Brexit Brief Newsletter

December 2018

This issue of the Brexit Brief provides a summary of events in November and December including a timeline of events relating to the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration and an update on the Brexit legislation.

BREXIT DEAL – A TIMELINE

14 November: The Cabinet signed off on the draft Withdrawal Agreement as well as an outline of the Political Declaration which will inform the future relationship. 

The Withdrawal Agreement focuses on:

  • Protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU27 member states.
  • A transition period until the end of December 2020 with the possibility of an extension.
  • Separation issues ensuring a smooth winding down of the current UK-EU arrangements to ensure an orderly withdrawal.
  • An agreed financial settlement ensuring both the UK and the EU honour the financial obligations accumulated whilst the UK was a member of the EU.
  • Governance arrangements that provide legal certainty and clarity to citizens, businesses and organisations and respect the autonomy and integrity of both the UK’s and the EU's legal orders.
  • A Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland which includes:
    • In relation to the Ireland and Northern Ireland border, a legally operational backstop is to be implemented to ensure that there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If the backstop is required, it will establish a Single Customs Territory between the UK and the EU, and to ensure the free flow of goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The Single Customs Territory will not apply to fishery and aquaculture products.
    • Arrangements to ensure Northern Ireland continues to apply elements of Single Market legislation to ensure goods can move freely between Ireland and Northern Ireland which will mean businesses in Northern Ireland are able to access the EU Single Market as a whole without restriction.
    • A review mechanism.
    • Inclusion of level playing field measures including on State Aid, competition, taxation, environmental standards and labour and social protections. 
    • Establishment of a Joint Committee comprising representatives of the EU and of the UK. The Joint Committee will be responsible for the implementation and application of the Agreement. The EU and the UK may each refer to the Joint Committee any issue relating to the implementation, application and interpretation of this Agreement. 
    • A Protocol on Gibraltar

As per the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the transition (or implementation period) will run until December 2020, during which time the UK and EU will endeavour to reach a trade deal.  During the transition, EU law continues to be applicable to the UK however the UK will no longer have any EU voting rights.

The Agreement provides for a one-off decision, taken a Joint Committee (including representatives from both sides) before 1 July 2020 to extend the transition period for up to one or two years.  If this is the case, the UK would have to make a contribution to the EU budget for the period from 1 January 2021.

The Outline Political Declaration on the Future Relationship provides a framework for what negotiators will be working on in developing the future EU-UK relationship as well as stating that ‘where the parties consider it to be in their mutual interest during the negotiations, the future relationship may encompass areas of cooperation beyond those described in this political declaration’.  The Declaration consists of 5 parts - initial provisions for a basis for cooperation and areas of shared interest; economic partnership; security partnership; institutional arrangements; and forward process. The Declaration confirms that the UK intends to participate in EU programmes in areas including science and innovation; youth; culture and education; overseas development and external action; defence capabilities; civil protection and space and that participation in such programmes will require provision for a ‘fair and appropriate financial contribution’.

14 November: Speaking outside Downing Street, the Prime Minister said “I firmly believe that the draft Withdrawal Agreement was the best that could be negotiated, and it was for the Cabinet to decide whether to move on in the talks.

The choices before us were difficult, particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland backstop.

But the collective decision of Cabinet was that the Government should agree the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration – this is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalise the deal in the days ahead.

These decisions were not taken lightly - but I believe it is a decision that is firmly in the national interest. When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear. This deal which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders; ends free movement; protects jobs, security and our union; or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all.”

14 November: Speaking at the European Commission on 14 November, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said in relation to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland “We have now found a solution, together with the UK, to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

First, we will use our best endeavours to solve this issue for the long term, through a future agreement.  If we are not ready by July 2020, we could jointly consider extending the transition to provide for more time. Only if at the end of the transition, extended or not, we are still not there with a future agreement, would the backstop solution that we agreed today kick-in.

