RPP Theresa May’s first EU Summit

Overview

Last week, Theresa May attended her first EU Summit as UK Prime Minister. Whilst Brexit was not the focus of the summit, with Russia and immigration being the main discussion points, there was obviously some discussion and a lot of interest on the UK's future relationship with the EU. Theresa May was granted the opportunity to speak on Brexit at the end of the customary dinner for European Leaders, although not until the graveyard shift of one o'clock in the morning. The PM argued that until the UK leaves the EU it should not be left out of EU summits, arguing that "otherwise it will be hard for me to accept things you agreed among yourselves".

Reaction to the PM's speech and comments were mixed with Manfred Weber MEP, leader of the European People's Party, angered by the May's comments saying "when somebody wants to leave a club, it is not normal that such a member wants to decide about the future of this club." President Hollande said that "I say very firmly; if Madame Theresa May wants a hard Brexit, then talks will be hard." Chancellor Merkel on the other hand was more positive saying that "as long as Great Britain hadn't concluded the negotiations it will continue to be a member with all the rights and duties that entails and that was a very good piece of news for us."

Highlights

  • The role of the Brexit Select Committees in Parliament was in the news last week, with Hilary Benn MP elected to chair the Commons Brexit committee. Whilst a Remain campaigner, Mr Benn has said that he respected the will of the British people and the referendum result must be implemented. Meanwhile in the House of Lords, their Brexit committee is looking at the role it will play in the negotiations. Its Chair, Lord Boswell said "we're not asking to micromanage the negotiations, which will rightly be conducted by Government. But we do have a role and a duty to scrutinise the way the Government goes about that task". To find out more about Parliament's role in the negotiations, please read in more detail below.
  • From a Life Sciences perspective, a report written jointly by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) and BioIndustry Association (BIA) has been disregarded by the Government. The report set out the need for long-term, predictable funding for scientific research, the ability to trade and move goods and capital across borders, a common regulatory framework with Europe and access to the best talent.
  • Lord Prior of Brampton, the British Government's Health Minister in the House of Lords, speaking at a dinner of the Royal College of Physicians, said that the government must "do everything we can" to keep market access and attract qualified people from overseas. Whilst these comments were warmly welcomed by senior doctors present, they haven't gone down well with Brexit supporting MPs, some of whom have called for his resignation.
  • In addition to the focus on migration across Europe at the EU summit, this topic was also discussed by Alain Juppe, a leading candidate for the French Presidential election next year, who has said that France should not be managing migrants on the UK's behalf and calls for it to push back its border with Britain from Calais to Kent. The impact of Brexit on the relationship between UK and Ireland has also been discussed. Northern Ireland's major concern over Brexit has been over freedom of movement. Mrs May has stated in a letter to Arlene Foster, First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Martin McGuiness, Deputy First Minister, that "the Government wants to see the maintenance of the Common Travel Area (CTA) which allows British and Irish citizens to move freely across the border". The CTA predates both the UK's and Ireland's entry to the European Union.
  • It has been reported that the EU budget is already suffering since Brexit, due to the falling value of the £. This year, the difference in the value of the £ is resulting in a €1.8 Billion shortfall in the budget. This represents 1.25% of the current EU budget, and perhaps shows how important future UK contributions could be to the EU budget moving forward with the negotiations.
  • Finally, the future of the EU-Canada trade deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) seems to be in significant doubt. Belgium cannot sign a key EU trade deal with Canada, Prime Minister Charles Michel says, because of regional objections led by Wallonia. His statement appeared to dash hopes the CETA deal could be signed by EU leaders and Canada on Thursday. This will be used by both Brexit supporters who will argue that this demonstrates the faults of the EU and Remain supporters who will say it shows how challenging it will be for the UK to negotiate a deal that is agreed by all within the EU. Either way, this is not good news for global free trade.


Written by RPP Head of London Office, Andrew Brown

Brexit and the fate of UK Based European Agencies

Speaking on a panel at the Brexit and Global Expansion Summit in London, UBS senior economic adviser George Magnus has criticised the British government very harshly: “I think the government is clueless. I do not think that there is a strategy.” He claimed that “if there were a real strategy, we would know about it by now, given the amount of stories leaking out of government to press.” Magnus explained further: “The Prime Minister’s statement at the Tory Party Congress a couple of weeks ago was probably the clearest statement we have had about the endgame, but how we get there and what happens “en route” must be very much in play.

