What. A. Year.
Christmas 1914 saw a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War One, where for a brief period some good will was exchanged. Sadly it is unlikely that hostilities will cease this Christmas with our own parliamentarians - especially given the febrile nature demonstrated in the House of Commons yesterday.
Whilst a number of MPs commented on the fact that people at home watching must have been dismayed at the behaviour of MPs it was also evidenced on the streets outside parliament with Anna Soubry MP needing a police escort because of the intimidation received from members of the public.
But time marches on and outside of the rows and shouting, stuff actually DID happen this week. And that is very necessary because there are only 45 parliamentary working days before Britain leaves the European Union on March 29.
This week’s newsletter features a few of the weeks developments and a quick assessment of the year.
Report card for this week
NO DEAL: Tuesday saw a three hour Cabinet meeting at which Ministers agreed to ramp up No Deal preparations with 3,500 troops on standby and £2bn put aside for 2 government departments to deal with additional measures needed.
The UK’s five leading business groups, representing hundreds of thousands of businesses across the United Kingdom employing millions of people, put out a statement in response calling on politicians to prevent a disorderly ‘no-deal’ Brexit on 29th March.
The European Commission has ramped up preparations for a no-deal scenario by announcing its intentions to implement its no-deal actionplan. Adam Fleming from the BBC has said the EU has been slightly more generous than expected in its planning for a no-deal Brexit with some measures in place for longer than previously suggested (on aviation and financial regulations for example). The proposal that British truckers can carry on trucking in the EU for nine months before they have to apply for scarce international permits will be welcomed by the industry. Whether this is a product of calculation in their own interests rather than a friendly and helping hand to the UK is a moot point.
Read our 2-page briefing on the impacts a no deal will have on rights, standards, transparent law-making and governance here.
IMMIGRATION WHITE PAPER: The long overdue Immigration White Paper was published on Wednesday but got somewhat overshadowed by #stupidwomangate. The government confirmed that lower-skilled and unskilled migrants will not routinely be able to come to the UK and settle permanently but Cabinet splits have emerged over other key aspects of the White Paper. Theresa May disagreed with the home secretary over targets to reduce net migration to the 'tens of thousands', and ministers have been debating whether the minimum salary for post-Brexit migrants should be £30k.The salary threshold now won't be confirmed until 2020, primarily because of cabinet disagreements. For a fuller analysis see here.
DRAFT ENVIRONMENT (PRINCIPLES AND GOVERNANCE BILL): Also published this week the long-awaited draft Environment Bill. Amy Mount from Greener UK tweeted that “there's a commitment to "explore options for strong targets …. but be in no doubt - the final bill MUST provide for legally binding targets & plans for achieving them at national & local level, or else how will current & future govts be held to account on environmental progress”.
AND IN OTHER NEWS: Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, told ITV's Peston that there is a "plausible argument" for another referendum if the PM's deal is rejected by MPs making her the first member of the Cabinet to publically air ths view.
Report card for the year
Is been a roller coaster ride and it's difficult to measure what real - if any - progress has been made.
The Alliance has spent the year consistently and robustly analysing the various pieces of Brexit legislation and attempting to keep civil society organisations up to speed with developments. It is worth measuring the year against our core principles:
1. Open & Accountable Lawmaking - Legislating for Brexit must respect the democratic processes, including the devolved nature of the UK constitution. There must be clear limits and safeguards on executive power. There must be robust parliamentary scrutiny at all levels with appropriate transparency and debate.
2. A high standards UK, with rights, standards and funding to underpin them maintained - Leaving the EU should not mean weaker standards, fewer rights or loss of funding. A UK framework for common standards must be mutually agreed between the four administrations to enable cross-border working and internal common market
3. Leaving the EU should not create a governance gap - EU institutions have a role in monitoring, oversight and ensuring compliance with the law as well as setting regulations. Where governance arrangements are changed as a result of leaving the EU, there must be clear powers and procedures for ensuring the law is properly implemented and enforced on an ongoing basis.
In every sense, the government has been woefully inadequate on governance and transparency issues. The government is relying on a smoke and mirrors approach to governance and avoidance of any real scrutiny and debate. From the time government ministers misled Parliament about impact assessments of EU withdrawal, without facing any real consequences, to when they limited time for proper debate on crucial Brexit legislation. This approach is also evident in pieces of Brexit legislation, many of which hand broad law-making powers to ministers, with little chance of real scrutiny from MPs.
This was also articulated yesterday by Chris Bryant MP when he saidduring the No Deal debate yesterday “that the power of the Government to manage the business and completely ignore any motions of this House that are not legally binding is quite phenomenal”. Keir Starmer MP concurred with saying that “what the last few weeks have shown are some of the inadequacies in the procedures of this House. The idea that the Government can simply not move their business and do not have to have a vote on it is not acceptable. The fact that we have to have a SO [standing order] 24 debate on an issue of this significance because we cannot force a statement, shows the inadequacies”. It is disingenuous indeed of the government to time and time again refer to the 'will of the people' whilst over riding the will of Parliament.
It's not all bad in Parliament. The work of the various Commons Select Committee indeed has been invaluable for scrutiny and evaluation of impacts of Brexit. We'd like to thank all Chairs for their careful attention to detail and how, in absence of real scrutiny on the floor if the House, they have stepped up to the plate.
The Alliance remains concerned about the future of the hard won devolution settlements. What Brexit has exposed is the fragility of current settlements and a lack of shared understanding about the status and role of the devolved governments and inability to resolve a full devolution settlement in England. See our briefings on the subject here:
Brexit Civil Society Alliance: Devolution issues in the EU Withdrawal Bill
Brexit Civil Society Alliance: Brexit exposes our constitutional fragility
The question of who decides about issues that were previously EU competences – such as GM crops, fishing quotas, state aid to industries, data protection, energy labelling and internet security – has been at the heart of debates in Scotland and Wales. The debate Northern Ireland has been diffused by the lack of Stormont meeting but exercises those in civil society to the same extent. Now Northern Ireland groups are taking a long hard look at a No Deal scenario and its not pretty. And it is raising some hard constitutional questions that many may not want to confront.
In the New Year it is hoped that things become clearer and that an orderly exit from the EU can be managed with appropriate legislation that protects and safeguards the rights, standards and freedoms we currently enjoy. Once we have a clearer picture of where this is going we can start to analyse the details of what life will be like for civil society organisations post Exit Day.
In the meantime we wish you all a peaceful, stress -free Christmas and hope that 2019 brings some clarity and certainty for us all.
Debate in Parliament on No Deal Brexit
The UK’s former representative to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers spoke at the invitation of the University of Liverpool’s Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place.Read the full speech here.
Public Law for Everyone (Mark Elliot): The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Scottish Continuity Bill case