Brexit Brief: A Watershed Moment, and a Post-Watershed Moment

The EU Withdrawal Bill has become law 11-and-a-half months after first being introduced in parliament.  The EU Withdrawal Act, as it is now, will incorporate EU law into British statute after it leaves the EU and after the transition period.

The watershed moment: EU Withdrawal Bill finally becomes law

The EU Withdrawal Bill has become law 11-and-a-half months after first being introduced in parliament.  The EU Withdrawal Act, as it is now, will incorporate EU law into British statute after it leaves the EU and after the transition period.  The act will repeal the European Communities Act, which brought the UK into the EU, and allow ministers to amend legislation to make it operational in a British context.  After weeks of parliamentary wrangling and repeated threats of rebellion, the government won every vote – although has postponed the battle over whether parliament will get a ‘meaningful vote’ over the terms of withdrawal.  A compromise based on British parliamentary procedure means that after 21 January 2019, the government will have to table a motion setting out its deal with the EU, should there be one. The Speaker of the House of Commons will then decide whether MPs can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or will able to amend the motion (and thus the government’s approach).  In the meantime, the Department for Exiting the European Union said that it expects around 800 pieces of secondary legislation will be needed to effect withdrawal.

The post-watershed moment: Boris v. Business

A deluge of statements raising the alarm about the lack of progress over Brexit have split the government.  Over the past two weeks, business leaders from Canada, India, Japan and the US have urged the British government to resolve the Brexit issue with greater urgency or risk more than £100 bn in trade. Businesses including Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dell, Exxon Mobile, Facebook, and FedEx issued a joint statement demanding more progress in the Brexit negotiations. Separately, bankers and insurers declared that they don’t have enough time to rewrite the £26 tn in derivatives and 36 m insurance policies that will be affected by Brexit.  Airbus, which employs 14 000 in the UK, also threatened to scale back its UK operations. Asked about developments, one cabinet minister said it was ‘completely inappropriate… to be making these kinds of threats,’ while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – uncharacteristically unbroadcastable – simply said: ‘Fuck business.’  (Johnson insists he was referring to lobbyists who purport to represent business, but Brexit Brief won’t take it personally.)  Others, including the prime minister, defended Britain’s ‘wealth creators.’

EU-UK Joint Statement: progress, but not on the biggest sticking point

On 19 June 2018, negotiators from the EU and UK published a joint statement on the progress of Brexit negotiations. The statement summarised progress on a host of issues, including VAT, intellectual property, the use of fissile materials, and civil and commercial judicial cooperation. However, it pointedly lacked such a report on the Irish border, on which the two sides remain far apart. A leaked European Council document warned member states to prepare for a no-deal Brexit and expressed grave concern at the lack of a mutually acceptable ‘backstop’ solution for the Irish border.  March’s draft withdrawal agreement said that UK-administered Northern Ireland would remain, in effect, in the customs union until an alternative solution could be found.  However, the UK cabinet is united in opposing this as a permanent backstop, concerned that it would leave Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union indefinitely while splitting the UK’s.

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