The Queen gave the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill the royal seal of approval this week, and with Royal Assent the Bill was passed into law, granting Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of Brexit.
An historic occasion was confirmed with the House of Commons passing the Bill but rejecting the amendments voted through in the House of Lords. The rejection of the changes by the Upper House was expected – but with suggestions from legal experts the Government could need legislation across a range of policy areas (rather than just a single, albeit confusingly named, Great Repeal Bill), parliamentarians will likely have their say on the Brexit deal, although perhaps not in the format they’d initially expected.
The question is now when Theresa May will trigger Article 50. Whitehall mandarins advised against doing so this week, which would have coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that laid the foundations of the modern EU, and probably not have enamoured senior EU figures to the UK. Downing Street is now indicating it will be the end of the month, so there is still a couple more weeks of the phoney war yet to run.
While Theresa May was deciding not to trigger Article 50 this week, she was also having her spotlight stolen by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Citing a lack of communication with Westminster over the Brexit process, and lack of discussion over a deal for Scotland (which voted to remain), Mrs Sturgeon announced plans for a second Scottish independence referendum. Her demands were greeted with short shrift from the Prime Minister, who insisted now is not the time for a referendum and has since indicated she would not agree to one until after the Brexit process is completed.
Mrs Sturgeon ultimately requires Westminster approval for a vote. But, while the PM might be flatly denying such calls right now, continued opposition may foster stronger support for independence in Scotland. It is now more a question of when rather than if a second referendum happens, and the timing of it will determine how many fronts the PM has to negotiate on.
Deal or no deal
Brexit Minister David Davis admitted this week that the UK has not made a “satisfactory” assessment of the economic impact of leaving the EU without a trade deal. Speaking before MPs on the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, Davis revealed the Government had made a forecast before last June’s referendum, but no further work had been undertaken since.
While ministers have repeatedly claimed no deal is better than a bad deal, critics continue to argue that defaulting to World Trade Organisation arrangements would damage the British economy. Ministers will still expect to agree a trade deal, but Whitehall will likely now be undertaking the work to forecast what life will look like without one.
No to Wilders
The Netherlands voted in its parliamentary elections this week, and Geert Wilders failed in his efforts to win the premiership. Incumbent centre-right party the VVD remained the largest in the Dutch parliament, with its leader Mark Rutte remaining as Prime Minister.
The victory for Mr Rutte will soothe some nerves across the EU following the wave of populism that has seen Donald Trump elected in the US, and seen the rise of Marine Le Penn in France (albeit the latter remains unlikely to win the presidency later this year). From a Brexit perspective, the continuity within the Dutch government will likely help all sides, but attention will now turn to the French, German and Italian elections also taking place this year.
The car in front is…
Japanese car manufacturer Toyota committed to investing nearly a quarter of a billion pounds to upgrade its Derbyshire plant this week. The announcement, which will have warmed hearts across government, safeguards 2,500 jobs.
With cars being the UK’s largest manufacturing export, the Government has been at pains to retain the investment of Toyota and other big market players such as Nissan. The investment will boost the arguments of ministers that the UK remains open for business and a viable base for multinationals. It is worth noting though that ministers did commit £21 million to support skills, training and R&D – so while the Government will be delighted to Toyota reaffirming its commitment to its UK plant, there must also be caution in what the costs of securing similar deals across other sectors will be.