Chris White: Time is getting extremely tight to pass all the required withdrawal legislation

With 45 days left, unless workarounds or extra time can be found, uncomfortable decisions may have to be made on which Brexit Bills to prioritise.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

The clock is ticking. We’re running out of runway.  Whatever metaphor you wish to use, Parliament has an awful lot of legislating to do before 29th March if it wishes to complete the passage of the seven Brexit Bills, along with a large amount of secondary legislation.

Today, the Prime Minister will update the Commons, setting out the Government’s progress in negotiating with the EU following the passage of the two advisory amendments last month.  They instructed, though not mandated, the Government to seek to both remove the backstop (Brady) and avoid a No Deal scenario (Spelman/Dromey).

Since then, the negotiations have been less than productive, revealed in striking language in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition over the weekend.  In it, she stated that she was still seeking alternative arrangements to the backstop without specifying in detail what they were, and that negotiating a free trade deal as a third party outside of the Single Market was a “negotiating challenge”, which is somewhat of an understatement.

A month on from the meaningful vote on 15th January, whilst significant column inches are dedicated to the possibility of the Malthouse Compromise we are no closer to knowing if the EU is prepared to alter the existing deal.  Parliament is running out of time before 29th March, either to pass a Bill implementing an agreed deal, or to pass legislation ensuring the UK is ready for a No Deal Brexit.

The scale of the challenge

On 31st January, the Leader of the Commons quite rightly cancelled the February half-term recess, yet also scheduled a range of business in the Commons that, whilst important, didn’t progress No Deal legislation in any way.  This risk-averse programming is almost certainly down to the fact that, with negotiations ongoing with the EU, the Government doesn’t wish to give any opportunities in the House to amend legislation to include unhelpful and challenging amendments.  For example, there have been strong hints that amendments could be tabled to the Trade Bill in the Lords that would seek to keep the UK in a Customs Union.

If this is the case, and with reports suggesting that the next ‘meaningful vote’ is in around three weeks, in the week commencing 25th February, we may not see any more progress in the Commons on much needed No Deal legislation until a deal is reached that the House can agree on.

In terms of readiness, a number of No Deal preparation Bills have already received Royal Assent, including the Customs Act, the Nuclear Safeguards Act, the Road Haulage Act and the Sanctions Act.  However much more needs to be done. For a start, winning the meaningful vote is only the first step – the Government must then pass a European Union Withdrawal Agreement Implementation (EU WAIB) prior to 29th March to give legal effect to the Withdrawal Agreement.  However the Government must not put all its eggs in one basket, and in order to provide security in the event of No Deal should pass a further six Bills, and additional secondary legislation.

These Bills range from allowing the UK to enter into trade deals, creating a domestic agriculture and fisheries market, maintaining our healthcare agreements, giving powers to implement financial services regulations, to bringing EU citizens under UK law.

The current state of play is as follows:

As you can see from the above table, agriculture, fisheries, and immigration are well behind schedule and will need considerable work to pass before 29th March.  Equally, Trade has its own issues as outlined above.

The Government also has to pass around 600-700 statutory instruments, or secondary legislation, before 29th March to be ready, in addition to the above Bills.  The timetable for their consideration has increased in recent weeks and the Government might just be on track, but around 200 still have to be considered in the next few weeks. Certainly the SI committees are working overtime, and have significant reading ahead of them.  The Times’s Esther Webber reported one SI from BEIS was “636 pages long, weighs 2.54 kilos and covers 11 matters that would be expected to go in separate documents.”

Will the UK be ready in time?

There are 45 days left until 29th March, and Parliament will sit for 26 of them (not counting sitting Fridays), unless it chooses to add more sitting days to the calendar or change the business on Fridays from Private Members’ Bills to Government business.  If the deadline of 29th March remains in place, it is unlikely that the Government will be able to pass both the EU WAIB and the six remaining No Deal preparation Bills.

This will mean uncomfortable decisions about which Bills it has to prioritise, and whether workarounds can be found through alternative means.  The Trade Bill is probably the highest priority for the Government aside from the EU WAIB, but failing to set up domestic agriculture and fisheries markets prior to exit day, for example, will cause severe concerns and uncertainty in those sectors.  If Government, Parliament and the EU reach consensus about an amended deal, or agree to the existing deal, then it’s likely that there will need to be a short extension to Article 50 as passing the EU WAIB inside a month, whilst technically possible, would be extremely challenging.  However, the Government must continue to progress with the No Deal Bills over the next few weeks, or the UK faces running out of runway before 29th March.