This backstop solution has evolved considerably from the original EU proposal of February this year. Over the last few weeks, we have worked with the UK on the basis of their proposal. In the backstop scenario, we agreed to create a EU-UK single customs territory. Northern Ireland will therefore remain in this same customs territory as the rest of the UK. 

In addition:

  • Northern Ireland would remain aligned to those rules of the Single Market that are essential for avoiding a hard border. This concerns agricultural goods as well as all products. 
  • The UK would apply the EU's Customs Code in Northern Ireland. This would allow Northern Irish businesses to bring goods into the Single Market without restrictions, which is essential to avoid a hard border.

 The text of the Protocol also makes clear that the Northern Irish economy retains unfettered market access to the rest of the UK. At the UK's request, Northern Ireland will apply all the rules of the single market for electricity. This is in the interest of the economy of Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

15 November: The Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on the Brexit negotiations.  In relation to the border she said: “Since the start of this process, I have been committed to ensuring that our exit from the EU deals with the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I believe this issue can best be solved through our future relationship with the European Union, but the withdrawal agreement sets out an insurance policy should that new relationship not be ready in time for the end of the implementation period.

I do not pretend that this has been a comfortable process or that either we or the EU are entirely happy with all of the arrangements that have been included, but of course that is the case—this is an arrangement that we have both said we never want ​to have to use. But while some people might pretend otherwise, there is no deal that delivers the Brexit the British people voted for that does not involve this insurance policy—not Canada plus plus plus, not “Norway for now,” not our own White Paper. The EU will not negotiate any future partnership without it.

As the House knows, the original proposal from the EU was not acceptable as it would have meant creating a customs border down the Irish sea and breaking up the integrity of our United Kingdom, so last month I set out for the House the four steps we needed to take. This is what we have now done, and it has seen the EU make a number of concessions towards our position.

First, the EU proposal for a Northern Ireland-only customs solution has been dropped and replaced with a new UK-wide temporary customs arrangement that protects the integrity of our precious Union.

Secondly, we have created an option for a single time-limited extension of the implementation period as an alternative to bringing in the backstop. As I have said many times, I do not want to extend the implementation period and I do not believe we will need to do so. This is about an insurance policy, but if it happens that at the end of 2020 our future relationship is not quite ready, the UK will be able to make a choice between the UK-wide temporary customs arrangement or a short extension of the implementation period.

Thirdly, the withdrawal agreement commits both parties to use best endeavours to ensure that this insurance policy is never used, and in the unlikely event that it is needed, if we choose the backstop, the withdrawal agreement is explicit that the backstop is temporary and that the article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. There is also a mechanism by which the backstop can be terminated.

Finally, we have ensured full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.”

24 November: The Prime Minister published ‘a letter to the nation’ outlining the benefits of the Brexit deal.  “On 29 March next year, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. We will then begin a new chapter in national life.  I want that to be moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country.  It must mark the point when we put aside the labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people. To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal”.

25 November: The EU27 leaders met for a special meeting of the European Council (Art.50). They endorsed the Brexit withdrawal agreement, as presented by the negotiators of the EU and the UK. Leaders also approved the political declaration on future EU-UK relations, which accompanies and is referred to in the withdrawal agreement.  Speaking following the meeting, Council President Donald Tusk said “Ahead of us is the difficult process of ratification as well as further negotiations. But regardless of how it will all end, one thing is certain: we will remain friends until the end of days, and one day longer.

26 November: The Government laid a statement that political agreement has been reached; the Withdrawal Agreement; and the Political Declaration on the framework for the future relationship in Parliament, in line with the requirements of Section 13 of the EU (Withdrawal Act) 2018 which concerns Parliamentary approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU

The Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons:

“The withdrawal agreement will ensure that we leave the European Union on 29 March next year in a smooth and orderly way. It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, so they can carry on living their lives as before. It delivers a time-limited implementation period to give business time to prepare for the new arrangements. During the implementation period, trade will continue on current terms so businesses only have to face one set of changes. It ensures a fair settlement of our financial obligations—less than half of what some originally expected and demanded. It meets our commitment to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland—and also no customs border in the Irish sea—in the event that the future relationship is not ready by the end of the implementation period.

