Brexit weekly: 5 things

European Union Bill passes Second Reading in Commons

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declared “history has been made” this week, after MPs voted 498 to 114 in favour of triggering Article 50 at the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’s Second Reading. A series of Europhile Tory MPs had threatened to rebel against the Government, but satisfied with the promise of a white paper, all but former Chancellor Ken Clark voted to “respect the will of the people”. Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to follow suit was less successful, with 47 rebelling against the official position including three Labour whips.

The Bill goes into Committee stage next Wednesday, providing MPs with a chance to table and vote on amendments and raise concerns over the prospect of a ‘hard’ Brexit. Ministers expect the Bill’s passage through the Commons and Lords to be swift after it passed Second Reading with such ease, but Government will continue to face demands for parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiation process.

White paper published at last

The Government finally delivered on its promise to publish a white paper setting out its plans for Brexit this week. The document, which runs to 75 pages, is based on the “12 Principles” outlined in Mrs May’s keynote speech at Lancaster House last month.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer’s immediate response was to claim that the document “says nothing”, and that it was “produced too late in the day to ask meaningful questions.” Notably the paper contains plans for a “phased implementation” of the UK’s new relationship with the EU, including the new immigration system. The implication – that migration controls might not be in place for years to come – will be welcome news to businesses reliant on European skills and labour.

The White Paper did not contain any particularly revelatory content, although will appease some MPs concerned with scrutiny of the Government’s negotiations. There remain questions as to the input Parliament will have in the negotiating process, while Labour’s ability to scrutinise effectively will likely be hampered by a raft of shadow cabinet resignations over the three line whip imposed by Jeremy Corbyn earlier in the week.

EU member states need UK say Brussels officials

The EU and UK need each other during the forthcoming Brexit negotiations said EU officials this week, breaking the line that has so far come from Brussels that the EU holds the cards for the negotiations. According to a leaked report prepared by officials working for the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee any agreed deal must protect the City of London or the economies of the remaining member states will be damaged. The report notes that UK-based banks deliver more than £1.1tn in loans to other EU member states, and their exclusion could have serious consequences for jobs and growth.

The news will provide some reassurance to Brexit Secretary David Davis as Britain prepares to trigger Article 50 on 9th March, but will also support the efforts of Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who has sought to reassure major financial service providers in recent months and ensure they retain their presence and workforces in Britain. The leak could also encourage Whitehall officials to press for an agreement on so-called passporting, which is viewed as essential for financial sector leaders.

UK will continue to tackle migration crisis says Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May promised that the UK will remain a “reliable partner” and work with the rest of the EU to tackle the migration crisis when she met EU counterparts in Malta this week. Mrs May attended part of the EU Presidency Summit in Valletta but will not be present when the rest of the leaders discuss Brexit.

The main topic on the summit agenda will be how to deal with the continuing migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Downing Street said that the Prime Minister “will stress that migration has been one of her political priorities during her time in Government and remains so”. A spokesman added that she would pledge her commitment to the “long-term” challenge both before and after Brexit.

The Prime Minister’s comments reflect the continuing humanitarian crisis in countries such as Syria, but also demonstrate willingness to cooperate with European counterparts – which is symptomatic of one of Mrs May’s 12 Brexit principles, namely to retain positive relations with Europe post-Brexit.

Awkward conversations for Prime Minister

Theresa May told leaders of the devolved institutions that they will not be given a decisive role in the UK’s exit from the EU. In what is likely to have been the final meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee before the Government triggers article 50, Theresa May made clear that relations with the EU are a matter for the UK government and UK Parliament, meaning the devolved assemblies will have no veto.

The UK Government was relieved that the Supreme Court rejected demands for votes in the Scottish Parliament and Northern Irish and Welsh Assemblies on Article 50, which could have delayed or even blocked Brexit. But Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister has expressed frustration at lack of consultation since a majority of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. However, any prospect of a second Scottish referendum as a consequence of the issue remains remote, and Mrs Sturgeon will likely instead press for additional powers to be devolved to Scotland – a move likely to be replicated by the other assemblies.