Road to Brexit #6: October 2018

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

Brexit Deal “could be done by November”

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said that a final Brexit deal could be agreed with the UK Government by November 2018. It was reported that a meeting of EU leaders has been pencilled in for mid-November to sign a final deal.

The Conservatives remain divided over the proposals tabled by Theresa May (aka. Chequers Agreement) with rumours that up to 80 Conservative MPs would be willing to reject a deal on those terms.

Agreeing on a deal by November is said to be important in order to allow the UK and EU parliaments enough time to vote on any final agreement.

….but hits the buffers

The Prime Minister suffered a major setback when EU leaders rejected her Chequers Agreement proposals at a special summit in Salzburg on September 20th.

Theresa May called on the EU to present counter-proposals, but said she wouldn’t overturn the referendum result or treat Northern Ireland any differently to the mainland UK; the Northern Irish border was said to be the major stumbling block.

EU Council leader, Donald Tusk, said that while there were many positive elements to the Chequers Agreement, “The suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market.”

Brexit Minister, Dominic Raab MP, said the UK would continue negotiating “in good faith”, but the UK’s plans were rebuffed “without any coherent explanation as to why”.

UK Government releases “No Deal” advice

On August 23rd 2018, September 13th and October 13th, the UK Government released a number of papers advising businesses and the public on what to do to prepare for a possible “No Deal” Brexit, where the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 without an agreement.

Some of the key advice notices include:

  • British citizens living abroad could lose access to bank accounts, while some credit card payments between the UK and EU could be slower and result in higher charges.
  • Businesses which export or do business with the EU should prepare for new customs checks and are advised to start planning for possible new software purchases and seek specialist technical expertise.
  • Licences may be required to import dangerous material (such as nuclear fuel) from the EU.
  • Farm payments made through the Common Agricultural Policy would be guaranteed by the UK Government until 2020 even if there’s a “No Deal”.
  • New health warnings on certain products, like tobacco, may need to be issued as they’re currently EU copyright an agreement’s been reached with Australia to use their cigarette warnings.
  • Roaming charges for using mobile phones abroad would need to be negotiated.
  • Mutual recognition of driving licences would end.
  • The Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland could end, leading to power outages in Northern Ireland.
  • Eurostar services could be suspended unless licence agreements are reached with countries on mainland Europe.

Responding to the publication, the First Minister said, “It’s hugely frustrating, because if the UK Government had adopted the blueprint to negotiations we set out over 18 months ago, they could have made substantial progress on the future partnership with the EU.”

UK Government makes EU aid pledge

The UK Treasury has extended a pledge to match EU structural funds (Objective One) in Wales until the end of the 2014-2020 budget period, when previously only committed to providing the funding until Brexit day in March 2019.

The funding is worth around £2.1billion to Wales and the UK Government have said they would replace EU structural funds with a “shared prosperity fund” after Brexit. However, ahead of the Conservative autumn conference, the Prime Minister refused to confirm how the fund would be administered.

Fourteen Leave-voting Welsh constituencies “change their minds”

In a sign of a growing backlash against the UK Government’s handling on Brexit, a YouGov poll commissioned by Hope Not Hate suggests that 14 Welsh constituencies which voted Leave in 2016 would now vote Remain.

Some of the largest percentage point shifts include Swansea East (13% towards Remain), Rhondda (12%), Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney (10%) and Neath (8%).

It comes as momentum grows behind a campaign for a second referendum on whether to accept or reject any final Brexit deal, dubbed a “People’s Vote”.

Labour leadership candidate changes mind on second referendum

Amidst growing pressure from potential candidates in the Welsh Labour leadership contest for a second referendum on Brexit, the leading contender – Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford AM (Lab, Cardiff West) – initially didn’t support those calls.

He told BBC Wales it was “too early” to support a second referendum and it was worth keeping “all possibilities on the table” – though it wasn’t clear what options he meant.

He said, “A very important decision is coming in the autumn when the prime minister comes back with whatever deal she has struck and there will need to be a decision on whether that deal is acceptable or not.

“It could be by a referendum, it could be by a general election, it could be by a so-called meaningful vote in parliament….it’s too early to be definitive.” He later said he would back a second vote if workers’ rights were threatened and if any future snap UK General Election was inconclusive.

The other two candidates in the leadership contest, Vaughan Gething AM (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth) and Eluned Morgan AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) have expressed support for a second referendum.

….but AMs vote against no strings attached “People’s Vote”

On October 4th 2018, AMs voted by 40 votes to 7 to reject a motion by the newly-elected leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) calling for a second referendum on Brexit – popularly known as a “People’s Vote”.

The First Minister said he was cautious about overturning a referendum result, but the Senedd backed a government amended motion calling for a second referendum if no deal is agreed and there was no UK general election held. This amended version was agreed by 28 votes to 18.

NUS warns of Brexit “catastrophe”

An open letter from NUS Wales on September 17th called on the UK Prime Minister to deliver a Brexit deal that protects students and schemes such as the Erasmus+ exchange programme.

The letter said, “Schemes like Erasmus+ give Welsh students incredible, life-changing opportunities to study and work overseas. Because of politicians’ dithering, our access to this scheme and others is at risk. I am calling on politicians at all levels to get their act together and make sure that we avoid the worst effects of Brexit.”

The NUS also threw its support behind a second referendum. The Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) has already indicated that EU-domiciled students will pay the same tuition fees as home students after Brexit.

Report recommends scrapping limit on skilled migrants

A report by the Migration Advisory Committee on post-Brexit immigration policy recommended that “no preference” be given to EU migrants when awarding visas, but that a cap on skilled migration should be abolished.

The report said “Our recommendation is that there should be a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers in a system where there is no preference for EEA over non-EEA workers.

“Higher-skilled workers tend to have higher earnings so make a more positive contribution to the public finances.”

“Higher-skilled workers” includes scientists, engineers, IT specialists, people who work in medicine and diagnostics, nurses and chefs.

Following a ministerial meeting, Welsh and Scottish government representatives said the distinction between low-skilled and high-skilled workers could have a damaging effect on their nations, particularly in the realm of social care.

First Minister: Election needed if AMs reject Brexit deal

The First Minister suggested that a UK General Election should be called if the devolved parliaments vote to reject any final deal on Brexit with the EU.

While votes in the devolved administrations carry no constitutional weight as the issue is non-devolved, the First Minister told BBC Wales on September 19th, “If that doesn’t happen (votes in favour), then I don’t see any other alternative than a general election where Brexit will be the main issue.”

He goes on to suggest that following a hypothetical inconclusive UK election result, a second referendum might be required.