Brexit Brief Newsletter

February 2019

This February 2019 issue of the Brexit Brief summaries the month’s events including the Prime Minister’s meetings in Brussels and the votes in the House of Commons on the PM’s approach to Brexit on 14 and 27 February.  You can read more on the Government’s statements on trade arrangements in a no deal scenario and implications for trade and business of a no deal Brexit as well as plans for agreeing new free trade agreements including a role for the devolved administration. 

 

PRIME MINISTER MEETS THE COMMISSION PRESIDENT AND THE TAOISEACH

On 7 February the Prime Minister met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the next steps in the Brexit process.  The joint statement said “The Prime Minister described the context in the UK Parliament, and the motivation behind last week's vote in the House of Commons seeking a legally binding change to the terms of the backstop. She raised various options for dealing with these concerns in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement in line with her commitments to the Parliament.

President Juncker underlined that the EU27 will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which represents a carefully balanced compromise between the European Union and the UK, in which both sides have made significant concessions to arrive at a deal. President Juncker however expressed his openness to add wording to the Political Declaration agreed by the EU27 and the UK in order to be more ambitious in terms of content and speed when it comes to the future relationship between the European Union and the UK. President Juncker drew attention to the fact that any solution would have to be agreed by the European Parliament and the EU27.

The discussion was robust but constructive. Despite the challenges, the two leaders agreed that their teams should hold talks as to whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council. The Prime Minister and the President will meet again before the end of February to take stock of these discussions.”

The Prime Minister met with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on 8 February.  A spokeswoman said. “She’ll be emphasising what we are looking for: seeking the legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that Parliament said it needs to approve the deal.”

Also on 8 February, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, met his Irish counterpart, Séamus Woulfe, for talks on the backstop, the insurance policy intended to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland if no permanent agreement can be reached.

 

JOINT STATEMENT BY FIRST MINISTERS OF SCOTLAND AND WALES

On 7 February, ahead of the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales issued a joint statement  “Last week, the Scottish and Welsh Governments were invited to attend a UK Government Cabinet Committee for the first time…….

The point has been reached where there is now no time to waste. We therefore renew our call for the Prime Minister to make clear that she and her Government will ensure ‘no deal’ is taken off the table. This should include putting forward secondary legislation now to remove 29 March 2019 as Exit Day from the EU (Withdrawal) Act.

The Prime Minister must also request an extension from the EU of the Article 50 deadline.  We call on the Prime Minister to request such an extension immediately to put an end to the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal in only eight weeks’ time.

The EU has made it clear that in terms of negotiations on the future relationship, it would respond favourably if the Prime Minister was to drop her “red lines”. We therefore further call on the UK Government to abandon those red lines, which the EU has repeatedly said, severely restrict the possible outcomes of Brexit.”

 

CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN LABOUR LEADER AND THE PRIME MINISTER

On 7 February, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the Prime Minister setting out the changes the Labour Party would like to see in the Government’s policy for the Brexit negotiation.  These included: a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union; close alignment with the Single Market; dynamic alignment on rights and protections; clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements.

On 10 February, the Prime Minister responded to Jeremy Corbyn’s letter. Mrs May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”.

She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

 

PRIME MINISTER’S STATEMENT ON PROGRESS OF THE NEGOTIATIONS

On 12 February, the Prime Minister updated the House of Commons on the progress of the negotiations. She said that EU and UK negotiation teams will continue to meet and she will meet again with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before the end of February. She confirmed that if no deal has been agreed by 26 February then she will lay an amendable motion in the House with a vote taking place on 27 February on the next steps.

With regard to the time remaining before exit day, Dominic Grieve MP asked “…Can she explain to the House how we will comply with the provisions of section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 if there is a deal? How will we implement the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill and still leave on 29 March? Is it not the case that looked at realistically, there will have to be an application to extend the article 50 process, even if my right hon. Friend is successful in getting some kind of agreement through the House?”

In response, the Prime Minister said “As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 makes clear that the provisions of the 2010 Act apply to the withdrawal agreement and require it to be laid ​before Parliament for 21 sitting days. In most circumstances, that period may be important for the House to have an opportunity to study a piece of legislation, but in this instance, MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote. While we will follow normal procedure if we can, where there is insufficient time remaining following a successful meaningful vote, we will make provision in the withdrawal agreement Bill, with Parliament’s consent, to ensure that we are able to ratify on time to guarantee our exit in an orderly way.”