I know that some Members remain concerned that we could find ourselves stuck in this backstop, so let me address this directly. First, this is an insurance policy that no one wants to use. Both the UK and the EU are fully committed to having our future relationship in place by 1 January 2021, and the withdrawal agreement has a legal duty on both sides to use best endeavours to avoid the backstop ever coming into force. If, despite this, the future relationship is not ready by the end of 2020, we would not be forced to use the backstop. We would have a clear choice between the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period. If we did choose the backstop, the legal text is clear that it should be temporary and that the article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. And there is now more flexibility that it can be superseded either by the future relationship, or by alternative arrangements which include the potential for facilitative arrangements and technologies to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

There is also a termination clause, which allows the backstop to be turned off when we have fulfilled our commitments on the Northern Ireland border. And there is a unilateral right to trigger a review through the Joint Committee and the ability to seek independent arbitration if the EU does not use good faith in this process. Furthermore, as a result of the changes we have negotiated, the legal text is now also clear that once the backstop has been superseded, it shall “cease to apply”. So if a future Parliament decided to then move from an initially deep trade relationship to a looser one, the backstop could not return.

I do not pretend that either we or the EU are entirely happy with these arrangements. And that is how it must be—were either party entirely happy, that party would have no incentive to move on to the future relationship. But there is no alternative deal that honours our commitments to Northern Ireland which does not involve this insurance policy. And the EU would not have agreed any future partnership without it. Put simply, there is no deal that comes without a backstop, and without a backstop there is no deal.”

28 November: The Government published a number of reports to ‘support public and parliamentary assessment of the deal’.  The reports included a long term economic analysis of EU exit under different scenarios, comparing potential future policy scenarios against today's arrangements, holding all other factors constant. The analysis considers the potential impacts from changes to specific trade-related policies, including analysis of EU trade costs and opportunities from an independent UK trade policy. The report includes some modelling of impacts across the UK regions and nations.

29 November: In a speech to the European Parliament, Michel Barnier said “The time for negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration is over. It is now time for ratification by the British Parliament, and by the European Parliament and Council. Given the difficult circumstances of this negotiation, and given the extreme complexity of all the subjects related to the UK's withdrawal, the deal that is on the table – the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration – this deal is the only and the best deal possible.

The Political Declaration sets out the framework of our future relationship that we will negotiate as soon as possible. In these negotiations, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament, the EU should continue to defend its interests and apply exactly the same principles.

In this upcoming negotiation, the European Union, and your negotiator, will adopt the same attitude. There will never be any aggressive attitude, and there never has been. There will never be any feeling of revenge, and there never has been. From my side, there never will be any feeling to punish, and there never has been. We will continue to work with the United Kingdom, never against it, to build our future partnership. We will continue to work with the respect that is due to a great country, which in all circumstances will remain our friend, partner and ally.

With regards to the future relationship, the truth is that – given the British decision to leave the European Union and the Single Market – it cannot be the status quo in the future. It cannot be business as usual and our duty is to say so, particularly to businesses who should be preparing themselves.

But our mutual interest lies in building an ambitious partnership on goods, services, digital, mobility, transport, public procurement, energy, internal security, and obviously for the stability of our continent, foreign policy – with a country that will remain an active member in the United Nations Security Council – defence and lots of other areas.”

4 December: A debate was held in the House of Commons on whether the Government was in contempt of Parliament for withholding legal advice received over Brexit. Parliament had previously demanded that the Government publish Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s full legal advice on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.  

Giving a statement to the House the previous day (3 December) on publication of an overviewof the legal advice Mr Cox said “My statement today is complemented by a detailed legal commentary, provided for the purpose of the debate and published this morning, that analyses the effect of the agreement as a whole. That legal commentary has been produced with my oversight and approval, and I commend it to the House as both an accurate examination of the provisions of the agreement and a helpful exposition of some of the salient issues that arise from them.”