There has been a story in the Financial Times that the UK government is willing to make funding available in order to keep EU agencies in Great Britain. We heard, that various leading MEPs in in the European Parliament have internally already taken a strong stance in expressing the need to re-locate the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as the European Banking Authority (EBA) which are currently based in Great Britain. The fight about the re-location is said to be also informally already subject to talks during the various EU Summits, including last week in Brussels. The “summiteers” will have the final say in the end.

The Prime Minister of the German state Hessen, Christian-Democrat Volker Bouffier has already been very active, flying the flag for Frankfurt, by talking to Commission Vice-President Dombrovskis and various other Commissioners. The re-location issue has already been on the agenda of the government of the state of Hessen. Frankfurt already hosts the European Central Bank (ECB) as well as the EIOPA (European Insurance and Occupational Pension Authority). So the prospects might be limited although Hessen is the home of 27 pharmaceutical companies with about 21,000 employees. Most of them are based in the Greater Frankfurt area. The city of Saarbruecken, Germany, is also in the race. Joe Leinen, MEP (S&DD) and Member of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), is supposed to be a big supporter of the German city, which is close to Strasbourg and Luxembourg. If so, Saarbruecken would finally get a EU organisation as it was originally foreseen, but which didn't come to reality due to the 1955 referendum.

Rome and Madrid are also bidding for the EMA and special working groups have already been set up by the Italian and Spanish government in order to prepare their candidacies. In Italy, Prime Minister Renzi himself has been in the driving seat. Contrary to the Germans, Luca Pani, Head of the Italian Medicines Agency AIFA has argued the other way around, by pointing out that there is no proximity to a specific pharma giant in Italy, although Italy is per capita the world’s largest pharmaceutical export country, according to Pani. The Danish and the Swedish governments are also both known for exploring possibilities for relocating the EMA in their countries, in the Danish case, the current discussion about leaving the EU as well, does certainly not help their cause and as to Sweden, the Swedish national medicines agency has been the lead agency more often that other national agencies when it comes to the admission process for medicines.

Senior EU politicians, such as Leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt MEP, who is also the man appointed by the European Parliament to negotiate Brexit talks, has explained that Britain will not be able to remain a member of the single market while also placing restrictions on the free movement. Verhofstadt noted that Britain will not be allowed to pick and choose which of the “inseparable” four freedoms it wants to enjoy once Brexit is delivered, which are free movement of goods, capital, services and people.

Various commentators have already underlined that the talks with Canada took seven years in order to finish the CETA agreement, which is now in doubt. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock said that he “genuinely thinks it’s possible that Brexit negotiations could take up to ten years.”

Written by RPP Senior Director Advocacy and Policy, Thomas Krings

Scotland’s MEPs and Brexit

Nicole Sturgeon, First Minister of the Scottish Parliament and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has announced that her government had prepared a new independence referendum bill. This is a response to Scotland voting to Remain in the EU whereas the UK as a whole voting to leave. Ms Sturgeon has justified a second independence referendum arguing that the Government’s decision to push towards a “hard Brexit” does not reflect the democratic will of the Scottish people. It could be speculated that Ms Sturgeon is using Brexit as a pretext to have another go at gaining Scottish independence: there was a referendum for Scottish independence in 2014 and Scotland decided to stay part of the UK.

So how do the Scottish MEPs feel about Brexit?
Scotland has six MEPs, all of which supported the Remain campaign with the exception of the UKIP MEP David Coburn. However, they have differing opinions on what actions are best for Scotland now the Brexit process is beginning. As expected, the two SNP MEPs, Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith, align with Nicola Sturgeon in arguing that if the government produces a Brexit deal which will not benefit the Scottish people, Scotland should be entitled to pursue a separate relationship with the EU. Ian Hudghton, president of the SNP, recently spoke at the European Parliament calling for “solidarity” between Scotland and the EU. Alyn Smith has also been commenting to the European Parliament that Scotland is very keen to stay as close to the EU as possible. The day after the referendum result Mr Smith gave a speech in the European Parliament which received a standing ovation, he declared “Scotland did not let you down. Please do not let Scotland down now.” In order to avoid suspicion that Brexit result was not being used a pretext to gain a second attempt at the SNP’s goal for Scottish independence, SNP MEPs alongside Nicola Sturgeon, have stressed that this is just a policy proposal and they are exploring multiple paths to keep Scotland’s ties with the EU.

