The last UK budget before Brexit could have been one timed for an election. It announced significant spending increases on public services and moving up tax cuts for millions. Also promised was a £15 billion “deal dividend” if there is a Brexit deal. To make his restive colleagues’ incentives clear, the chancellor threatened to take back the gifts bestowed if there was no deal. The dilemma for those threatening to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal is clear: is it worth £15 billion – or £42 million/week, to put it in side-of-the-bus terms?
May’s way or the highway
The debate over what constitutes a ‘meaningful vote’ has come back with a vengeance. MPs are examining the complex compromise reached during the passage of the EU Withdrawal Act on the subject, which essentially deferred the issue to a parliamentary committee dealing with procedure. While Brexit Brief enjoys reading Erskine May as much as the next person, the arcane terms of debate sometimes obscure the importance of the issue. The outcome will, after all, determine parliament’s role in the Brexit endgame. The government has confirmed – despite warm words in the past suggesting otherwise – that the vote on any deal the prime minister brings back from Brussels will allow MPs to endorse it, or commit the UK to crashing out of the EU with no deal. As expected, those who have insisted on a “meaningful vote” that would allow parliament to change the government’s Brexit strategy. The UK parliament’s constitutional adviser has also suggested that their response to the legally mandated motion could never legally bind the government – but rightly pointed out it would provide a great deal of pressure.
The waiting game
The key message remains that Britain is optimistic of securing a deal, possibly at a special Brexit summit this month. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs in a letter published yesterday that the end of negotiations was now “clearly in sight”, with expectation that a deal will be finalised within the next three weeks. Despite an initial flurry of excitement over the suggested date, the Department for Exiting the EU insisted there was no set date for negotiations to conclude. Hopes were further raised today after unconfirmed reports claimed that the UK has struck a tentative deal with the EU on post-Brexit financial services, that would give British financial services firms continued access to the bloc. However, with no sign of a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations on the backstop issue, this timetable seems optimistic, but mostly aspirational.