Answering questions on the operation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol contained within the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Cox said “Let me make no bones about the Northern Ireland protocol: it will subsist. We are indefinitely committed to it if it comes into force. There is no point in my trying or the Government trying to disguise that fact. The truth, however, is this: what is the political imperative of either entering into it or not entering into it? That is a calculated equation of risk that each Member of this House is going to have to weigh up, and do so against different alternatives.”

On 4 December, the shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer tabled a motion ‘That this House finds Ministers in contempt for their failure to comply with the requirements of the motion for return passed on 13 November 2018, to publish the final and full legal advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the EU Withdrawal Agreement and the framework for the future relationship, and orders its immediate publication’.  Following a debate, the motion was passed with 311 votes to 293.

5 December: The full legal advice was subsequently published and concerns the legal effect of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Some key excerpts from the advice comment on the duration of the Protocol and backstop

4 December: Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom moved a motion on the arrangements for the House of Commons’ debate and vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.  The motion stated that the days for debate would be Tuesday 4 December, Wednesday 5 December, Thursday 6 December, Monday 10 December and Tuesday 11 December, with the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ on the motion and any amendments occurring at the end of Tuesday 11 December. The Speaker would be able to select up to six amendments to the Government’s motion.  

An amendment tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP and agreed to by the House means that any future motions tabled by the Government under section 13 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act are amendable under House procedures. Previously, the Government could lay ‘neutral motions’ which cannot be amended on Brexit related issues.  Mr Grieve’s amendment changes that in that the rules stating that neutral motions cannot be amended will not be applied to Government motions on Brexit. That means MPs will be able to amend a Government motion on Brexit proceedings.

Following this debate, the Prime Minister moved the motion ‘That this House approves for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community’ and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title ‘Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom’.  Thus, the first of five days’ debate on the Brexit deal began on 4 December 2018.

5 December: The House of Lords EU Select Committee published its report on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. The report outlines, in turn, the withdrawal provisions, the transition provisions, the 'backstop' on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the Declaration on future relations. It seeks to offer a dispassionate analysis, to assist parliamentary and public debate, drawing on the almost 40 reports the Committee has published since the 2016 referendum.

9 December: The House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee published its report on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.  The Chair of the Committee Hilary Benn commented: “It is because the Government has refused to face up to the hard choices confronting us that this deal would represent a huge step into the unknown.

The Political Declaration falls far short of the ‘detailed and substantive’ document promised by former Secretaries of State and by the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier. It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or ten years’ time. And with these negotiations having not even having started yet, this could take years to sort out.

It is now time for colleagues to decide on the Prime Minister’s deal. Throughout this process, the Select Committee has always argued for Parliament to be given a full and proper role, and a vote on what has been negotiated. The opportunity to do that is now before us, and I hope this report, with its detailed analysis of the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, will help members on all sides of the House to make their decision.”

10 December: The Government announced that it would defer the remaining days of debate and the ‘meaningful vote’.  In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said “We have now had three days of debate on the withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of our departure from the EU, and the political declaration setting out our future relationship after we have left. I have listened very carefully to what has been said, in the Chamber and out of it, by Members on all sides. From listening to those views, it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue, the Northern Ireland backstop, there remains widespread and deep concern. As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin. We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow, and will not proceed to divide the House at this time.

………………. We had hoped that the changes we have secured to the backstop would reassure Members that we could never be trapped in it indefinitely. I hope the House will forgive me if I take a moment to remind it of those changes. The customs element of the backstop is now UK-wide; it no longer splits our country into two customs territories. This also means that the backstop is now an uncomfortable arrangement for the EU, so it will not want it to come into use, or to persist for long if it does.

