What is Britain thinking?



By Jane Thomas 

A good question replies the EU. A report out this week by Britain Thinks, and covered in the Financial Times attempts to answer this and probably confirms what many feel intuitively about Brexit. It is a snapshot (a 2,000 sample frame) of what people in Britain are feeling at the moment.

First and foremost there is absolute despair at the whole political class with Brexit seen as a distraction from more urgent issues. Impressions of Maysdeal are negative, although few are engaging in the detail. Any optimism of leaving has gone and nobody is coming out of this well - including Jeremy Corbyn who people now see as playing party politics.

Lots of other issues are emerging as a priority and now people recognise that Brexit is sucking the oxygen out of the policy making process. Most feel let down by the  process (83% think the whole political class has failed the country on Brexit) and view politicians taking a cynical approach, making decisions based on personal interest not the national interest.

Swing voters are more confused than ever. Awareness of Theresa May’s Brexit deal is incredibly low, with little or no understanding of No Deal (read our briefing on it here). People continue to be disengaged and this all confirms that policy detail is something that voters rarely have time or energy to engage with.

Also this week The UK in a Changing Europe published their report on Brexit and public opinion 2019, providing a comprehensive and up-to-date guide to public opinion on each of the key issues around Brexit including immigration, party allegiance and No Deal.

Meaningful vote 2.0: Runners and Riders 

There was a change on the backstop amendment, that Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP and chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee tabled ahead of the original meaningful vote. Originally it just said "insists on an expiry date to the backstop". But now it says "insists that the EU Withdrawal Agreement be amended so that the backstop shall expire on 31 December 2021". However a statement the following day by the European Parliament Brexit Steering Group has said without an “all-weather” backstop-insurance, the European Parliament will not give its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Note: a cross party amendment on support of a People's Vote has been withdrawn - quoting the lack of support from Corbyn as the reason (although whether there would have been the numbers is dubious). 

So the ones to watch is Labour's Yvette Cooper amendment which plans to postpone the Brexit date of March 29 until the end of the year if there is no deal agreed with Brussels. MPs will vote on the idea in principle on Tuesday, and Cooper's legislation would be voted on a week later on February 5.about this is that it is amendable and designed to be flexible. It will be up to MPs and the government at the time to decide how long the delay should be and it would force May to act. Unlike other amendments, it is legally as well as politically binding. 

Also coming up on the inside is the Spelman/Dromey amendment that commits  Parliament to ‘rejecting the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for the future relationship’.

In response Rees Mogg’s ruffled feathers with his recent call  for the government to prorogue & over-ride Parliament, or withhold royal assent to a bill passed by Parliament that may delay or reverse Brexit was met with some derision. Professor Mark Elliott responded by concluding that any Government that advised the Queen not to grant royal assent to a duly enacted Bill would not only be playing with political fire — it would be subverting fundamental constitutional principles.

Sir Stephen Laws, a former senior legal adviser to the government, was quoted in an article for ConservativeHome as saying that "it is a sacred duty of all UK politicians not involve the Monarch in politics", adding: "The prospect of this is unthinkably awful. But, sadly, not beyond the realms of possibility."

Amendments to date

At the time of writing these are the scores on the doors - that is the number of MPs supporting various motions. Below is a list of how many MPs have signed up to each amendment so far, courtesy of Jack Maidment’s tweet 

Spelman/Dromey (no no-deal): 115 
Cooper (Extend A50 via bill): 78 
Reeves (Extend A50): 55 
Grieve (Time for indicative votes): 51 
Corbyn (Labour deal/2nd ref): 45 
Murrison (backstop expiry date): 32

Running out of road 

There is much talk of whether there is enough time to get to a Deal but there is a host of other legislation that has to be concluded before March 29th if we are to keep that date as Exit Day. See here for the progress of legislation needed to implement Brexit here. These Bills still need to be completed:

Trade Bill - Committee stage continues on 30 January when further amendments will be discussed
Agriculture Bill 
Immigration and Social Security Bill- 2nd reading on Monday 
Fisheries Bill 
Animal Welfare Bill 
Environmental Principles and Governance Bill
Healthcare (International arrangements) Bill
Withdrawal Agreement Bill 

Business reaction 

Much air time has been given to Sir Jame Dyson’s (pro-Brexit CEO of Dyson) decisions to relocate his HQ to Singapore whilst  P&O revealed that it will be re-registering its entire cross-Channel fleet of ferries under the flag of Cyprus. Yesterday the Chief Executive of Airbus called Brexit disgrace grabbing the headlines with a 6am YouTube video.

Meanwhile UK in a Changing Europe has just published  a report showing that most SMEs have made no plan for Brexit. 16.3 million people work in the UK’s 5.6 million small businesses, and they generate a turnover of £2 trillion per year – more than half of all private sector turnover.  They don’t have the resources available to large companies and so face major challenges as a result of Brexit. Worryingly, surveys show that most of them have so far done nothing to prepare for Brexit.

Events dear boy, events 

UK in a Changing Europe is hosting an event in God's Own county - Leeds to be precise - on February 5th where they will be discussing all things Brexit : What Happened and What Happens Next.

York Round Table: Brexit & Civil Society

From questions around the replacement of EU funding that the third sector receives, the settled status scheme to the maintenance of fundamental rights, it is evident that Brexit will have significant impacts on civil society.  Join us to discuss this and more at our roundtable event in York on the 25th February. More details & sign up here.

What to listen to: Worth a  listen is Sir Ivan Rogers as he delivers a showpiece public lecture for the UCL European Institute. Rogers was a former senior British civil servant who was the UK's Permanent Representative to the European Union from November 2013 to January 2017.

What to read: The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s briefing for Committee stage (days 2 and 3) of the Trade Bill, can be found here.


NewsletterMalene Bratlie