It has been some time since my last Brexit update as The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been completing its passage in the House of Lords. The Government were defeated on 15 votes in total and the bill will soon return to the House of Commons for consideration of those proposed amendments. These amendments include:
- Safeguarding of EU environmental protections and standards including the establishment of a powerful Watchdog to oversee compliance
- Retaining continued membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) as a negotiating option, thereby granting the UK full access to the EU’s single market
- Ensuring that a Customs Union arrangement is in place before the passing of the bill
- Removing the formal date of Brexit (29 March 2019) from the bill
- Retaining EU Law relating to employment, environment and consumer standards and requiring Parliamentary consent for any changes in these areas of policy
- Retaining the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit
- Limiting the so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’ that would reduce Parliamentary scrutiny of law changes
- Ensuring refugee family reunion rights after Brexit
Other amendments relate mainly to ensuring Parliamentary scrutiny and approval of both negotiations and future legislation post Brexit, and participation in EU agencies after Brexit. MPs can vote to accept or reject the proposed amendments outright or suggest amendments to the amendments. Unless all the amendments are accepted, the bill will return again to the Lords for peers to consider the Commons’ proposals and this ‘ping pong’ process will continue until all areas of disagreement are resolved.
However, the Prime Minister seems unable to resolve disagreement on Brexit within her own cabinet, and the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I’m a member, had a fascinating session with the Northern Ireland secretary last week, in which we tried, and failed, to make any sense of the government’s position on how they’ll keep the Irish border open after Brexit. With only a few months to go till we’re meant to have finalised the Exit deal, the fact that the government still doesn’t seem to have a clue is very alarming.
Ministers are still fighting over which of their two discredited customs proposals to persist with. The Prime Minister’s favoured ‘customs partnership’ model has been branded “crazy” by Boris Johnson and is described as “magical thinking” by the EU. Yet, the Brexiteers’ own favoured scheme, the so-called “maximum facilitation” option, has also been dismissed by the EU and simply won’t work. The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, rightly told the Brexit Cabinet sub-committee that it would not “resolve the need for a hard Irish border”. These unworkable proposals should be ditched in favour of full participation in both the Customs Union and the Single Market – both of which are vital for protecting the UK economy and for avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.