Both sides are now legally committed to using best endeavours to have our new relationship in place before the end of the implementation period, ensuring the backstop is never used. If our new relationship is not ready, we can now choose to extend the implementation period, further reducing the likelihood of the backstop coming into use. If the backstop ever does come into use, we now do not have to get the new relationship in place to get out of it; alternative arrangements that make use of technology could be put in place instead. The treaty is now clear that the backstop can only ever be temporary, and there is now a termination clause. ​

But I am clear from what I have heard in this place and from my own conversations that these elements do not offer a sufficient number of colleagues the reassurance that they need. I spoke to a number of EU leaders over the weekend, and in advance of the European Council I will go to see my counterparts in other member states and the leadership of the Council and the Commission. I will discuss with them the clear concerns that this House has expressed.

We are also looking closely at new ways of empowering the House of Commons to ensure that any provision for a backstop has democratic legitimacy and to enable the House to place its own obligations on the Government—[Interruption.] To enable the House to place its own obligations on the Government to ensure that the backstop cannot be in place indefinitely….”

Earlier that day, a European Commission spokesperson said “This deal is the best and only deal possible. We will not renegotiate the deal that is on the table right now. That is very clear.

“Our position has therefore not changed and as far as we’re concerned the UK is leaving the EU on the 29 March 2019. We are prepared for all scenarios.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “I don't think we should ever forget how we got to this point. UK decided to leave the EU and the UK Government decided to take lots of options off the tale, whether it was staying in the single market or customs union or Northern Ireland specific backstop.

The reason we've ended up in the solution we have is because of the red lines the UK itself laid down.  'We've already offered a lot of concessions along the way. We ended up with the backstop and this is withdrawal agreement because of the red lines the UK laid down along the way.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said “The deal is not going to change. Particularly the legal language of the withdrawal treaty. 'I hope people will see it for what it is, which is a fair, balanced document.”

13 and 14 December: The Prime Minister attended the meeting of the European Council in Brussels.  The Prime Minister stated that her intention was to seek legal and political assurances. 

17 December: The Prime Minister made a statement to the House of Commons on the Council meeting “At this Council, I faithfully and firmly reflected the concerns of this House over the Northern Ireland backstop. I explained that the assurances we have already agreed with the EU were insufficient for this House, and that we have to go further in showing that we never want to use this backstop, and if it is used, it must be a temporary arrangement. Some of the resulting exchanges at this Council were robust, but I make no apology for standing up for the interests of this House and the interests of our whole United Kingdom.

In response, the EU27 published a series of conclusions making it clear that it is their “firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.”

The House will forgive me, but I think this bears repeating: the backstop will not need to be triggered. The conclusions underline that “if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily”.

And that in this event, the EU “would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop”.

And the EU27 gave a new assurance, in relation to the future partnership with the UK, to make it even less likely that the backstop would ever be needed by stating that the EU “stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.”

In these conclusions, in their statements at the Council and in their private meetings with me, my fellow EU leaders could not have been clearer: they do not want to use this backstop. They want to agree the best possible future relationship with us. There is no plot to keep us in the backstop. Indeed, President Macron said on Friday: “we can clarify and reassure...the backstop is not our objective, it is not a durable solution and nobody is trying to lock the UK into the backstop.’” ​

The Prime Minister has since confirmed that the House of Commons debate on the Brexit deal will recommence the week beginning 7 January 2019 with the meaningful vote taking place in the week beginning 14 January 2019.

The Government has launched a new website ‘The Brexit Deal Explained’ which includes videos on how the deal protects jobs and creates certainty for businesses and our economy; keeps people safe through continued security cooperation with the EU; means for free trade with the EU and around the world; what the deal means for small businesses; and what the deal means for controlling our borders and immigration, and for people travelling to the UK

 

BREXIT PREPARATIONS

On 13 November, the European Commission published a Communication regarding contingency planning in the event of a 'no deal' scenario.  The Communication outlines contingency plans in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal and covers areas including financial services, medicines, aviation, chemicals and the PEACE and INTERREG programmes amongst others. The announcement detailed three measures that have been taken to help the EU27 prepare for a no-deal scenario. These are:

The Communication sets out recommended actions for citizens, businesses and member states to take. In summary the key message is that “contingency measures taken by national or EU authorities cannot replace the preparations that each citizen and business must take to prepare for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal”.

