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.

France triggers €50M ‘hard Brexit’ contingency plan

Contingency plan sees investment in ports and airports, and measures to defend French fishing industry.

France is to invest 50 million euros to help its ports and airports cope in the event of a hard Brexit, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday.

The planned spending is part of a hard-Brexit contingency strategy that will also see France “defend the interests of French fishermen,” Philippe told a press conference following ministerial meetings earlier Thursday.

“The plan consists of legislative measures which aim to ensure that the rights of French citizens and businesses are protected,” the prime minister said.

“Today, we proposed that the National Assembly and the Senate adopt a habilitation law which will come into effect this week […] five orders that will provide us with a legal framework that responds to the challenges of a no-deal Brexit will be presented to the council of ministers and published in the next three weeks.”

Philippe highlighted the French government’s responsibility to ensure the “least possible impact” if Britain exits the European Union without a deal on March 29.

Planning across the EU for a potential no-deal Brexit has been ramped up after U.K. MPs heavily rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal Tuesday.

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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.

Rob Wilson: It is still possible for May to revive her dead parrot of a deal – but it won’t be easy

There are four steps she must take, successfully and in short order, to be in with any chance of seeing it fly.

Rob Wilson is a former Minister for Civil Society, and was MP for Reading East from 2005 – 2017.

Theresa May must feel like the pet shop keeper in the famous Monty Python sketch, where the irate customer tries to return his dead Norwegian Blue parrot. May wasn’t selling a dead bird to MPs, but you don’t have to go far within the corridors of power at Westminster for someone to tell you that her “Withdrawal Deal is dead”. Selling someone a dead parrot – let alone “a dead deal” – takes a remarkable salesperson and a high degree of ruthlessness.

It’s still hard to imagine how anyone within Number 10 could have believed the Withdrawal Deal was ever going to fly in its original state, as it was an agreement that fell off its perch well before it got out of the shop. But how dead is it? Is it merely resting (for those of you who know the sketch), pining for the Norwegian fjords, stunned, or actually bang-it-hard-on-the-counter dead? If you listen to all the commentators, experts and politicians, it deceased, expired, dead.

As things stand today, the deal is dead – but could it be resuscitated?  What would it take to make it attractive enough to break through the Westminster logjam?

The Government understands it will take a large dollop of desperation for some form of its deal to be accepted. Desperation from Ministers, MPs and the EU to find some form of accommodation to avoid a No Deal Brexit. The Prime Minister is currently able to sit back and watch the chaos as Norway plus, Canada plus plus, a second referendum and Labour’s promised model all fight like ferrets in a sack. Meanwhile, the only negotiated deal on the table is hers as the tick-tock to the deadline grows louder. If you peer through the fog of war this does look and feel like a tactic, and one that the EU has probably agreed.

However, both the Prime Minister and the EU know that allowing the clock to tick down close to midnight without certainty is high risk. Labour and opposition parties could hold firm and many Tories hate the deal and like the idea of No Deal enough to simply leave without agreement and trade on WTO terms. Hence the Prime Minister is forced to negotiate again, even though the EU appears not to be playing ball. My firm belief is that the EU will give ground in January – but will it give enough?

Here’s the four things I believe the Prime Minister needs to do to have a chance with the Withdrawal Treaty.

First, and most important, the dreaded backstop arrangement will need to change. The UK must be able to leave it without what is an effective EU veto. This is the issue that most vexes those who believe in UK independence and sovereignty.  The Prime Minister knows this and she has moved her position significantly due to the no confidence vote, promising MPs she would deliver legally binding terms that deliver certainty as opposed to best endeavours or assurances. She now has to deliver a legally enforceable agreement with the EU that either sets an end date to the backstop or, for example, give Parliament a vote as to when the backstop ends. I understand several ideas around how the trade deal might be used to stop the trigger of a backstop are now being considered. The key issue is that the UK must have power to decide to end any customs union-style arrangements within a time limited period.

