preparedness here.

A Local Government Association briefing for councils on a no deal Brexit in October 2018 noted that local authorities would be contributing to the Local Resilience Forums (introduced in 2004 to provide those involved in emergency preparedness to collaborate at a local level). The briefing highlights the increase of hate crime after the referendum and local governments ‘would need to assure our communities that we had plans in place for any immediate community reassurance work’. The briefing also sets out that an impact of no deal in the short to medium term would be ‘the possible return of large numbers of largely elderly UK citizens from other parts of the EU, the impact on the local government workforce and key skills needs”. Read the full briefing here and find more details on local government no deal preparedness here (including contact details for local resilience forums)

It will be a very busy summer indeed if either candidate is to fulfil the promise of being prepared to walk away without a deal.

Key resources that will help your organisation prepare for a possible no deal exit:

Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit: Getting Brexit Ready

UK government: five ways civil society organisations can prepare for EU exit

Office for Civil Society: Preparing for EU exit

In Events

New Frontiers: The social sector through Brexit

  • When: 11 September 2019, 9.30 am- 4.30 am

  • Where: The Mechanics Centre, 103 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6DD

Together with Lloyds Bank Foundation, England & Wales, 10GM and NPC, the Alliance is hosting a free conference, bringing together the social sector to discuss the potentially momentous changes Brexit will have on charities, voluntary organisations and the communities they champion and represent.

Brexit continues to present 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 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.

The key question that New Frontiers in GM will address is:

  • What should the role and mission of the social and wider voluntary sector be through (and post) 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 how is the sector going to overcome disruption to funding as a result?

Sign up here.

Recommended Reading

  • A brilliant blog by Professor Nicola McEwen on what the future holds as we mark the twentieth anniversary of the Scottish Parliament

  • New report by UK in a Changing Europe assess what the evidence tells us about the impact of Brexit to date and what the future holds- available here

  • Blog by the Constitution Unit: Six constitutional questions raised by the election of the new Conservative leader- available here

Malene BratlieComment