May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters the premier’s plan is to fast-track Brexit legislation if and when her deal is ratified via a so-called meaningful vote in Parliament. That could involve overriding a requirement - enshrined in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 - for there to be 21 parliamentary sitting days between striking an international agreement and passing it into law.

“Once we have a meaningful vote, the Prime Minister thinks the British public will want us to leave on time,” Slack said. He said a clause would be included in the bill to essentially repeal the 21-day requirement, and it will be up to Parliament to pass it.

 

COMMONS VOTE ON BREXIT NEXT STEPS

On 14 February, the House of Commons voted by 303 to 258 against a motion which would endorse the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit.  The motion stated “That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland backstop are ongoing.”

The Prime Minister was not in attendance.

The Speaker selected three amendments, those in the name of Jeremy Corbyn; Ian Blackford; and Anna Soubry.  Ms Soubry did not move her amendments and the other two were both defeated.

 

SCOTTISH RESPONSE TO BREXIT VOTE

On 19 February, Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Mike Russell made a statement in response to the vote in Westminster on 14 February. He said “The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to preparing as best we can and to safeguarding the interests of businesses and communities in Scotland as far as possible. However, the way in which this has been approached by the Prime Minister is reckless and irresponsible. It is now clear beyond any doubt that the Conservative Party and the UK Conservative Government pose a real danger to Scotland. The only sensible solution now available is a delay to article 50, a ruling out of a no-deal exit and a people’s vote. We will continue to press for those things with every legislative and political tool and with every ounce of energy at our disposal.”

 

BREXIT SECRETARY AND ATTORNEY GENERAL VISIT BRUSSELS

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met EU officials on 18 February in an effort to find a way to break the deadlock.  They held further talks on 20 February where they discussed the precise legal wording and form of a new assurance on the backstop.

 

QUESTION ON CHANGES TO THE BACKSTOP PROPOSAL

On 19 February Shadow Solicitor-General Nick Thomas-Symonds tabled an urgent question asking the Attorney General if he will make a statement on options for legally binding changes to the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU withdrawal agreement, which contains the backstop arrangement.  Answering the question, Solicitor General Robert Buckland said “. On the 12th February, the Prime Minister set out ways in which legally binding changes to the backstop could be achieved. The Prime Minister explained the UK and the EU would hold further talks to find a way forward. These discussions are ongoing. It would not be appropriate to provide a running commentary."

 

PRIME MINISTER VISITS BRUSSELS

The Prime Minister met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 20 February.  Speaking in advance of the meeting, Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said “The EU will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. We cannot accept a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause….”

“Further talks will be held this week to see whether a way through can be found that would gain the broadest possible support in the UK Parliament and respect the guidelines agreed by the European Council.

“We are listening and working with the UK Government to see how we can work for an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on March 29. That is where we are.”

Following the meeting, the Prime Minister and President Juncker released a joint statement.  “The two leaders agreed that talks had been constructive, and they urged their respective teams to continue to explore the options in a positive spirit. They will review progress again in the coming days, seized of the tight timescale and the historic significance of setting the EU and the UK on a path to a deep and unique future partnership.

President Juncker and Prime Minister May agreed to talk again before the end of the month.”

Speaking on 21 February Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said “I think the accord is being hammered out now, without having to go to Sharm El-Sheikh to do it - there’s contact all the time….. The EU’s position is that the treaty won’t be reopened, but can be interpreted, or complemented with explanations that may be satisfactory,"

Speaking to the BBC on 21 February, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said "I am not denying the possibility [of no deal]. The possibility is very clearly there and it is that possibility that is focusing minds on the compromise that is needed to get the deal through Parliament.

"I fully recognise that it is very uncomfortable that we are as close to the wire as we are but I am afraid that is just a feature of this kind of negotiation. We are making progress."

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also travelled to Brussels to meet the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier for further talks on 22 February.

