Countdown to Brexit: 70 days – Parliament defines the options open – and no-deal preparations ramp up

After the overwhelming rejection of the Government’s Brexit ‘deal’, the Commons ‘Exiting the EU Committee’ has released a report setting out recommendations to the House about potential next steps.  This is a vital step ahead of Monday 21 January – by which date the Government must table a motion by at the latest on what it proposes to do next.

The Committee Chair, Hilary Benn MP, commented: “The Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected by the House of Commons - and we are just 72 days away from 29 March, when the UK is due to leave the European Union.  The House of Commons needs to see if there is a consensus for a different approach and holding a series of indicative votes as soon as possible will help us to do that.”

Four options have been identified by the Committee:

  1. To hold another vote on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship.

  2. To leave the EU with no deal on 29 March with no agreement on future relations in place in and with no transition/implementation period.

  3. To call on the Government to seek to re-negotiate the deal to achieve a specific outcome, be it a variation of the terms of the separation set out in the Withdrawal Agreement or providing clarity about the end state of future relations as set out in the Political Declaration.

The main renegotiation possibilities would be:

a) Seeking changes to the text in the Withdrawal Agreement on the backstop arrangements

b) Seeking a Canada-style deal;

c) Seeking to join the EEA through the EFTA pillar and remaining in a customs union with the EU or a variation on this.

4. In addition to these policy choices about the UK’s future relationship, Parliament could decide to hold a second referendum to allow the British people to decide either which kind of Brexit deal they want or whether they wish to remain in the EU.

The terse report of 22 paragraphs sets out the broad options.  The Committee will expand on these in a more detail in the coming weeks. 


No-deal Brexit

Under the terms of Article 50, following notification by the UK, an exit without any formal agreement is the default outcome which will take effect at 11pm on 29 March 2019 unless either an agreement is ratified, the process is extended by unanimous consent of the EU 27 or the notification is withdrawn.

Revocation or extension of Article 50

 The decision of the European Court of Justice confirmed that the UK has the right to withdraw its notification of Article 50 and end the Brexit process as long as that is done unconditionally and unequivocally.  If the UK sought to make revocation subject to another referendum (or put other options to the decision of a referendum), any request to extend the Article 50 process would have to be made to the EU; a decision to extend the process requires the unanimity of the remaining EU 27 member states.

HM Government political response

Theresa May appears to be running down the clock towards Brexit by opting to take the full amount of time she can before allowing a vote on her next steps.  Ministers announced that the next debate and vote on options – during which other MPs will also be able to make their suggestions for the way forward – will not take place until 29 January.

Many MPs – and the Commons Exiting the EU Committee - had expected it early next week so as to allow more time for the government to act upon the results.

HM Government practical response

Government preparations for a no-deal Brexit are ramping up.  Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has announced plans to call up armed forces reservists to deal with a potential no deal Brexit.

An order has just been published allowing the Government to place reserve units on active service for a year from 10 February 2019.  Defence Minister Mark Lancaster, announcing the order, said: “Reserve Forces will be on standby to deliver a range of Defence outputs such as: reinforcement of Regular sub-units, liaison officer roles and the provision of specialist skills.”  He added that: “a particularly important role may be the planned reinforcement of Regional Points of Command, to enable their 24/7 operation and resilience.  We would also expect Reserves to be drawn upon to support the implementation of contingency plans developed by Other Government Departments.”

Best for Britain supporter, Ian Murray, MP said: “Calling up the reserves shows just how serious the threat of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is.  “It is staggering that soldiers are being put on standby because of the risk of a constitutional crisis of the government’s own making.”

He and many others, including the leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, want a ‘no deal’ scenario ruled out immediately by the Prime Minister, to avoid ‘chaos’.

It comes as Mrs May has - for the first time in the two-and-a-half year Brexit process - opened up cross-party talks in a bid to find an option that could command a majority vote in the Commons.

Chancellor, Philip Hammond, told UK business chiefs in a teleconference broadcast, yesterday, that he expects No Deal Brexit to be taken off the table within DAYS in a leaked conference call.  "It's backed by some very senior parliamentarians," adding that "It will, as I understand it, run its parliamentary course over the next 10 days or so.”

Somewhat at odds with the advice coming down from Brussels and the widespread mobilisation across Europe for a no-deal scenario.  The UK’s reputation will only suffer more damage the decision is made  and we could have avoided unnecessary cost and effort on preparing for no-deal – but chose not let the World know.


John ShuttleworthComment