Road to Brexit #9: Not Quite Endgame – October 2019

(Title Image: Cambridge University)

New Withdrawal Agreement clears first major hurdle

A new Withdrawal Agreement Bill made it past the first stage of legislative scrutiny in the UK House of Commons as MPs voted 329-299 for the Bill to move to the next, more detailed, stage of scrutiny.

The vote doesn’t mean the deal itself has been approved, and it also means that amendments to the Bill can be tabled and voted on – possibly including a second referendum.

The new Withdrawal Agreement is largely that same as that negotiated by Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, which was rejected by the UK Parliament three times.

One of the major changes is that the proposed “backstop” – which would have kept Northern Ireland indefinitely aligned to EU rules and regulations to prevent a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland – has been removed and replaced with a deal which will effectively see it stay within a single UK customs zone and also be considered a point of entry to the EU customs zone.

All goods moving between Great Britain and the island of Ireland would be subject to customs checks, but the UK will only apply tariffs to goods moving through Northern Ireland to the Republic, while Northern Ireland will also be a party to any future trade agreements negotiated by the UK.

This arrangement would be renewable every four years, subject to approval by the Northern Irish Assembly – which has been suspended since 2017.

….but MPs extend the timeframe, forcing a snap UK General Election

MPs voted by 322-308 to reject the Prime Minister’s proposed three-day timetable for passing the Bill.

As a result of this vote Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, “paused” progress of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and said that if Brexit were extended to January 31st 2020, he would seek to hold a UK General Election in the intervening period.

On October 29th, MPs passed a Bill by 438-20 authorising a snap election. Subject to approval from the House of Lords, the election is set to take place on December 12th 2019.

EU extends Brexit deadline to January 2020

In light of the extraordinary UK General Election, the EU and the UK Government agreed to a Brexit extension until January 31st 2020 – though it could happen sooner if the new Withdrawal Agreement is approved before this date.

Opposition leaders agree to prevent “No Deal Brexit”; Parliament unlawfully prorogued

On August 27th 2019, leaders of the main opposition parties at Westminister agreed to measures to prevent a “No Deal Brexit” by default.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, controversially asked the Queen to prorogue the UK Parliament until October 14th to effectively force through Brexit. A court challenge against this move was unsuccessful, though lead to widespread protests in cities around the UK.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, proposed that the opposition votes in favour of a no-confidence motion then install him as temporary Prime Minister ahead of a fresh UK general election. Plaid Cymru said they would back such an arrangement provided that Corbyn supported remaining in the EU.

The UK Government suffered a succession of losses in early September 2019 – both in terms of votes and MPs – as a law was passed to prevent a “No Deal” Brexit.

On September 24th 2019, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue the UK Parliament was unlawful.

The President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale said “The prorogation was void and of no effect….Parliament has not been prorogued.” Lady Hale continued that the speakers of the Houses of Commons and Lords “can take immediate steps to enable each house to meet as soon as possible”.

Additional £2.1billion funding to prepare for possible “No Deal” Brexit

On August 1st 2019, the UK Government announced that an additional £2.1billion would be made available to prepare the UK for leaving the EU without an agreement.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid MP, said the money would be used to recruit extra border control staff, ease traffic congestion at major ports, medicines stockpiling and a £100million public information campaign.

The Welsh Government said: “This latest funding proposed by the Treasury will not come anywhere near compensating for the devastation such a flippant ‘do or die’ approach to Brexit will cause to communities and industries throughout Wales.”

On September 1st, the UK Government launched the “Get Ready” public information campaign and website – said to be one of the largest of its kind in UK history.

Total funding set aside for “No Deal” preparations was estimated to be £6.3billion.

“Operation Yellowhammer” paints a doomsday picture for “No Deal”

A classified UK Government document outlining preparations for a “No Deal” Brexit revealed that there could be months of disruption at UK ports, possible fuel and medicines shortages, price rises in supermarkets and possible civil unrest.

The UK Government said the leak was “scaremongering” despite it being an official government document, though former civil servants said the plans were credible and simply an accurate account of what a No Deal Brexit would look like.