Second, there needs to be clarity around when the UK can enter into its own free trade deals. The obvious answer would be at the end of the transition in December 2020, but with the EU able to extend a backstop indefinitely no date can currently be set for the beginning of new trading relationships. Whilst we can negotiate during the transition and backstop periods, we cannot implement trade deals. The trade benefits of an outward-looking UK are essential to delivering the benefits of Brexit, so the Prime Minister has to have certainty about when they can begin to smooth the way for her Treaty.

Third – and particularly important for the DUP and other Unionists – is the question of whether Northern Ireland will be subject to different rules and regulations from the rest of the UK now and in the future. Of course the plan currently on the table means that it will. Separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK on regulation of goods or customs arrangements is simply not going to be acceptable due to the political ramifications in Northern Ireland.  The Prime Minister must therefore deliver a UK-wide temporary transition arrangement, that concludes for Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the UK. If she doesn’t, Scotland will certainly ask for the same special customs arrangements with the EU, putting pressure on the Union of the UK. Treating all parts of the UK the same is a key test of success.

Fourth, sovereignty is the golden thread that runs through Brexit for many people. Those who voted for Brexit do not want to be ruled by foreign courts like the ECJ, so the question of whether its jurisdiction continues is an important one. The Prime Minister will have to provide evidence that its days of interfering in UK law are time-limited and that UK law has supremacy. In the same vein, sovereignty over our seas is part of what is known as “taking back control”. Scottish Tory MPs in particular want it absolutely clear that Parliament will decide who fishes in our rich and fertile waters. As we saw at the last EU summit, the French President wished to use letting the UK exit the backstop as a bargaining chip to get what he wanted for French fishermen.

Getting the EU to agree to what largely amounts to the Prime Minister’s own red lines is no easy task. With a Conservative Party that does not want Theresa May leading it into another General Election and over a third of her Parliamentary Party having no confidence in her as their leader, her room for manoeuvre is severely limited. She simply has to get concessions for her deal to go through. Despite the failure of the no confidence vote, the EU will know that if the ‘meaningful vote’ fails in January, the Prime Minister could be toppled and chaos will reign and there will be no way of stopping it. The implications for the EU, when it has so many of its own problems, are unthinkable.

One might think ‘nothing has changed’, as everything is still in one almighty logjam In Parliament and with the EU. But of course things have changed after Conservative MPs’ no confidence vote, and the EU knows it. They know the person they have painstakingly negotiated with over the past two years will be toppled if they do not compromise – and they will not be able to control what follows. An avoidable political, constitutional and possibly an economic crisis will leave the EU badly scarred.  So the EU will make concessions, so now is the time for the Prime Minister to prepare for No Deal as never before and hang tough with the EU for the things she needs conceded.

If she does, and it’s still a substantial if, her Norwegian Blue of a dead deal might just surprise everybody, take wing and fly.

No winners or losers yet in Brexit fish fight

Both sides have claimed victory on fisheries access in the Brexit deal.

Both sides are claiming that the deal endorsed Sunday by EU27 leaders hands them victory on the issue of fishing rights.

Theresa May last week told the British parliament that the U.K. has “firmly rejected a link between access to our waters and access to markets.”

“We will become an independent coastal state with control over our waters so our fishermen get a fairer share of the fish in our waters,” said the U.K. prime minister.

Yet French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists Sunday that the deal gives the EU considerable leverage to force the U.K. to grant access to its waters to EU-flagged boats. In particular, he suggested that exit from the Northern Ireland backstop could become contingent on an EU-friendly deal on fishing. That might become a key bargaining chip in talks on a future trade deal.

“We as 27 have a clear position on fair competition, on fish, on the subject of the EU’s regulatory autonomy, and that forms part of our lines for the future relationship talks,” said the French leader.

The winner of the Brexit fish fight won’t be determined until after March 29 next year.

“It is a lever, because it is in our mutual interest to have this future relationship. I can’t imagine that the desire of Theresa May or her supporters is to remain for the long term in a customs union, but to define a proper future relationship which resolves this problem.”

