7 December 2018

Parliament to vote on Brexit deal as planned despite reports of ministers urging delay

Parliament will vote on the Brexit deal agreed by the UK and the EU on December 11 as planned, the Government confirmed yesterday, as the Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said, “The meaningful vote will go ahead next week as announced.”

This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May met with several Cabinet ministers yesterday evening to discuss various options in case the deal agreed with the EU is rejected by Parliament. The Daily Telegraph reported that at least 12 ministers would be in favour of delaying the vote in order to prevent a parliamentary defeat. According to the Financial Times, the Government is planning several last minute measures, including asking an MP to table an amendment to delay the vote.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Conservative Party backbench 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, yesterday said that the most important issue to solve in the Withdrawal Agreement was the Irish backstop exit mechanism, adding, “It’s having the answer to that question of substance that is most important, not the timing, so if that question can be answered in the course of the next few days then all well and good. If it can’t then I certainly would welcome the vote being deferred until such time as we can answer that question.”

Elsewhere, Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday told the House of Commons that a rejection of the deal would “plunge the country into the uncertainty and economic self-harm of No Deal,” while a second Brexit referendum would “fuel a narrative of betrayal.” He added, “This deal is the best deal to exit the EU that is available or that is going to be available. The idea that there’s an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion.”

Separately, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday told the European Committee of the Regions, “I must say once again, today, calmly and clearly: It is the only and the best possible agreement,” warning, “Now is now the moment for everyone to bear their responsibilities. You know the British parliament will give its verdict on this text and on the future relationship in the coming days. It is a vote in which the future of their country is at stake.”

Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe was interviewed by Luxembourg’s public radio RTL discussing the latest Brexit developments, saying, “If British MPs vote this down, a renegotiation of some sort will be requested. It is very well possible that then cosmetic changes won’t be enough, so the responsible thing for EU member states is to prepare for this possibility.”

Source: Reuters I Press Association The Daily Telegraph The Financial Times The Guardian Reuters II RTL

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Conservative MPs propose amendment on Irish backstop

Three Conservative MPs yesterday tabled an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement which would give MPs a greater decision-making role on extending the transition period and entering the backstop mechanism to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. It would also require the Prime Minister to report back to the Commons on the “status of arrangements to supersede the Northern Irish backstop” by March 2020, and calls for the Government to put alternative arrangements in place after one year of the Irish backstop coming into force. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster wrote that the amendment “won’t cut it. The legally binding international Withdrawal Treaty would remain fundamentally flawed as evidenced by the Attorney General’s legal advice.”

This comes as several ministers, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, are travelling to local communities across the UK in order to gather support for the Withdrawal Agreement. May said, “I’ve been speaking to factory workers in Scotland, farmers in Wales and people right across the country, answering their questions about the deal and our future. Overwhelmingly, the message I’ve heard is that people want us to get on with it,” adding, “That’s why it’s important that ministers are out speaking with communities across the UK today about how the deal works for them.”

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Government outlines citizens‘ rights in event of No Deal

In a policy paper published yesterday, the Department for Exiting the European Union set out what would happen to the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK in the event that the UK leaves the EU with No Deal. The paper says, “EU citizens and their family members  resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be able to stay and carry on with their lives broadly as now.” It adds, “The UK cannot act unilaterally to protect the rights of UK nationals in the EU and that is why we have always prioritised reaching a reciprocal agreement with the EU.”

The paper also says that the UK will continue to preserve certain rights of UK nationals in the EU, for example by continuing to pay an uprated UK state pension to eligible UK nationals living in the EU.” It stresses that the rights of UK and EU citizens in each other’s countries depend on reciprocal arrangements which would not automatically continue in the event of No Deal.

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Brexit Secretary: “No absolute guarantee” of UK retaining membership of trade deals

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay yesterday told the House of Commons there was no “absolute guarantee” that the UK could ‘roll over’ its membership of the free trade deals it joined as a member of the EU after Brexit.  Barclay also said that the Government was prepared for a No Deal scenario, adding, “We will be ready … A significant amount of work has been done, but let’s not also lose sight of the fact that it will also be very challenging, there is a huge amount to do as part of that No Deal planning.”

