A slightly better week for the Prime Minister with a totemic victory in Parliament on a motion supporting the triggering of Article 50 by March 2017, and last night's by-election victory in Sleaford and North Hykeham. However not everything is going the PM's way with continued difficulty with her relationship with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson over his outspoken views on Saudi Arabia, as well as disappointing manufacturing figures for October.
- We now have a new slogan for Brexit. Having consistently stuck with "Brexit means Brexit, and we're going to make a success of it", on a diplomatic visit to the Gulf, Theresa May unveiled a new slogan! "Red, White and Blue Brexit", which we can only assume means negotiating a deal based on British interests.
- Theresa May to reveal Brexit plan before triggering Article 50: The Government has accepted the Labour motion to publish further details of the UK Government’s plan for their negotiating plan before triggering Article 50, as she seeks to head off a rebellion by Conservative MPs who want parliament to have more scrutiny over her negotiating position. The Government has added an amendment to the motion which calls on MPs to support the Governments timetable for triggering Article 50. This has been viewed as a tactical victory for the Government turning a potentially challenging opposition motion during a week with the Supreme Court appeal, into a partial victory.
- Supreme Court Case: The government are challenging the High Court’s ruling that an act of parliament is needed to formally leave the EU. The Supreme Court started the four-day hearing starting on Monday 5th December, the case is of such importance that for the first time in the Supreme Court’s 7-year history all 11 justices are participating in the case. See article below.
- The UK Government will consider paying to access EU single market: In the House of Commons David Davis announced that they would not rule out the UK paying for single market access after leaving the bloc. Davis said: “The major criterion here is that we get the best possible access for goods and services to the European market. If that is included in what he’s talking about then of course we would consider it.”
- Dr Caroline Johnson, a consultant paediatrician, was successful in retaining the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election for the Conservatives winning 53% of the vote. RPP welcomes another doctor into Parliament who will undoubtedly campaign on healthcare issues. See article below.
- EU’s chief negotiator: ‘time’s short’ for reaching deal: The UK will have to reach a Brexit deal by October 2018 according to Michel Barnier. Speaking at a press conference in Brussels Mr Barnier told reporters that “time will be short” for negotiations because the proposed deal needed to be ratified as part of the two year process set to be triggered in March. See article below.
- Norway tells Britain: no Brexit ‘silver bullet’ over single market access: Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende is to meet Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox for talks over post-EU future. Ahead of the meeting he told the BBC that Britain must understand that there is no “silver bullet” over Brexit that would permit single market access without paying into the EU and being bound by some of its rules.
- A couple of weeks ago, Francois Fillon became the front runner to be the next French President after winning the nomination to be the Conservative candidate in next year's election. For more information please see our newsletter on next year's French Presidential Election published by RPP's Paris offfice.
Finally, Scottish Labour call for new federal state to unite UK after Brexit: The Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, is to call for a radical reshaping of the UK into a federal state with Scotland taking controls over fisheries, farming and social rights now covered by EU laws. Ms Dugdale argues a “new political settlement” is needed to prevent the UK splitting up over Brexit.
Written by RPP Head of London Office, Andrew Brown
EU Commission Brexit Negotiator Barnier gives his first press conference in his new role
Barnier, who has also served as French Foreign Minister in the past, had said “the sooner the better” as to the start of the Brexit negotiations, warning that the two-year timetable for the talks set out by Article 50 might not leave enough time for broader negotiations regarding the future EU-UK relationship. He explained further that, if Prime Minister May keeps on to her initial schedule to trigger Article 50 in March: “it is safe to say that negotiations could start a few weeks later, and an Article 50 agreement be reached by October 2018” which would leave a significant period before the next elections to the European Parliament in spring 2019.
In a nutshell, Barnier has been straight forward as to the four key-points which are shaping the process of the Brexit talks:
- The EU 27 will be united
He had pointed out that unity is the strength of the European Union, he underlined that President Juncker and himself are determined to preserve that. “This determination is shared by all EU governments.”
