Brexit weekly: 5 things

Lords strike again

The Government suffered another defeat in the House of Lords this week after peers voted to keep the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in force in the UK after Brexit. The cross-party amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill was adopted with 316 votes in favour and 245 against. Opposing the motion, Justice Minister Lord Keen called the move “the greatest constitutional outrage since 1689,” adding that the Parliament is apparently prepared to abandon its sovereignty by retaining “a body of foreign law.”

The Government suffered a total of six defeats in its flagship Brexit legislation after Peers also voted in favour of keeping the option of remaining in the Customs Union on the table and limiting Ministers’ power to bypass Parliament. The Bill will return to MPs who can overturn the Lords’ amendments, though with a lean Tory/DUP majority and plenty of Tory rebels in favour of Customs Union membership, it will be another challenge for Prime Minister Theresa May to get her Bill through unscathed 11 months before Brexit day.

It’s all about power – or independence?

Scotland dealt another blow to the UK Government this week when Assembly ministers rejected a proposal on how to divide powers post-Brexit. The row started with the EU Withdrawal Bill, which includes provisions on what happens to powers currently exercised by Brussels after Brexit. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the proposed amendments to the Bill would have “real implications” for Scottish powers, adding that the UK could, for example, lift its ban on genetically modified crops. She said no “self-respecting member of this Parliament” should accept the proposal.

On the upside, the Welsh decided to agree to the UK Government’s terms. While the devolved nations were initially united against the Government on Brexit – calling the Bill a “naked power-grab,” it appears that the Scottish National Party is now becoming more isolated in its opposition. Scotland was the only nation to vote to remain in the EU, but citizens may not thank their Government if they let their goal of independence interfere with politics so close to B-day.

A technical glitch

As if Amber Rudd didn’t have enough on her plate in light of the Windrush scandal, this week she suffered another embarrassment when her department admitted that a mobile phone app for EU nationals seeking to stay in the UK after Brexit does not work on iPhones. The Home Office had claimed that its app would be user-friendly and setting up an account as easy as creating “an online account at LK Bennett,” which itself perhaps wasn’t the best comparison they could have used.

Home Office officials visited the European Parliament with the aim to build confidence among MEPs on how the Government is handling EU citizens’ applications to stay in the UK.  Needless to say, they didn’t succeed. Catherine Bearder, the only Liberal Democrat MEP, said that one official had suggested that people could borrow someone else’s phone to complete the registration. “It is beyond belief,” she added.

Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt, meanwhile, quickly highlighted the Windrush case, emphasising that the repetition of such a situation for EU citizens must be avoided. Coming closer to the European Parliament’s vote on the final Brexit deal, the UK Government will do well to keep MEPs content on what is in their view the most important issue – protecting EU citizens’ rights.

EU throws a bone

While Parliament debated Customs Union membership, the EU threw the UK Government a bone by indicating that it may have say in trade policy if it stays in the Customs Union. It was reported that an official suggested that a UK-EU dialogue on trade could be set up, so the UK’s views are considered when free trade agreements with third countries are negotiated. The UK still wouldn’t have a seat at the negotiating table though.

The proposal came as Mrs May is facing increasing pressure from Parliament and businesses over the Government’s position to leave the Customs Union. One of the biggest arguments for doing so is that the UK would no longer be bound to the EU’s trade policy and would be able to negotiate its own trade deals – crucial for its plans for a “Global Britain.” Even though staying in the Customs Union will solve another contentious issue – the Irish border – Mrs May has reassured her pro-Brexit colleagues that she’ll stick to her guns.

Reviving the special relationship

Let’s hope the superstition doesn’t prevail. On Friday 13th July, US President Donald Trump will visit the UK.  Last time the President attempted to cross the Atlantic, threats of protests finally made him call off the visit. He insisted, however, that reasons for doing so was because he thought the new US embassy had cost too much money.

The visit has been down-graded from a full state visit to a “working trip,” meaning the President will not receive an official banquet at Buckingham Palace. Mrs May will therefore have to think of other ways to woo Trump, who has been particularly impressed with French President Emmanuel Macron following the Bastille Day parade last year and their meeting in Washington this week. Mrs May will hope to exceed France’s efforts, while finding a balance between highlighting concerns on the US position on climate change and the Iran nuclear deal and laying the ground for a US-UK trade deal after Brexit. Quite a challenge indeed with this unpredictable President.