Shanker Singham: How British farming can flourish after we leave the EU

At the moment, there are many areas where farmers cannot use new technologies. These will increasingly feed not only our consumers but also the world’s poorest ones.

Shanker A. Singham is CEO of Competere and Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit, Institute of Economic Affairs.

Last week, we have heard from Liam Fox about no-deal planning with regard to food prices. While tariffs on industrial goods are relatively low – so that the UK falling back on the Common External Tariff is less of an economically significant event – this is not true of agriculture.

Since the UK is a major importer of agriculture from the EU (the EU-27 has an approximately £23 billion surplus in agricultural trade with the UK), No Deal would mean falling back on the Common External Tariff.   Some agricultural tariffs are very high (for some products over 70 per cent).  That could mean significant food price inflation.

Right now, the major developed countries generally trade agricultural products using a system of tariff rate quotas; an import quota where there is a lower tariff for a certain volume of imports, and then, if imports exceed that amount, the tariff kicks up to a much higher and usually prohibitive level. This is highly managed trade. At the moment, there are no tariffs or other quota-based restrictions to our imports from the EU-27.  But this will change if we leave without a deal.

There are only two trade policy ways to curb food price inflation in the event of No Deal, hence the Secretary of State’s statements.  Either the UK would apply a zero rate unilaterally to all countries (it must be for all countries – because otherwise we would be violating the WTO’s rule that any tariff reductions should be applied to all members); or else it would have to open up those agricultural quotas to all comers on a first come, first served basis.

There have been reports of increasing worry – that either of these methods would put EU farmers in direct competition with the most efficient farmers in the world, and they would rapidly lose market share.

EU farmers are well aware of this, which is why they are starting to kick up a fuss about the damage that would be caused by No Deal.  They also know that, absent the protectionism afforded by the common external tariff and the regulatory barriers imposed on agriculture from non-EU countries, and they would not be competitive.

They would not only lose market share overnight, but the supply chains which have reoriented to more competitive suppliers would not come back. They would be permanently disadvantaged.

It gets worse for the EU-27.  It so happens that the producers who would lose out the most are in highly political sensitive areas: Bavarian dairy farmers, Northern Italian textiles and dairy, French wine, and beef – critically, Irish beef which accounts for fully 67 per cent of the UK market now.

The impact of the Irish beef industry losing market share overnight to the lucrative UK market (where beef prices are among the highest in the world) cannot be understated. This is the risk that Leo Varadkar is taking in refusing to allow the backstop to be modified.  If the UK puts its counter-offer on the table, and allows the pressure from these producers to build up on member states, then a deal is more likely.  If the UK does not fully exploit this pressure, a deal is less likely.

But all sides want to have a deal.  And so we turn to what sort of agricultural policy the UK would want to have in the event of one.

It is possible for the UK to have a new and improved policy that works for consumer, farmers and our trading partners if we make changes to our tariff policy, our subsidy policy and our regulatory policy.

First, we should open up our market so we gradually reducing tariffs and open up our import quotas.   Ultimately, consumers will benefit if the protections afforded to producers are slowly lowered.

This change does not have to be done overnight, and it is connected to the second area of reform – which is how we would use WTO-compatible direct payments to help British farmers, not only with the Brexit transition but beyond.  At the moment, our direct payments are based on the size of landholdings.  This is patently unfair. The two biggest beneficiaries of this funding now are English Heritage and the RSPB, worthy entities both, but hardly farmers.

We should instead focus direct payments more on actual farmers, and support their environmental remediation efforts as well as their stewardship of land, fully recognizing that their primary goal is to produce our food.  The beauty of our countryside helps support a £127 billion tourism industry, and farmers play a role in it.

Third, we can improve our regulatory system so we are not needlessly putting compliance burdens on farmers, and depriving them of access to new technologies provided the science shows us that they are safe.  At the moment, there are many areas where farmers cannot use new technologies, such as synthetic biology or gene editing.  These are the technologies that will increasingly feed not only our consumers but most especially the world’s poorest ones.

UK farmers can have a bright future, and the UK and EU can agree a deal with an alternative version of the backstop which works for all parties. In the strange world of Brexit, these two issues are now joined at the hip.

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Plus: We must be the Party for social housing as well as home ownership. And: why don’t we trumpet our history of social reform?

