Brussels

The Brexit Plan

Hello readers! After a week away, it’s time to refresh ourselves of events this last fortnight…

 

Of course Brexit dominates the headlines once more as the government announced a possibility of the UK retaining links with EU. The government has said it will end the “direct jurisdiction” of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in UK cases after Brexit, although the influence of the court will not be curbed altogether. In a paper published last Wednesday  a set of alternative models were proposed for settling legal disputes with the EU that would replace the current role of the ECJ, offering Theresa May greater room for manoeuvre in Brexit negotiations than her previous commitment to leaving the ECJ outright. In January, May pledged in her Lancaster House speech:

“We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the [ECJ] in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster… and those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country.”

 

Justice Minister Dominic Raab has stated the resulting divergence of case law between the EU and the UK would require the UK to keep “half an eye” on ECJ rulings, and for the EU to do the same in return. 

The plans came after the Home Office had mistakenly sent around 100 letters to EU citizens living in the UK, telling them they are liable for “detention” if they do not leave the country. There have been calls for Home Secretary Amber Rudd to apologise to those affected and reimburse any legal costs incurred.

With such mistakes, it is no wonder why those against Brexit hold doubts over the lack of influence from EU courts, particularly in cases affecting human rights where UK laws.

 

As the third round of Brexit negotiations continued in Brussels this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker  said none of the papers published by the British government setting out its Brexit plans are “satisfactory” and that a vast number of issues remain unsettled. Speaking to a conference of EU ambassadors, Juncker accused the UK of being “hesitant in showing all its cards” and of failing to offer solutions to the issues of the Northern Irish border and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. He also reiterated that no trade negotiations will take place until these questions are resolved.

One of the said issues which is yet to be resolved is the lack of agreement between UK and EU officials on the amount to be paid by the UK as a so-called “divorce bill”, which could total as much as 1bn (£92bn). The constant lack of progress makes us wonder whether Brexit will be achieved by the target of March 2019!

As the latest round of negotiations stalled, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said Britain must not allow itself to be blackmailed over its Brexit settlement bill in order to start trade talks. Without an agreed figure, the EU will not allow talks about Britain’s future trade relationship with the bloc to begin. Fox’s warning came after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said there has been no “decisive progress” on the terms of Britain’s exit and accused the UK of demanding the “impossible”.

 

Meanwhile, The Labour Party announced its own plans for Brexit with some senior Tories fearing it may gain support from their own MPs. The announcement, made by the party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, details the party’s continued support for membership of the single market as it bids to present itself as the party in favour of ‘soft Brexit’ (Scroll down for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit).

Labour’s policy shift aims to establish a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time.  So what are these new plans?

  • Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure
  • Under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit
  • Permanent long-term membership of the single market and customs union would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules.

Pro-EU Tory MPs, who also support remaining in the single market, will be put under intense pressure by Labour to fall in behind its position and rebel against their own party. If significant numbers were to do so, Theresa May’s already shaky grip on power would be seriously threatened. For these Tory MPs, they would have to decide between adhering to party lines or committing to their own positions as instructed by their constituents.

Now for a quick breakdown of soft/hard Brexit….


Soft Brexit
: –

This approach would leave the UK’s relationship with the EU as close as possible to the existing arrangements, and is preferred by many Remainers.

The UK would no longer be a member of the EU and would not have a seat on the European Council. It would lose its MEPs and its European Commissioner. But, it would keep unfettered access to the European single market.

Goods and services would be traded with the remaining EU states on a tariff-free basis and financial firms would keep their “passporting” rights to sell services and operate branches in the EU. Britain would remain within the EU’s customs union, meaning that exports would not be subject to border checks.

National models for this sort of deal include Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are not members of the EU but have access to the single market by being part of the European Economic Area.

 

Hard Brexit: –

Favoured by pro-Brexiteers, a hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU.

It would prioritise giving Britain full control over its borders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory.

Initially, this would mean the UK would likely fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for trade with its former EU partners.

 

Also This week, Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour resigned from her role with immediate effect. Writing to the chair of the party, Dugdale said she believed her party needed a new leader with ‘fresh drive’. Her full resignation letter can be viewed here.