The legislative proposal in relation to visas would mean granting UK citizens visa-free travel to the EU after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. It would mean that UK citizens would not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. However, the proposal is contingent on the UK Government reciprocating and offering EU nationals similar rights to visit the UK.

The amendment to the energy efficiency legislation will take account of the UK’s departure by measuring energy consumption figures across the EU27 after the UK has left.

The EU has previously published 76 different preparedness notes providing information on a no-deal Brexit.

On 15 November 2018, the Government updated its ‘Partnership Pack: on preparing for changes at the UK border after a ‘no deal’ EU Exit’

Following a meeting on 18 December, the Cabinet said it had decided to "ramp up" preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the Cabinet had agreed that "preparing for a no deal will be an operational priority within Government but our overall priority is to secure a deal".  He said no-deal planning "needs to be much more of a priority for businesses" and there would be a "significant increase" in the guidance issued to them over the next 14 weeks, as Brexit day approaches.

E-mails will be sent out to 80,000 of those businesses most like to be affected over the next few days. The Government has sent letters to 140,000 firms urging them to plan ahead, while 3,500 troops will be put on standby to maintain essential services.

On 18 December, HM Treasury announced that it would allocate more than £2 billion to Government departments for Brexit preparations.  The additional funding will be spread across 25 Government departments for Brexit preparations for all scenarios.  Funding is for 2019/20 priority areas including borders, trade and security. The Treasury said “The money will support vital preparations including getting new border and customs operations ready, gearing up UK trade policy with existing and new international partners, and taking back control of our waters”.  Projects include;

  • Home Office will use its funding to increase Border Force capability with hundreds of new officers, continue preparing the EU Settlement Scheme to offer settled status and prepare law enforcement national security preparations.
  • In addition to taking back control of our waters, Defra will use its funding to deliver arrangements at the border and beyond to ensure uninterrupted trade in fish and fisheries products, chemicals, and agri-food.
  • BEIS will deliver business stability for company law and audit, in addition to developing options for a UK Global Navigation Satellite System.
  • HMRC will employ over 3,000 customer service and compliance staff in operational roles to handle increases in customs activity, ensuring trade continues to flow and revenue is protected. HMRC will also use its funding to deliver new technology and IT requirements at the border to ensure trade is as frictionless as possible.
  • DIT will use its allocation to securing post-Brexit continuity for around 40 trade agreements covering over 70 countries, accounting for 12% of the UK’s total trade. They will also use their funding for work on future trade agreements around the world.

Including this announcement, since 2016 the Chancellor has provided £4.2 billion towards EU exit preparations.

On 19 December, the European Commission started implementing its “no deal” Contingency Action Plan – a package of  14 measures in a number of areas where a "no-deal" scenario would create major disruption for citizens and businesses in the EU27, including financial services, air transport, customs and climate policy.

The Commission also proposed a Regulation to continue the PEACE programme in Northern Ireland until the end of 2020, in the event of a no deal scenario. Post 2020, the Commission has already proposed funding in the next EU budget to continue and strengthen cross-border support for peace and reconciliation in the border counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has secured funding of £16.5 million from HM Treasury for additional resources to deal with potential challenges post Brexit.  The funding will be used to recruit an extra 308 officers and staff by April 2020.

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the majority of the funding "would go into frontline policing in and around the border communities…. That is uniformed officers, many of them operating in neighbourhood teams and local policing teams working with local communities, reassuring local communities through the Brexit period," he added.

Mr Martin said the funding was "certainly not going to be spent in hardening the border, or increased infrastructure", but was "about officers on the beat with local communities".

He also said some of the funding would go towards enhancing the force's ability to tackle organised crime, and that a portion would be spent on vehicles, IT and intelligence.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said the funding will help the PSNI "manage pressures and contingencies arising from EU exit preparations, reflecting the specific and unique concerns in Northern Ireland".

