Road to Brexit #7: January 2019

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

UK Parliament rejects Brexit deal

On 15th January, the UK House of Commons voted by 432 votes to 202 to reject the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May.

With a 230 vote margin, it’s the biggest government defeat in UK history and the largest defeat in almost 100 years.

Leader of the Opposition, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn MP, tabled a motion of no confidence in the government which was debated on 16th January 2019. The no-confidence motion had the support of the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru – though the Prime Minister survived by 325 votes to 306.

Despite EU leaders rubber-stamping the draft withdrawal agreement on November 25th 2018, the Senedd and Scottish Parliament also rejected it by large margins.

“Plan B”: Renegotiate the backstop

On January 29th, the House of Commons voted by 317 votes to 301 to give the Prime Minister two weeks to renegotiate the controversial backstop arrangement, which is one of the main reasons why the deal was rejected.

The backstop, as it currently stands, would put the UK in an indefinite customs arrangement with the EU and apply additional EU rules to Northern Ireland to enable the border with the Republic of Ireland to remain open and frictionless.

The backstop has been described as an “insurance policy” if the UK and EU are unable to agree to a long-term free trade agreement by the end of the proposed transition period in December 2020.

UK “can cancel Brexit” by March 29th 2019

The European Court of Justice has offered a non-binding opinion that the UK can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 declaration to the EU at any time before Brexit on March 29th 2019. The case was brought by a group of Scottish politicians.

Anti-Brexit campaigners hoped this would have provided MPs with another option during the debate on whether to approve the draft withdrawal agreement.

The European Council’s legal team argued that allowing member states to announce a withdrawal and then cancel it in order to secure better EU membership terms would cause “endless uncertainty”.

“All Welsh constituencies” back a second referendum

A major poll of 26,000 people by YouGov revealed that every Welsh constituency has a majority who favour a so-called “People’s Vote” – a second referendum on Brexit.

Polling also revealed that Wales might have changed its mind, with a separate poll by Cardiff University finding Wales might vote 56% to 44% in favour of Remain if the referendum were re-run. A Channel 4 study also found that a majority of Welsh constituencies would return a Remain vote.

Stockpiling warehouses set up in preparation for Brexit Day

On November 9th, BBC Wales reported that a number of wholesalers and cold storage firms were setting up stockpiling warehouses in the Valleys in preparation for possible disruption when the UK leaves the EU on March 29th.

Managing director of Wild Water – one of the companies involved- said many of their customers were concerned about the impact of possible delays at the UK-EU border. Their Cardiff warehouse was said to have been full to capacity for four months at the time of writing.

They said, “They’re (customers) worried about the raw ingredients to be able to make ready meals, they’re concerned about flour, they’re concerned about juices. Everything you can think of that we use for food. Everybody is looking to stockpile.”

Brexit blamed for Llanelli factory closure plans

Former First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend), said the UK Government’s handling of Brexit was to blame for the announcement that German-owned Schaeffler’s factory in Llanelli was set to close with the loss of 220 jobs. Another site in Plymouth was also due to close. The factory manufactures components for the automotive and industrial sector.

He told BBC Wales, “This is uncertainty, worry and concern that could be avoided if we had clarity and confidence from the UK government that a deal will be struck that does not adversely affect businesses and their workforce.

“Today, I will again be calling on the UK government to strike a Brexit deal that protects jobs and the economy and stop peddling the myth that a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU is a viable option.”

“No need for visas” for short trips to EU

The EU Commission has agreed that UK citizens won’t require visas to visit the EU for up to 90 days after Brexit as long as a reciprocal arrangement is in place for EU citizens.

The measures will need the approval of the EU Parliament and individual member states and will come into force on 30th March 2019 in the case of a “No Deal” Brexit and December 2020 (the end of the transition period) if a deal is agreed.

However, it implies UK citizens will be unable to work, study or settle in the EU without a visa (and vice versa).

Brexit “poses a threat” to Welsh ports

In a follow-up to an earlier inquiry into preparations Welsh ports are making for Brexit, the Senedd’s External Affairs Committee (pdf) said the Welsh Government weren’t doing anywhere near enough in preparation.

Committee Chair, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) said: “If our worst fears of new delays and checks at Welsh ports like Holyhead and Fishguard are realised, Wales will need detailed plans to manage the fallout.

“That is why we were calling on the Welsh Government to publish details of any traffic management contingency plans it has, including outlining what new infrastructure spending may be required.”