Countdown to Brexit: 69 days – UK needs a statesman as odds on consensus in Parliament diminish – and Lords scrutiny highlights further gaps in the deal.

Speaking in BBC Radio 4 this morning, former prime minister, John Major, said that MPs may need to be given a free vote on all Brexit options as the only way that will allow them to put the interests of the nation – and the 63% of the population who did not vote to leave the EU in the referendum – first.

Sir John said the prime minister had been "handed a poisoned chalice" and that things had been "extremely difficult" for her.  "Her position has been all but impossible."

He emphasised that time was "running out of time" if the UK is to avoid a no-deal Brexit by default.

He set out options: firstly, Mrs May must drop her red lines "in the national interest" and become a facilitator to find out what Parliament – otherwise the options are either for the Cabinet or Parliament to decide - or for there to be another referendum "now more facts are known than were known in 2016".

He said while Cabinet is too split to reach an agreement, there is hope that Parliament could reach a consensus.  Other parties will be tabling proposals for testing to find an option that can command a majority in Parliament – we posted the views of the Commons “Exiting the EU Committee” yesterday.

Meanwhile, concern among politicians, business, commerce and sports stars across Europe is becoming increasingly vocal, imploring the UK to remain as a member of the EU – or failing that to stay close to Europe. “Britain has become part of who we are as Europeans,” the letter read. “We would miss Britain as part of the European Union, especially in these troubled times.  Therefore, Britons should know: from the bottom of our hearts, we want them to stay.”

In a speech today, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, underscored the importance of good relations between the EU and the UK: "The United Kingdom is a part of Europe.  We're bound together by wonderful cooperation in all domestic and security policies. And the UK needs to remain a close partner in the future."

Chairman of the European Union Committee, Lord Boswell, wrote to the Government that: “When the summary draft of the Political Declaration was published on 14 November 2018, it indicated that the relationship would be underpinned by a ‘reaffirmation of the United Kingdom's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).’  In respect of law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, the summary draft clearly spelled out that there would be ‘continued adherence to the ECHR and its system of enforcement.’

“The final document, published on 22 November 2018, has diluted these formulations.  In particular, the UK would merely agree “to respect the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights.”  On the question of law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the UK would commit to “continued adherence and giving effect to the ECHR”.

The reply from the Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Edward Argar MP, pledged an unchanging commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms - but it did not explain the reason for the change in wording in the Political Declaration.  The letter ended with a reference to revisiting the Human Rights Act once the “process of leaving the EU is concluded”. 

The Committee is “concerned by the lack of assurances about the Government’s commitment to the Human Rights Act post-Brexit” – and so should we all be.

 References

https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/eu-justice-subcommittee/CWM/LBtoDG-ECHR-PoliticalDeclaration191218.pdf

https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/eu-justice-subcommittee/CWM/EAtoLB-PolDeclationReferencetoECHR040119.pdf

Background

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union in Germany, joined more than two dozen political, business and cultural figures in an open letter to the Times, arguing “from the bottom of our hearts” that Britain should not leave the bloc.

The letter said they respected the choice of the British people to leave, but if the UK decided to stay, “our door will always remain open”.

Nodding to the two countries’ shared history, the group said Britain “did not give up on us” after the second world war and welcomed Germany back into the European community. Germans “have not forgotten and we are grateful”, they wrote.

The German leaders went on to say: “We would miss the legendary British black humour and going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale. We would miss tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road. And we would miss seeing the panto at Christmas.

“But more than anything else, we would miss the British people – our friends across the Channel.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer was the most high-profile signatory of the letter, but she was joined by politicians including Andrea Nahles, the leader of the Social Democratic party, the Greens co-leaders and the head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

The signatories also included the president of the Federation of German Industries and senior executives at Daimler and Airbus, as well as sporting and cultural figures such as the former German footballer Jens Lehmann and the singer Campino.

The plea came as some in Berlin predicted disastrous consequences if no Brexit deal was reached and signaled openness to the possibility of Britain staying in the EU.

On Thursday, the German parliament passed a Brexit transition law, which would only take effect if the planned transition period until the end of 2020 were initiated. The foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the ball was in the UK’s court, adding that “the time for games is over”.

 
John ShuttleworthComment