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

31 December 2018 – 6 January 2019 – the week’s press releases

Right, the holiday season is over, and it’s back to something resembling normalcy tomorrow, what with Parliament resuming and all. So, here’s the press releases that you missed… Govt must provide answers over forced marriage scandal Javid comments on asylum seekers ‘completely unacceptable’ Corbyn cosies up to the Conservatives on Brexit All Gove is offering […]

Right, the holiday season is over, and it’s back to something resembling normalcy tomorrow, what with Parliament resuming and all. So, here’s the press releases that you missed…

  • Govt must provide answers over forced marriage scandal
  • Javid comments on asylum seekers ‘completely unacceptable’
  • Corbyn cosies up to the Conservatives on Brexit
  • All Gove is offering farmers is uncertainty
  • Cable: PM’s publicity campaign is scaremongering
  • Cable: Govt must end brinkmanship over security in Northern Ireland
  • Lib Dems: Govt must follow airports and invest in drone protection

Govt must provide answers over forced marriage scandal

Liberal Democrats today condemned reports that the Government is charging victims of illegal forced marriages to bring them home.

The Times has today reported that women who are sent abroad by their families for forced marriages are charged by the Foreign Office for the cost of rescuing them.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

The Government cannot surely think it’s acceptable to ask victims of illegal forced marriages to pay to be rescued.

These young women who have been through traumatic circumstances are being asked to repay their repatriation costs and then punished if they can’t by having their passports confiscated until they pay the Government back.

The Conservative Government needs to explain exactly why they think this is acceptable.

Javid comments on asylum seekers ‘completely unacceptable’

Responding to the Home Secretary’s comments regarding asylum seekers, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey said:

The Home Secretary’s comments about refugees crossing the Channel show that the Tories’ nasty, hostile environment is alive and well.

Many of these people have fled war in Syria or persecution in Iran. For the Home Secretary to suggest – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever – that they are not ‘genuine’ asylum seekers is completely unacceptable. For the Government to summarily deny their claims would be unlawful and inhumane.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We demand an effective and compassionate response: investing in a stronger Border Force to stop the smugglers and traffickers, while ensuring safe, legal routes to sanctuary for those forced out of their homes.

Corbyn cosies up to the Conservatives on Brexit

Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake has today accused Jeremy Corbyn of cosying up to the Conservative Government after the Labour Leader said May should return to Brussels to find a deal Labour could support.

Following the remarks Tom Brake said:

Whilst many Labour supporters join Liberal Democrats marching and campaigning for a people’s vote, Jeremy Corbyn sidles up to the Conservatives and works with them to deliver Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn can claim Labour’s policy on Brexit is ‘sequential’, but unless the Labour Party actually start opposing the Tory Government a better word for their policy is nonsensical.

Corbyn offers no alternative. The Liberal Democrats have led the campaign for a final say on the deal, but it is time for Corbyn and the Labour frontbench to stop playing games and back a people’s vote.

All Gove is offering farmers is uncertainty

Responding to Michael Gove’s speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said:

Mr Gove is still not listening to any experts while it is clear he has forgotten the assurances he and his cronies gave the farming community during the referendum. Farmers have certainly not forgotten.

To plan for their business properly, famers need to know how much money they’ll get, what standards they need to meet and what tariffs they need to pay. All Gove and co are offering is yet further uncertainty.

This is a national embarrassment, and the Liberal Democrats demand better. The people must have the final say on Brexit, with the option to restore certainty and security for farmers by remaining in the EU.

Cable: PM’s publicity campaign is scaremongering

Responding to the launch of a publicity drive to prepare the public for the possibility of a “no-deal” by the Government, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

The no deal publicity campaign is simply further scaremongering by Theresa May. The PM and her cabinet are attempting to frighten MPs, businesses and the public into supporting her deal.

This publicity campaign is not only a waste of the public’s money, but the PM is clearly trying to run down the clock so her deal is the only option left. This, on top of the millions spent on a ferry contract with no ferries, further demonstrates the Government’s disregard for the earnings of hardworking families across the country.

It is time the Tories stopped playing political games with our future and removed no deal from the table. The only real way out of this deadlock is to hold a People’s Vote, with the option to remain in the EU.

Cable: Govt must end brinkmanship over security in Northern Ireland

Responding to the reports that nearly 1,000 police officers are to begin training for deployment in Northern Ireland in case of disorder from a no-deal Brexit, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable said:

The Brexiters’ claims that the security of Northern Ireland is not at risk as a result of Brexit have been further dismantled by these reports. In the interest of public safety the Government must take no deal off the table.

