Countdown to Brexit: Bang…zero; fifty; seventy-nine; 202 days; sometime; never…

In the aftermath of the decision to accept the European Council offer – and the conditions that go with it – to delay Brexit to 31 October, we looked yesterday at six options for a way forward to break the impasse. 

The risk of a delay is the continuing drain of business confidence as the uncertainty goes on for another 6 months.  As if to underline the point, civil servants have been told to ‘shelve’ preparations for a no-deal Brexit with immediate effect.  It is estimated that 16,000 personnel have been moved to departments impacted by Brexit – at a cost of £4 billion.

As ‘project Yellowhammer’ – the Government Cobra Committee overseeing emergency responses to a no-deal Brexit has been disbanded.  Work will begin to return the M20 back to a motorway from the emergency queuing control should cross-channel traffic have been disrupted.

Staff were told by email In an email: "in common with the rest of the Government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning with immediate effect"…

“…At a meeting chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, we agreed that the objective is to ensure we wind down our no deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way,"

We understand that staff who were redeployed to prepare for no-deal, will be return to their original departments after the Easter break.

Chair of the Parliamentary Brexit Committee, Hilary Benn MP, said the estimated £1.5bn cost of halting the preparations was a result of Mrs May's refusal to rule out a no-deal Brexit sooner.  "It was important to plan for all contingencies, but this is the huge cost of the Prime Minister repeatedly saying: 'My deal or no deal' when she knew that leaving without a deal was not in the national interest. This is one example of how Brexit is proving to be very costly for our country."

Reports from Parliament say that the ‘stand down’ has provoked Tory Brexiteers to fury.  They have repeatedly urged the Government to leave the EU without no-deal if Parliament failed to back one – and the preparations may yet be needed on 30 June under the terms of the European Council Brexit extension.

European Research Group’s Steve Baker MP, accused the Government of carrying out the shutdown out of "sheer spite”.  It’s “very sad - officials have worked exceptionally hard to deliver our preparedness and deserve better."

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate warned on Twitter that the decision could lead to him supporting a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Government.  “This would be a confidence matter for me if true," calling it a “dereliction of duty”.  No-deal is, of course, not a matter for the UK alone - unless and until Article 50 has been revoked – or until the day after the UK has left Europe with a deal in place.

And it seems nobody told the newly appointed ‘Brexit Minister’, James Cleverly MP, as he tweeted that the UK was "going to keep working on our no-deal preparations in case we have to leave without one."

Key dates

2 May: Local elections – local authorities in England and Northern Ireland hold elections this year.  Some are elect one-third of councillors in a rolling programme, others will elect a totally new council.

23-26 May: European Parliament elections.  Most UK MEP constituencies have to give notice by 15 April – the exception being the ‘South-West’ constituency because it includes Gibraltar and was required to give notice of election by today, 12 April.  Tight.

As a member of the European Union, The UK has 73 MEP constituencies in the election and they would take up their seats in the parliament by the beginning of July.

1 June: If the UK fails to hold European Parliament elections, it will be in breach its obligations as a member of the bloc and will leave the EU with no-deal.

20-21 June: European Council meeting in Brussels.  The EU27 will review the progress the UK has made toward getting a deal.

30 June: Theresa May’s twice suggested Brexit date.   Its significance was it was before the first sitting of the new the European Parliament on 2 July.  A Brexit on that date means participating in the elections without the new MEPs ever sitting in the new Parliament.

Still ‘technically’ feasible under the "flextension" - the UK could Brexit if it accepts the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ before 29 June.

2 July: MEPs in the new European Parliament sit for the first time.

Summer Recess: Westminster does not normally ‘sit’ from mid-July until early September.  Caroline Lucas noted the number of ‘sitting days’ gained by the European Council extension in order to find a solution to Bexit as 74.

September: party conference season - Labour on 21 September in Brighton; Conservatives in Manchester on 29 September.

Mrs May ‘promised’ she would quit as Prime Minister once a deal gets through Parliament.  There is already ‘jostling’ evident amongst those who would like to replace her – especially if she is still there at conference.

31 October:  Hallowe’en.  Trick or treat? This is the next date for leaving the EU - with or without a deal.  Note that it also the final day in office for the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.  Should the country be ready to leave on this date, it is unlikely the UK MEPs will be allowed to participate in selecting his successor

12 December: one year since Mrs May survived a ‘confidence vote’ on her leadership of the Conservative Party.  Having faced down those calling for her resignation as party leader and Prime Minister, she is safe for ‘one year’ under Conservative Party rules…

And one final ‘nerdy countdown’ fact.  Having posted daily insights counting down to Brexit from 100 days – with a reset at B – 4 to B -14 on the first extension from 29 March to 12 April, this will be the last daily post for a while.  We were planning to cover off a final run through the European-wide no-deal preparations as a final check list for 11:00 pm this evening.  And there was always a risk that no-deal would occur by error, omission or mistake.

Having made the decision to put the future of Brexit in the hands of the European Council and accepted their offer of an extension and conditions that it came with; it was with some relief to note that that the necessary update to UK legislation was duly completed by close of Parliament, yesterday by dint of a ‘Statutory Instrument’.  Just for form, the instrument is quoted in full in the background section, below.

Background

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2019

Made: 3.15 p.m. on 11th April 2019

Laid before Parliament: 4:15p.m. on 11th April 2019

Coming into force: immediately after they are made.  These Regulations may be cited as the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2019.

The day on which the Treaties are to cease to apply to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union is different from that specified in the definition of “exit day” in section 20(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018(2).

The Secretary of State, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 20(4) of that Act, makes the following Regulations.

Amendment to the definition of “exit day”

(1) Section 20 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (interpretation) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), in the definition of “exit day”, for the words from “means—” to “(and”, substitute “means 31 October 2019 at 11.00 p.m. (and”.

(3) In subsection (2), for the words from “Act—” to the end of the subsection, substitute “Act references to before, after or on exit day, or to beginning with exit day, are to be read as references to before, after or at 11.00 p.m. on 31 October 2019 or (as the case may be) to beginning with 11.00 p.m. on that day.”.

Signed: James Cleverly, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Exiting the European Union

John ShuttleworthComment