Political Briefing: December 2018

Political Briefing from Newgate’s public affairs team

Based on what we know today, Theresa May will be unable to win majority support in the House of Commons for the deal that she has negotiated with the European Commission. The legal situation, however, is clear; under Article 50 and the domestic legislation connected to it, the UK will leave the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019.

For that not to happen, the UK Government must revoke or extend Article 50 and adopt a dramatic change in policy. This week’s European Court of Justice advice stated that the UK could revoke Article 50 independently (although it is currently unclear as to whether this would require parliamentary approval). There is little to suggest, however, that the current Government would ever consider such a move and alternative arrangements on Brexit would require new or significantly amended legislation. There has been some talk of Parliament taking back control of Brexit negotiations, but as things stand, there is no obvious majority in favour of an alternative arrangement between the UK and the EU. In any case, no parliamentary motion would have binding legal force on the Government.

This current situation does, however, make governing extremely hard. We believe it will be very hard for the Prime Minister to survive a significant vote against her proposed deal and she will probably step down shortly after the vote.  The Conservative Party will then have to choose a new leader, fortunately that can be done quite quickly.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that the Parliamentary numbers will not change, the new leader will still be running a minority government.  He or she will need to find a way of rebuilding the relationship with the DUP if they are to have any chance of getting anything through parliament on any issue (and there has been talk of threats on a no-confidence motion in the Government).

It’s important to recognise that while the government and parliament struggle to find a way through in London, important milestones are looming in Brussels.  The European parliamentary elections take place in late May and a new European Commission will be appointed after that.  This is important because the outgoing Commission will begin to wind down from January and our sources suggest will be unwilling to initiate new negotiations with the UK that they will not be able to conclude.

There is also anxiety in those countries that are current recipients of the UK’s financial contribution to the EU.  They are naturally concerned about the effects on their national budgets of the UK not paying the £ 39 billion that Theresa May has agreed to.  In some countries, France for example, Macron’s government is in trouble and cannot afford a huge loss of planned income that would occur if the UK simply left the EU in March.

How the lack of leadership and direction in London reacts with the changing characters in Brussels is unknowable at this point and with no obvious clear way forward, the politics in London and Brussels will simply have to be allowed to play themselves out.

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