The Irish Government has published its Contingency Action Plan, setting out its approach to dealing with a no deal Brexit. Further information on no deal preparedness will follow in January and February.  The Plan states “The Government regrets that as yet the Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the EU, including Ireland, and the United Kingdom (UK) has not been approved by the British Parliament. It continues to believe that it represents the best option for both the UK and the EU.

The Government recognises that, given the proximity of the formal date for UK exit from the EU of 29 March 2019, the prospect of a no deal Brexit is very real. However, the UK can avoid leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March next in a number of ways. This is, of course, ultimately a matter for the British Government and Parliament.

For its part, the Irish Government remains committed to working with our EU partners and institutions in turn and with the British Government to reach an agreed outcome.”

“For Ireland, a no deal Brexit would potentially involve severe macroeconomic, trade and sectoral impacts. Grappling with the enormous range of impacts both in the immediate short term and in the longer term will involve difficult and significant choices of a practical, strategic and political nature.”

 

BREXIT AND DEVOLUTION

On 13 November, the UK Government published a report – ‘The European Union (Withdrawal) Act and Common Frameworks 26 June – 25 September 2018’.  This report is the first on common frameworks and outlines the steps the Government is taking, working with the devolved administrations, to design and implement common frameworks; and on any use of the section 12 powers in the EU (Withdrawal) Act to temporarily ‘freeze’ devolved competence. The report states that UK Government has not yet made any regulations under this Act to temporarily freeze the powers of the devolved legislatures.

The Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) met twice in November.  At the 14th meeting of the Committee on 13 November 2018, the Chair, David Lidington MP,  Minister for the Cabinet Office provided an update on the negotiations including further developments in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Future Framework.  The 15th meeting on 19 November discussed the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Outline Political Declaration.

The 6th meeting of the Ministerial Forum was held on 3 December 2018.  The five principal agenda items at the meeting were an update and discussion of the latest state of EU negotiations; a discussion on transport; financial services; services; and energy, in the context of our future relationship with the EU.

On 4 December, the National Assembly for Wales agreed a motion

“To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

  1. Rejects the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU agreed by the European Council and the UK Government.
  2. Believes that the future relationship as envisaged by the Political Declaration falls short of the model for the UK – EU future relationship set out in Securing Wales’ Future, which provides robust guarantees in respect of workers’ rights, human rights, equalities legislation and citizens’ rights.
  3. Notes that the UK Government’s long-term economic analysis projects the UK economy will be worse off by 3.9 per cent over 15 years under the current Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.
  4. Calls on the UK Government to seek UK membership of both the European Single Market and Customs Union.
  5. Calls for an extension to the Article 50 process.
  6. Believes that the UK Government should declare now its intention to negotiate on that basis and that if it fails to do so, there should be either a general election or a public vote to decide the terms on which the UK leaves, or whether it wishes to remain.”.

The motion was agreed 34 to 16.

On 5 December, the Scottish Parliament agreed a motion stating

“That the Parliament agrees that both a no deal outcome and the outcomes arising from the withdrawal agreement and political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK, as presented to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, would be damaging for Scotland and the nations and regions of the UK as a whole, and therefore recommends that they be rejected and that a better alternative be taken forward.” The motion was agreed 92 to 29.

Speaking after the vote, Constitutional Relations Secretary Michael Russell said: “The UK Government’s Brexit deal will make Scotland poorer and they must now listen and act on the Scottish Parliament’s overwhelming decision to reject it.

“I committed to bring the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Deal and Political Declaration to this Parliament before it was voted on in the House of Commons, and I was pleased to do so today with a motion that was the result of a unique cross-party collaboration.

“In every area of Scotland there will be businesses, organisations, communities, people and families who will suffer, directly suffer, over a long period of time under this proposed deal.

“Today the Scottish Parliament came together to say we cannot let this happen, and the UK Government must now respect today’s decisive vote.”

