This week in politics: Withdrawals, whistles and winners
The week that was
The Government published the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, under the official title of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill is set to end the supremacy of EU law after ‘exit day’ and directly transpose EU laws onto the UK statute book – all in all around 20,000 pieces of direct and secondary legislation. Controversially, it also gives ministers ‘Henry VIII Powers’ to amend and repeal primary and secondary legislation to ensure it remains applicable after Brexit, prompting some to worry that ministers might start tinkering with unloved laws. Opposition parties are preparing to challenge the legislation, with Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer signalling that the Party will oppose the Bill if it does not meet six ‘tests’; one of which is limiting the scope of Henry VIII powers, and Tim Farron saying that the Government should ‘be under no illusion this will be hell’.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis has conceded that the UK will continue to make payments to the European Union after Brexit, in a statement that was far more conciliatory than we’ve come to expect from him. Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ EU select committee Davis also revealed that securing an agreement on a transitional arrangement had become a Government priority, suggesting the Chancellor’s business-focused Brexit is attracting support in the Cabinet.
A second formal round of Brexit negotiations is due to begin on Monday, and Michel Barnier has warned that significant issues remain between the UK and the EU on one of the first issues to be tackled, citizens’ rights. A certain British citizen has been accused of abusing the EU; Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs that EU Brexit negotiators could “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay a large exit bill. Barnier met with Jeremy Corbyn, who keenly told the EU chief negotiator that he was ‘ready to take up the responsibility for Brexit negotiations’ if there was a change in government. Barnier also held separate meetings with the first ministers of Wales and Scotland, Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon, but stressed that he will not negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU with anyone other than the UK Government.
In other news, the election of Select Committee chairs saw a number of prominent pro-remain MPs elected to key roles, which is likely to cause further problems for Theresa May. Notably, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan beat Jacob Rees-Mogg to become chair of the Treasury Select Committee. Other notable pro-remain chairs are Neil Parish of the EFRA Committee and Tom Tugendhat who is the new Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Only two Select Committee Chairs, Julian Lewis (Defence) and Andrew Murrison (Northern Ireland) supported Brexit.
On the benches
House of Lords: The next generation
Transport Minister Lord Callanan opened the second reading of the Space Industry Bill by stating that this Bill would ‘boldly go where no Bill has gone before’. This remark caught the attention of Lib Dem Peer Lord McNally, who confessed that he is part of the Dan Dare generation, and said he considered Lord Callanan to be ‘more of a Buzz than a Spock’.
Help the aged
Over a decade ago Sir Vince Cable had a brief, but very successful, spell asking PMQs while serving as interim leader of the Liberal Democrats but now that the 74 year old is effectively the leader-in-waiting of his Party Damian Green spared no time in reintroducing him to the one-upmanship of the session. While bidding Tim Farron a ‘fond farewell’ from the leadership he told the House how delighted he was that the Lib Dems were taking the Government’s strategy to provide jobs for older workers by ‘skipping a generation in their leadership’.
Fashion on the benches
Elmet and Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke caused a stir on the benches this week when he appeared in Business Questions in what can only be described as a ‘cream’ suit. Shelbrooke’s attire earned him the call of ‘our man in Havana’ from the Deputy Speaker. All in all, we think the less said about this the better…
Good week/Bad week
Good week for: Nicky Morgan. After facing competition from five other Tory MPs, Nicky Morgan was elected as the chair of the influential Treasury Select Committee, becoming the first woman to hold the position. The former Education Secretary won with 290 votes in the final round of voting, and was supported by Labour MPs who wanted to block Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who came in second place with 226 votes. Morgan’s election means that a Remainer will now have a key position in overseeing the Brexit process, as well as scrutinising the Government’s economic policy as the UK leaves the EU.
Bad week for: Boris Johnson. He was the name on everyone’s lips for the wrong reason this week. Following his controversial comment that the EU could ‘go whistle’ if it made ‘extortionate demands’ to Britain in Brexit negotiations, Johnson faced criticism from all ends. Responses ranged from David Davis derisively laughing off the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion to EU negotiator Michael Barnier reminding Johnson that the din of Brexit’s ticking clock was the only sound he should be focusing on.
Tweet of the week
“Leaving the EU is a negotiation. It means the results are uncertain and [departments] need to be fast and flexible and react in a unified way. We have an issue there because we have departmental government. What we don’t want to find is that at the first tap it falls apart like a chocolate orange. It needs to be coming through like a cricket ball.” Sir Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office, urges the government to take a more unified approach to Brexit following reports of clashes within the Cabinet.
“We will work with the EU to determine a fair settlement of the U.K.’s rights and obligations as a departing member state. The government recognizes that the U.K. has obligations to the EU, and the EU obligations to the U.K., that will survive the U.K.’s withdrawal — and that these need to be resolved.” Brexit Secretary David Davis acknowledges that the UK needs to meet its financial obligations to the EU in a written statement on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
“I am not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking.” The European Union’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in response to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comments that the EU could “go whistle” if it demands a hefty exit payment from Britain.
In focus: The Great Withdrawal Bill
The Government has published the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, under the official title of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to end the supremacy of EU law after ‘exit day’ and directly transpose any EU law made under the European Communities Act 1972 onto the UK statute book – around 20,000 pieces of direct and secondary legislation. It also gives ministers powers to amend and repeal primary and secondary legislation to ensure it remains applicable after Brexit- but in pursuing this goal it risks provoking parliamentary opposition on a number of fronts.
Read more here – http://lexcomm.co.uk/great-withdrawal-bill