Jack Simpson previews the Brexit week ahead, and what each of the three tabled Brexit votes mean.
Here we go again…
This promises to be the mother of all Brexit weeks. There are three showdown votes scheduled in for Parliament this week, which could mean the end of the beginning and the start of the new EU relationship, or it could be the last days of May.
This is the Meaningful Vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. A 585 page document on leaving the EU. It sets out the final payments to EU programs, a transition period, citizen rights and borders, such as Northern Ireland. The Chamber looked at the Agreement here.
So let’s have a look what’s happening, and could happen, this week:
Tuesday- 11th March
The first vote taking place will be to approve Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. This is the second official vote on the Agreement, following the 200 MP defeat (232-432) in January, forcing May to return to the EU and seek new concessions, with the main criticism being on the Irish Border.
However, there hasn’t been a significant breakthrough between the UK and EU since the defeat, meaning the only thing that has changed is the time pressure. We are currently just over two weeks away from Brexit day, with the threat of a No Deal growing each day, this could push some MPs to change their vote. Some might also see it as the only way out of Europe.
Yet, most, braver than me, are still predicting Theresa May to lose on Tuesday night, and that will trigger new votes on the Brexit process.
Wednesday- 12th March
If the vote on the Prime Minsters Agreement is defeated, there will be a vote on whether the House supports a No Deal. Some MPs want this to happen intentionally, while some believe a No Deal must be seen as a credible threat, to use as leverage against the EU. It’s largely expected that a No Deal would not get a Parliamentary majority.
It is unclear if a “Yes” to No Deal vote would mean walking away immediately, or still trying to secure a deal before 11pm, March 29th.
The majority of Chamber members have been crystal clear on that a No Deal scenario would be a disaster for the region. The North East relies on the EU for complex supply chains, access to skilled talent and regulatory measures, it could grind the nation to halt if this was simply turned off, and ruin the regional economy (estimated 16% drop in GDP).
Thursday- 13th March
So, if the two prior votes should both be defeated, on Thursday there will be a vote on extending the Brexit negotiations, or “Article 50”. This would afford the Government the opportunity to take a step back and re-engage with key stakeholders, like the business community, and form a consensus on the future Brexit deal.
This lack of engagement and foreplaning is largely why the Agreement is in trouble. The Agreement takes the UK out of the EU, but only offers a vague look at the future of UK-EU relations, while we are still awaiting a new Migration and Funding policy to replace those of the EU.
If this comes to pass, a second debate would be triggered on how long, and its split on two lines. First, some say it should only be three months, enough time to get through proper legislation for a smooth exit. However, some say it should be longer, as alternatives should be explored if the Agreement is still struggling to pass. For more on a No Deal in the North East, our event covers exactly that this Friday, click here.
The EU would also have to accept such an extension. While they are also keen to avoid No Deal, which would harm their own businesses as well, there are other factors, like EU elections and fatigue, in play.
All in all
Progress is not being made, as the Labour Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, pointed out, “Not one word has been changed” to the Agreement. This paralysis has meant we have lost many weeks of preparation and, with No Deal still looming, businesses are being forced to make serious decisions about their long term future.
Even so, Theresa May could lose all three votes. This would set the UK on course for an accidental No Deal, although, there is an EU summit on March 21st, meaning we could have a third meaningful vote on the Agreement. Or she could try shelve the votes and this blog has been pointless. Hooray.
But an extension is needed, almost certainly, to push Government to outline its future relationship with the European Union, one that protects and develops the strong trading relationship we have with the EU, and to implement the required legislation for a smooth exit. If we're going to leave, we must do it right.
Just a reminder, this is just us leaving the EU, we haven’t even begun talking about the future relationship yet…