 

Whilst one leader quits, Theresa May has insisted that she will lead the Conservative Party into the 2022 General Election contradicting reports she planned to stand down in 2019 when Britain leaves the EU. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, May said she wants to look beyond Brexit negotiations and hopes to tackle “long-term” issues within the UK, such as “social justice”. he Prime Minister made the comments as she arrived in Japan for a visit intended to boost diplomatic ties and lay the ground for a potential post-Brexit trade deal between the nations. Taking into account the continued riffs amongst Conservative ranks, May’s announcement risks reigniting anger among Tory MPs, many of whom have been dissatisfied with May since the party unexpectedly lost its majority in June’s vote. However, it also comes as many within the party and beyond feel there isn’t anyone at the moment who could be a real contender against May.

Can May’s leadership withstand all the trouble and strife that comes with Brexit and the internal backlash from her own party? It wasn’t long ago even her own ex-colleague, George Osborne, had called her a “dead woman walking” so how confident is the Prime Minister in her leadership? Only time will tell.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Councils have been ordered to reduce the number of people remaining in hospital beds when fit for discharge by as much as 70%, or face a withdrawal of social care funding. Councils responsible for delivering social care have received a letter from the Department of Health warning funding could be slashed in the 2018 Spring Budget for areas with continued high rates of so-called “bed-blocking”, which saw patients in England experience 177,000 days worth of delays in April this year. Council leaders have described the targets as “virtually undeliverable” and warn that withholding funding will only increase pressures on care services, whilst Labour’s Shadow Minister for Social Care, Barbara Keeley, has accused the government of an “overly simplistic and ill-judged” response to the situation.

 

Net migration to the UK in the last 12 months to end of March 2017 is down 81,000 to 246,000, with the net migration of EU citizens having fallen by 51,000 to its lowest level for three years, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A spokesperson for the ONS has said the data – which shows a spike in departures of citizens from the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 – may indicate Brexit is now a factor in people’s decision to move into or out of the UK. 

The figures follow years of heated debate over immigration – a key issue in last year’s referendum – and the Conservative Party’s 2010 promise to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ .

 

On the topic of immigration, this week Prime Minister Theresa May faced calls to apologise for the five-year-long Home Office crackdown on non-EU students overstaying their visa, as official figures revealed that just 4,600 a year remain in the UK after their visa expires. Previous estimates cited by the Home Office had put the number at 100,000.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who described the Home Office figures as “distorted and wrong”, has joined a chorus of politicians and think tanks calling for students to be exempt from migration statistics, a move the Prime Minister has repeatedly rejected. It is argued the focus on overstaying students has been a waste of government resources and has led the Home Office to downplay the economic importance of higher education. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced an expert review into international students’ contribution to the economy.

 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched its plans to force all publicly listed UK companies to reveal the pay ratio between their chief executive and their average British worker from next June. Under further proposals aimed at improving workers’ representation in the boardroom, firms must assign a director to represent employees or create an employee council to help advise the business.

However, the new corporate governance code will operate on a “comply or explain” basis, allowing companies to opt out of the measures if they can offer a justification – contrary to a pledge made by the Prime Minister during last year’s Conservative leadership contest. This perceived watering-down has triggered condemnation from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and trade union leaders, who have branded the plan a “feeble proposal”.

 

Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith has voiced opposition to government proposals to cut support for marriage and relationship counselling. Writing in an article for the Conservative Home website, Duncan Smith revealed officials have been instructed to draw up plans to scrap £10m of public funding for relationship counselling – a move he has condemned as a “retrograde step” that would worsen the “damaging effects of family breakdown”. He also argues the cuts would have an adverse effect on the economy, as the cost of family breakdown has been estimated to be £48bn a year.

 

The Conservative Party announced its new campaign ‘Activate‘, the right wing equivalent to ‘Momentum’. The grassroots campaign launched by affiliated Conservatives aims to “engage young people with conservatism”. It has close links with senior party activists, and is chaired by former Tory campaign manager Gary Markwell, a councillor in West Sussex. A Conservative spokesman said Activate was “not officially linked to the Conservatives and it receives no party funding”. The group’s constitution says it will be independent from the party, though all members are expected to be members of the main party. Although it has not officially launced, it has already received backlash on social media and mocked by those on the left.

What do you think, will you be joining Activate? Or are you more of a ‘stick to the party, not affiliated groups’ kind of person?

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Brexit – no going back?

As Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump exchange words of ‘fire and fire fury’ whilst the world subsequently prepares for WWIII, Brexit continues to dominate UK politics.
It’s no secret that the Conservatives are heavily divided over Brexit and the direction in which negotiations should take, which is why the latest Brexit update may not bring remainers or leavers any comfort.

 

Former diplomat, Simon Fraser, has warned the UK’s negotiations with the EU about leaving the bloc have not begun well due to disagreement amongst ministers over the type of deal they should be seeking. (Tell us something we didn’t already know!)

Fraser, who served as the Foreign Office’s most senior civil servant up until 2015, has called on the Conservative government to put set out a clearer position as the team responsible for handling Brexit negotiations haven’t “put much on the table” so far.
You only have to remember the picture of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ lack of paperwork during the start of negotiations to know not much thought is being given to the exit process. Fraser’s comments come amid reports that Downing is preparing to publish a series of ‘position papers’ in the coming week which will detail its proposals for the Northern Irish border and future customs agreements with the EU.

Ahead of that report being published, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox have released a joint statement confirming there will be a fixed transitional period after Britain leaves the EU. In their article published for The Telegraph, they did not clearly state the length of time for which this transitional period will last but did declare Britain will not stay in the union by the “backdoor” and will completely leave the single market and the customs union once Brexit is finalised and completed in 2019.

“We are both clear that during this [transitional] period the UK will be outside the single market and outside the customs union and will be a ‘third-country’ not party to EU treaties”

They said the UK’s borders “must continue to operate smoothly”, that goods bought on the internet “must still cross borders”, and “businesses must still be able to supply their customers across the EU” in the weeks and months after Brexit.

Sourced from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40914604

The joint article by the two ministers is being seen as a sign of unity on the Brexit issue – you will recall several posts on the in-fighting between Fox and Hammond regarding Brexit. Of course, for Prime Minister Theresa May who called for unity at the start of the summer recess this is important not only for her leadership but for the ease of Brexit negotiations in Brussels. However, criticism from the Liberal Democrats notes that this only demonstrates Mr Hammond being brought “back in line” with the government’s “hard Brexit program”. Tom Brake, the foreign affair’s spokesman for the Lib Dems also added:

“What we don’t know from this letter is exactly how this is going to work. It’s also not clear how long the transition period is going to be.”

Despite the attempt at showing public unity, there is no hiding from the deep divisions that still lie within the party, with many ministers disagreeing over key issues such as immigration and trade. This is addressed by SNP MP Stephen Gethins who stated there is “no masking the fact there are deep divisions within cabinet over Brexit – and still no apparent plan almost 14 months on from the vote”.

Criticism also came from Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw, who said leaving the single market and the customs union would be a “dreadful mistake for the future of our economy, for jobs and prosperity in Britain”.

What exactly are the implications of leaving the single market and the customs union?

  • Leaving the European Economic Area (EEA): –
    those in favour of remaining in the single market argue the UK government should try to negotiate staying inside the EEA, retaining friction-free trade not only in goods but also in services, upon which the bulk of our economy is based. However, the political price to be paid for such access is correspondingly high, and counters the objectives of pro-Brexiteers. In the EEA, Britain would be obliged to keep the four freedoms, including the free movement of people, (so no regaining control of our borders), align its regulatory regime with the EU’s (so no regaining sovereignty) & follow European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings and still pay into the EU budget.
  • Transitional customs union agreement: – 
    Other countries such as Turkey have a separate customs union agreement with the EU. If we were to have a similar agreement, the EU’s 27 members would set the common tariffs and Britain would have no say in how they were set. We would be unable to enter into any separate bilateral free trade agreement. We would be obliged to align our regulatory regime with the EU in all areas covered by the union, without any say in the rules we had to adopt. And we would be bound by the case law of the ECJ, even though we would have no power to bring a case to the court.
  • Trade: –
    If the EU were to negotiate an agreement with the US that was in the union’s best interests but against our own, our markets would be obliged to accept American produce with no guarantee of reciprocal access for our own goods into the US.

 

With so much to consider, there’s no wonder why Brussels are keen to get on with the negotiation process in such a short space of time.

According to to David Davis, the publication of the papers outlining the government’s aims for Brexit will mark “an important next step” towards delivering the referendum vote to leave the EU.

