Brexit Briefing: Talks continue in Westminster as Brussels thinks odds of no Brexit are now 30%

Cross-party talks continue this week.  While there has been progress on reaching an agreement on content – to the point that the Cabinet Secretary, Ollie Robins, has been dispatched to Brussels to explore making changes to the Political Declaration within the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ – it appears that political and ideological differences may preclude a Parliamentary majority for the Withdrawal Agreement.  In this case, the UK will leave the EU with no-deal on 31 October.

There is no scheduled Brexit business in the House of Commons this week, but Parliamentary Committees continue preparations for plugging gaps in laws and regulations that are presently enacted at EU level, and which need to be added the UK legal framework to provide continuity when it is a stand-alone sovereign state.  This effectively means that time has run out for the Prime Minister to cancel the European Parliament elections on 23 May.

Meanwhile as European politicians express their support for UK remaining as a member of the EU, European Council President, Donald Tusk, thinks the odds of ‘remain’ have increased to 30%.

Monday 13 May: Delegated Legislation Committees consider Brexit-related statutory instruments on trade in animal products and plant related products in Northern Ireland; dual-use firearm regulations; and corrections to regulations relating to food and animal feed.

 Tuesday 14 May: the Scottish Affairs Committee will question UK and Scottish government ministers on the evidence it has heard during its inquiry into ‘The future of Scottish Agriculture post Brexit.’ Likely topics are financial support for Scottish farmers, the relationship between UK and Scottish

Delegated Legislation Committees will consider a diverse range of Brexit-related statutory instruments which amend: bus passenger legislation in Northern Ireland; adapt VAT rules and ensure an effective sanctions regime for Russia.

A debate will be held in Westminster Hall on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  After the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer receive European structural funding which is worth about €2.4 billion per year.  In order to replace this funding, the Government has pledged to set up a UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Wednesday 15 May: the Brexit Committee will discuss the UK’s approach to managing workers' rights; state aid; tax and environmental standards.  These policy areas are often referred to collectively as ‘level playing field requirements’.  The EU has been clear that it wants the UK to provide “robust guarantees” in these policy areas to ensure a level playing field as part of a future UK-EU deal. Four expert witnesses will be examining the issues:

The Lords ‘European Union Committee’ will question Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay MP.  This is his first appearance before a select committee since the revised deadline of 31 October 2019 was agreed at the European Council.

Looking ahead

23 May: UK will hold European Parliament elections.  Voters will select 73 MEPs across 12 regional constituencies.  Results are expected from 10pm on Sunday 26 May.

23 May - 4 June: Parliament in recess.

20 - 21 June: the European Council meeting provides the next opportunity for the EU to formally review the progress of negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU.

2 July: newly elected MEPs take their seats in the European Parliament.

31 October: The date on which the UK will leave the EU with a no-deal Brexit unless the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified before then.

Brexit views from Europe

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said last week that the chances of the UK staying in the EU are as high as 30%.  He believes that the UK would be likely to reject Brexit in a second referendum.

The EU’s most senior official claimed the British public had only truly begun to debate Brexit after the 2016 referendum was held - and there was significant reason to believe the leave vote could be reversed.  He described the decision by the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to call the vote as a political miscalculation.  Tusk said he would expect a different result in a vote today - given what had been learned about the consequences of leaving.

“The referendum came at the worst possible moment, it is the result of a wrong political calculation,” Tusk is reported as saying in an interview with the Polish newspaper, ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’.

“A real debate about the consequences of Brexit wasn’t had during the referendum campaign - but only after the vote.  Today the result would probably look different.  Paradoxically, Brexit awoke in Great Britain a pro-European movement.”

Tusk is President of the European Council - the EU body made up of the 28 leaders of member states.  He is due to end his spell in office in November.  He says he was moved by the anti-Brexit march in London earlier this year during - which he was celebrated as a voice calling for the UK to reconsider.

While suggesting there was a “crisis in leadership” among ‘remainers’, reiterating his previous claim that the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn is essentially pro-Brexit, Tusk said he still believed it was possible the question could again be put to the people.

The Labour party has made a second referendum a condition of reaching a deal with Theresa May.

Tusk: “After the British referendum in 2016, I thought that if we recognise that the case is closed, it will be the end.  Today the chance that Brexit will not happen is, in my opinion, 20-30% - and that’s a lot.

“From month to month, it is becoming increasingly clear that the UK’s exit from the EU looks completely different than the Brexit that was promoted…I see no reason to capitulate.”

Former Polish Prime Minister, Tusk said that “almost every day” he heard from those who said the UK should be cut off from the EU if it was unable to come to a deal.

“My main task is to make sure that the EU has shown patience despite being felt in many places on the continent these negative emotions,” he said.  “I say to colleagues to wait a while longer.  For now, we managed to win some time.  The deadline expires in October, but I will persuade them – if necessary – not to close the calendar.  There is no place for rush to Brexit.  Churchill used to say that a problem postponed is partially solved.”

France has warned that it will not accept “repeated” extensions of the Brexit deadline beyond 31 October.  “We must not get sucked into repeated extensions, that’s for sure,” a French presidential adviser told Reuters on Friday: “Our message is clear - a solution must have been found by October 31…maybe the European elections will serve as a shock to reach a deal”.

As an EU member state France has a veto over any extension to Article 50, though in practice the leaders on the European Council have tended to find a mid-point compromise when faced with dissenting voices.