The Conservative Government’s policy has been driven by the DUP who do not represent the majority in Northern Ireland who voted to remain.

The people of Northern Ireland demand much better than this. The Prime Minister must act responsibly, end this brinkmanship, and give the people the chance to get out of this mess once and for all with a people’s vote.

Lib Dems: Govt must follow airports and invest in drone protection

Responding to reports that both Heathrow and Gatwick airport have spent millions of pounds in anti-drone technology, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Jenny Randerson said:

It appears that, rather belatedly, airports are now investing in the technology needed so that in the future they can manage any misuse of drones much more effectively. The Conservative Government must follow suit immediately to ensure that both police and armed forces are also better prepared to deal with any future disruption caused.

The chaos over Christmas could have been avoided. Chris Grayling must stop sitting on his hands and reverse his decision to abandon legislation which would regulate the drone market.

This whole fiasco has not only demonstrated how much of a distraction Brexit is becoming in stalling vital legislation in Parliament, but that the extent of this Government’s ineptitude knows no bounds.

Stephen Booth: The backstop. It’s problematic for the EU as well as the UK – whatever you’re told to the contrary.

There is real concern in some capitals that the UK can use the backstop to secure privileged access to the Single Market in goods with, over time, a competitive advantage.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

The so-called “backstop” is understandably the most controversial aspect of the Brexit deal parliament will begin debating this week. It is certainly less than perfect, but it offers the UK far more than its fiercest critics suggest. It provides an exit route from the EU, would free the UK from many of its current obligations, and provides a platform from which we can improve our position in future. It creates genuine problems for Northern Ireland, but also the potential to act as the gateway for securing free trade in goods with the EU.

Although billed simply as an insurance policy against a hard border in Ireland, it is actually quite likely that, following the standstill transition, the backstop will provide the basis for the UK-EU relationship as negotiations over the future relationship continue. So what would this mean?

Importantly, the backstop is a much looser relationship than membership of the Single Market and would turn off the tap of almost all new EU rules. The UK will take on the stock of existing EU legislation, but would be able to amend much of these laws applying in Great Britain in future. Northern Ireland would need to maintain and update the rules set out in the backstop, which might lead to some degree of regulatory divergence across the Irish Sea, but (other than for food and agricultural products where there are already checks) necessary checks would primarily be done in the marketplace and all by UK authorities. Brexit inevitably means some degree of special arrangements for Northern Ireland, which otherwise would either move away from the UK (upsetting Unionists) or away from Ireland (upsetting Nationalists). But, importantly, the UK can veto any attempt by the EU to widen the scope of the backstop by applying new rules to Northern Ireland.

At a stroke, we would be free to set our own rules on the biggest area of our economy – services, which account for nearly 80 per cent of GDP. The free movement of people would no longer apply and the UK could set its own immigration policy for EU and non-EU nationals. The UK would be required to maintain a floor of standards and protections in areas such as employment law and environmental policy, but could achieve these in new ways that better suited its economy. The UK would not be compelled to make any financial contributions to the EU other than for those programmes it chooses to take part in.

By establishing a UK-wide customs union, the backstop would limit the UK’s independence in trade policy. For services, we could potentially do independent or deeper trade deals than the EU, but we would need to align with EU tariffs and agreements for goods. Over the long-term, a customs union is unlikely to be politically sustainable and greater independence would be desirable. The EU has also agreed at political level that the UK will regain independence over its trade policy in future. However, it is also true that the UK’s customs systems are not yet ready and a period of time in some form of customs union after the end of the 21-month standstill transition was likely to be inevitable under a negotiated deal.

While the UK has secured many advantages, some aspects of the backstop are certainly hard to swallow. But the EU has also paid a high price for its insistence on a backstop. The UK’s commitments to maintain EU standards are far weaker than many member states would want and there is real concern in some capitals that the UK can use the backstop to secure privileged access to the Single Market in goods with very few obligations and, over time, at a competitive advantage. This is why, despite the lack of a firm time limit in the backstop, the EU is very unlikely to want to live with the arrangement indefinitely.

