Two steps forward, one step back. What on earth has gone on this week? Jack Simpson tries to explain.
*Deep Breath*, On Tuesday, Parliament was due to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement a key step in the Brexit process, which unlocks talks on our future relationship. The Vote was part of a five debate and a heavy defeat potentially meant the end of Theresa May's Brexit and Premiership.
The Agreement had received huge criticism within her own Conservative party, particularly on the issue of the “Backstop”. This is a protocol to avoid a hard Irish border, that keeps the UK in a Customs Union while kicking it out of EU policy and agencies, making the UK a “rule taker, not a rule maker” and unable to set independent trade policy.
Labour have also termed the Agreement as the "worst of both worlds", believing, as the opposition does, that they could re-negotiate a better, "jobs first", Brexit deal.
Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland) said we would “lock ourselves into a prison” by agreeing the deal, and that a better deal was out there. Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick) said the deal would “sovereign capability, industrial autonomy & protect our defence industry”.
On the other side, Labour already announcing their opposition, were calling for a general election. Chi Onuwrah (Newcastle Central) outlined this argument saying it undermined the region’s future competitiveness, and it was time for a new way forward.
However, Labour MPs are split on this, with some advocating a Second Referendum, as Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) put it, he would like an election but “Turkeys don’t want an early Christmas”.
To “break the deadlock, Cat McKinnell (Newcastle Central) announced support for a People's Vote. In support, Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) referenced the economic analyses of the Treasury and Bank of England (in which no outcome is better than EU membership) and stated “started with the people, it should end with the people”.
Parliament was due to vote on this Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday. However, facing a huge defeat across the House of Commons, Theresa May claimed she had “listened very carefully” to the “clear concerns” of MPs and decided to delay the vote, essentially, she was 5-0 down and took the ball home with her. It took only three days for Theresa May to pull the Agreement she had spent two years negotiating.
Though a new date is yet to be announced, the vote on Withdrawal must be held before January 21st, as set in law, and we (well, maybe just me) eagerly await May’s return from Brussels tomorrow. Then add into the mix the EU Courts's ruling that the UK can pull out of Withdrawal without EU approval, it should be an interesting start to 2019.
May Battles On
So, settling down for a quiet Tuesday night, rumours started circulating that enough “Letters of No Confidence” had been submitted by Conservative MPs to trigger a Vote of No Confidence. This was an internal Conservative Party affair, in which all MPs voted whether they had confidence in the Prime Minister. If May lost that vote, a Conservative leadership election would be triggered.
May flew back from her European tour to fight this battle, starting with a statement on Wednesday morning that she was listening to the rebels to deliver a Brexit deal that respects the referendum. Various MPs took to Twitter to announce support, and she ended up winning 200-117. This might be considered a costly victory, as it exposed 37% of her own team don’t support her, and might fuel opposition opponents in the coming months.
Yet, Theresa May fights on with her "Strong and Stable" government, where she will seek assurance that the Backstop will be temporary or avoided, to win over enough MP support for the Withdrawal Agreement’s return in January. There is an indication that the EU will be willing to move on this, but will it be enough?
What Does This All Mean?
This only adds further uncertainty to what has been a shambolic handling of the Brexit process.
Members have told us that access to the customs union and the single market is vital to the region’s economy. The current arrangements with our European neighbours continue to be the testing measure of our future relationship.
No Deal is becoming a dangerous threat, and members have been clear that a Hard Brexit is not a credible option. Government must take action now and deliver a deal that works for the business and livelihoods dependent on a strong economy.
But business should not take lead from Government and delay crucial preparations. There are just over 100 days we leave the European Union, and while we don’t have all the answers, business should start looking to their strategies and get Brexit Ready.
See our guides to get Brexit Ready here: https://www.neechamber.co.uk/preparing-for-brexit/...
NELEP has neatly pulled regional resources, including funding support and events, here: https://www.northeastgrowthhub.co.uk/toolkits/brex...