It has also been reported that the EU is keen that Parliament will vote on any proposed deal before the EU leaders are gathered together for a summit to sign off on the deal.  The EU’s idea is that Parliament would have a non-binding vote on the changes, the Council could then sign off the deal at a meeting in March and then it would go back to Parliament for formal ratification.

 

DELAY TO COMMONS VOTE ON THE BREXIT DEAL

On her way to attend the EU-League of Arab States summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with about 20 EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on 24 February, the Prime Minister said the UK negotiating team would return to Brussels on 26 February for further talks and said "As a result of that, we won't bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by 12 March." 

The Prime Minister made a statement to the Commons on 26 February on the Government’s work to secure an agreement which can command the support of the House.

She confirmed that the UK and the EU have agreed to consider a joint work stream to develop alternative arrangements to ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland. “This work will be done in parallel with the future relationship negotiations and is without prejudice to them. Our aim is to ensure that, even if the full future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period, the backstop is not needed because we have a set of alternative arrangements ready to go. …. President Juncker has already agreed that the EU will give priority to this work, and the Government expect that this will be an important strand of the next phase ..… We will also be setting up domestic structures to support this work, including ensuring that we can take advice from external experts involved in customs processes around the world from businesses that trade with the EU and beyond—and, of course, from colleagues across the House. This will all be supported by civil service resource as well as funding for the Government to help develop, test and pilot proposals that can form part of these alternative arrangements.”

Acknowledging the concerns of some MPs, the Prime Minister made three commitments:

i. A second ‘meaningful vote’ on a deal would be held by 12 March 2019

ii. If the deal is rejected in that meaningful vote, the Government will table a motion to be voted on by 13 March on whether the House supports leaving the EU without a deal.

iii. If the House rejects both the deal and the motion on leaving with no deal, the Government will bring forward a motion on 14 March on whether Parliament wants to seek ​a short, limited extension to article 50, and, if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.

The Prime Minister regards such a short extension as being not beyond the end of June 2019.

She said “But let me be clear—I do not want to see article 50 extended. Our absolute focus should be on working to get a deal and leaving on 29 March. An extension beyond the end of June would mean the UK taking part in the European Parliament elections. What kind of message would that send to the more than 17 million people who voted to leave the EU nearly three years ago now? And the House should be clear that a short extension—not beyond the end of June—would almost certainly have to be a one-off. If we had not taken part in the European Parliament elections, it would be extremely difficult to extend again, so it would create a much sharper cliff edge in a few months’ time. An extension cannot take no deal off the table. The only way to do that is to revoke article 50, which I shall not do, or to agree a deal. “


The vote on the motion took place the following day on 27 February.  The wording of the motion was “That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing.”

The Speaker selected five amendments out of the 12 tabled for voting

a) This amendment in the name Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) pushed for inclusion of the Labour Party’s proposals for Brexit including a permanent and comprehensive customs union with the EU;

(k) This amendment in the name of Ian Blackford (SNP) sought to rule out exiting the EU without a deal no matter the exit date;

(c) This amendment in the name of Dame Caroline Spelman (Con) sought to ensure that, by 18 March, the House would have approved either a negotiated withdrawal agreement; leaving without a deal; or the Prime Minister having requested an extension to Article 50.   It also called for MPs to have time to put in place a legislative process to ensure that a commitment from the Prime Minister to give MPs a vote on extension Article 50 is legally binding.

(b) This amendment in the name of Alberto Costa (Con) required the Prime Minister to seek a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt the part of the draft Withdrawal Agreement relating to citizens’ rights and ensure its implementation prior to exit day regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

The Government accepted this amendment and it had significant cross party backing from 141 MPs including Labour and the DUP. 

Mr Costa resigned his job as an aide to Scottish Secretary David Mundell, because, he told MPs, of a convention that members of the Government should not amend Government motions.

f) This amendment in the name of Yvette Cooper (Lab) sought to have the Prime Minister’s three commitments of the previous day on giving the House of Commons a vote on a deal, no deal or an extension attached to the motion and binding on the Prime Minister.

The Government accepted this amendment.

Amendments a) and k) were not agreed to and Dame Spelman didn’t move her amendment.

