12 September 2017

Labour rebellions as Repeal Bill passes second reading

The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, also called the Repeal Bill, passed second reading in the House of Commons late last night, with 326 MPs rejecting Labour’s amendment against 290 who supported it, a majority of 36 for the government. 318 MPs also supported the programme motion, which would grant eight days of debate to the Bill at Committee stage planned for October, against 301 who opposed it, a majority of 17. There were no Conservative rebellions on the main Bill, but seven Labour MPs voted with the government and 13 abstained. The former minister Ken Clarke voted against the government on the programme motion, and abstained on the main Bill along with four other Conservatives.

Prime Minister Theresa May said, “Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.” Discussing the programme motion, Justice Secretary David Lidington said, “We think that the 64 hours that has been guaranteed is reasonable and it compares with 39 hours and 17 minutes the Blair government granted for the Bill to ratify the Lisbon treaty. We have shown today that where there is good reason to extend debate further we are willing to consider that very seriously and carefully indeed.”

As Labour moved to make new amendments to the Bill at Committee stage, Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, said, “Labour amendments would give greater control to Parliament and take power back from the hands of ministers. They would protect key rights and environmental safeguards and ensure that the Government does not have a legislative blank cheque. They will go some way to improve what is a deeply flawed Bill.” Former minister Caroline Flint, who defied Labour’s three-line whip in abstaining on the main Bill, said those voting against the Bill wanted to “thwart the result of the EU referendum and prevent or delay the UK leaving the EU.”

Source: The Press Association Open Europe: Jay Parliament UK - European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 The Times Red Box

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UK sets out proposals for a “deep security partnership” with the EU post-Brexit

The government will today publish a new paper on a future UK-EU security relationship, which will propose a “deep security partnership,” where the UK continues to contribute troops, military assets and intelligence to EU operations post-Brexit. It also proposes future cooperation with the EU on aid spending, foreign policy, and international sanctions against states or terrorist organisations. Speaking ahead of the paper’s publication, Brexit Secretary David Davis said, “After we leave the European Union we will continue to face shared threats to our security, our shared values and our way of life. It’s in our mutual interest to work closely with the EU and its member states to challenge terrorism and extremism, illegal migration, cyber-crime, and conventional state-based military aggression.”

Separately, in a piece for The Times, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson writes, “Britain has played an outsized role in safeguarding the continent and, in this respect, our departure from the European Union will change nothing… Britain has global interests and a global foreign policy. But our security is indivisibly linked with that of Europe.”

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Corbyn suggests single market membership is “open for discussion” but spokesperson says position is unchanged

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday appeared to suggest that “formal membership” of the EU single market post-Brexit remained “open for discussion.” He told BBC Radio 4 that his party was seeking “a relationship which allows us to trade within the [EU] single market,” adding, “Whether that’s formal membership – which is only possible, I believe, if you are actually a member of the EU – or whether it’s an agreed trading relationship, is open for discussion.” However, he went on to say, “There was a referendum and I think we have to respect the result of the referendum.” He also stressed the need for a transition period, saying, “The leave date is set as March 2019… I don’t see how it is possible to reach agreement on all the trade issues which are so necessary between now and then.” A Labour spokesperson later clarified that the party’s position had not changed, saying, “We won’t be ‘members’ of the single market after the transition… We want to achieve full tariff-free access to the single market. That could be achieved by a new relationship with the single market or a bespoke trade deal with the EU.”

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University minister says there is no limit on international students despite inclusion in migration cap

Answering a question from the Scottish National Party on international students, Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said that their inclusion in the government’s immigration cap “doesn’t limit our institutions’ ability to recruit as many international students as they wish, provided that they meet the requisite academic standards. There is no cap, no plan to introduce a cap, and that applies to Scottish institutions as much as it does to English ones.” Discussing work by the Office for National Statistics to examine the process of calculating migration statistics, Johnson said, “We’ve noted their preliminary conclusion that the international passenger survey may be systematically under-counting emigration after study. I was very pleased to see the Home Office report on exit checks data, published on August 24, showed that students are very largely compliant with immigration rules. That’s an important bit of information and it underscores our intent to continue the situation which means there is no cap on the number of students who can come and study in this country.”

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IFG report warns of £4bn cost a year in customs bill for traders post-Brexit

According to a paper by the Institute for Government (IFG), introducing customs declarations after Brexit could cost traders at least £4bn a year. The paper reads, “For the UK, ‘taking back control’ of its borders is likely to mean the introduction of checks for goods arriving from the EU. Businesses will have new requirements for paperwork and their goods could face significant checks at the EU border.” It continued, “Supply chains that are optimised for speed and fluidity will need to find the space and time for customs authorities to carry out checks and inspections.” The paper warned, “Implementing the customs changes required for Brexit is a huge task with a hard deadline… With 19 months until exit, there is no clarity on what customs will need to look like on day one of Brexit.”

