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1) The Government’s Brexit ‘Concessions’ Have Just Caused More Trouble
And so it began. This week the EU Withdrawal Bill hit Parliament for its Committee Stage.
This is where MPs can try to amend the legislation, and with the Government’s slim majority of 13 (rising to 25 when you count in ‘Labour Leavers’), there is a good chance changes could be snuck through thanks to the so-called Brexit Mutineers.
Theresa May and David Davis tried to head off two possible defeats with amendments of their own – yet both seemed to rile up potential rebels more than placate them.
The first was on putting the date of departure from the EU into the Bill – 11pm on March 29, 2019. This move was met with glee by Brexiteers, who were uneasy that the Bill only referred to an “exit date” without specifying when that would be.
For Remainers, such as former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and Tory grandee Ken Clarke, such a move only weakens the UK’s negotiating position.
They argued that by locking the date in statute, there is no flexibility to extend talks if a deal is close but not quite concluded by the day of planned departure.
Putting to one side whether the EU would want to extend the talks, having the departure date in the Bill isn’t as concrete as it appears. Under the Henry VIII powers also in the document, ministers have the power to change clauses of the Bill, including this one.
The second ‘concession’ was to give Parliament a meaningful vote on the deal. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer called it a “significant climbdown”, but as I explained here, it’s really not.
In short, MPs will be left with the choice of backing the deal the Government strikes or leaving the EU without any deal. Again, this is better news for Hard Brexiteers than remainers.
The debates themselves were a mixture of discussing the amendments (see Ken Clarke), and reheating the referendum slogans about remainers not being confident enough that the UK could govern itself (looking at you, Priti Patel).
There’s another six days of debate in committee stage – that’s almost 50 hours. Fingers crossed the quality improves.
2) Business Groups Believe There’s A 50% Chance Of ‘No Deal’
Promising MPs they will get a vote on the deal, depends, of course, on whether a deal can be struck at all.
Business groups from across Europe were invited to Downing Street this week to tell Theresa May and David Davis what they wanted to see from the negotiations with Brussels.
After the chat, Emma Marcegaglia, head of the BusinessEurope lobby group, said in an interview: “I asked Davis whether he still thought a deal was possible.
“He said there was a 50-50 chance.”
A spokesman for the Brexit secretary described the comments as “categorically untrue”, adding “David Davis did not say this.”
But a veteran Eurosceptic Tory MP also gave that ratio when I asked him this week what the chances of a deal were, and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier revealed the bloc was drawing up ‘no deal’ contingency plans.
“Everyone needs to plan for it, member states and businesses alike. We too are preparing for it technically.”
The Sun reported today that the Prime Minister is prepared to offer a £40billion bounty as a financial settlement to get the trade talks going – halfway between the UK’s previous position and what Brussels is holding out for.
3) No Beer And Sandwiches At Number 10 For Trade Unions
While the red carpet was rolled out to businesses this week, ministers are ignoring meeting requests with one of the UK’s biggest trade unions to discuss working people’s Brexit fears, the GMB chief has claimed.
Tim Roache, General Secretary of the 630,000-strong GMB union, said ministers had not responded to his offer to meet with him to discuss the UK’s negotiations with the EU.
His concerns over a lack of engagement were echoed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), with one source telling HuffPost UK there’s been “very little” dialogue compared to what they believe is needed.
Speaking at an IPPR think tank event on Tuesday, Roache said: “There’s been no interactions with the Trade Union movement and the very real experiences - day-in day-out - what those people face.”
When asked by HuffPost UK if a similar Downing Street meeting to the one given to the business community was penciled in for the trade union movement, Roache said: “There’s very little to say.
“Although we have offered ourselves up, we’ve said both through the TUC and particularly as the GMB that we want to work with Government.
“We have many experiences that we want to share and want to bring to the table, but we haven’t had a response.
“That’s very disappointing.”
The lack of engagement with the trade unions comes despite David Davis having his first meeting after being appointed Brexit Secretary with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.
A DexEU spokesperson said it was “hearing from as many organisations, companies and institutions as possible, including trade unions, and will continue to do so as we move towards our exit from the EU.”
4) Brexit Killing Off Aston Martin Would Take Us Beyond Any Previous Understanding Of Irony
They are the words that Brexiteers dread to hear, but one of the UK’s most iconic brands warned this week that ‘no-deal’ would be “semi-catastrophic”.
Aston Martin’s chief financial officer Mark Wilson told MPs this week the company could have to halt production of all its cars if Theresa May fails to secure a Brexit deal.
The high-end car manufacturer makes all its vehicles in the UK, and Wilson told the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on Tuesday that leaving the EU without an agreement could hit exports dramatically.
Every car model in the UK currently is tested by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) to make sure it is valid to be sold.
Currently VCA approved cars are able to be sold across the EU thanks to the UK’s membership.
However car manufacturers warned that in the event of a so-called ‘no-deal’ Brexit, the VCA approval would no longer be valid.
Wilson told MPs this would incur “significant costs” for the company as it tried to gets its models certified for sale abroad.
“We are a British company. We produce our cars exclusively in Britain and will continue to do so. Without VCA type approval it really is a stark picture for us,” he said.
He added the result could include “the semi-catastrophic effects of having to stop production because we only produce cars in the UK”.
5) Guess What? There’s Still Loads Of Warnings About Customs Delays
It seems that no matter how many times it is said, people still act shocked. This week there was yet another warning about customs delays after Brexit.
The Home Affairs Committee called for “urgent acceleration” in the contingency planning for a no deal if the UK is to avoid chaos at its borders.
In a report published on Thursday, MPs told ministers to reveal early in the New Year how Britain will handle customs checks if trade talks with the EU collapse.
The MPs also warned it would be “extremely damaging”, including to national security, if any agreement on a Brexit transition deal was delayed beyond the first quarter of 2018.
The warnings about customs delays are even more barbed now the Government has announced it will no longer try to build a lorry holding park in Stanford West in Kent to deal with lorry congestion heading towards Dover.
The 3,600-capacity lorry park was an alternative to Operation Stack, which sees lorries park up on the M20 heading into the port at times of cross-channel disruption.
In a written statement to MPs, Grayling confirmed no alternative to Operation Stack would be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU.
Grayling said Highways England would be looking into an “interim solution” for dealing with tailbacks to be in place by March 2019.
However, this will still involve lorries being parked up on the M20.
He said: “This could, for example, be through holding HGVs in the centre of the motorway rather than on the coastbound carriageway.
“Different technologies ranging from steel barriers to moveable barrier systems could be deployed to deliver these solutions.”
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to firstname.lastname@example.org and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
Labour’s Jon Trickett on how the “weak, divided” government is harming real lives.
Paul Goldsmith on why you should care about legislation hidden in the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Maike Bohn on the “long and winding Brexit road” for EU nationals.
Charlie Proctor says thanks to Brexit ‘mutineers’ putting the country’s interests before their party’s.