So who won?

Both sides can truthfully claim a victory of sorts because of the vague language in the 26-page Political Declaration, which accompanies the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement.

“Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares,” the text reads.

A ‘Fishing For Leave’ campaign group sign in Brixham, southern England | Robin Millard/AFP via Getty Images

So while the U.K. can rejoice that there isn’t any explicit language linking access to British waters for the European fleet with access to the EU market for U.K. fish products, the wording doesn’t prevent such a condition being added to a future trade deal.

That phrase “within the context of the overall economic partnership” leaves open just such a linkage.

May would prefer to see annual negotiations between the EU and the U.K. over the amount of fish that can be caught by each side. Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands all follow such an arrangement when it comes to fishing rights. Because the words in the Political Declaration are not binding, whether she gets it will depend on future talks.

“We’re not buying any of these stories, neither Mr. Macron’s or even the prime minister’s, until such time as it is signed sealed and delivered,” said the chief executive of the Scottish Fisherman’s Federation, Bertie Armstrong, on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland today.

As with so much else, the winner of the Brexit fish fight won’t be determined until after March 29 next year.

This insight is from POLITICO‘s Brexit Files newsletter, a daily afternoon digest of the best coverage and analysis of Britain’s decision to leave the EU available to Brexit Pro subscribers. Sign up here.

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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.”

Theresa May appeals over MPs’ heads for Brexit support

MPs on all sides of the House of Commons attacked the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

LONDON — Theresa May needs the country to save her.

The U.K. prime minister has a deal with Brussels, but nowhere near the numbers to deliver it in parliament, the body whose sovereignty Brexit is designed to restore.

Facing renewed criticism from all sides of the House of Commons, May looks increasingly unlikely to convince a majority of MPs to back the Brexit deal. And she’ll only have a matter of weeks to turn this around after EU leaders meet this Sunday in Brussels to formally approve both the text of the U.K.-EU divorce agreement and a separate political statement setting out a framework for future relations.

The 26-page Political Declaration, agreed in principle Thursday but still subject to minor amendments, is the document that is meant to map out the U.K.’s future once freed from the shackles of the EU. If the 585-page legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement is the foul-tasting medicine that Britain must take to extract itself from the EU, the declaration on the future is the sweet sugar to help that bitter pill go down.

Contained within are, for example, commitments that the U.K. will have its own trade policy and be able to end free movement — two of the prime arguments for Brexit — as well as promises of close security cooperation.

“Without going for an off-the-shelf model [for the future relationship] it’s impossible to give people the confidence in where we are heading” — U.K. minister

To be sure, there are less palatable compromises as well, but May will hope that the document does enough to win round some of the scores of her own MPs who are currently threatening to vote down the deal.

In the House of Commons Thursday, she made her pitch to MPs from all sides, hailing “a good deal for our country” and urging them to pull back from the brink.

Few showed a willingness to do so. From right to left, pro-Brexit to anti-Brexit, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish National Party and Tory, they railed against the deal on offer. The Conservatives alone are three MPs short of the 318 working majority needed to pass a deal. By some counts there are already more than 80 MPs who have vowed to vote it down.

“She’s boxed in badly,” one minister texted to say as he sat in the House of Commons chamber listening to the attacks pile up on the PM. “Without going for an off-the-shelf model [for the future relationship] it’s impossible to give people the confidence in where we are heading.”

Officials across the political spectrum have criticized May’s Brexit deal | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Given the dire numbers in parliament, May is no longer limiting her pitch to parliament. The public at large is now her audience.

Before addressing MPs, the prime minister strode out of Number 10 Downing Street to appeal directly to voters. “The British people want this to be settled,” she said. “They want a good deal that sets us on course for a brighter future. That deal is within our grasp and I am determined to deliver it.”

The document agreed between the European Commission and the U.K. on Thursday appeared to unite the key political factions in parliament ranged against May’s plan.