It is clear that the Government faces an uphill struggle to get this Brexit deal approved by Parliament. Presumably rejection of the deal on 11 December would set the stage for some last-minute haggling in Brussels and tweaks before Theresa May tries to convince MPs a second time around. However, it is also clear that the EU will not accept a deal without a backstop for Northern Ireland. And, if the UK does seek changes, it could prompt the EU to reopen issues such as fishing rights. Ultimately, the choice remains whether to accept a deal with a backstop or reject it.

No Deal is the theoretical default if this deal cannot be ratified, but the parliamentary arithmetic might suggest a softer form of Brexit along the lines of ‘Norway-plus’ is a more likely outcome, although that is far from a simple path. The truth is no one can predict what would happen. This is why both sides of the debate should consider carefully the merits of the compromise on offer before risking a much worse outcome in search of their ideal.

The UK “will leave the European Union. We will then begin a new chapter in our national life.” May’s letter – full text

“I will be campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people.”

When I became your Prime Minister the United Kingdom had just voted to leave the European Union. From my first day in the job, I knew I had a clear mission before me – a duty to fulfil on your behalf: to honour the result of the referendum and secure a brighter future for our country by negotiating a good Brexit deal with the EU. Throughout the long and complex negotiations that have taken place over the last year and a half, I have never lost sight of that duty.

Today, I am in Brussels with the firm intention of agreeing a Brexit deal with the leaders of the other 27 EU nations. It will be a deal that is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’.

It will honour the result of the referendum. We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all. Instead of an immigration system based on where a person comes from, we will build one based on the skills and talents a person has to offer. We will take back control of our money, by putting an end to vast annual payments to the EU. Instead, we will be able to spend British taxpayer’s money on our own priorities, like the extra £394 million per week that we are investing in our long-term plan for the NHS. And we will take back control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. In future, our laws will be made, interpreted and enforced by our own courts and legislatures.

We will be out of EU programmes that do not work in our interests: out of the Common Agricultural Policy, that has failed our farmers, and out of the Common Fisheries Policy, that has failed our coastal communities. Instead, we will be able to design a system of agricultural support that works for us and we will be an independent coastal state once again, with full control over our waters.

The deal also protects the things we value. EU citizens who have built their lives in the United Kingdom will have their rights protected, as will UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. A free trade area will allow goods to flow easily across our borers, protecting the many skilled obs right across the country that rely on integrated supply-chains. Because our European friends will always be our allies in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, the deal will ensure that security cooperation will continue, so we can keep our people safe.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I have from day one been determined to deliver a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country – for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, for our Overseas Territories like Gibraltar, and also for the Crown Dependencies. This deal will do that. Crucially, it will protect the integrity of our United Kingdom and ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – so people can live their lives as they do now.

It is a deal for a brighter future, which enables us to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Outside the EU, will will be able to sign new trade deals with other countries and open up new markets in the fastest-growing economies around the world. With Brexit settled, we will be able to focus our energies on the many other important issues facing us here at home: keeping our economy strong, and making sure every community shares in prosperity; securing our NHS for the future, giving every child a great start in life, and building the homes that families need; tackling the burning injustices that hold too many people back, and building a country for the future that truly works for everyone.

On 29 March next year, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the lavels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people. To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal.

Parliament will have the chance to do that in a few weeks’ time when it has a meaningful vote on the deal I hope to strike today. I will be campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people.”

David Shiels: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rather than going over the heads of the Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

It is not a happy time for the relationship between the Conservative Party and the DUP. The latter’s decision to abstain on a number of amendments to the Finance Bill and to vote for one Labour amendment on Monday was intended to send a ‘political message’ to the Government. The DUP has stopped short of formally withdrawing from the Confidence and Supply arrangement, but has arguably broken it. The party’s MPs make no secret of their desire to see a change in the Government’s direction – hence the declaration that the agreement is between parties, rather than between leaders. At a time when many Conservative MPs are in a rebellious mood, DUP MPs may feel that they have some leeway in terms of their commitments under that agreement anyway.

While the DUP’s opposition to the existing Withdrawal Agreement at Westminster is steadfast, the party is coming under increasing criticism for its attitude towards Brexit in Northern Ireland. Business leaders there have taken the almost unprecedented step of coming out against the party on a major policy issue, indicating their support for the Withdrawal Agreement. Importantly, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has also come out in support of the Agreement, whereas it had stopped short of taking a Remain position during the referendum in 2016. This is particularly significant, given the perception that many Unionist farmers privately supported Brexit.