Separately, David Dingle, Chairman of Maritime UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that, in the event of lorries being required to stop at ports for customs inspections after Brexit, “We are going to have massive congestion in ports both sides of the channel and, frankly, that could affect some fundamental things we rely on such as the quality of the food that we see on our supermarket shelves.” However, he added that Brexit could represent a “great opportunity to export the maritime sector,” adding, “We have much more opportunity if we get things right on the trade-negotiating front post-Brexit.” This came as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, speaking ahead of the opening of London International Shipping Week, said, “Leaving the European Union will allow Britain to seize new opportunities and rediscover our heritage as a truly global, seafaring, trading nation. Our maritime industry, far from being a story of the past, is a thriving success story, worth around GBP15 billion a year to our economy and supporting a quarter of a million jobs. This Government is determined to work with the maritime industry to help it grow significantly and make the UK a world leader for shipping business.”

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Poll: Four in ten businesses favour a transitional deal

According to a poll by YouGov for London First and Lloyds Banking Group, four out of ten UK businesses believe a Brexit transition period would enable them to “unblock” business decisions which have been put on hold since the referendum such as investment and recruitment decisions, while 35% said it would have no impact. Of those businesses that favour a transition, 37% said the deal should be in place by December this year and a further 32% said they want it by June 2018. Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business group London First, said, “It’s clear that a transition period is better for business than ‘no deal’. But to encourage continued economic growth and secure jobs, the Government must act now on a transitional agreement while setting out what the UK’s long-term future will look like. Companies need to be able to see ahead to invest in and hire for the future, we can’t afford to wait much longer.”

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Government to examine discrimination against EU nationals in jobs and housing markets

The Government Equalities Office is examining evidence that EU nationals are facing discrimination in the jobs market, and being prevented from renting or buying houses. The Equalities Minister, Nick Gibb, told MPs that he is “aware of, and is looking into” the reports, having been presented with a dossier of over 24 examples by Labour and the campaign group 3million. Examples included job adverts restricting candidates to full UK passport holders, and travel agents declining to take bookings from non-UK EU nationals. Paul Blomfield, junior shadow Brexit minister said, “These reports are a cause for alarm, reflecting uncertainty across the business sector and discrimination experienced by EU nationals. The lack of detail forthcoming from the government is contributing to this climate of uncertainty and confusion.”

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Macron under fire for “slackers” comment regarding labour reforms protest

Referencing the possibility that proposed labour reforms would be met with protests, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “I will not yield in any way, not to slackers, nor to cynics, nor to the extremes.” A government spokesperson later clarified that the “slackers” that Macron had referred to were the politicians who had failed to reform France, rather than French workers, which some had initially assumed. Under the proposed reforms, employers would find it easier to hire and fire workers, cap severance pay, allow workplace referendums and allow employers to negotiate many working terms and conditions directly with their workers.

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ECB and Bank of England prepare for tightening of monetary policy

Discussing plans to ease the European Central Bank (ECB)’s 2.3 trillion euro bond-buying scheme, which has been in place for the last two and a half years, ECB board director Sabine Lautenschlaeger told the Eurofi financial forum, “The economy in the euro area is doing better and the conditions are in place for inflation to pick up and move steadily towards our goal. We have to be prepared to take tough decisions in good time.” Eurozone inflation has stabilised at 1 percent, below the ECB target of 2 percent, but Reuters reports sources saying that a decision to reduce bond purchases is expected at the next ECB policy meeting in October. However, Benoit Coeure, another ECB board director, suggested that, “Compared with past demand shocks, policy will remain more accommodative for longer,” in an attempt to avoid exchange rate increases.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England will this week warn households, businesses and investors that interest rates may rise sooner than they expect, according to the Financial Times. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, suggested in a press conference that rates could rise more than once over the course of the next three years, in order to control rising inflation. However, City bosses have not heeded warnings, with Fabrice Montagne of Barclays saying, “Hawkish rhetoric by BoE policymakers will be firmly challenged [in the City] as repeated statements by MPC members that rates will have to be increased faster than the market currently expect have been continuously discounted.”

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Tsipras warns Merkel against ending Turkish EU accession talks

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has said that ending talks on Turkey joining the European Union would “be a gift to our neighbour and Mr Erdogan [the Turkish president].” Tsipras added, “It is a tactical and strategic mistake to close the door on Turkey’s European [ambition]. Europe would instead be playing into the hands of Erdogan.” This follows German election debates between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her SPD rival Martin Schulz in which both candidates appeared to suggest that they would seek to end talks over Turkish accession to the EU.

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Anders Jay: Parliamentary battle over Repeal Bill will really heat up in October

In a blog, Open Europe’s Anders Jay explains the main features of the Repeal Bill, and some points of controversy. He writes, “The Bill is necessary to preserve legal continuity and avoid creating holes in the statute book when the UK leaves. There are around 12,000 EU regulations in force, and Parliament has passed 7,900 statutory instruments implementing EU legislation. There is no real argument that the Bill is required and indeed the Labour party had an analogous proposal in their manifesto – the dispute is over how it works.” He explains so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, and the Opposition’s problems with them, concluding, “The Government has shown that it is ready to compromise, particularly as many of the criticisms have come from Conservative backbenchers. The Government has always maintained that the purpose of the Bill is not to force through laws on significant policy issues via the backdoor. The Government committed in the Queen’s Speech to proposing primary legislation on matters such as Trade, Customs and Immigration, which is where new policy will be made. It’s to be expected that the Government will soften its position on some of these clauses over the weeks ahead particularly as they will be keen to ensure the continued support of wavering Conservative MPs.”

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