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1) The Lords Are Gearing Up For Some Hard Core Amendments To The Brexit Bill
After last week’s Brexit drama in the Commons (well, Clive Lewis resigned) there was a calmer air in Westminster as MPs disappeared back to their constituencies for a week-long recess.
The slight breather in the parliamentary process enabled members of the Lords to decide just how much they wanted to try and scupper the Government’s Brexit plans.
Labour’s Shadow Leader of the Lords Baroness Smith told the BBC on Sunday that peers have “no intention of trying to sabotage” the Brexit Bill, which passed through the Commons unamended and with a majority of 372.
“Sabotage” is such a subjective word, and peers have already put forward a slew of amendments for consideration, including insisting the UK can leave the EU but not the European Economic Area, guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK before negotiations start and even holding a second referendum on the deal.
If the Lords did want to push through some amendments, it would involve Lib Dem and Labour peers working together – and Jeremy Corbyn might not be keen for a Bill which caused such disruption to his MPs coming back to the Commons.
On a trip to Stockholm, Brexit Secretary David Davis said he expected some “ping-pong” between the Commons and Lords, and poured cold water on suggestions Theresa May wanted to trigger Article 50 during an EU summit on March 8-9: “The 9th or 10th is not a date I recognize in terms of our timetable. What we have said is by the end of March, some time during March.”
Bloomberg reported today that Theresa May is still aiming for the EU summit in early March, especially as triggering Article 50 towards the end of the month might overshadow the 60th anniversary celebrations of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
Ruining the EU’s birthday party wouldn’t be a good way to start the negotiations.
2) No Matter How Much The Government Deny It, People Who Know What They’re Talking About Keep Saying The Civil Service Can’t Handle Brexit
When those negotiations do get going, the much-maligned civil service will have a vital role to play in making sure the Government gets a good deal. The faceless bureaucrats/dedicated public servants (delete as per your prejudice) have come in for a fair amount of stick lately, and you would think the former head of the civil service would be keen to come to their aid.
Sir Bob Kerslake had other ideas, and in a report for Labour, he warned that the Treasury in particular was not up the job of Brexit. Ahead of his report’s publication, Sir Bob said: “I am seriously concerned a proper assessment of the skills and resources needed hasn’t been done.
“In fact Whitehall is still reducing staff quite dramatically.”
These are not the first warnings about the capability of the civil service. In November a leaked memo from Deloitte claimed the Government needed another 30,000 staff to properly deliver Brexit. Downing Street dismissed the report at the time as having “no credence, but the accusations of unpreparedness persist.
Since 2010, the civil service has reduced from 527,500 staff to 418,300 – drop of 21 per cent – but the drop has not applied equally across all departments.
As Oliver Ilott, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government said: “DEFRA, for example, has lost about 35% of its staff and yet 80% of its work relates to Brussels so it’s got a huge amount of Brexit work to do, and at the same time it’s got the same list of domestic policies that it needs to deliver that it was given back in 2015, and so for departments like DEFRA, there is pressure beginning to build.”
3) Canada Has Done A Free Trade Deal With The EU Just As We’re Leaving In The Hope Of Signing Free Trade Deals
One of the advantages of the UK leaving the EU is that it can finally sign free trade deals with powerful Commonwealth countries like Canada…the same Canada which this week signed a free trade deal with the EU.
Yes, that’s right. The UK is leaving an organisation that has just achieved something which Brexiteers claimed could not be done if we remained.
The deal, backed by MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday, will eliminate 98 of tariffs between Canada and the EU, saving an estimated €500 in duties for European exporters every year.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) still needs to be ratified by EU member states, and so it could yet be sunk – which is where the Brexit narrative of “take back control” rings true. With a UK/Canada deal, only one European parliament would need to ratify it: the UK’s.
In the run up to the referendum, the deal was cited by Boris Johnson and David Davis as examples of the deal the UK could get with the EU after Brexit.
But trade unionists are opposed to the deal, with TUC chief Frances O’Grady calling it “dreadful”.
“It should not set a template for Britain’s trade deal with the EU or anywhere else,” she wrote in a blog for Huff Post UK.
She claims: “Rights to maternity leave, holiday pay, working time and health and safety would be at risk.”
4) A Lot Of Foreign Workers Are Getting Fed Up With Being Used As Bargaining Chips
Although the UK is still very much in the EU – and still signed up to freedom of movement of workers – businesses are starting to notice a Brexit impact when it comes to their employees.
A survey by of more than 1,000 companies by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development revealed that more than a quarter of employers say staff members were considering leaving their job or even the country because of Brexit.
The proportion rose to 43% of employers in education and 49% in healthcare sector employers.
The CIPD’s Gerwyn Davies, also warned the number of non-UK EU nationals working in Britain grew more slowly in the three months to September than before the referendum – leading to concerns over future recruitment.
He said: “This is creating significant recruitment challenges in sectors that have historically relied on non-UK labor to fill roles and who are particularly vulnerable to the prospect of future changes to EU immigration policy.
5) The Price Of Champagne Has Gone Up And We Can Sort Of Blame Brexit
It’s enough to make the metropolitan liberal elite who cavort in swanky bars cry into their cravats: Brexit is causing the cost of champagne and Prosecco to rise. Well, it’s one of the things, according to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA).
The devalued pound – a result of market uncertainty – together with inflation and an increase in alcohol duty could see a bottle of posh plonk could rise by £1. Fizzy wine, such as Prosecco, is earmarked for a 9% rise – leading to an extra 59p on a bottle. The WSTA is calling on the Chancellor to cut wine duty by 2% in next month’s budget to help ease the financial burden.
“With Brexit costing 29p per bottle and rising inflation indicated by the Bank of England last week adding a further 17p, further duty rises could make it a triple whammy for consumers who are already paying a staggering amount of wine and spirit duty,” said Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA.
Expect to hear a lot more trade groups calling for special help from Philip Hammond to help mitigate the apparent impact of Brexit in the next few weeks.