The amendment in the name of Alberto Costa passed without a vote and amendment f) in the name of Yvette Copper was agreed to by 502 to 20 votes, a majority of 482.  Conservative MPs were whipped to support the amendment but 20 Conservative MPs voted against.  Around 88 Conservative MPs abstained, including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The final wording of the motion agreed to by the House was:

“That this House notes the Prime Minister’s statement on Leaving the European Union of 26 February 2019; and further notes that discussions between the UK and the EU are ongoing; and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens’ Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement; and further notes in particular the commitment of the Prime Minister made in this House to hold a second meaningful vote by 12 March and if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50, and if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension.”

Following the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “We will back a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous no deal outcome. ….. We will also continue to push for the other available options to prevent those outcomes, including a close economic relationship based on our credible alternative plan or a general election."

 

FARMING JUNIOR MINISTER RESIGNS

George Eustice, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), resigned on 28 February.  In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Eustice said “It is with tremendous sadness that I have decided to resign from the Government following the decision this week to allow the postponement of our exit from the EU. Since Parliament is now in direct control of events, I want to be free to participate in the critical debate that will take place in the weeks ahead.”

He also says in his letter “I will vote for your withdrawal agreement when it returns to the House and I very much hope that the attorney general succeeds in securing final changes so that others might too.”

 

CROSS PARTY SUPPORT FOR BILL TO FORCE BREXIT TIMETABLE

A cross party group of MPS have published a Bill which would seek to delay Brexit if there’s no deal by mid-March. The European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 4) Bill was presented to Parliament by Labour’s Yvette Cooper on 13 February and is backed by Tory MPs Caroline Spelman, Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles and Dominic Grieve. 

Writing on the Bill, Yvette Cooper said “… we have published a cross-party bill which would force the Prime Minister to take key decisions by the middle of March, rather than taking brinkmanship games right up to the line.

If a deal isn’t approved by 13 March, she would have to choose whether she wants the default option to be no-deal or whether – and for how long – to request an extension of article 50, and Parliament will get to vote on her choice. It provides a chance to pause for breath if we have run out of time, and a chance for the Prime Minister to finally admit that her approach isn’t working and reset the debate.

The bill doesn’t revoke article 50, block Brexit or resolve the question of what kind of deal we should have. It is just a common sense safeguard to prevent a last-minute crisis or no-deal by accident on 29 March. The Government isn’t behaving responsibly, so MPs of all parties will have to do so, so that we can try to find a sensible way through the chaos before it is too late.”

In her statement to the House on 26 February, the Prime Minister set out three commitments in relation to timescales for decisions of the House and said “These commitments all fit the timescale set out in the private Member’s Bill in the name of Yvette Cooper.”  In response Oliver Letwin tweeted:

 

THE ‘INDEPENDENT GROUP’

Seven MPs have left the Labour Party and will now sit in an ‘Independent Group’ in Parliament.  Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Ann Coffey and Chuka Umunna made their announcement on 18February and issued a launch statement which included this reference to Brexit – “Labour now pursues policies that would weaken our national security; accepts the narratives of states hostile to our country; has failed to take a lead in addressing the challenge of Brexit and to provide a strong and coherent alternative to the Conservatives’ approach; is passive in circumstances of international humanitarian distress; is hostile to businesses large and small; and threatens to destabilise the British economy in pursuit of ideological objectives.” 

Labour MP Joan Ryan also joined the group and on 20 February, Conservative MPs Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston followed.

The group, nicknamed the ‘TIGgers’, met formally this week to work out who will speak for them at Parliamentary occasions, such as responding to the Chancellor's Spring Statement, and who will take on the job of whip, to organise their voting in Parliament.  Following the meeting, the group issued a ‘statement of independence’.    The group has assigned portfolios to its members as below:

 

FARMING IN A NO DEAL SCENARIO

Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham on 19 February, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said “We have been clear - across Government - that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use all the tools we have at our disposal to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage.”

The Government will announce tariffs that would apply in the case of a no-deal Brexit this month. Mr Gove said “I can’t pre-empt the announcement that should be made later this week, but one thing I can reassure you is that it will not be the case that we will have zero-rate tariffs on food products,” Gove said. “There will be protections for sensitive sections of agriculture and food production. Beyond that I can’t say at the moment.”

