Despite the distractions of the Trump Presidency, Brexit continues to be at the top of the UK political agenda. Over the last ten days the Government's white paper and process of passing the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has certainly helped the Government to regain some of the momentum on Brexit, helped by the division within the Opposition parties, especially Labour. The Bill has passed through the House of Commons with overwhelming support and will now go on to the House of Lords, a different beast entirely.
- Government publishes Brexit white paper: After demands from the opposition and some Conservative MPs the Government released a white paper outlining its polices for Brexit. Whilst the document was 77 pages, little new information can be drawn from it and it was essentially an extended version of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech where she outlined her 12-point plan for Brexit. However, there was one surprise for some who supported Brexit which said that there would be a phased approach to ending freedom of movement and the UK might not truly have control over borders for many years.
- Article 50 bill making its way through Parliament: During the past two weeks the House of Commons have been debating the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which will empower the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, the tool to formally begin the UK’s exit from the EU. After hours and hours of debate no amendments have been successfully added to the debate in spite of fears of Tory backbenchers rebelling.
- 47 Labour MPs defy the whip on Article 50 bill: Jeremy Corbyn imposed a three-line whip on Labour MPs, to make them vote against the SNP’s amendment to the Article 50 bill which would have dismissed that the PM had authority to trigger Article 50. In the end 47 Labour MPs chose to defy the whip including 13 frontbenchers, it is unknown yet whether these frontbenchers will be made to resign from the cabinet, the usual procedure when a cabinet member defies the party whip.
- 22% of Lib Deb's defy the whip on Article 50 bill: Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly for a party that is now placing such importance on its Europhile credentials, two members of the nine members of the Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Party refused to support Tim Farron's position of voting against the Brexit Bill. Both Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland abstained from the vote on the Government’s proposed Article 50 Bill. Mr Lamb and Mr Mulholland both pointed to their belief in democracy in not voting against the result of the EU referendum.
- MPs to get a vote on Brexit deal before it goes to the European Parliament: In order to see off a backbench rebellion Theresa May has agreed to allow Parliament to have a vote on the final Brexit deal. However, it wasn’t quite what the opposition wanted: Parliament will vote on a “take it or leave it basis” meaning that they cannot vote to get the UK government to go back to the negotiating table in Brussels.
- Scottish parliament backs symbolic motion rejecting article 50: The Scottish parliament has voted for a symbolic motion rejected the UK government’s expected decision to trigger Article 50. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Green party overwhelmingly backed the motion put forward by the Scottish Nation Party.
- Support for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy increasing: In an online poll put together by Reuters, they found that support for Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has significantly increased over the last month. 53% now support her approach, up from 38% in January.
- Bank of England raises UK growth forecast: The Bank of England has brightened its predictions of the UK economy, raising the 2017 economic growth predictions from 1.4% to 2%.
- UK could be fastest-growing G7 economy if it gets trade deals right’: PwC have predicted that the UK will be hit negatively by Brexit initially but would become the fastest-growing economy in the G7 group between now and 2050.
- Novo Nordisk invests £115 million in Oxford University, "in spite of Brexit" fears: The Dutch pharmaceutical company has set up a research centre at the University of Oxford to research treatment for type 2 diabetes. This is the latest of a series of investments in research and innovation since the Brexit vote. Mads Thomsen, chief science officer at Novo Nordisk said on their investment that: “Obviously we think that the Brexit decision was unfortunate. That being said, Oxford University has been around for 800 years so the academic excellence and our company’s ability to turn that into medicines hasn’t really changed.”
- Malta Summit: Theresa May to press EU leaders on defence spending: Theresa May attended an EU summit in Malta in which she spoke about her recent visit with Donald Trump. One of the topics was her call on EU members to increase their defence spending in order to keep the US as a firm supporter of NATO. So far the UK and the US are part of a small handful of members that follow the NATO commitment to spend a minimum of 2% per GDP on defence.
- Finally, Jean-Pierre Raffarin says Britain has a duty to not use Brexit to lead to the unravelling of Europe: Addressing an audience in London, the former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said that: “There is no future in the idea of a deconstruction of Europe, and because of that this will be a very, very heavy responsibility for Great Britain. And this responsibility will be historic. The former PM encouraged the UK to not conduct the negotiations in a way that plays to populists and nationalists and the UK must not begin threats if they have to make some concessions. He also accused Trump and Putin of ‘trying to redraw the map of Europe’ by offering bilateral trade deals to member states.