Elsewhere, Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday said, “While new trade partnerships with countries outside the EU undoubtedly offer new and exciting opportunities for UK companies, the analysis the Government published last week is clear that the benefits flowing from new FTAs would not compensate for the loss of EU trade from a No Deal exit.”

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Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd resigns party whip to support Brexit deal

Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, has resigned the party whip in protest at its commitment to vote against the Brexit deal. In a statement, Lloyd said, “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot honestly uphold the commitment I made… to accept the result of the referendum, vote for the deal the Prime Minister brought back from the EU and not back calls for a second referendum – whilst supporting the Lib Dem parliamentary party’s formal position of voting against Theresa May’s deal and advocating a ‘People’s Vote’.”

Elsewhere, during a visit to Dublin, London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday said that he expected Labour to call a general election if Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament, adding, “If that doesn’t happen, the next best thing is a people’s vote.” Khan added, “The very notion of a No Deal Brexit must be taken off the table by the British Government. It is just too dangerous to leave as a possibility.”

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Norwegian MP rejects ‘Norway Plus’ option for post-Brexit UK

A senior Norwegian MP has rejected calls for the UK to pursue the so-called ‘Norway Plus’ model after Brexit, saying it is “neither in Norway nor the UK’s interest.” The ‘Norway Plus’ model would see the UK remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit by applying to join the European Free Trade Association, which currently consists of Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. It would also see the UK in an interim customs union with the EU. However, Heidi Nordby Lunde, an MP in Norway’s governing Conservative party and the leader of the country’s European Movement, which campaigns for Norway to become a full member of the EU, told the Guardian, “It is not in my country’s interests to have the UK aboard, and I cannot see how possibly an EEA/EFTA agreement could be in the interests of the UK. She added, “It is not an option for the UK to stay inside the customs union… if you are part of the EFTA platform, since EFTA is its own free trade bloc. We have 29 trade agreements with 39 countries outside the EU that the UK would need to be able to accept.” Lunde claimed her views reflected those of the governing party.

Separately, the former Labour Foreign Secretary David Milliband and the Conservative MP Jo Johnson also condemned the ‘Norway Plus’ option today. A pamphlet published by the People’s Vote campaign, which calls for a second referendum says that ‘Norway Plus’ would throw away the UK’s “vote, voice and veto,” adding that it would “not be easy to negotiate.”

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Government accused of "complacency" over security links with EU after Brexit

A report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has accused ministers of “complacency” over the UK’s access to security links with the EU after Brexit. The report states that the committee is “seriously concerned” about the absence of any reference to key EU security databases in the Political Declaration on the future relationship, and argues that a failure to retain access to them after Brexit would “make us less safe.” A Home Office spokesperson said, “This deal delivers the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history and provides a framework for a future security relationship between the UK and the EU to keep people safe.”

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CBI forecasts moderate growth for 2019 and 2020 if UK leaves EU with a deal

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has forecasted that if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, the economy will grow by 1.4% in 2019 and 1.6% in 2020. The forecasts also suggest real wage growth will recover, though low productivity will prevent a significant rise in living standards. The Director-General of the CBI, Carolyn Fairburn, warned that a No Deal Brexit would “blow these figures out of the water.”

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Paris and Berlin suggest payment method for EU states refusing to host migrants

A further step was taken by France and Germany to reform EU asylum laws, with a proposal to make EU governments pay money if they refuse to host refugees. The document, circulated yesterday at a meeting to EU Ministers of Interior in Brussels, stated that the EU would require a proper mechanism to avoid a situation of all EU governments opting to pay instead of hosting refugees.

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France to introduce national digital tax in 2019, if no EU plan is agreed

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has said that France would begin levying a tax on digital giants from March 2019 if the EU fails to agree on a digital tax by then. He noted, however, that an EU-wide tax would be “preferable.” Recent reports suggest that France and Germany have moved away from a wide-ranging EU digital tax strategy, focusing instead on an advertising sales tax.

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