While the prime minister was able to claim that her plan met all of the Labour Party’s tests and all of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s at the same time, this only worked to confirm concerns on both sides that the political declaration did not really deliver anything at all.

The document leaves the shape of Britain’s final settlement with Brussels to be decided after Brexit. The U.K. can choose a tightly-bound Norwegian-style relationship or a looser free trade deal like Canada’s for Great Britain, with special arrangements for Northern Ireland.

In her House of Commons statement, May highlighted that the Political Declaration “ends free movement once and for all” and contained an “explicit reference to development of an independent trade policy” — both key demands of Euroskeptics in her party.

Tory MP and Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has spoken out against May’s Brexit deal | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

She also trumpeted the success in fending off an EU demand to trade off access to U.K. fisheries. “We would become an independent coastal state, with control over our waters so our fishermen get a fairer share of the fish in our waters,” she said. “We have firmly rejected a link between access to our waters and access to markets.”

But Brexiteer Conservative MPs, including Johnson, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and chair of the Euroskeptic European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg, all criticized the document following May’s statement.

Johnson told MPs that “nothing in this Political Declaration changes the hard reality of the Withdrawal Agreement, which gives the EU a continuing veto over the unilateral power of the entire United Kingdom to do free trade deals or to take back control of our laws.”

He added: “We can accept the generalities and self-contradictions contained in this Political Declaration, but we should junk forthwith the backstop, upon which the future economic partnership — according to this Political Declaration — is to be based, and which makes a complete nonsense of Brexit.”

In a similar vein, Raab said: “The top reason people voted to leave the EU was to take back democratic control over our laws. Isn’t it the regrettable but inescapable reality that this deal gives even more away?”

May’s Northern Irish backers, the Democratic Unionist Party, also renewed their criticism, as did the opposition Labour party.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the political declaration as “26 pages of waffle.”

Concerns among Brexiteers still center on the Northern Ireland backstop, the legal guarantee to avoid a hard border in Ireland and the bitterest pill to swallow for many Brexiteers in the Withdrawal Agreement published last week.

While Johnson called on May to “junk” the backstop, fellow Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, both of whom had lobbied May to change her Brexit plan, declared themselves unsatisfied.

Brexiteers also expressed concern that the Withdrawal Agreement and future relationship provided for a continuing indirect role for the European Court of Justice.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the political declaration as “26 pages of waffle.”

May said, in response to criticism, that it was her “firm intention” that the backstop would never come into force and that the U.K. would instead have entered a permanent, fully-negotiated future relationship by the time of the next general election, scheduled to take place by June 2022.

On Saturday, May will travel to Brussels for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, designed to ensure there are no last-minute problems before EU leaders meet on Sunday to sign off both the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.

May will then have a matter of days to rally the country, her party and parliament behind the deal before a vote in the House of Commons, expected some time in the first week of December.

Asked how it was looking Thursday afternoon as he sat a few feet away from the prime minister on the front bench, the Conservative minister texted back: “Ropey.”

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First impressions of the Political Declaration

Following his analysis of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which you can read on the BrexitCentral website here, Lee Rotherham has had an initial read of the Political Declaration, and shares his first impressions of the document below: Introduction Paragraph 3 endorses the ‘four pillar’ approach pushed by HMG. Inevitably the UK will end up with closer […]

The post First impressions of the Political Declaration appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Following his analysis of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, which you can read on the BrexitCentral website here, Lee Rotherham has had an initial read of the Political Declaration, and shares his first impressions of the document below:


  • Paragraph 3 endorses the ‘four pillar’ approach pushed by HMG. Inevitably the UK will end up with closer JHA and military cooperation than many people will be happy with.
  • Paragraph 3 also includes its own new form of elastic clause (cf Arts 94, 95, 308) which were problematic: “the future relationship may encompass areas of cooperation beyond those described in this political declaration”. This approach has always been a risk over greater integration.
  • Paragraph 4 is a positive: the question arises as to the extent of its justiciability when clashing against contradictory elements.
  • Paragraph 5 might end up being be marketed as a pledge over equivalence/mutual recognition of difference standards. Caveats: it is aspirational rather than directional; and doesn’t actually guarantee to deliver what was said at Florence.



