Welcome Back To The Brexit Rollercoaster
Happy New Year and welcome to Brexit 2019. What has actually changed since before Christmas? Well, not that much. MPs on both sides still hate Theresa May’s deal, it still looks very likely that the parliamentary vote on the deal will be defeated and there is still no clear path as to what will happen next. And the EU has confirmed that there are no plans for talks on renegotiating - so it's still the same deal on the table.
There have been developments though. This week has seen the government lose two crucial votes and 209 MPs from across the Commons signing a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to rule out a no-deal Brexit. And this has been another week of extraordinary scenes in the Commons.
The meaningful vote on May’s deal is due next Tuesday, 15th January. According to the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, a defeat requires a minister to come to the Commons within 21 calendar days with a statement about the government’s next intentions - with a vote on that seven sitting days later. Dominic Grieve’s amendment passed in December gave MPs the chance to table alternatives to the government’s ‘plan B’. On Wednesday, another amendment tabled by Grieve (passed by 11 votes) means that instead of 21 days, a minister now has to come back with a Plan B three sitting days if Mays deal is rejected.
This week also saw the unprecedented decision by the Speaker John Bercow, to put Grieve’s amendment for a vote despite clerks advising against it and despite doing so would contradict existing Commons rules. This was heavily criticised by some, whilst others saw this move as necessary with perceived parliamentary paralysis and a government who have consistently throughout the Brexit process sidestepped scrutiny and undermined parliamentary sovereignty.
The selection and subsequent passing of Grieve’s amendment are also important as it limits May’s ability to run down the clock before March 29 and pressure MPs to vote for her deal out of fear of a no deal Brexit. Andrea Leadsom confirmed yesterday that the Commons will not sit next Friday, meaning that if May is defeated she will set out that Plan B to Parliament at 3.30 on the 21st January.
Impacts of a No Deal Brexit on civil society
The current stalemate between Parliament and the government means a No Deal can’t be taken off the table just yet. A No Deal Brexit will have significant implications for civil society- in our latest briefing to parliamentarians we assess some of the implications of leaving the EU without a deal.
In recent days May appears to be making a last-ditch attempt to win support from opposition MPs with a willingness to back an amendment aimed at protecting workers’ rights in the Brexit deal. Unions and Labour MPs dismissed as meaningless - all the amendment effectively does is give non-legal guarantees on rights and protections.
May has also offered her backing to an amendment which requires MPs to approve the implementation of the Irish backstop or the extension of the transition period. This would also require the government to conclude talks on a future trade deal, or find alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border, within a year of the backstop coming into effect. Both elements of this amendment appear to contradict the withdrawal agreement (setting out that the backstop is the default position if a deal on the future relationship is not in place by the end of 2020 and it will then apply indefinitely). And if - as the FT reports - the EU is largely relaxed about any such veto because it can’t be implemented then the government’s promises on anything else such as workers rights may well be considered empty promises
Immigration Bill published
Back in late December, when most people went on leave, the government sneakily published the long awaited Immigration Bill (full title: Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill). The main measures in the Bill include:
Repealing the main retained EU law relating to free movement and bringing EEA nationals and their family members under UK immigration control
Protecting the status of Irish citizen sin UK immigration once their EU free movement end;
Powers to amend, by regulations, retained EU law governing social security coordination
The bills goes ahead to 2nd reading already next Wednesday- more updates to follow. Explanatory notes available here.
Upcoming Alliance activities
We have a few spaces left for joint briefing in Parliament with the Wales Civil Society Forum on Brexit on the 14th January, 12.00-14.00. If you would like to attend, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org more details.
Save the date: We are hosting a roundtable on Brexit & civil society on the 25th February, 13.00-16.00 at the Priory Street Centre in York.
Brexit Civil Society Alliance Explainer: what is retained EU law?
The Civil Society Brexit Project: Brexit and devolution
Institute for Government: parliamentary progress of legislation introduced to implement Brexit