Brexit weekly: 5 things

May we now leave?

Prime Minister, Theresa May, took to social media to pledge that her Government will now get on with the job of ‘delivering the Brexit people voted for…a Britain in control of its money, laws and borders’, following the EU Withdrawal Bill passing through the House of Commons this week unscathed and latterly by the Lords, who, after a long battle, gave up their resistance to it.

There had been a number of suggestions that the PM would not be able to stave off the ‘Grieve 2 Amendment’ requesting a ‘meaningful say’ for Parliament on the Brexit deal, but, in the end, the Government won by 319 votes to 303, with Mr. Grieve even voting against his own amendment. Six Conservative MPs, including: Anna Soubry, Antoinette Sandbach and Ken Clarke voted against the Government, but these were countered out by Labour Leavers, such as Frank Field and Kate Hoey.

Critics of Mr. Grieve’s amendment suggested that Parliament had already had a ‘meaningful say’ on Brexit via previous votes on: The EU Referendum Act 2015, The EU Referendum Act 2016, The Notification of EU Withdrawal Act 2017, Triggering Article 50 and The EU Withdrawal Bill 2018.

On the Hoffence

Guy Verhofstadt, Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament, was in the House of Commons this week to fill MPs in on his position on Brexit. Unsurprisingly, the most pro-European MEP didn’t hold back as he warned that if there is no clear blueprint of what the future relationship will look like by Autumn, the ratification process could take up to two decades (cue gasps from Brexiteers).

The former Belgian Prime Minister did make a suggestion of his own on what the relationship could look like. He proposed to negotiate an association agreement – similar to the one the EU has with Ukraine – that would provide a flexible framework which allows having a narrow relationship focused on trade, as well as a broader relationship covering other areas.

Under its association agreement with the EU, Ukraine has partial access to the single market without having free movement, which may sound appealing to the UK. However, association agreements are generally formed with countries that aim to join the EU, not leave it. It may not be a suitable tool to disentangle the UK from the bloc, particularly when it comes to challenges such as the Irish border and the EU Court.

Shaken and stirred

The EU’s Brexit Chief, Michel Barnier, has caused a stir amongst British spies this week by asserting that the UK will lose access to the EU’s security mechanisms, including Europol databases, the Schengen information system and inclusion in the European Arrest Warrant, because it “must accept the consequences of Brexit.” This is made particularly controversial considering a number of non-EU countries have access to the mechanisms.

The UK, at least for now, is arguably the EU’s strongest military and intelligence power and had previously been condemned by the EU for using its military strength as leverage in Brexit negotiations. British Prime Minister, Theresa May, subsequently pledged that the UK remained committed to European security and defence chiefs have urged continued cooperation to tackle common threats such as terrorism.

Responding to Barnier, Chief British spy and Head of GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, made an unprecedented intervention into the negotiations, asserting that the UK has contributed to breaking up terrorist plots in four European countries in the past year alone. He said that the UK played a “critical role” in the EU’s efforts to tackle terrorism, and its citing its the UK’s contribution “save lives.” The bickering continues.

1, 2, 3 Citizenship

It has been announced that EU citizens wanting to remain in the UK following Brexit will only have to answer three “simple” questions if they want to continue living in the UK. Sounds awfully simple…

People will be asked to provide ID, whether they have criminal convictions and whether they live in the UK. All for the bargain price of £65 and done via a phone app*. Though this is unlikely to please EU citizens already living here who frankly would have preferred if the Government had taken the relatively small amount from the taxes they pay.

Those using the service will be able to apply for either settled status – those who have lived in the UK for five years or more – or for pre-settled status – those who have lived in the UK for less than five years.

These services are expected to be fully operation by the start of 2019 to ensure that there isn’t a surge of applications on 30th March 2019 when the UK officially is due to leave the EU and enter into transitional arrangements. Though it has been suggested by the Guardian that a whopping 4,500 applications a day would need to be processed to get through the 3.2 million potential applications.

In the wake of the Windrush Scandal that toppled ex-Home Secretary Amber Rudd this process is set to face extreme scrutiny from political opposition. Maike Bohn of the campaign group The Three Million, was sceptical of the process being as “easy as applying for a loyalty card” and was sceptical of how deep the commitment goes without legal support.

*NB, sorry iPhone users, not you.

The enemy within (not within)

In a speech to the City of London this week the Chancellor (anti-democratic arch remainer to others) has insisted that the Treasury is “NOT the enemy of Brexit”. Hammond and his department earlier this month came in for criticism from a leaked speech from Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who called the Treasury “the heart of Remain”.

He went on in the speech to say that he “recognises that our European neighbours are our most important trading partners” and that as the UK leaves the EU the new relationship should “maintain low friction borders” – which in itself doesn’t sound like the most pro-Brexit standpoint.

Sceptics are however, despite the statement from the Chancellor, unlikely to believe that this stance permeates though the Treasury which is consistently accused of being stacked full of pro-remain voices that might be resistant to a model of Brexit that differs vastly from the status quo. Boris Johnson accused civil servants in the Treasury of “sacrificing all the medium and long-term gains amid fear of short-term disruption” and that “Project Fear is really working on them”. US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson on Friday also threw his weight behind Brexit questioning why the UK was “so nervous”.