A. Core values and rights

  • Paragraph 7 is intriguing. The EU remains committed to the ECHR but HMG is only expected to “respect the framework”. Albeit vague, does this anticipate HMG will in the future sort out the muddle of the HRA98/Common Law-Strasbourg clashes?


A. Participation in Union programmes

  • Paragraph 11 – that’s quite a large list of areas the UK will participate in. This has significant implications for UK contributions. There is no commitment to these being assessed by juste retour which is the treaty norm, ie pay in, get roughly that much back. The list itself is a bit contentious.
  • That same principle (and link) applies to Culture and Education, seen in Brussels as the building blocks to building ‘homo europeensis’ – the EU National.
  • EU Overseas Development has also been part of the EU PR aspect, as can be seen in a review of the publicity commitments that people receiving EU money have to sign. UK aid should be UK flagged. There’s also more confidence in it not being subject to fraud and waste.
  • Defence capabilities is alarming because, as @VeteransBritain demonstrates, we risk being glued to PESCO, while damaging our own defence industries (there’s a key paper on that coming out shortly). Civil protection is duplicating regional and global work done by the UN.
  • If there is to be “provisions allowing for sound financial management”, can we at least get a public statement by the EU that they will finally get round to sorting out the outstanding cases of the whistleblowers? … and can we have a parallel statement by HMG committing to better oversight? Some background and practical recommendations here.

B. Dialogues

  • Paragraph 15 suggests we might end up still committing to the EIB, where we pay in twice as much as we see invested back.



  • Paragraph 19 The NI backstop, of course, is still in. The commitment to it, and to the possible replacement, is the same wording as in the original Recital.


A. Objectives and principles

  • Paragraph 21: ” the Parties will form separate markets and distinct legal orders.” The latter was slightly less explicitly stated in the original (“respecting the Parties’ legal orders”). Now underlined here. That was good news, but undermined by the following para, beginning with a major “However”! “comprehensive arrangements” will include “deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition” Not so good.

B. Tariffs

  • It’s hard to look at paragraph 23 and not conclude that it’s a customs union. It’s pretty well a dictionary definition.

C. Regulatory aspects

  • Paragraph 25 is the Poisoned Clause. Para 24 says there will be wonderful regulatory alignment. Para 25 says the UK will be the one doing the aligning. So the model will be a Fax Democracy.

D. Customs

  • Paragraph 26 then is the Paradox Clause, identifying some of the mechanisms that avoid the need for a hard border while elsewhere saying it’s the NI default. As. reading on, it states in paragraph 27!


A. Objectives and principles

  •  Paragraph 29 – a target on Services: what you can get from a Canada+ …

C. Regulatory aspects

  • Paragraph 34 – not sure what this entails in terms of anticipated limitations on UK legislation and legislative procedure. It implies constraints on Parliament. That is mitigated by the intergovernmental approach slightly developed in para 35, but inclusion still may carry implications.


  • Not sure why in paragraph 37 the commitment to both parties obligation to maintain market stability is included. The fact that this is not self-evident is of itself a point of interest. Could the EU in the future cite any UK economic action as a breach of this commitment, ergo no deal? “fair competition” – an instance of ‘fairness’ being in the eye of the beholder.


  • Capital movement in paragraph 43: “relevant exceptions” seems a little vague but there may be established legal trade terminology underpinning this.



  • A double win for the French: droit de suite stays, to the detriment of London over NY/Zurich/Shanghai/Dubai. Directly inferred (but curiously not stated: “inter alia”) – foodstuffs geographical indicators stays.



  • Paragraph 49 – EU attempting to keep open its access to UK public procurement. NB the UK is a disproportionately heavy and fair user of the EU database system. (To UK taxpayer advantage ultimately – but a hit vs. Corbyn)



A. Aviation

  • Paragraph 60. Would be useful to know how long it would be assessed to take to get a bridging CATA (Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement) in place for a default WTO+ scenario. The same applies for the mutuality clause (relevant for hauliers) under paragraph 62.