After many months of saying as little as possible about specific arrangements for Northern Ireland, the Government also seems to have found its voice. Karen Bradley’s speech in Belfast on Monday – her first major intervention on Brexit – was a robust defence of the Agreement, and a signal that the Government is prepared to bypass the DUP and appeal directly to public opinion. If anything, the DUP is likely to harden its opposition to the Agreement in the coming weeks, but there is a growing sense that the party has been caught on the back foot over the issue. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, has accused the DUP of being ‘asleep at the wheel’, and has suggested that the party has ‘failed in their primary duty to protect the integrity of the Union and its people.’

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have put forward a convincing case in favour of special treatment for the region. Although Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats at Westminster, the party has claimed that they are standing up for their constituents where it matters – in Dublin and in Brussels. The Government’s preparedness to breach the DUP’s ‘red lines’ over the backstop helps Sinn Fein to make their point, which is that Northern Ireland’s MPs have little influence anyway.

At the same time, there are many other voices in academia, the media and business who argue that the DUP has been inconsistent in its opposition to special treatment for Northern Ireland – pointing to different rules on abortion, same sex marriage and a range of other issues. The argument that ‘Northern Ireland is different anyway’ is persuasive. By seeking to make any GB-NI checks as unobtrusive as possible, the EU has persuaded many that it has gone some way to meeting Unionist concerns. The view that the backstop offers Northern Ireland the ‘best of both worlds’ is widely held and, according to reported comments by the Prime Minister, the EU is concerned that the arrangements would give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage.

The Irish Government also insists that it is not seeking to open up the question of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom – even though Unionists believe the backstop threatens to undermine Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain within the United Kingdom. The latter’s objections to the backstop also revolve around the democratic and constitutional implications of Northern Ireland potentially being subject to EU rules in the longer-term, without the ability to amend or refuse them. This point has been hard to get across to audiences in Great Britain and there is a feeling that the party had taken for granted that its objections to the backstop would be understood.

There remains, of course, a possibility that the DUP’s opposition will see off the backstop, either now by helping to defeat the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament or at a later date, during the negotiations on the future relationship. Although the party is unhappy with things as they stand, its persistence has at least ensured that some of the more objectionable aspects of the EU’s February proposal have been removed. There may yet be some way that the Government can secure further assurances for Northern Ireland, either in terms of beefed-up commitments to find a technological solution for the border, or by securing a role for the Northern Ireland Assembly as a democratic lock on the backstop. For the DUP, there remains the ‘nuclear option’ of triggering a confidence vote in the Government, or coming as near as they can to doing so in order to persuade Conservative MPs to change their leader.

It may be that the DUP will be proven right in the end – that influence at Westminster does matter and that Unionist objections to the backstop cannot be overridden. At the same time, it seems unlikely that Theresa May or any other Prime Minister could secure any fundamental changes to the backstop. Rather than going over the heads of the DUP and the other Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns and bring them along as far as possible. This is necessary not just to deliver the Agreement through Parliament, but also because any deal that is seen as a defeat for Unionism will make it harder to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. At this stage, too, DUP MPs need to think about what sort of arrangements they can live with, rather than re-opening the whole negotiation. They have grounds for complaint against the backstop as it stands, which remains objectionable from a Unionist point of view. But the alternative of No Deal would be extremely hard to defend in Northern Ireland, given the short-term consequences of such an outcome.

Eamonn Ives: No, Brexit will not threaten all creatures great and small

In certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

Eamonn Ives is a researcher at Bright Blue.

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, the United Kingdom is currently negotiating its leaving of the European Union. Whilst we do not know exactly where the country will end up after the 29th March next year, it is almost certain that Westminster will have the opportunity to legislate on policy issues which for decades it has offshored to Brussels. Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to environmental law – of which roughly four-fifths stem from the EU.

This has, reasonably enough, put the proverbial cat amongst the metaphorical pigeons of the environmental lobby. Notwithstanding the fact that just about all of them lament Brexit, it is unsurprising that they regard the country’s vote to leave as a threat to existing standards. When anything could happen, expecting the worst might be an instinctive response. One area in particular which has attracted a considerable amount of attention is that of animal welfare regulation.

Such anxieties are, at the very least, understandable. One cannot deny that there exists a contingent of Brexit supporters – some of whom wield significant political clout – who would happily see current welfare standards watered down. However, I also believe that those fears are somewhat misplaced and overblown, and that in certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

One of the most exciting aspects of Brexit is the fact that it allows the UK to do away with divisive and much bemoaned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This byzantine framework for awarding public money to farmers and land-owners based largely upon nothing more than the amount of land they manage has a whole host of drawbacks – none less so than the consequences many, Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike, believe it has had for British biodiversity.

