What's that coming over the hill?



At the risk of repeating what we’ve said before, what a week. It’s now officially confirmed that Boris Johnson is the new PM, who said on the steps of No 10 that the UK will leave the EU on October 31, “no ifs or buts.'' Parliament has now promptly left the Westminster village for summer recess. The next three months will be crucial, now is a prime opportunity for organisations to look ahead. Key questions that need answering are whether the UK leaves with a deal, or will we face a cliff-edge exit come October 31st? What about a general election? In this week’s special edition of the Bulletin, we scan the Brexit horizon and attempt to predict the unpredictable.

With the MPs off for summer recess this will be the last issue of the bulletin we will send out until September. In the meantime we wish you all a great summer and hope that when we return there will be some clarity and certainty for us all (but don’t bet on it).
Jacob Millen-Bamford

Got 12 minutes? Read the analysis
Got 30 minutes? Read the links


With the Commons now in recess for summer and no confirmed dates for when the Brexit bills will return to Parliament, there are currently few key legislating dates to keep an eye out for. However for horizon scanning, it is worth keeping the following dates in mind:

  • Friday 27th July - First day of summer recess

  • Tuesday 3rd September - End of summer recess. First day back in the Commons

  • Thursday 12th September - Estimated start of conference recess

  • Saturday 14th September to Tuesday 17th September - Liberal Democrat conference

  • Saturday 21st September to Wednesday 25th September - Labour conference

  • Sunday 29th September to Wednesday 2nd October - Conservative conference

  • Wednesday 9th October - Estimated end of conference recess

  • Thursday 17th and Friday 18th October - Final EU Summit before exit day

  • Thursday 31st October - Brexit Day. Deadline for current Article 50 extension

Legislation - Running Out of Time, Running Out of Scrutiny

There are five important pieces of legislation that Parliament needs to pass in the event of a no deal exit. They are:

  • Trade Bill 2017-19 - Stuck in Ping Pong

  • Agriculture Bill 2017-19 - Stuck at Report Stage, date to be announced

  • Fisheries Bill 2017-19 - Stuck at Report Stage, date to be announced

  • Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) 2017-19 - Stuck at Report Stage, date to be announced

  • Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill 2017-19 - Stuck at Report Stage, date to be announced

More about each piece of legislation here.

Because of the highly contentious political landscape and the lack of a Commons majority, these bills are all stuck in Parliament, awaiting further debate and scrutiny. The danger is that they won’t pass in time for exit day, resulting in legal uncertainty about what laws apply post exit day. In fact, the new government has indicated that any bills going through before October 31st will be hijacked so they will not bring any primary legislation forward. Not bringing any Brexit legislation forward also mean fewer legislative routes for parliamentarians to stop a no-deal exit.

Even if they are brought forward, they’ll likely be rushed through with little scrutiny from parliamentarians and civil society.The powers handed to ministers in these bills are important. As we’ve said previously, while delegated powers are only meant to make technical or administrative changes, such powers are increasingly being used in to policy areas. The other issue of secondary legislation is that the government can avoid a lot of scrutiny. Statutory Instruments (a major form of secondary legislation) are not amendable by MPs and have much fewer opportunities for scrutiny by MPs and civil society.

Scanning the Brexit Horizon: Possible Scenarios

Vote of No Confidence (VONC)

Since there was no vote of no confidence tabled before recess on the 25th July there can’t be one until MPs return in September, meaning if a VONC passes, the likely date of a general election has been pushed back to the 31st October, according to the Commons Library maths. Their useful explainer about when a VONC might be used for a general election is here. If there is to be a VONC, expect one in September before conference recess. If the Commons passes a no-confidence motion in Boris Johnson then we could be looking at a General Election.

The Liberal Democrats tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling that “this House has no confidence in the Prime Minister” however only Liberal Democrat MPs and two independents signed it. This is because an EDM is not voted on in the Commons, has no legal effect, and is essentially a statement signed up to by MPs. No surprise that little came as a result.

A question looms over whether there are enough Conservative MPs willing to vote no confidence in their own government. This is unanswerable at the moment other than maybe. A few MPs such as Ken Clarke have said they would be open to it, and more have not ruled it out. However, it is incredibly difficult for an MP to vote no confidence and bring down their own government. It will depend on three factors. How serious Johnson is about a no-deal, whether Tory MPs sees no deal as bigger threat than the prospect of putting Corbyn in No 10 and how much time there is left to prevent a no-deal through other means.

No-Deal Brexit

Boris Johnson is now the Prime Minister and both his words and actions point towards a plan to leave the EU on the 31st October

Several factors lead to no-deal Brexit being a more likely outcome.