Scotland has two Labour MEPs, David Martin and Catherine Stihler, both of which were firm Remainers. David Martin has recently given evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee on the implications of the EU referendum for Scotland. During which he said that in an event of a “hard Brexit” the Scottish people would be worse off if they voted to break away from the UK. However, he also acknowledged that relations were fractured as a result of differing preferences during the referendum and there was now need for “maximum devolution” and constitutional change to keep the United Kingdom united. Catherine Stihler has not publicly commented on her thoughts for Scotland’s position during the Brexit negotiations, but through looking at her social media pages you can see that she is pushing for a “soft Brexit”.

Scotland has one Conservative MEP, Ian Duncan, who campaigned to Remain in the EU, albeit a less enthusiastic Remainer than those previously mentioned. As could be expected, he does not support another referendum for Scottish independence. He has distanced himself from the anti-immigration policies of the Westminster government, by writing an open letter promoting the benefits of the migrants in Scotland, aligning with Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament.

David Coburn is the one UKIP MEP for Scotland, he has recently hinted that he may be throwing his hat in the ring for the upcoming UKIP leadership election. Predictably, he is a supporter of Brexit and sees his role to “make sure the Prime Minister walks the plank on Brexit”. In relation to the Scottish independence Mr Coburn has expressed that “Sturgeon wouldn’t dare call another referendum”.

One of the SNP MEPs, Alyn Smith is not fully supportive of Nicola Sturgeons request for a second referendum, saying that "If there is a perception that we are using this as a pretext for a mad dash for independence, there will be a backlash."

Interestingly, polling suggests that the SNP might not win a second referendum on independence from the UK. A recent YouGov poll found that only 46% supported independence, with 54% opposing. In addition only 37% backed the holding of a second referendum with 50% opposing, perhaps indicating that repeatedly being asked the same question may not go down well in Scotland. However, we all know the reliability of polls!


Written by RPP Head of London Office, Andrew Brown & RPP Policy Researcher, Lucy Kerr

The UK Parliament and the Brexit Negotiations

The role of the UK Parliament in the Brexit negotiations has long been a point of contention for both those who voted to Remain as well as those who voted to Leave in the June EU Referendum. What role should Parliament play both before the triggering of Article 50 and, afterwards? Should the UK Parliament approve the triggering of Article 50? These are questions which are fundamental to the Brexit negotiation process as MPs and Lords seek to influence how the UK will leave the European Union. They ask questions about what the Leave vote meant for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, should we have a negotiating position that presumes we will be leaving the Single Market, were voters saying they wanted to end the free movement of people?

People who voted to Leave on the 23rd June were sending the UK Government a message that they wanted to leave the EU. That is clear, but what else were they communicating? This question will partly be answered by the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on the legal challenge by a group of people who are asking whether the UK Government has the authority to give formal notification under Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. The Supreme Court decision is due on Tuesday 25th October, with the Government’s position being that it is entitled to trigger article 50 without the UK Parliament’s consent under the executive powers it has inherited from the Crown under the Royal Prerogative. The result of this case will most likely ask another, perhaps more interesting question. Even if the Government can trigger Article 50 using the Royal Prerogative, should it do so, and should it instead put the matter through Parliament anyway. Even some Brexit supporting MPs believe that Parliament should have the say, with Parliamentary sovereignty being an important issue for many during the referendum.

There has also been a similar legal challenge in Northern Ireland. A court case in Belfast that is currently being heard is asking whether the 1998 Good Friday Agreement prevents Brexit from being imposed on the country. An initial hearing, led by Ronan Lavery QC, took place earlier this month. The case is being led by the former Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, as well as nationalist and Green politicians.

Many people living and working in the UK are looking to the UK Parliament to protect their rights, often through their constituency MP. This is where the UK Parliament’s role has particularly come under scrutiny as under the Westminster system MPs act and vote on all their constituents’ behalf and seek to represent all their interests. Those MPs representing constituencies which returned an overall vote to Leave in June would be under pressure to vote in favour of triggering article 50, if such a vote were to come before Parliament, but some of these representatives are themselves stronger in favour of remaining in the EU and the Single Marker – what should they do?

In the end, it will be up to each individual MP to decide how they vote, if and when they are asked to in the Brexit negotiations process, and they will be accountable to their constituents in the weeks and months ahead. The UK Parliament will have a role in Brexit, that is almost guaranteed, but it could be up to the Courts to decide how far this goes.

Written by RPP Director of Advocacy and Policy UK, Mark Walker