Mercifully, the Government has committed to replacing the CAP. In a move inspired by a report published by Bright Blue last year, future payments look set to be made to recipients for the public goods they deliver. Importantly, things which increase animal welfare (such as measures which reduce antimicrobial resistance – a threat to animals and humans alike) were singled out by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, as a possible public good which could be rewarded under the CAP’s successor. Thus, the policy rethink which Brexit fundamentally symbolises, played out in this instance as the re-evaluation of funding priorities, could easily lead to improved animal welfare in Britain.

But potential animal welfare gains triggered by changes to agricultural policy do not stop there. If one considers where the majority of animal welfare abuse occurs, an obvious starting point would be with animals which are reared for their meat. Whilst this is not to tar every livestock farmer with the same brush, examples of animal abuse in the industry are undeniable, and are now frequently appearing in the national media as reporting improves.

And yet, society is today closer than ever before to being in a position where it could virtually eliminate all such suffering. Cultured meat, more commonly known as lab-grown meat, has, of late, made great leaps forward in terms of its commercial viability. The costs associated with producing it have fallen exponentially: one start-up which was producing cultured meat at $325,000 per burger in 2013, had it down to a mere $11 just two years later. Venture capitalists and philanthropists are flocking to invest in cultured meat, with industry figures believing it can become cost competitive in just a couple of years’ time.

So where does Brexit play into this? Unfortunately, the EU gives me little reason to think that it will embrace this potentially game-changing technology with the open arms anyone who is interested in animal welfare (and indeed climate change, biodiversity, and much more else besides) might wish it would. The EU’s long-standing opposition to genetic modification, and more recent hostility towards the much less controversial ‘gene editing’, means that one can be forgiven for being pessimistic about the EU forgoing the hyper-precautionary mindset which it has displayed in the past.

Furthermore, given that we know how successful the farming lobby has been in capturing the EU (at its peak, 71 per cent of the EU’s total budget funded the CAP), there is again good reason to believe it could act as a formidable stumbling block to the EU affording cultured meat a favourable regulatory regime. Already, the European farming lobby has mobilised the European Court of Justice to ban plant-based alternatives from using ‘dairy style’ naming words for cheese and milk substitutes: what’s not to say they won’t do the same for cultured meat?

For the arguments expressed above, I believe that the UK’s leaving of the EU does not jeopardise animal welfare – far from it. Brexit gives the UK a golden opportunity to rethink the frameworks which underpin agricultural and countryside management, to the betterment of animal welfare. It also permits the Government to prevent some of the most flagrant examples animal abuse.

Finally, whilst admittedly unclear at present, if we do indeed witness the same proclivity from the EU to regulate against the innovation of cultured meat as demonstrated with respect to gene editing and genetic modification, being outside of that regime can only be positive for animal welfare.

God Speed The Plough

One of the pleasures of being a PPC is the opportunity to visit many venues in the run up to Remembrance Day on Sunday. Last week I had a look around the Flower Festival at St Sabinus’ Church, Woolacombe. Many of the exhibits struck a chord – I, after all, grew up on military bases […]

One of the pleasures of being a PPC is the opportunity to visit many venues in the run up to Remembrance Day on Sunday.

Last week I had a look around the Flower Festival at St Sabinus’ Church, Woolacombe. Many of the exhibits struck a chord – I, after all, grew up on military bases and appreciate from the inside out the sacrifices women, men and children make in service to their country. The embroidered cards with faded handwritten messages, sent back and forth (yes, some French ones sent home to girlfriends from the front line) were especially poignant.

However, one flower display stood out, and that was the tribute to the Women’s Land Army. “God Speed the Plough” honoured the vital work of women undertaken whilst the nation was at war.

The Women’s Land Army was originally set up in 1917 but then dissolved after the First World War. It was reinstated in 1939 as a voluntary service, and then conscripted women from December 1941. “Land girls” did a variety of jobs on grain, stock and dairy farms, including deployment in an anti-vermin squad (‘rat-catchers’).

WLA members were paid directly by the farmers, and it will come as no surprise that they were paid 10 shillings less per week than men.  Numbers peaked in 1944, with 80,000 women serving their country on average 48 hours a week with no holiday initially, though the Land Girls Charter in 1943 introduced one week’s holiday per year.