 

TRADE ARRANGEMENTS IN A NO DEAL SCENARIO

In a written statement laid in Parliament on 21 February, Secretary of State for International Trade Dr Liam Fox, provided details of guidance published that day by the Government on progress of trade contiguity agreements which are likely and unlikely to be concluded by exit day.

“To date, the Government has signed trade agreements with Switzerland, Chile, the Faroe Islands, members of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Economic Partnership Agreement, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Government is also close to formal agreement on text with Fiji and Papua New Guinea (Pacific) and arrangements are being made for their signature. It is likely these agreements will be transitioned in time for day one of exit.

We have also signed Mutual Recognition Agreements that allow continuity of trade with Australia and New Zealand, and the United States. ……..

If the full parliamentary scrutiny processes to ratify some UK-third country agreements have not concluded by the end of March, we are considering whether there are other means through which we can bring their provisions into effect to provide the same certainty and continuity to business and stakeholders from day one……..

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, some agreements will not be concluded in time and therefore will not be in place for exit day. There are a range of reasons for this. Those agreements that will not be in place for exit day are Andorra, Japan, Turkey, and San Marino.”

The Government’s guidance provides information on existing trade agreements in no deal scenario including details of trade agreements; agreements with countries that are closely aligned with the EU; and mutual recognition agreements

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR BUSINESS AND TRADE OF A NO DEAL BREXIT

On 26 February, the Government published Implications for business and trade of a no deal exit on 29 March 2019

This paper summarises Government activity to prepare for no deal as a contingency plan, and provides an assessment of the implications of a no deal exit for trade and for businesses, given the preparations that have been made.

On preparedness, the paper says “Despite communications from the Government, there is little evidence that businesses are preparing in earnest for a no deal scenario, and evidence indicates that readiness of small and medium-sized enterprises in particular is low. ….

Evidence suggests that individual citizens are also not preparing for the effects that they would feel in a no deal scenario. UK citizens travelling to or living in the EU would need to complete a number of administrative tasks to ensure that their interactions with the EU are as unaffected as possible. …. As of February 2019, despite a public information campaign encouraging the public to seek out the Government’s advice on preparing for a ‘no deal’, noticeable behaviour change has not been witnessed at any significant scale. …”

In relation to Northern Ireland, the paper says:

Overall, the cumulative impact from a ‘no deal’ scenario is expected to be more severe in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, and to last for longer. This is because of Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances, including in particular its geographical position as the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU, and the current lack of an Executive in Northern Ireland.

The Government has been clear that it is committed to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in any scenario. The Government will shortly publish further details on its immediate, temporary, arrangements for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland in a no deal scenario. The Government would need to work urgently with the Irish Government and the EU to find any sustainable longer term solution.

In a no deal scenario there is an expectation of disruption to closely interwoven supply chains and increasing costs that would affect the viability of many businesses across Northern Ireland. There is a risk that businesses in Northern Ireland will not have sufficient time to prepare. This could result in business failure, and/or relocation to Ireland with knock-on consequences for the Northern Ireland economy and unemployment. Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable given its high proportion of, and reliance upon SMEs (75% of all private sector employment) and the number of businesses who trade directly with Ireland (Northern Ireland’s largest international export market).

The agri-food sector is a disproportionately large part of Northern Ireland’s economy and located predominantly in border / rural areas. It is particularly vulnerable given its reliance on cross-border supply chains in the production stage and in finished products. Disruption could also include impacts for the single electricity market (SEM), cross-border cooperation on areas such as crime and security, and potential for community tensions to be heightened. Groups could seek to exploit gaps in law enforcement and any divergence between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which may lead to increases in smuggling and associated criminality. The Government is committed to restoring an Executive in Northern Ireland but in this context this would become more challenging.

Case Study - Single Electricity Market. The Single Electricity Market (SEM) between Northern Ireland and Ireland is integrated more than any other cross border wholesale market. In the first instance, even in a no deal scenario, the UK would seek to agree with Ireland a continuation of the SEM, which would minimise impact on exit. This relies on cooperation with Ireland and the EU, which is not within the UK’s gift to unilaterally control or mitigate.”