Written by RPP Head of London Office, Andrew Brown
Passage of the Article 50 Bill & the Brexit White Paper
Over the last few weeks we have already witnessed significant developments relating to Brexit. Firstly, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has begun its passage through Parliament. This bill will empower the government to trigger Article 50. The government were obliged to gain parliamentary approval after losing their appeal at the Supreme Court. The past week has seen lengthy debates in the House of Commons over the bill, multiple amendments have been debated but none have been successful. It was clear that the bill would pass through the House of Commons on Wednesday 1st February when the SNP’s amendment to stop Theresa May from triggering Article 50: the amendment was defeated with MPs voting overwhelmingly to support the bill with a 383 majority: 498 votes to 114.
Although it made no difference to the passage of the bill the vote was embarrassing for Labour as it highlighted how divided the party is. Despite party leader Jeremy Corbyn imposing a three-line whip to get MPs to vote in favour of the bill, 47 Labour MPs backed the SNP amendment including 13 frontbenchers. The Bill has now successfully passed through the House of Commons unchanged. On the final Commons reading of the bill MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the bill – by 494 votes to 122. The vast majority of Labour MPs toed the party line and voted in favour of the final bill but 52 revolted. Most significantly, Corbyn ally Clive Lewis who has now resigned from the Shadow Cabinet after defying the three-line whip imposed by Corbyn.
The safe passage of the bill is partially due to Theresa May making some concessions to prevent any Tory rebellions over the bill. This included producing a white paper detailing further the Government’s plans for Brexit and guaranteeing that Parliament would get a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal before it was voted on in the European Parliament. Although this was seen by some as a concession, it was no sacrifice for the Government. Parliament will get a “take it or leave it” vote, meaning that they are voting on whether to accept the deal or leave without a deal. The Labour amendment which was defeated, called for the power to send the Prime Minister back to the negotiating table in Brussels if Parliament did not agree to the deal.
The Government’s agreement to produce a White Paper was seen as an effective strategy to prevent a Tory rebellion on the bill. Published on 2nd February, this document outlined the key negotiating principles of Brexit and also provided more information on the direction of travel that the UK Government is taking once its negotiations with the EU are underway. Some key principles are that freedom of movement within the EU could continue beyond 2019 as the Government anticipates that there will be phased approach to the new immigration controls which it will gain once it departs the Union. Also, in relation to immigration controls, no solution has been found in regards to the Northern Ireland Border question; i.e. whether there will be border controls between the North and South of the country. It is clear in the document that the question of whether there will be a so-called ‘hard border’ is not just for the UK but the other 27 Member States as well, hence the current impasse. Interestingly, in relation to law and order, the document outlines how the European Arrest Warrant could stay, therefore indicating how the UK may still be involved in some of the decision-making mechanisms within the Union. Importantly for business, as has already been spoken about in the public and also by political commentators and media pundits, the UK will lose single market membership but will instead seek maximum access to it. The Government are certain that the UK will leave the European Court of Justice as they aim for no further EU jurisdiction in the UK. We will leave our current position in the customs union but according to the government it is not a binary choice and the UK will consider some new customs agreement with the UK.
This is all information we already had from Theresa May’s speech last month at Lancaster House outlining her 12 principles of Brexit. However, the exception is, there was an over-arching theme throughout the document that the UK’s withdrawal will be a ‘phased process of implementation’ in which the UK, the EU Institutions and Member States prepare for the new arrangements together. It is likely a tactical move that this has not played such a weighty role in her public speeches as the idea that Britain will not regain control of borders for some years sits poorly with many who voted to Leave the EU.
Therefore, the Brexit White Paper can be seen as contributing to the current Parliamentary discussion on what the UK Brexit should look like when finalised and following the discussions between the UK and the EU and also gathers into once place current Government thinking. Further detail to accompany the White Paper will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.
Written by RPP Director of Policy and Advocacy, Mark Walker, & RPP London Policy Researcher, Lucy Kerr
Kanzlerkandidat – the next step for Martin Schulz
The German Social Democrats (SPD) have already nominated their “Kanzlerkandidat” (Chancellor candidate) as the main challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel, or to use the other German term which Martin Schulz has introduced to the European political area in view of the last elections to the European Parliament: the famous “Spitzenkandidat” – (top candidate or party list leader).
