Road to Brexit #8: July 2019

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

I thought this was going to be the final update, but it appears we have an encore until October at least.

MPs reject No Deal Brexit; Article 50 period extended

On 13th March 2019, MPs voted by 312-308 to reject leaving the EU without some sort of agreement. MPs also voted down – by 374-164 – a smaller extension to the withdrawal date to allow preparations for a No Deal.

The deadline for Brexit was ultimately extended to October 31st 2019 – though this is likely to be the final extension.

Brexit Party ravages mainstream parties in European elections

The Brexit Party – a populist limited company chaired by former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage – took the most seats at the 2019 European Parliament election in the UK. They won 29 seats, while big gains by the Lib Dems saw them push Labour into third place and the Tories into fifth place.

In Wales, Labour finished third behind Plaid Cymru – only the second time in 100 years that Labour has failed to win a national-level election in Wales – while the Brexit Party took 2 seats.

Responding to the humiliating results, the First Minister said Labour’s message was confusing as he threw his support behind a second referendum and remaining in the EU.

Eleven MPs leave Labour and Tories in part over Brexit, but Change UK flops

Eight Labour MPs and three Tory MPs left their respective parties to form “The Independent Group” – later renamed Change UK – over their parties’ stance on Brexit, as well as what was described as institutional anti-Semitism within Labour. No Welsh MPs were part of the breakaway group, which included Chukka Umunna (who later joined the Liberal Democrats) and Remainer Tory MP, Anna Soubry.

While the move wasn’t to facilitate the creation of a new party, it exposed splits within Labour and Conservatives over whether to support Brexit or back a second referendum. The new group failed to make an impact at the European Elections, winning just 3.4% of the vote. Subsequently, several original members left the group to sit as Independents.

Theresa May resigns as Prime Minister; successor sets the UK on course for “No Deal” Brexit in October

Following successive rejections of her Brexit agreement and humiliating results in the European Parliament election for the Conservatives, Theresa May resigned as Prime Minister.

Former Foreign Secretary and one of the leaders of the 2016 Leave Campaign, Boris Johnson, won a leadership election and was appointed Prime Minister on July 24th 2019. While the new Prime Minister has publicly said he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, in the days following his appointment, he suggested that No Deal preparations should be ramped-up ahead of the new deadline of October 31st.

No Deal tariff plan announced

On March 12th 2019, the UK Government announced that 87% of imports won’t have tariffs applied to them (compared to 80% of imports now). The temporary measures would include protections for key UK industries such as agriculture.

The measures would also mean the UK won’t require any checks, controls or customs clearances of products moving over the border with the Republic of Ireland.

The move was designed to prevent long queues at border points while a long-term agreement is negotiated.

“No need to stockpile drugs” ahead of Brexit

On February 3rd 2019, the Welsh Government’s Chief Pharmaceutical Officer told the public there was no need to stockpile drugs and medicines ahead of Brexit, despite concerns over supply in the event of a “No Deal”.

The Chief Officer told BBC Wales, “Stockpiling is unnecessary and could compromise the plans being implemented by the UK government, reducing the availability of medicines for patients in other areas of Wales or the UK.”

UK and Irish governments agree to uphold Common Travel Area

In an agreement signed on May 8th 2019 (pdf), the UK and Irish governments agreed to continue the Common Travel Area, which enables citizens living in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands to enjoy certain rights and privileges in each other’s respective nation or territory.

Rights under the CTA are very similar to rights to freedom of movement under the EU, though importantly this doesn’t extend to freedom of good and services – so the CTA wouldn’t eliminate the need for border or customs checks at the UK-Irish border under a “Hard Brexit”.

Irish consulate reopens in Cardiff after 10 years

The Irish Government has reopened a consulate in Wales during June 2019 after the previous one closed in 2009. Denise Hanrahan has been appointed Consul General and is temporarily working from a Cardiff Bay office until a permanent site can be found.

An estimated 50,000 Irish citizens live in Wales, while the Republic of Ireland is Wales’ 4th largest trading partner. The Consul General said: “Ireland’s goal is to have a comprehensive and close relationship with the UK, whatever the outcome of the Brexit process. Our goal as a consulate is to foster the Irish-Welsh part of that relationship.”