We just have to wait and see.

Other things you may have missed…

International Development Secretary Priti Patel announced the UK will contribute £100m to the global fight against polio in an effort to eradicate the disease by 2020. The money will fund the immunisation of 45m children annually for the next three years.

The last case of polio in Nigeria was in July 2016, so it could potentially be declared polio-free in 2019, but there will need to be three years without a single case to prove it has been eradicated. In her announcement, Patel highlighted: “The world is closer than it ever has been to eradicating polio for good, but as long as just one case exists in the world, children everywhere are still at risk. Now it is time for others to step up, follow Britain’s lead and make polio history.”

 

Plans to overhaul data protection laws could see Britons granted powers enabling them to ask for their personal data or information (i.e. Social media posts) to be deleted from in the internet. The proposals included in the new Data Protection Bill could see companies receive fines of £17m or 4% of their global turnover – whichever is higher – if they refuse to comply with users’ requests to delete their personal information. The proposed legislation was outlined by Digital Ministers, Matt Hancock, yesterday but will not be published in full until early September.

The Data Protection Bill is designed to bring the UK in line with the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), to ensure data will continue to flow freely between the UK and the European Union after Brexit. Under the union’s data rules, personal information can only be transferred to non-member states where an adequate level of protection is guaranteed.

Just goes to show Brexit it more than just about immigration and trade. With so much legislation that needs to be transferred from EU to UK law, can Brexit really be achieved by 2019 or is there scope for a reversal? Pleasing all sides, both remainers and leavers is not going to be an easy task; although the outlook of the UK once Brexit is achieved is still uncertain, one thing that is certain is many people will be left unsatisfied and displeased with life after Brexit.

A renewed (post-Brexit) ‘special relationship’?

Last week Parliamentarians commenced their summer break, and with a ‘zombie government’ in procession, not much is going in the world of British politics. But even so there are still several issues which continue to be scrutinised and debated, the major one being (you guessed it) BREXIT!

Brexit negotiations commenced in Brussels a few weeks ago now and as expected not much has been agreed but there is indeed much that needs to be compromised on. As Britain looks to seek trade deals outside of the European Union, it seems Britain will rely heavily on it’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, now more than ever.

UK/US Special Relationship: derived from Winston Churchill’s 1946 ‘Iron Curtain Speech’, the term describes the political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

As talks continue, politicians and commentators alike have been trying to hazard a guess as to what trade deals may be made with other countries and how quickly those deals would be able to come to pass. Undoubtedly because of the UK/US special relationship, trade with America would be top of the list. But what exactly would we be trading with them? One thing that has dominated the headlines this week is chlorinated chicken. *cringe*
Earlier this week, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said any trade deal with the US would ‘have to include agriculture’ which sparked fears for the arrival of imported US chicken washed in chlorinated water and hormone-fed beef. Contradicting Fox’s statement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated we should not allow chlorinated chicken to be imported or the UK.

“No. I made it perfectly clear, and this is something on which all members of the Government are agreed. We are not going to dilute our high food-safety standards or our high environmental standards in pursuit of any trade deal. Our position when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and our position now, is to be a leader in environmental standards”

During his appearance on BBC Newsnight, Fox seemed to stand by his position in re-aligning Britain’s relationship with the US, saying there is “no health issue” with chlorine washed chicken and that concerns “lies around some of the secondary issues of animal welfare and it’s perfectly reasonable for people to raise that but it will come much further down the road.”

 

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals left UK farmers competing against less-regulated foreign rivals. They warned that imports from lower-welfare countries could “undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards – contrary to the wishes of the UK industry”.

What this demonstrates is that Brexit is more than just about the economy and immigration; it will have a life-changing impact on every single Briton and will be reflected even in the food we buy and the meals we eat. In a world where many are becoming health conscious (you only have to watch Netflix’s ‘What the Health‘ and rethink your whole diet!), how can we look after ourselves and how can we ensure the food we eat doesn’t have a long-term impact on our health? As we all know, chlorine is more widely used in swimming pools to keep them free of bacteria that can be used to harm us, but there is a BIG difference between swimming in it and ingesting it.

And it’s not only chicken we should be worried about – there are now fears from politicians in Scotland that sub-standard whisky could be imported if the UK strikes a trade deal with the US after Brexit.