My husband’s family were farmers in Landkey and I am acutely aware of the role that farming has always played in the lives of North Devonians. The work done by The Women’s Land Army in both wars meant that, whilst our troops were away fighting, these hard working and brave women toiled in the fields to make sure that the nation could be fed. This was key to Homeland morale, as well as being an enormous, practical part of the war effort.

In this year we are celebrating the centenary of the end of the First World War, as well as the centenary of when some women first got the vote, I cannot think of a more fitting example than the Women’s Land Army of the debt we owe to all those women who helped achieve both.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

Brexit will allow us to write a tailor-made agriculture policy to improve animal welfare and our environment

When I took up my post as the RSPCA’s Chief Executive in August, one of the first documents in my in-tray was a briefing about how Brexit will affect animal welfare. I suspect for many people, they have never simply thought about how Brexit impacts animal welfare. When asked, 80% of the public said they […]

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When I took up my post as the RSPCA’s Chief Executive in August, one of the first documents in my in-tray was a briefing about how Brexit will affect animal welfare. I suspect for many people, they have never simply thought about how Brexit impacts animal welfare. When asked, 80% of the public said they do not want to see welfare standards watered down.

But with 80% of our welfare laws made in Brussels, of course Brexit hugely impacts animal welfare. And for no animals is this more true than for farm animals.

Brexit is the defining event for farming and farm animals in the UK in a generation. Last month MPs debated the Government’s suggested independent agriculture policy. Amazingly this was the first debate on agriculture policy since 1947, before many of the current intake of MPs were even born, although one MP followed his grandfather in discussing the policy. Since 1973, it’s been the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that has defined British farming.

No matter how you voted, we can all agree that the CAP has not delivered the best outcomes for British farmers and farm animals. Why? Because as its name suggests, it is common to 28 countries but is not specific to any of them. It remains a policy that spends 80% of its money – your money – solely on ownership of land. The more land you own, the more money you get. You are not even expected to produce much, and only have to comply with the baseline legal standards.

The CAP has certainly not delivered animal welfare in the UK. Although funding for animal welfare has been around since 2007, budgets are tiny: 0.5%. In England, no funding has ever been provided for animal welfare schemes. It’s not surprising that in England the CAP has resulted in negative impacts on both the environment and animal welfare. By failing to support higher welfare systems it creates conditions allowing more intensive, lower welfare farming methods to flourish.

Brexit allows us to move away from this approach, tailor our own agricultural policy based on our own world-leading animal welfare standards and properly recognise and encourage British farmers who want to follow better systems for their animals.

The Government’s new approach to farming, set out in the Agriculture Bill, is a system based on public money for public goods; public goods which crucially include animal welfare. A first, big step forward. In some areas, British farmers already farm to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but in others they have fallen behind. They need a leg up to make improvements to their farms to deliver higher standards of animal welfare.

They also need the consumer to know this which is why we support – and the Government are looking at – mandatory labelling of how our chicken or beef got to our plates. We know this works. Mandatory egg labelling has made a huge difference to the numbers of free range eggs as consumers vote with their wallets.

We can do so much more. Brexit also provides us the opportunity to deliver this on a wide range of issues, including banning live animal exports, improving how we slaughter farm animals and reducing the times taken to transport animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse. No longer will our hands be tied by European rules. I hope that the Government is prepared to seize this opportunity with both hands. The signs are good so far that they are.

However, Brexit is not all sunlit uplands for British farmers and their animals. It will only work if we ensure we are not undercut by cheaper imports produced from less humane standards – in other words we need to keep our high standards, not lose them to other countries. The great unknown that is our future trading relationship with the rest of the world. As we approach B-Day it is absolutely essential that any future trade deals the UK strikes keep our standards intact by not allowing cheap, less humane imports to undercut our farmers. We must approach trade deals with the same standards we enforce domestically. We must ensure that these trade deals have language in them relating to animal welfare. We cannot allow the drive to become an international trading nation to undermine our animal welfare standards and threaten the livelihoods of British farmers. And it’s not just us saying this. Voices from across British agriculture – including the NFU – agree.

It’s been heartening to hear ministers from across Government commit to protect our animal welfare standards as we leave the EU. They must now deliver on these excellent intentions. High welfare standards will be an integral part of the appeal of British food and vital to the British competitive farming. The animals, farmers and consumers alike demand it.

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