It has been Martin Schulz and his spin-doctors who brought up the concept of a European top-candidate for the EP election in 2014 and therefore forced the EPP (Christian-Democrats) and the Liberals to do the same: Jean-Claude Juncker was selected for the EPP and for the Liberals both Olli Rehn/Guy Verhoftstadt have been nominated as the “Spitzenkandidaten” of their political groups.
In his position as President of the European Parliament, Schulz has been talking a lot about “European affairs” and has not been involved in German domestic politics at all, apart from the fact that he has been mayor of Wuerselen, a German city with about 40,000 inhabitants, before he was elected to the European Parliament for the first time in 1994. Given the German political landscape, Martin Schulz “political home” is certainly in the centre-left of the German Social-Democratic party. He is known for having a rather pragmatic approach. In his thinking, he is therefore very close to Sigmar Gabriel, the former Minister of Economy who has just been sworn in as the new German Foreign Minister and from whom Schulz is also supposed to take over the chairmanship of the German Social Democratic Party.
Like Angela Merkel, Schulz has always been against a “race to the bottom” regarding tax rates, referring to the announcement which was made in London some time ago, relating to corporation tax.
As to his position on Brexit, Schulz has explained earlier on that “the choice made by the British people in the EU referendum needs to be implemented as soon as possible with Parliament’s full involvement”. “A spell of prolonged uncertainty would be in nobody’s interest," he added that the EU itself should also reform. He also said that the European Parliament would have to give its consent to the outcome of the negotiations with the UK and thus must be fully involved at all stages. Schulz also stressed the need for the EU to change: “The European Parliament is convinced that things cannot go on as they have in recent years… We need to relaunch the European idea, to show a capacity for self-criticism, an awareness of where we should reform the EU to deliver more effectively and make it closer to citizens.
A “move to the left” into the direction of the Greens or the Left, as to free trade is not at all expected from Martin Schulz, as he has been in the past very positive towards free trade agreements, this change in position could be interesting for the future EU-UK relations should Schulz and SPD have a leading role in the next German government. It was Schulz during his time as EP President who fought strongly for the CETA agreement, he had a key role when it came to saving it and it was him who convinced, together with his fellow German Social-Democrat MEP colleague Bernd Lange (old and new chair of the EP’s Foreign Trade Committee), the S&D Group in the EP to be supportive of the CETA Agreement with Canada.
Observers detected one strategical disadvantage for Schulz, when it comes to crossing swords with Angela Merkel: as he is neither a Member of Parliament (yet), nor having a government function in one of the German states, he cannot fence directly with Angela Merkel in Parliament. These kinds of parliamentary debates are of particular importance during electoral campaigns. SPD is to put forward another political heavy weight and Schulz has to develop a format on how he can debate with Angela Merkel.
However, being independent and representing a new beginning for the German Social Democrats could also bear some advantages. For his first TV talks show appearance in his new function as “Kanzlerkandidat”, Schulz received surprisingly good responses …
Written by RPP Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, Thomas Krings
European Parliament Selects new Committee Chairs
On the 23rd to 25th January, the Committees of the European Parliament, selected their new chairs following the election of the new European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani. This article focuses on the ENVI Committee, however there is a full list of Committee Chairs at the bottom of the article.
The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) elected its new bureau composed of a Chair and four Vice-Chairs. Adina-Ioana Vălean (EPP, RO), previously Vice-President of the European Parliament, was the only nominated candidate and was elected as new chair by acclamation, to take over from Giovanni La Via (EPP, Italy). It is likely this change was made as a result of the election of an Italian EP President, which meant that some Italian Chairs had to be replaced with another nationality in order to keep the balance between Member States’ representation.
The first Vice chair Benedek Jávor (Greens/EFA, HU), second Vice-Chair Daciana Octavia Sârbu (S&D, RO) and fourth Vice-Chair Gilles Pargneaux (S&D, FR) were all elected by acclamation. The third Vice-Chair Pavel Poc (S&D, CZ) was voted by electronic ballot and won against Piernicola Pedicini (EFDD, IT). Adina Valean MEP has a background as a maths teacher in Bucharest, a social activist as well as a member of several foundations and associations promoting dialogue and a liberal economic market. She is a member of the Romanian National Liberal Party and was a Member of the Romanian Parliament from 2004 to 2006. Her activities focused on market and labour issues. In 2007 she was elected into the European Parliament for the ALDE Group and has been Rapporteur on the Connecting Europe Facility and in 2009 for the Roaming Regulation. In 2014 she was re-elected but this time as a member of the EPP Group and Vice-President of the European Parliament (2014-2017). Besides being a member and the Chair of the ENVI Committee, Adina Valean is also a member of the Delegation for relations with the United States.