- The UK will get less rights as a “Third country”
Barnier: “Third countries can never have the same benefits, since they are not subject to the same obligations.”
- No pre-negotiation arrangements prior to the start of the official talks
- The four freedoms will be indivisible
Barnier has emphasised very strongly that “cherry picking is not an option”.
Michel Barnier has also pointed out that, given his profound experience in national and European politics, he is well aware of the different roles which the different institutions play. He reiterated that the “Commission will always be at the disposal of the Member States as well as the Council” and that he is intending “to work well” with the European Parliament too. Interesting to note that in Barnier’s view it is clear, that the European Commission will take the lead in the negotiations. From a European Parliament perspective, the next two months will be very interesting, as there is the likelihood that the EP Brexit coordinator might change: but only in the case of the Group Leader of the Liberal Group (ALDE) being elected as the new EP President in January 2017 as the successor of outgoing German Socialist Martin Schulz, who will be entering German national politics on the federal level, as we discussed in last week’s newsletter. In the past Schulz played a crucial role when Guy Verhofstadt was nominated as main coordinator of the European Parliament for the Brexit talks.
Written by RPP Senior Director Advocacy and Policy, Thomas Krings
The Supreme Court Hearing and a Parliamentary Motion on Article 50
Firstly, the Supreme Court hearing. This has gained significant media and political attention and is of constitutional importance. The use by the UK Government of the Royal Prerogative in the conduct of international affairs is at stake, as is the future involvement of the UK Parliament in how Brexit plays out and is decided.
The case was brought to the High Court by Gina Miller, investment manager and philanthropist. Her legal team have been making their representations to the 11 sitting Supreme Court judges this week, as have the UK Government. The Government’s case has largely rested upon the fact that previous EU related Treaties were agreed upon by the then UK Government using Royal Prerogative powers and that the content and negotiating position of the UK did not receive previous Parliamentary scrutiny – the UK Government can ‘make’ Treaties and should therefore be able to ‘undo’ them when it comes to international affairs.
From the Gina Miller’s legal team and legal representatives from the Scottish and Northern Irish Government, the main strand of their case is that there should be a role in Parliament for the triggering of Article 50 – that there should be scrutiny and approval by elected MP’s and Lords as the Referendum is not legally binding. Again, case studies have been cited this week and interestingly, the Scottish Government legal team have asked that the Scottish Parliament also have a say and approve Article 50.
The Supreme Court will report back in January with their legal judgement but there were other important developments that have taken place whilst the legal challenge by Gina Miller was heard. On Wednesday 7th December, the UK Parliament held an Opposition Day debate on Brexit that resulted in an amended Parliamentary Motion which both committed the UK Government to publishing a plan for Brexit and also the UK Parliament itself to respect the UK Government’s preferred timetable for the triggering of Article 50 – the Motion passed through the House of Commons with a majority of 372. It should be noted that this was a non-legislative motion, just indicating the will of Parliament, and not an Act that forms law.
The vote on the Motion to approve the UK Government’s preferred timetable was politically significant, if not legally so, as it was the first time that a vote had been held and won by a majority of Parliamentarians that agreed with the fact that the UK would withdraw from the EU. Indeed, the vote was mentioned in the Supreme Court proceedings and it could be enough to satisfy the Court that the ‘will of Parliament’ had been recognised that the triggering of Article 50 should proceed. However, most likely is that an Act of Parliament would be needed and that would come in the form of a 16 word line authorising the triggering of Article 50. The vote on Wednesday however will certainly help the UK Government’s cause.
In the end, much will depend on what judgement the UK Supreme Court lays down in January and to what extent, if any, Parliamentary approval of Article 50 is needed. The UK Government thinks that it can trigger Article 50 by the end of March next year and we will know for certain how realistic that is after the festive break and into the New Year.
Written by RPP Director of Policy and Advocacy, Mark Walker
Ciao to Matteo, Nein to Norbert
However, the Austrian President is in practice a fairly ceremonial position, although in theory actually has significant power if the President chooses to use it. Perhaps much more significant a result to the future of the EU was the defeat of the Italian constitutional referendum with 59% voting against which has triggered the resignation of Italian PM Matteo Renzi who had promised to resign if he lost.