 

NEW FREE TRADE AGREEMENTS AND ROLE OF DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATIONS

On 28 February, the Department for International Trade published a command paper Processes for making free trade agreements after the United Kingdom has left the European Union.  The paper sets out how the Government plans to deliver an independent trade policy and also includes detail on engagement with the devolved administrations and proposals for the role of Parliament in scrutinising future free trade agreements.

In relation to the devolved administrations and legislatures, the paper says

“The Government is committed to working closely with the devolved administrations to deliver a future trade policy that works for the whole of the UK. It is important that we do this within the context of the current constitutional make-up of the UK, recognising that international treaties are a reserved matter but that the devolved governments have a strong and legitimate interest where they intersect with areas of devolved competence.

…..  We are also continuing to discuss with the devolved administrations their role in future free trade agreements (FTAs) with a view to agreeing new arrangements in the coming months. These arrangements will complement the existing Memorandum of Understanding for devolution

As part of this work we have recently announced our intention to form a new Ministerial Forum for international trade. This will ensure there is a regular and formal structure to support discussion and engagement between the UK Government and the devolved administrations on trade agreements.

…… Where a new FTA requires legislation in order to implement it, the UK Government will continue to respect the devolution settlements and work with the devolved administrations to secure legislative consent for UK-wide legislation where appropriate

We recognise that the devolved legislatures also have a strong and legitimate interest in future trade agreements. It will be for each devolved legislature to determine how it will scrutinise their respective Governments as part of the ongoing process. Equally, the means by which our Parliament in Westminster works with its devolved counterparts is a matter for the legislatures themselves, in line with their existing interparliamentary ways of working. Where appropriate UK Government ministers may engage directly with the devolved legislatures ……”

 

JOINT MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE (EUROPEAN NEGOTIATIONS)

The Joint Ministerial Committee (European Negotiations) held its 16th meeting on 7 February 2019. The Chair, David Lidington MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office provided an update on the UK’s exit from the EU. The Committee discussed recent developments. The Committee also discussed domestic issues, including updates on operational readiness, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill and common frameworks. They also noted the publication of the second EU Withdrawal Act and Common Frameworks report.

 

ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMON FRAMEWORKS – SECOND REPORT

The Government has published The European Union (Withdrawal) Act and Common Frameworks – the second report on the steps it is taking, with the devolved administrations, to establish common frameworks and the use of the powers in Section 12 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to temporarily freeze devolved competence.

The first report was laid before Parliament on 13 November 2018 covering the period from 26 June to 25 September 2018.

This second report details the progress made in the second reporting period (26 September to 25 December 2018) as required under Schedule 3 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.  The report states “On the basis of this continuing joint progress and collaboration on future frameworks which ensures the statute book is ready for exit day, the UK Government has again concluded that it does not need to bring forward any section 12 regulations at this juncture. In addition, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have re-confirmed their commitment not to create divergent policy in ways that would cut across future frameworks, where it has been agreed they are necessary or where discussion continues. “

 

UK AMBASSADOR TO IRELAND MESSAGE ON THE COMMON TRAVEL AREA

On 6 February, the Government published an op-ed piece from the UK’s Ambassador to Ireland, Robin Barnett CMG on the Common Travel Area (CTA).

“…. I can assure all British citizens living in Ireland and all Irish citizens in the UK: you don’t need to take any action to protect your status under the CTA, or the rights associated with it….

British citizens in Ireland and Irish citizens in the UK will continue to be able to live and work in each other’s countries, and to access healthcare, education, social welfare and benefits including state pensions. They will also still be able to vote in certain elections in the other’s country as they do now. The UK has taken steps to ensure legal certainty of the status of Irish citizens in the UK, and to provide clarity for them.

The Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill that is currently before the UK Parliament preserves the rights that Irish citizens have in the UK. This reaffirms the UK Government’s intention to protect these arrangements and preserve the special relationship we have with Ireland after the UK leaves the EU. Where new domestic legislation in the UK is needed to ensure the continuation of the CTA and the rights that come with it, my Government is taking urgent action to put it in place before 29 March.

On Friday 1 February, the UK and Irish governments signed an agreement guaranteeing continued access to state pension and benefits for UK and Irish nationals and their qualifying family members when in the other’s state. The agreement ensures that the rights of UK and Irish nationals living and working in each other’s state are protected after the UK leaves the EU….”

