Brexit: Three Things To Look Out For Before Christmas
It’s been 18 months since the EU referendum, and we’re still waking up to breaking news on every aspect of Brexit legislation and negotiations. It’s easy to get lost in constant updates, so to cut through the confusion, here are the three key things you should look out for in the run up to Christmas:
1. The Withdrawal Bill
After the first two days of debates this week, the government has managed to avoid defeat in votes on amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill. However, the government won some votes with a majority of only 12; there is a real possibility that the government could be defeated on some more contentious issues later on (such as so called Henry VIII powers).
To illustrate just how precarious the situation is for the government, prime minister Theresa May promised last week to enshrine the date and time that we would leave the EU in an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill (a pointless gesture as this is already decided by Article 50). Already, it looks like May might have to back down in the face of a rebellion from Conservative MPs.
There are six days of debate left for this stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill (with dates due to be confirmed soon), and at CLASS we’ll be watching closely to see if opposition parties are able to defeat the government or change any aspects of the Bill later on.
2. Negotiation deadlines looming
While MPs are debating Brexit in parliament, negotiations are still going on in the background for a Brexit deal with remaining EU countries. Unfortunately, negotiations are progressing so slowly that the government has already missed the first progress target.
The EU set out a clear timetable for negotiations, with the first priorities being the issue of the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the final financial settlement owed by the UK to the EU for past commitments. The lead EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made clear that discussions on a possible future trade deal, and the future relationship between the EU and UK, will not start until the first stage has been settled. Today the Irish prime minister has stated that they will block negotiations from going forward without a commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – we knew this would be a sticking point, and it remains to be seen how it can be resolved.
It was originally expected that negotiations would have progressed by now, but the date keeps slipping. Unless enough progress has been made on the first stage of negotiations by the EU Council summit in mid-December, the next stage will slip to next year. Worryingly, the further the date slips for negotiations on the deal and future relationship with the EU to begin, the more possible a no deal scenario becomes. If there has been no movement on Brexit negotiations by Christmas, we can expect a huge amount of pressure on negotiators to speed things up in the New Year.
3. Brexit impact assessments
After a tense debate in parliament last week and a lost vote, the government was ordered to publish Brexit impact assessments by the end of the day on Tuesday 7th November. Obviously this hasn’t happened yet; instead the government have stated they will publish within three weeks.
Trade unions and the Labour party had been calling for Brexit impact assessments to be published for quite a while. Why do they matter? While information held on the impacts of Brexit on different sectors is kept secret, it’s impossible to hold the government to account and identify what action should be taken to protect jobs and either mitigate or take advantage of the impacts of Brexit on different industries.
Although trade unions have been calling for reassurances on jobs and working rights, the government has managed to respond so far with vague platitudes about a Brexit that works for everyone or an ambitious plan for Britain. When we finally get to see the government’s own assessments, there will be nowhere to hide when prime minister Theresa May is next asked about what she will do to protect jobs in large industries that use EU supply chains, like aerospace.
So keep an eye out for the Brexit impact assessments, and hope that they are comprehensive, up to date and un-redacted. If they are, those assessments will give trade unions and progressive MPs a base from which to push for a Brexit that protects jobs and our economy.