  1. Boris Johnson has said the UK is going to leave the EU on the 31st October with or without a deal, “do or die”

  2. Parliament will not pass the current deal, and the EU will not negotiate a new deal therefore Johnson can’t get the current deal through Parliament and can’t get a new deal from the EU

  3. Even if (which is a big if), Boris tried to renegotiate a new deal or changes to the existing Withdrawal Agreement, the crucial thing to remember is that the clock is ticking. Remember that the government also have to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.There are only 24 sitting days between 3rd September and 31st October. Passing a bill that will have huge constitutional and political significance in 24 sitting days could technically be done but there is no guarantee that legislation implementing the existing or a changed Withdrawal Agreement will have an easy ride through Parliament. Expect parliamentarians to kick up a fuss.

  4. Johnson shows no sign of asking for an extension to Article 50

  5. The politics are changing. Johnson’s first speech outside Number 10, his new Cabinet and his political appointments to Number 10 point to a desire for no-deal (and potentially an early general election, see more on that below). It has been speculated that he desires to go to the country in an election saying that he has delivered on Brexit. This could mean a no-deal followed by a general election. Or more likely, he calls a snap election before 31st October, asking voters for a mandate to carry through with a no deal exit.

Previously we have covered MPs voting to prevent prorogation of Parliament, is the UK ready for no-deal?, and the impacts on rights, standards, governance and transparent law making. The Institute for Government covered if no-deal can be blocked, not easily was their answer.

General Election

A general election is looking more and more likely. Political analysts have argued that Johnson's first speech, his Cabinet appointments, and Number 10 political appointments all point to a PM gearing up for an election. There is an argument that Johnson will go to the country before the 31st October to make the case that he is being blocked by Parliament to do Brexit and will campaign on a no-deal platform.

Alongside this is his diminished majority, potentially down to one, if the Conservatives lose the Brecon and Radnorshire byelection, in August, which means only a few Conservatives have to vote with the opposition to topple Johnson. Overall a general election is more likely to happen before the 31st October, whether this is via Johnson calling it, or Parliament voting no confidence in his government.

The outcome of a general election is unknown. Polls are split four ways between the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Brexit Party. Due to the nature of first past the post, and the unpredictability of voters in recent times, it’s difficult to determine who, if any, can command a majority.

Revoke Article 50

Incredibly unlikely to happen. May ruled it out, so has Johnson. Labour would be unlikely to support it. It is deeply divided on what to do about Brexit and is focused on how to win a potential general election. Even the Liberal Democrats, an explicitly ‘Remain’ party have not argued for revocation of Article 50.

Second Referendum / People’s Vote

The campaign for a People’s Vote / Second referendum continues. Labour has stated it would call for a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal produced by the Conservative party. However, the chances of a referendum before the 31st are slim. There continues to be no proven majority for one, even with Labours support. Johnson meanwhile would not support one. Furthermore, the time frame for having one has been put at about 22 weeks, potentially a week or two less if MPs agree with each other. Given this timeline and with 13 weeks to go before exit day, a second referendum would only be possible with an extension to Article 50, or, in theory, it would be possible to ignore normal procedures and shorten 22-week timetable but that’s a big if - more on this here.

Trying to predict what comes next in Brexit is of course impossible and as we keep saying- the only certainty is uncertainty. With these scenarios in mind and with the summer recess now is a good time for you to take stock of the current situation and how it relates to your organisation. MPs will be back in their constituencies which is a good time to speak with your local MP. Read our Campaign Toolkit for advice on best practices to get their attention and for further action planning. Brace yourself for a hectic autumn.

In Events

New Frontiers: The social sector through Brexit

  • When: 11th September 2019, 9:30 - 16:30

  • 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 an 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

House of Commons Backbench Debate on EU Settlement Scheme

  • When: Tuesday 3rd September

  • Where: House of Commons Main Chamber

On Tuesday 3rd the backbench business committee have secured a debate in the House of Commons on the EU settlement scheme. Specifically looking at looked-after children and care leavers. Steve McCabe MP will begin the debate. Further details here.

House of Commons Debate on UK Shared Prosperity Fund

  • When: Thursday 5th September

  • Where: House of Commons Main Chamber

On Thursday 5th September the Commons will debate a motion of the future UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Further details have yet to be announced.

This is a good debate to raise concerns with your MP. It is a crucial fund that is intended to replace the EU Structural Funds but the May government said produced very few details about it. It will be a prime opportunity to see what the new Johnson government is thinking on the fund.

Recommended Reading

  • House of Lords EU Select Committee has published their 14th report on Brexit- related international agreements. Read it here

  • Buzzfeed go through in detail the people in Johnson’s new government here

  • Faisal Islam the BBC economics editor devlved into the reality of tariffs in a no-deal Brexit here

  • The EU prepares to give Ireland a no-deal aid package here