 

FORMER TAOISEACH GIVES EVIDENCE TO THE COMMONS BREXIT COMMITTEE

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern gave evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee on 13 February as part of the Committee’s over-arching inquiry examining the progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal. 

The Committee focused on the impact that Brexit has had on British-Irish relations and examined the implications of the various possible outcomes of the Brexit process for Ireland, as discussions between the UK Government and EU continue.

You can find details of this Committee’s inquiry and other Brexit related inquiries in the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly on the inquiry tracker on the Northern Ireland Assembly Brexit Brief homepage.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND PARTY REPS GIVE EVIDENCE ON THE BACKSTOP

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will hear from representatives of local political parties as part of its inquiry into the implications of the EU withdrawal agreement and the backstop for Northern Ireland.

On 6 March, the Committee will take evidence from Sammy Wilson MP (DUP), Gerry Carroll MLA (People Before Profit Alliance), Clare Bailey MLA (Green Party) and Jim Allister MLA (TUV).

A further session with other political representatives is expected on 20 March 2019.

 

STRONGER TOWNS FUND

The Government has launched a ‘Stronger Towns’ fund which will be used to boost less affluent towns in England post Brexit. The Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government made the announcement on 4 March.  The press release states “The Stronger Towns Fund will be targeted at places that have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country.

It will be used to create new jobs, help train local people and boost economic activity – with communities having a say on how the money is spent.”

The £1.6 billion fund includes £1 billion to be shared out using a needs-based formula and £600 million for which communities can bid.  The money will be spread over seven years.

The press statement says “The government will also seek to ensure towns across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will benefit from the new funding.”

 

ALL-ISLAND CIVIC DIALOGUE ON BREXIT

The fifth All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit took place in  Dublin on 15 February.  First held in November 2016, the Irish Government organised the series of meetings in order to hear directly about the all-island implications of Brexit, from a variety of stakeholders and across a wide range of sectors.    

 

IRISH GOVERNMENT BREXIT PREPARATIONS

The Irish Government has put forward legislation to allow for ongoing cross-border healthcare, electricity, transport, student grants and pension payments to mitigate against the effects of Brexit. 

Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment briefed TDs on emergency legislation to prevent potential abuses of the Single Electricity Market post Brexit. Under the proposal the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) would be given the ability to speedily modify licences related to the SEM.  He told TDs that "issues the regulator may need to address urgently include unusual market behaviour or abuse of market power in the context of a disorderly Brexit".

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone gave a separate briefing in which she said that young people want work, travel and study opportunities to be maintained.  Ms Zappone outlined three areas where Brexit will potentially affect her department's work, including an EU regulation on children in the care of member states, recognition of qualifications in relation to social work and peace funding for youth services.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, speaking in Brussels on 18 February, said Ireland was spending "hundreds of millions of euros" on preparing for a no-deal Brexit and it would be a "crazy outcome" after three years of EU-UK negotiations.

The Irish Government published the ‘Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019’ on 22 February.  The legislation cuts across the remit of nine Government departments and is made up of 15 parts ‘to prepare Ireland for a disorderly Brexit’.  The Government say “This Omnibus Bill focuses on protecting Irish citizens, supporting businesses and jobs, and securing ongoing access to essential services and products.” 

The Bill includes parts on the heath service, industrial development, electricity regulation, student support, taxation, financial services, harbours, bus services, social welfare, insolvency, extradition and immigration.

The Bill will have its Committee, Report and Final Stage in the Dáil in the week beginning 4 March and move to the Seanad the following week.

 

BREXIT LEGISLATION

As at 28 February 2019, the Government has laid 464 Brexit Statutory Instruments (SIs) before Parliament, and is now three-quarters of the way towards its estimate of approximately 600 Brexit SIs needed to prepare the statute book for exit day on 29 March. 88% of the time available to lay the SIs before exit day has now elapsed; but only 77% of the minimum number of SIs the Government says are needed for Brexit have been laid before Parliament. 

Of the 464 Brexit SIs laid before Parliament so far, 212 (46%) have completed their passage through Parliament.

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

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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