News & Insights

Countdown to Brexit: 4 Days - Quiet before the storm

8 Apr 2019

A quick glance at this week in Parliament looks scarily quiet. The House of Lords pick up the debate on the ‘Yvette Cooper’ Bill today - and the only scheduled Brexit business in the Commons are ‘questions and debates’ on six ‘Statutory Instruments’. There are no Brexit related select committee meetings.

The Prime Minister has formally written to the European Council President, Donald Tusk, requesting - for the second time - an extension of Article 50 negotiations until 30 June 2019.

The European Council is scheduled to hold an emergency Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday evening when they will decide the fate of Brexit. The EU has previously said 12 April is the ultimate deadline for the ‘approval of the Withdrawal Agreement and a short extension’. It remains to be seen whether the leaders of the 27 EU Member States can agree unanimously to the UK’s request to extend negotiations beyond 12 April.

It is safe to assume that there will be some, as yet unplanned, Brexit activity in the House of Commons ahead of the special European Council meeting on 10 April coming from the Government’s search for an alternative solution to no-deal which has two-steps.

First, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition continue to look for a plan, "that we would both stick to” on the Future Relationship. This would then be put to the House of Commons for approval, and then taken to European Council for agreement on 10 April. Any plan would have to include the current ‘Withdrawal Agreement’, as the EU has repeatedly made it clear that “it cannot and will not be reopened”.

Second, if the Government and Opposition cannot agree “a single unified approach”, they will agree a number of options which will be put to the House of Commons in a series of votes. It not yet known what options – or even what form - such votes could take. This time – and unlike the previous two rounds of indicative votes - the Prime Minister has made clear the Government “stands ready to abide by the decision.”

This week’s scheduled Parliament activity

Monday 8 April: the House of Commons will be debate two Brexit related ‘Statutory Instruments’. The first concerns ‘notification of personal data breaches’; the second ‘trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’.

The House of Lords continue scrutiny of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill. If the Bill is passed during the day, the House of Commons will consider any amendments made by the Lords.

Tuesday 9 April: Commons ‘oral questions to the Treasury’ likely to touch on Brexit issues.

MPs are scheduled to debate four Brexit related statutory instruments. They: ‘seek to ensure the UK can operate an effective sanctions regime in relation to Burma, Venezuela, Iran and Guinea-Bissau after the UK leaves the EU’. These substantially replace existing EU sanctions regimes.

Wednesday 10 April: Commons ‘oral questions to the Northern Ireland Office’ likely to touch on Brexit issues.

The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels where the ‘special European Council’ meeting will consider the Prime Minister’s request for an extension of Article 50 negotiations beyond 12 April 2019.

Thursday 11 April: Commons ‘oral questions to the Attorney General, and business questions to the Leader of the House’ – with both likely to touch on Brexit issues.

Friday 12 April: if no extension to Article 50 is offered and agreed, UK leaves the EU at 11pm local time (BST). EU Law instantly removes UK as a member of the bloc. The EU Withdrawal Act, 2018, transfers all EU law existing at that instant into UK Law.

Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, warned MPs last week that: “it is likely that we may need to sit on Friday of next week - and I will update colleagues on this as early as possible next week.”

Parliament has re-scheduled its Easter Recess for 16-23 April 2019.

Review of some of no-deal Brexit contingency plans across Europe

UK: Jaguar Land Rover today started a one-week ‘shutdown of production’ due to ‘uncertainty around Brexit’. The company said it needs more concrete plans around Brexit - and that a potential no-deal would cost more than £1.2billion in profit each year. Unite union is fully supportive of the action.

The Netherlands: Dutch trade unions have warned that the army, police and customs officials are not ready for a no-deal Brexit. They have also underlined the serious consequences for security following loss of information sharing with Britain.

Germany: German business has warned about the impact to manufacturing supply chains, crucial to the country’s motor vehicle industry – with Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier, saying that the best Brexit option for Germany would be for Britain to be a customs union.

Belgium: The Government has hired additional customs staff - but officials warn that no-deal preparations are insufficient. The country’s largest port, Zeebrugge, estimates that only 10 percent of traffic is ready for the new paperwork requried.

France: The Government has prepared for a no-deal Brexit, hiring 740 extra customs and veterinary inspectors - and spending millions to improve airport and port security measures. The recent industrial action presaged the effects of no-deal Brexit - Customs Officers carried out vehicle checks and requested registration documents - resulting in two weeks of lengthy tailbacks for trucks waiting to cross to Britain.

Ireland: arguably has more at stake than the other remaining EU27. Brexit could lose Ireland as much as 4 percent of its GDP if Britain leaves without a deal. There are also significant risks of violence returning to the border region as a peace agreement breaks down with a hard border.

Ireland has hired around 1,000 new customs officials - but there are fears they will not all be in place in time. UK proposed tariff level mean non-EU producers may out-compete Irish products from shelves in UK shops. It is no coincidence that last week Angela Merkel took the time to spend a day in Dublin last – and Michel Barnier is there today.

And in case you missed it – a round-up of last weeks’ Brexit news

  • Prime Minister, Theresa May, wrote to Brussels last Friday requesting a Brexit delay to 30 June – for the second time.
  • In her letter, she indicated she wished to avoid participation in European Parliament elections hoped to leave by 23 May - but acknowledged that to stay past 12 April means preparing for the elections – and to stay past 23 May means taking part in them
  • Impasse in the House of Commons with further indicative votes failing to find a majority for any alternative way forward
  • May announced she would work with the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to consider other long-term options for Brexit that could secure Parliamentary support for her ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ before Wednesday evening
  • ‘Viable’ alternatives involve closer alignment with the EU than envisaged in the present ‘Political Declaration’ part of the Brexit ‘deal’ – presently close to the ‘Ken Clark’ option that failed to win a majority by just 3 votes
  • Both main parties in the UK are now under strain - with Brexit-supporting MPs in the Conservative Party angry at the move towards a softer Brexit - and some Labour MPs critical of their party being seen to facilitate Brexit
  • European Council President, Donald Tusk, proposed a “flextension” of up to a year - allowing an earlier exit if the withdrawal agreement was ratified
  • EU widely expressed concerns - notably France - that the continued membership of the UK would interfere with EU decision-making – not helped by tweets from Brexiteer, Jacob Rees-Mogg
  • The decision on whether to grant any further Brexit delay – and any conditions attached - will be taken in the European Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday
  • Unless the UK cancels Brexit altogether by revoking Article 50, the legal default position is for the UK to leave on at 23:00 BST on Friday 12 April 2019
  • And finally…the European Parliament has angered vegans, vegetarians and environmentalists – by considering banning meat-substitute products being described as ‘steaks’, ‘sausages’, or ‘burgers’. A case of unwarranted EU regulation at its “wurst”?

This article first appeared on the website for Brexit Partners (www.brexit-partners.com).

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