D. Maritime transport

  • Paragraph 65 – Reassuring to see that the UK will not be signing up to membership of all Euroquangos. See here for many more missed off this text which may not yet have been decided on:…


A. Electricity and Gas

  • Paragraph 66 – a commitment for the UK to keep buying French energy into the future, and to keep the N-S Ireland power grid going.
  • Paragraph 67 generates a possible concern in the commitment to provide “security of supply” – a phrase historically used when the Commission has eyed up taking over North Sea reserves! A bit more difficult now but this may still generate obligations/expectations in a crisis.

C. Carbon pricing

  • Paragraph 72 – continued expectations of the UK to remain locked into historically disastrous EU carbon schemes – see this excellent tome.
  • I suspect CBI elements would be majorly split on review of how that might develop. Especially when comparing UK grants and costs with other EU and non-EU recipients.



  • Paragraph 74 – reference to non-discrimination over fisheries management bodes very ill. By definition, taking back control implies UK fishermen get first dibs, and the UK fleet grows back through new catch opportunities.
  • Paragraph 75 – there will be a new quota system. This is not good for the UK. Hard to see commitment to becoming “an independent coastal state” compatible with agreeing to joint fisheries, which by definition must be within UK reclaimed territorial waters (or they would fall outside national remits).
  • Goodbye CFP. Hello CFP II.



  • Paragraph 77 I suspect is about simply authorising the FCO to be in the same room at EU27 diplo-planning meetings. The problem comes where less experienced and outnumbered officials go with the flow, since core policy will have been agreeed at Bxlles first.



  • Paragraph 83 – The more the UK wants from the JHA pillar, the greater its obligations will be. A problem given the Home Office has always wanted to sign up to more things than Conservative backbenchers. The paragraph also gives an entrée to Fundamental Rights principles, and undermines the possibly-inferred ECHR fixing cited earlier.


B. Operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities and judicial
cooperation in criminal matters

  • The UK will still be working closely with Europol (para 88) and related areas. A take on this side of things here



  • On external action including Defence, there will be “ambitious, close and lasting cooperation” (paragraph 92). Problematic if you are trying to discourage counterparts from undermining NATO.


D. Defence capabilities development

  • Paragraph 104 still leaves the door half open with respect to the UK sidling alongside EU Defence Union agenda developments. But I wonder if the negotiators have been told to toughen this up a bit to underline separate Defence industries. Still caveated with “to the extent possible”


C. Health security

  • On Health Security (para 115), worth noting the risk of duplication with in particular WHO’s mandate
  • The EU treaty competency was largely introduced through political ambition.


A. Strategic direction and dialogue

  • Paragraph 125: encouraging civil society dialogue has never ended particularly well with Brussels. It ends up with “Brussels talking to Brussels”, closed loops, and the full panoply of this crowd.

D. Dispute settlement

  • Paragraph 133 – positive. Disputes settled by an independent panel.
  • Paragraph 134 – problematic. CJEU resolves disputes over interpreting EU law first. A critical role for the CJEU in setting the parameters for the dispute panel.



  • Paragraph 142 – the implication is a timeframe and schedule. If so, it means dawdling would get spotted. But what then, if it looks like an end deal will not be delivered in a timely manner? Nothing stated. There is still no exit clause to the Transition Agreement.
  • The provision to have review meetings every six months (paragraph 147) does not in itself suggest a high tempo.

Excuse ‘gaps and flaps’ – this has been a first read and at speed.

Overall, the curate’s egg. A number of issues left unresolved, a couple of critical ones exacerbated. But at least we are a bit clearer on what the TA is supposed to lead to, for good and bad.

The post First impressions of the Political Declaration appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Draft text aims for ‘ambitious, wide-ranging’ post-Brexit partnership

Political declaration document considered by EU27 ambassadors.

