Fresh from falling off a Brussels stage, Brexit Secretary David Davis was invoking the ire of fellow MPs this week. Receiving a summons by MPs to appear in front of the Brexit Select Committee on Monday (for this purpose, the parliamentary equivalent of the principal’s office), Mr Davis will be asked/told to explain why they have received a heavily redacted version of the Government’s much publicised 58-sector analysis of the impact of Brexit on the economy. The 850-pages of ‘analysis’ – which MPs demanded be published in a vote earlier this month – is currently only accessible to MPs and Peers in Brexit committees in secret reading rooms, and they’ve been quick to voice their displeasure at the amount that has either been blacked out in the papers, or appears to have not been handed over at all.
Davis tried to calm the row by emphasising these parts contain commercially sensitive information that could affect the UK’s negotiation position, adding that there was also no guarantee that MPs on the Committee would keep it secret (a suggestion that’s hardly sat well with the MPs he’ll appear in front of next week). Conservative MP Craig McKinlay backed this notion, suggesting some MPs would "use this information against the national interest." Others, including influential Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, said that the Government was “in serious constitutional waters” if it doesn’t give MPs what they requested. Ministers, however, claim that the analysis MPs are asking for doesn’t exist it the requested form – begging the question what work was being done when David claimed analysis was underway earlier in the year. One thing is clear, this saga is not over, and officials in the Brexit department may just have to pull another all-nighter (or five) soon to get MPs what they want.
Deal or no deal?
This week it was reported that the EU and UK had reached a deal on the financial bill, which would be a huge breakthrough on one of (if not the) the main sticking points in the negotiations. Figures on what the UK would pay the EU varied from report to report, but most cited numbers between €40 billion and €55 billion. For now, neither UK nor EU officials have confirmed or denied the reports, which has given Prime Minister Theresa May some time to calm the nerves of pro-Brexit Tories, some of whom have threatened to vote against the final Brexit bill if the PM doesn’t get favourable trade terms in return. Most Tories, however, have reacted positively to the reports, with ardent Brexiteers like Ian Duncan Smith applauding the idea that discussions can now move onto trade.
It once again comes down to the question “Is no deal better than a bad deal?” Some Brexiteers are wondering whether no deal – whereby UK-EU trade relations are subject to WTO rules – would not be better than simply handing the EU a ton of cash. On the other side, Remainers are wondering why the UK would pay money for a deal that is worse than the status quo, i.e. membership of the EU. May’s challenge is now to navigate between these different positions at home, while also taking into account the EU’s views, ahead of a crunch Council Summit on 14th December which will determine whether the negotiations can proceed to trade talks. Good luck with that.
That sly Fox
International trade secretary Liam Fox shook things up on the Irish border discussion this week, stating that there will be no decision on the future of the Irish border until the UK and the EU have reached a trade agreement. The statement will likely antagonise the Republic of Ireland, which has asked for a written guarantee from the UK that there will be no hard border with Northern Ireland. The UK Government would have to think twice about giving the Irish what they’re asking for though, as it is reliant on the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which props up the Government and whose raison d'être is to be part of the UK and not move closer to the Republic of Ireland. Also, remember that Ireland will effectively have a veto in two weeks on whether the UK has done enough to go to the next phase of negotiations, and even though Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he doesn’t want to use it, Fox and the UK Government would do well to keep him happy ahead of the vote, while also keeping the DUP satisfied.
For a moment it looked like Fox could get away with it, as the Irish government was focused on an internal political crisis, which resulted in deputy PM Frances Fitzgerald resigning, thereby avoiding a snap general election before Christmas. With the domestic crisis averted (for now), the Irish government can focus again on international affairs and may choose not to overlook Fox’s comments when drawing its position on the progress of negotiations. London and Dublin both say they are committed to maintaining an open border, but with the UK determined to leave the customs union and single market, it’s difficult to think how this can all be successfully reconciled. We’ll see what bearing this has on negotiations come 14th December.
Don’t forget citizens’ rights
All talk recently has been around the financial bill and the Irish border, so you could be forgiven for forgetting the third issue that needs to see sufficient progress within the next few days: EU citizens’ rights. European Parliament Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, has reminded chief negotiator Michel Barnier about this in a letter expressing his concern that the negotiations on the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in protecting those rights have stalled. So far, the role of the European Parliament in the negotiations has been limited, but don’t forget that alongside Remainers, Brexiteers and the Republic of Ireland, the European Parliament is also threatening to vote against the Brexit deal, which would make it void.
Verhofstadt’s comments came as the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that immigration had fallen by 80,000 people since the referendum and that three-quarters of that drop was down to fewer EU citizens coming to the UK. Meanwhile, the number of EU citizens leaving the UK has increased by almost a third. This is evidence that ‘Brexodus’ could be materialising, though the Government for now will be cheering as its 2010, 2015 and 2017 manifesto pledges to get net migration down to the "tens of thousands" are finally getting more realistic. The question is now what “taking back control” will mean for the UK’s future immigration policy and how that will be reflected in migration figures after Brexit.
Glyphosate = Brexit?
The link might not seem clear to everyone, but this week’s vote on renewing the controversial glyphosate’s license for five years has shown what the UK can expect ahead of crucial decisions on Brexit in Brussels. Following long and intense discussions, Member States approved the renewal with 18 votes in favour, nine against and one abstention. Germany tipped the scales as a heavy-vote Member State, though it soon emerged that the Germans were not in agreement on their own position.
The Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt from the conservative CDU decided to act alone and ordered officials to vote in favour, despite receiving a message from social democratic Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks to oppose the renewal. The CDU had only just convinced the social democrats to enter coalition talks, which were in deadlock after the liberals left the negotiation table. The vote on glyphosate shows the chaos in the German government, which makes Merkel’s position weak ahead of key votes in Brussels. The UK can only hope the Germans are aligned on their position to proceed to the next phase of Brexit negotiations or, alternatively, that they simply vote in favour because someone randomly decided to do so.
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