The Scotch whisky industry is worth £4bn to Scotland and it is protected from sub-standard products by an EU definition of whisky – but this will change after our European divorce. Politicians in Scotland have thus written to the UK Government, asking for a legal definition of the spirit to be enshrined into law.

Scottish economy secretary Keith Brown said: “Aside from being a key part of Scottish culture and identity, our whisky industry supports around 20,000 jobs. The US made clear in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions that they would support a relaxation of the definition of whisky, which would open the market up to a number of products which do not currently meet that standard”.

It seems where Brexit is concerned, NOTHING is safe…

 

Conservative Party divisions continue…

…and at the heart of those divisions is, you guessed it, BREXIT.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced freedom of movement between Britain and the European Union will end as soon as the UK withdraws from the bloc in March 2019. In response, Home Secretary Amber Rudd commented:

“We are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK.”

Liam Fox, a hard-line brexiteer has said keeping free movement after Brexit would not keep in line with the EU Referendum result of last June. However, Phillip Hammond has said free movement wouldn’t necessarily be curtailed straight after Brexit, reiterating the need for a transitional period and recommending that new trade deals and regulated movement of peoples isn’t done immediately after leaving the union.

It was only last week there were a few leaks made by cabinet ministers in regards to remarks made by the Chancellor, again sparked from divisions over Brexit so this week to see again another fisticuffs only demonstrates the deep emotions over the issue and proves just how difficult this divorce process will be, not just with our European counterparts but on home soil.

Ministers have been particularly vocal over the post-Brexit transitional period and how that should look like. Pro-Brexiteers in visage the free movement of people will and should be different on the day after we leave the EU in comparison to the day before. These comments come from Mr Fox (he seems at odds with everybody this week eh!) who dismissed the idea that there is a broad consensus n Cabinet that free movement would end in name only for three years after Brexit, as part of a transition deal with the European Union.

Critics such as newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, has expressed to the media that the latest schism “reveals a deep, unbridgeable chasm between the Brexit fundamentalist and the pragmatists. Businesses which might have hoped that Philip Hammond had pulled the Government back from a commitment to a catastrophic cliff edge, crashing out of the EU, have been misled. There is no Cabinet consensus for moderation. And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty”.

The Chancellor has said there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel has warned that Britain could have to pay a Brexit divorce bill of up to £54bn.

“It is now time for the European Union to make an analogy with the famous quote of Mrs Thatcher, ‘We want our money back'”

Downing Street expects to reveal plans for a new immigration system later this year, to be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU. Amber Rudd has also commissioned a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of EU migrants, as well as the possible impact of reduced EU migration. Whilst the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has hailed the report as a “sensible first step”, whilst critics have said the study, which is to be published just six months before Brexit, will come a year too late.

 

So much for enjoying the start of summer and listening to May’s call for “strength and unity” eh!

 

Other things you may have missed…

History was made this week as Brenda Hale became the first female president of the Supreme Court. Also another female judge, Lady Justice Black, became the second woman appointed to Britain’s highest court. Hale, a champion of diversity in the judiciary who joined the Supreme Court in 2009, has previously said, “Excellence is important but so is diversity of expertise”, and in 2015 warned the Supreme Court should be ashamed if it does not become more representative of the population. Her appointment is historically important as the Supreme Court has over the years been criticised for it’s lack of female representation in being primarily dominated by men. Hale’s new role shines a light on women being able to sit as judges in the UK’s highest court but we mustn’t sit idly – there is still long way to go in terms of wider representation, for instance appointment of judges from widespread ethnic minorities. Commenting on the announcement, the Bar Council said Hale’s appointment will “serve as an encouragement to all”.

 

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans to ban developers from selling newly built houses as leaseholds to protect homeowners from extortionate fees. Properties in the UK are either sold as freeholds or leaseholds, and those who buy leaseholds must pay fees to a freeholder, who owns the ground the house is built on. These fees – including service charges and ground rents – can increase by vast amounts every year, leaving homeowners paying thousands of pounds on top of their own mortgage payments. Under the proposals, ground rent would be significantly reduced and leaseholds on new builds banned. The planned proposal could prove to help the growing housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London, also giving first time buyers an opportunity to buy a property without the added hassle and cost.

With the way Brexit negotiations are going, we all could do with some good news!