The U.K.’s future relationship with the EU post-Brexit will be an “ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership,” according to a draft copy of the political declaration document seen by POLITICO that will accompany the Brexit divorce treaty.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that the text had been “agreed at negotiators’ level and agreed in principle at political level, subject to the endorsement of the [EU] Leaders.”

The text has grown from a seven-page summary published last week alongside the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement, but negotiations on its content are expected to continue right up to the eve of an EU leaders summit on Sunday. After their meeting last night, the Theresa May said she would return Saturday for further talks with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Provisions in the political declaration include:

— A commitment on goods trade for the EU and U.K. to negotiate “a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.” That is a nod to the “near-frictionless” trade promised by May, but appears to fall short of her proposal for a common rule book that would mean the U.K. effectively remaining within the EU Single Market for goods.

— On the Northern Ireland backstop, the document says “The Parties recall their determination to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.” That is likely designed to help Theresa May sell the deal to her MPs, many of whom are deeply unhappy about the backstop.

— A plan to “build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement.” That will be controversial with U.K. Brexiteers because it suggests that customs arrangements included in the Northern Ireland backstop will form the basis for the future relationship — providing severe restrictions on any future trade deals. But, the draft agreement states that the future customs union will “build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.”

— A commitment to “explore the possibility of cooperation of United Kingdom authorities with Union agencies such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).” The EU has been resistant to the idea of associate membership for the U.K. of EU agencies. This looks like a softening of that line.

— On customs, the document says that “facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in developing any alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.” This leaves open the possibility of using new technology to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland in future.

— On financial services, both parties pledge to begin proceedings to assess “equivalence” of each others rules immediately after Brexit day.

— On services, the EU and U.K. want to “conclude ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment in services and non-services sectors, respecting each Party’s right to regulate.”

— On movement of people, there is a commitment to “establish mobility arrangements … based on non-discrimination between the Union’s Member States and full reciprocity.” These would allow visa-free travel or short-term visits and both sides “agree to consider conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges.”

— On fisheries, there is a no clear mention of an EU demand that access to EU markets for U.K. fishermen in a future trade deal should be contingent on access to U.K. waters. The text is pretty vague and says that “within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares” adding that “the Parties will use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020 in order for it to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.”

— On security, the document envisages a “broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership” including data sharing of Passenger Name Record data and DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data for combatting crime.

— On data, the document envisages a deal by 2020: “In view of the importance of data flows and exchanges across the future relationship, the Parties are committed to ensuring a high level of personal data protection to facilitate such flows between them. The Union’s data protection rules provide for a framework allowing the European Commission to recognise a third country’s data protection standards as providing an adequate level of protection, thereby facilitating transfers of personal data to that third country.”

— On the European Investment Bank the two sides say they will “explore options for a future relationship with the European Investment Bank (EIB) Group.”

— The document does not mention Gibraltar.

Trade, Gibraltar and fish dominate final Brexit talks

Brexit talks continued into the night Tuesday, just hours before a planned visit to Brussels by Theresa May.

Just hours before Theresa May heads to Brussels to put the final touches to a Brexit deal with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, negotiators are still grappling with major points of disagreement between the two sides — notably on fisheries, Gibraltar and the rules governing trade in goods.

Intense discussions continued Tuesday night, with the talks centering on May’s controversial proposal for the U.K. to stay effectively within the EU single market for goods but not services, three EU27 diplomats confirmed.

EU leaders have long referred to that as a threat to the integrity of the single market and in a briefing for ambassadors Tuesday night, Sabine Weyand, the EU deputy chief negotiator, sought to reassure member countries. She said Brussels would stick to its red lines, telling them the EU was “not compromising on anything.”

“We are not stuck. We’re still working on it. Goods will be discussed tonight [Tuesday],” said one EU diplomat.