On 7 December, the Government published a technical note providing commentary on the North-South cooperation mapping exercise carried out during Phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations.   The note reflects a series of discussions which took place between the UK, supported by the NI Civil Service and the European Commission and Ireland in late 2017 in order to map current North-South cooperation between Northern Ireland and Ireland.  The objective of the mapping exercise was to chart the range of formal and informal cooperation that currently exists between Northern Ireland and Ireland, noting the role of EU regulatory frameworks, where applicable, in its operation and development, with a view to maintaining North-South cooperation following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. All areas of cooperation reflect policies or practical cooperation that has been supported on a cross-community basis in Northern Ireland.

On 13 December the Supreme Court handed down its judgement following the referral made by the UK Government in relation to the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill. It found that section 17 of the Bill would step outside the Scottish Parliament’s competence to modify the Scotland Act. In addition, a number of other parts of the Bill would change the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which is protected from modification – therefore a number of other sections are also now outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

The House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee launched an inquiry on 19 December into the implications of the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement for Northern Ireland, with a focus on mechanisms for avoiding the backstop.  The Committee is inviting written submissions with a deadline of 21 January 2019. 

You can keep up to date with the various Brexit committee inquiries in the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales using our Brexit Inquiry Tracker found on our page on the Northern Ireland Assembly website.

 

EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE RULING ON ARTICLE 50 REVOCATION

In a judgment published on 10 December, the European Court of Justice confirmed that the UK can revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU on its current terms of membership.  The ECJ was responding to a reference from the Court of Session, Scotland’s highest civil court. Several parliamentarians had taken a case to the Scottish court, seeking a declaration on “whether, when and how” the UK’s Article 50 notification can be unilaterally revoked.

The ECJ has now has ruled that, when a member state has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the UK has done, that member state is free to revoke unilaterally that notification.

“That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the EU and that member state has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, and any possible extension, has not expired.

The revocation must be decided following a democratic process in accordance with national constitutional requirements. This unequivocal and unconditional decision must be communicated in writing to the European council.

Such a revocation confirms the EU membership of the member state concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a member state and brings the withdrawal procedure to an end.”

 

BRITISH-IRISH COUNCIL MEETING

On 9 November 2018, the British-Irish Council held its 31st Summit meeting. On Brexit, the communique said “Ministers also updated the Council on their activity in relation to the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU), particularly with reference to engagement between Member Administrations. They discussed the importance of maintaining the constitutional and formal relationships across the United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies. The Council engaged on topics including the economy and trade, free movement of goods and people, the Common Travel Area and ongoing relations with the EU”

 

BREXIT LEGISLATION

The Government has revised its estimate of the minimum number of Brexit statutory instruments (SIs) that will be required to prepare the statute book for exit day from 800 to approximately 700.

The Government has now laid 221 Brexit SIs before Parliament. 32% of the revised anticipated total of 700 SIs have now been laid.  58% of the time available to lay the SIs before exit day has now elapsed.

DEFRA has now laid 53 Brexit SIs, 61% of the total number departmental officials estimate they need. The Department for Transport has laid 30 Brexit SIs, 48% of its estimated requirement. 16 SIs have now been recommended for upgrade to the affirmative scrutiny procedure by Parliament's sifting committees. The Government has thus far accepted 11 of these recommendations; decisions are awaited on the five outstanding.

Assembly Research and Information Services has launched a tool to track Brexit related statutory instruments relevant to Northern Ireland.

The European SI Committee at the House of Commons launched its new ‘Engagement Tool’ on 14 November which  allows members of the public to comment on specific instruments and assist the Committee in its sifting process

Parliament also launched new pages on its website last week which allow users to find SIs in more ways including the ability to search by Department or by steps in procedure

The Government is introducing a suite of legislation to deal with Brexit.  A summary of the status of some of this legislation is below. A full list of Bills before Parliament is available here

Acts of Parliament (i.e. are now law)

  • EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018
  • Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018
  • Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018
  • Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018
  • Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018

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