Tuesday 22 January 2019

Brexit - PM Statement 21 January

Brexit - the "meaningful vote" was held on 15 January and the "deal" -  i.e. the Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship - was decisively rejected by the House of Commons - previous post.

PM's Statement in House of Commons:

The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 section 13 gave the government 21 days (beginning on 15 January) to make a statement setting out how Her Majesty’s Government proposes to proceed in relation to negotiations for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union.   However, the Commons voted to require the government to make the statement by 21 January - previous post

The Prime Minister made the required statement - see Hansard 21 January or  No. 10 Downing Street

The statement will be debated by the House of Commons on 29 January.  (Lords debate on 28 January).

Written statement:

As required by section 13(4) of the 2018 Act a written statement was made - House of Commons 21 January

The written statement sets out a convoluted situation which arises from the need to comply with section 13 whilst avoiding any legal uncertainty as to whether the Government has complied fully with the terms of the 2018 Act.

The written statement also notes that making this statement does not prejudice any further actions the Government may choose to take under section 13(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 at a later date.

*** Key Points in PM's Statement ***

The Statement -

1.  "No deal" - the PM ruled out making any commitment to exclude a no deal exit from the EU.  The PM also rejected the idea of either revoking or extending Article 50.

The way to rule out a "no deal Brexit" is for the Commons to approve a deal.

2.  Second Referendum - was also ruled out - the PM said that "our duty is to implement the first referendum" and added - "I do not believe there is a majority for a Second Referendum."

3.   The backstop - further talks between the government and politicians will be held at Westminster to consider "how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House."  The conclusions of those discussions will be taken back to the EU.  Contrary to some media comments the government would not reopen the Belfast Agreement.

4.   Political declaration - concerns had been raised over the Political Declaration.  In particular, these have focused on a wish for further precision around the future relationship.  The Political Declaration will provide the basis for developing the detailed negotiating mandate for the future.

The PM described how the government proposed to manage any negotiations over the future relationship.   In my view this was a positive approach which, if implemented, would enable widespread involvement of Parliament, the devolved administrations, and with businesses, civil society and trade unions.

5.  Workers' rights and environment - there was concern that Brexit could lead to a reduction in social and environmental standards – and in particular workers’ rights.   The PM offered a guarantee that "not only will we not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment but we will ensure this country leads the way."

6.   Citizens' Status - Some MPs had made powerful representations about the anxieties facing EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU waiting to have their status confirmed.

The government had already committed to  ensuring that EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay, and to continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, in both a deal and a no deal scenario.

The application fee was to be "waived"  and anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed.  Some EU Member States have similarly guaranteed the rights of British nationals in a No Deal scenario - and the government would  step up efforts to ensure that they all do so.  The word "waived" was used by the PM but there is no waiver here.  This is a distinct reversal of government policy.

The Statement then concluded with the PM setting out the process in the days ahead.
  • a Written Ministerial Statement, as required under section 13(4 and 5) of the EU Withdrawal Act and a motion in neutral terms on this statement, as required by section 13(6).  This motion will be amendable and will be debated and voted on in the Commons on 29th January
  • meetings with Members on all sides of the House, and with representatives of the trades unions, business groups, civil society and others to seek the broadest possible consensus on a way forward
  • focus to be on what is needed to secure the support of the House in favour of a Brexit Deal with the EU.  The PM added that she saw three key changes as necessary -
(i)   be more flexible, open and inclusive in the future in how the government engaged with Parliament in its approach to negotiating the future partnership with the European Union

(ii)  embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment

(iii) work to identify how the commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland and Ireland can be delivered in a way that commands the support of the Commons, and the European Union.

Despite the absolutely decisive vote on 15 January against the deal, the PM continues to attempt to save it by trying to make it acceptable enough to secure a Commons majority in favour.  The majority in the Commons appears to be in favour of honouring the 2016 referendum but not in favour of no deal BUT some MPs will never agree to a deal either because they do not want Brexit at all or because they wish to see (or are content with) a no deal departure.

What the further talks over the backstop will achieve has yet to be seen and any changes to the plans would have to be agreed by the EU.   The statement marked a difference in tone from the PM but the substance is still essentially the same albeit with a stronger commitment to workers' rights, environmental protection, and the waiver of the registration fee for those EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK post-Brexit.

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