The U.K.’s proposal is to maintain a free-flowing goods trade by adopting a common rule book with the EU, while removing trade tariffs and quotas. That is central to the so-called Chequers plan agreed by the U.K. Cabinet in July at May’s eponymous country residence.

“Spain [is] not convinced yet on Gibraltar and causing some serious waves” — EU diplomat

The plan is unpopular with Brexiteers in her own party because it will mean that after Brexit the U.K. is subject to EU rules that is has no control over, but it is central to May’s aim of maintaining near frictionless trade in goods with the bloc. For the EU, it would jeopardize the single market by allowing unfair competition for British businesses.

While ambassadors were united in their desire to defend the integrity of the EU single market, there were also signs at the meeting of tensions between member countries over the final stages of the talks. While Spain has made no secret in recent days that it is not happy with the wording on future negotiations regarding Gibraltar, the diplomat from one founding EU27 country warned against pushing the U.K. too far and insisting on a text it could not sign up to. The diplomat said his country’s leader would only attend a hastily convened special summit in Brussels on Sunday if the agreement had been finalized by then.

“Leaders cannot be involved in drafting and some of them have made clear they will show up only if the deal is closed,” said a second EU diplomat.

The talks are now focused less on the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement published last week that sets out the legally binding terms of Britain’s departure from the EU, but more on the political declaration that will be agreed alongside it. A much vaguer seven-page summary of that document setting out an outline of the U.K.’s future relationship with the bloc has already been made public. Weyand told ambassadors she now expects that text to grow to 22 or 23 pages.

Gibraltar remains a point of contention and disagreement in Brexit talks | Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

May has herself emphasized the vital nature of the document, telling the BBC on Sunday that “the thing that’s going to make a difference to people’s lives is the future relationship … It’s in the national interest to get that deal right.”

That sentiment was repeated at the meeting Tuesday evening, with one diplomat from a major EU country saying that it could not be approved by negotiators without sign off from member countries. After two years of EU27 unity during the negotiations, they could not “fall at the final hurdle,” the diplomat said.

On fisheries, Weyand told ambassadors there is still “divergence.” The U.K. wants a Norway-style arrangement where catch quotas are renegotiated on an annual basis. But it has said this will result in less access than EU27 fleets currently enjoy. France and other countries are pushing for the political declaration to make clear that a future U.K.-EU free trade deal will depend on the U.K. offering similar access to its waters as it currently does.

On Gibraltar, Weyand told ambassadors there is currently “total blockage” on the issue, one diplomat said. Spain is adamant the text must make clear that the EU’s negotiations on its future relationship with the disputed territory must be conducted separately to those with the U.K. — and that they can only proceed with Madrid’s approval.

“Spain [is] not convinced yet on Gibraltar and causing some serious waves,” one EU diplomat said. In an interview with POLITICO on Tuesday, the country’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said his government wants a clear statement in the text.

“There will be specific negotiations about Gibraltar between the European Union and the United Kingdom but for these agreements Spain … has to agree,” he said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is finishing up work on a Brexit deal with British Prime Minister Theresa May | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

On other specific points, Weyand said the political declaration will include: a statement on cooperation between the U.K. Civil Aviation Agency and its EU counterpart the European Aviation Safety Agency to avoid travel disruption; U.K. participation in the Galileo satellite program, but only as a third country; a governance arrangement for the future relationship similar to the Withdrawal Agreement, with the European Court of Justice acting as the sole arbiter of EU law. The only exception to that would be “when national security is at play,” said one EU diplomat who spoke to POLITICO.

If Juncker and May are able to conclude a deal at their meeting Wednesday afternoon, EU ambassadors will meet again on Thursday to discuss the final text. A separate meeting of prime ministerial EU advisers (so-called sherpas) will happen Friday so that leaders can be briefed on the final deal before the Sunday summit, at which the full package will receive formal sign off. At that point it will still need to be ratified by the U.K. and EU parliaments.

A U.K. government official declined to comment on which topics were dominating the final stages of the talks, saying only: “Negotiations are ongoing.”

Charlie Cooper contributed reporting.

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