The Italian economy, which has significant debt levels, as well as the banking sector are under significant pressure. Eurosceptics have pointed out that the Italian economy hasn't grown since it joined the Euro in 1999. Whilst the financial markets didn't react to badly to the referendum result, having already priced in a defeat of the referendum, Italian banking stocks did fall significantly.
The challenge now will be for the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, to form a new Government. He must decide if someone can lead Italy to elections scheduled for 2018 or whether an interim government should serve until a snap vote can be held in Spring 2017.
The Northern League and 5 Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo have both called for snap elections, and are both to varying degrees, Eurosceptic. The 5 Star Movement is now actively calling for a referendum on Italy's membership of the Euro. If Italy voted to leave the currency union, it would create a political challenge even greater than Brexit, and potentially cause Italy to leave the EU as well.
Written by RPP Head of London Office, Andrew Brown
Brexit and By-Elections
Zac Goldsmith MP quit the Conservative Party due to the government’s decision to build a third runway at Heathrow airport, a policy he has campaigned against for years. Mr Goldsmith ran for the seat again but this time as an independent; his decisive victory in the 2015 General Election with a 23,015 majority and the Conservative Party not running a candidate against him should have secured to his re-election.
However, the Liberal Democrats ran a strategic campaign against Mr Goldsmith and changed the focus of the by-election from the third runway to Brexit. This was an intelligent move as 70% of Richmond Park voted to Remain in the EU but Zac Goldsmith campaigned to Leave – his father Sir James Goldsmith was a former financier, but also Eurosceptic politician having been a French MEP and leader of the Europe of Nations group, a Eurosceptic grouping in the European Parliament, and founder of the Referendum Party in the UK.
The Liberal Democrat’s pro-EU platform led to their candidate Sarah Olney polling 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638 giving them a swing of 22% compared to their results in the 2015 general election. Theresa May has put a lot of effort into convincing citizens that she is committed to delivering Brexit, but has thrown little meat to the 48% who voted to Remain. The Lib Dem’s success in Richmond is likely to be a reminder that to maintain their majority the government cannot forget that 48% voted to Remain in the EU.
Stephen Phillips MP, another Leave supporter, resigned from his post in early November due to his “irreconcilable policy differences” with the government’s approach to Brexit, namely Theresa May’s reluctance to allow Parliament to vote on Article 50. However a more cynical perspective is that as senior barrister and QC (Queen’s Counsel) who has been the MP with the highest external earnings, Phillips may want to leave Parliament, where he has been frustrated at not receiving a ministerial promotion, to make a lot more money in the law.
Just like Zac Goldsmith, Phillips held a large majority of 24,000 but unlike Goldsmith decided to not recontest for the seat. The Conservative running to replace him was Dr Caroline Johnson.
The Sleaford and North Hykeham constituency is Eurosceptic, with 61% voting to Leave the EU. Therefore, the biggest threat to the seat was the UKIP candidate Victoria Ayling, a Lincolnshire county councillor. Theresa May’s continuing commitment to Brexit has clearly played well in Lincolnshire and the Conservatives managed to hold onto their seat extremely comfortably winning with 53.5% of the vote. Perhaps more significant to future British politics was that Labour who finished second in the 2015 general election, finished 4th with 10% of the vote compared to 17% in 2015, behind UKIP who polled 13.5% of the vote in the by-election and behind the Lib Dems who polled 11%.
These two by-elections have highlighted that Brexit is bigger than any political party. Most prominently in Richmond Park we have witnessed many Conservatives voting for an unknown Lib Dem candidate potentially due to dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of Brexit. The Richmond by-election may give the Conservatives enough reason to worry that an early general election before 2020 may not be as straightforward as current opinion polls suggest, however the party who should be most concerned are potentially Labour who seem increasingly marginalised in the Brexit debate.
Written by RPP Policy Researcher, Lucy Kerr