Full list of Committee Chairs
Foreign Affairs (AFET): David McALLISTER (EPP, Germany)
Agriculture and Rural Developments (AGRI): Czeslaw SIEKIERSKI (EPP, Poland)
Budgets (BUDG): Jean ARTHUIS (ALDE, France)
Culture and Education (CULT): Petra KAMMEREVERT (S&D, Germany)
Development (DEVE): Linda McAVAN (S&D, UK)
Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON): Roberto GUALTIERI (S&D, Italy)
Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL): Thomas HÄNDEL (GUE/NGL, Germany)
Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI): Adina-Ioana VĂLEAN (EPP, Romania)
Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO): Vicky FORD (ECR, UK)
International Trade (INTA): Bernd LANGE (S&D, Germany)
Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE): Jerzy BUZEK (EPP, Poland)
Legal Affairs (JURI): Pavel SVOBODA (EPP, Czech Republic)
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE): Claude MORAES (S&D, UK)
Fisheries (PECH): Alain CADEC (EPP, France)
Regional Development (REGI): Iskra MIHAYLOVA (ALDE, Bulgaria)
Transport and Tourism (TRAN): Karima DELLI (Greens/EFA, France)
Constitutional Affairs (AFCO): Danuta HÜBNER (EPP, Poland)
Budgetary Control (CONT): Inge GRÄSSLE (EPP, Germany)
Petitions (PETI): Cecilia WIKSTRÖM (ALDE, Sweden)
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM): Vilija BLINKEVIČIŪTĖ (S&D, Lithuania)
Security and Defence (SEDE): Anna FOTYGA (ECR, Poland)
Human Rights (DROI): Pier A. PANZERI (S&D, Italy)
Written by RPP Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy, Thomas Krings & RPP Brussels Policy Researcher, Anna Odlen
Don't Brexit on Rare Disease Patients
On Tuesday 24th January, RPP Healthcare collaborated with patients and MEPs in hosting a European Parliament event to debate crucial healthcare issues in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. With numerous UK and non-UK MEPs supporting this initiative, the participants discussed the crucial EU added value for rare disease patients and research. This was the first time that rare diseases have been discussed in the context of Brexit in the European Parliament and the event received strong interest from many MEPs. The event, co-chaired by MEP’s Seb Dance and Carlos Zorrinho with the support of MEP Catherine Bearder, was co-organised by the International Patient Organisation on Primary Immunodeficiencies (IPOPI) and addressed the potential implications of the UK’s departure from the EU on rare disease patients. Importantly the conclusions of this event will be transformed into a set of recommendations to be distributed to negotiators on both sides of the channel.
On the day that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Parliamentary vote on this topic, the event offered a timely opportunity to project the voice of the rare disease community. The event attracted a great attention from the European Parliament: nine offices of the MEPs were present during the event. These included: Seb Dance (S&D, UK), Catherine Bearder (ALDE, UK), Linda McAvan (S&D, UK), Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Ireland), Marian Harkin (ALDE, Ireland), Carlos Zorrinho MEP (S&D, Portugal) and the office of Dame Glenis Willmott (S&D, UK), Kay Swinburne (ECR, UK) and Danuta Jazłowiecka (EPP, Poland).
The main topics of discussion were: • The impact on research funding in rare diseases, of which the UK received half of all EU funds in the last Horizon 2020 calls • The presence of EU expertise in healthcare workers in the UK and fears of staffing shortages in their absence • The contributions of the UK to rare disease care, and the importance of cross border care where patients and expertise are disparate • The importance of strong networking in dealing with rare disease research • The regulatory implications of Brexit on rare disease care • The possibility of calling for a transitional period for policy items (such as healthcare) which do not make the top priorities of negotiators (which will seemingly include mostly economic and trade related items).
RPP will continue to collaborate with patients, researchers and MEPs to deliver recommendations to UK and European policy makers on the needs of patients and researchers in Brexit negotiations. Participants were keen to ensure patients are not left behind and our work will be towards ensuring a positive outcome for patients in the UK and across the EU.
Written by RPP Brussels Consultant, Kit Greenop