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1) The Government Is Taking Back Control In The Most Draconian Way Possible
It’s taken 45 years, but the day many Brexiteers never thought they would see is here. Today (Thursday), MPs began debating the repeal of the European Communities Act of 1972.
But it’s not taking that piece of legislation off the statute book which is making many MPs jumpy, it’s what the Government plans to replace it with.
All EU law is going to be transferred into UK law, but the Government is arguing that in some circumstances that law may need to be tweaked in order to make sense. Instead of bothering Parliament every time, the Government wants to massively extend the powers available to ministers to change legislation.
With more than 12,400 pieces of legislation to transfer into UK law, giving ministers the power to sign off on technical changes seems to be a sensible way to burn through the paperwork before March 2019.
But as Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer expertly demonstrated in the Commons, the powers about the be transferred to ministers go far beyond a few technical changes to legislation.
Using House of Commons Library research, Sir Keir identified one clause which is particularly alarming.
Clause 9 of the Bill gives ministers the power to do anything which MPs can do when it comes to passing an Act of Parliament. The entire legislative authority of the Commons transferred to the signature of a Government minister, with the exception of taxes, making criminal offences and anything to do with the Human Rights Act.
Except ministers could give themselves the power to do all of those things – as under the terms of the Act they are able to change the very Act itself.
Another worrying aspect of the Bill is the “sunset clause”. This is supposed to make sure all these powers end two years after the “exit day”. So in March 2021, the Government will no longer have this authority.
Except that might not happen. Not only can Ministers amend the Bill – as we’ve already seen – the Government can change the definition of “exit day”. According to the House of Commons Library briefing paper: “As different provisions can be made for exit day for the purposes of individual parts of the Bill, under Clause 14(1) and Schedule 7, paragraph 16, exit day for the purposes of this time limit could, in theory, be postponed indefinitely.”
In summary, the Withdrawal Bill gives the Government unprecedented power for as long as it wants it.
Will the Bill get through the Commons? Tory Brexiteers – the ones who for years have been claiming the UK parliament has no real power thanks to Brussels – are set to gleefully march through the aye lobby.
Labour has already said it will vote against, so it comes down to Tory Remainers. Will the likes of Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke actually walk through the no lobby with Labour? Or will they try to persuade Labour to back their power-reducing amendments when it comes to the crunch?
Theresa May may not wish to wait until the Bill goes to a vote to find the answer, and – with her small majority in mind – might try to incorporate some changes in order to fend off a defeat.
2) The EU Is Starting To Sound A Bit Desperate For Money
It’s been a busy week for David Davis in Parliament. As well as putting the Withdrawal Bill before the Commons, he answered Departmental Questions and gave a statement on the progress of the exit talks.
He didn’t add much to what he said in his post-negotiation press conference with Barnier last week, but doubled down on the UK being prepared for continuous negotiations and how far apart the two sides are on the divorce bill.
Michel Barnier – who Davis insists he did not call “silly” in an interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday (watch the clip, I think he does, realises it’s a bit rude and tries to correct himself) – has been happily spreading doom and gloom this week.
At a press conference on Thursday, Barnier accused the UK of “backtracking on the original commitment…to honour its international commitments.”
He added: “You cannot have 27 countries paying for what was decided by 28.”
His comments seem to make it even more unlikely phase one of the talks – divorce bill, Northern Ireland, citizens’ rights – will have progressed sufficiently by October for the EU to be prepared to move on to trade talks.
Echoing Barnier’s pessimism, former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said from what he could see “the chances that we are ready in October [to move to trade talks] are in the neighborhood of zero.”
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani is winding things up from his end, telling MEPs the decision on whether “sufficient progress” has been made should be kicked back to December. Although, as Damian Green pointed out, the deadline is nothing to do with the European Parliament.
Far from panicking at this turn of events, many Brexiteers believes this shows they have the EU by the balls – and should keep squeezing. The European Research Group – a collection of hardline Brexit Tory MPs – released a report on Wednesday saying that legally the UK doesn’t owe Brussels a penny.
In fact, the EU owes the UK £10billion as a pay out from the European Investment Bank.
Who was the former chairman of the European Research Group? Brexit Minister Steve Baker.
Who was a key member until he lost his seat in the election? Stewart Jackson, David Davis’ new Chief of Staff.
It’s fair to assume Davis is aware of the report’s conclusions, and if he fancies squeezing the EU anymore, could bring it along with him to Brussels for the next round of talks.
3) EU Free Movement Has Been So Good For The UK We Must Stop It Immediately
A leaked Home Office report into post-Brexit immigration plans caused a stir this week.
The document, which found its way into the hands of Guardian journalists, was manna from heaven to many hardcore Brexiteers who put the control – and reduction – of immigration as the prime reason for leaving the EU.
Under the plans doctors, scientists and engineers from the EU could be booted out of the UK after three years after Brexit, with temporary visas issued to “highly-skilled” migrants who come to the UK after March 2019.
Other workers – such as care workers and fruit pickers – could be told to leave after just two years.
A source tells me the document was a draft drawn up by civil servants and never even reached the eyes of ministers, but it certainly carried forth the vow to end free movement after March 2019 with gusto.
Buried amongst the calls for job priority for Brits, cutting down on family members of migrants coming to the UK and a new visa system, was this paragraph:
“In many ways, EU migration has had a positive economic. For example, it has filled skills shortages and enabled employers to expand output, thereby increasing GDP. A bigger population means a larger workforce, which gives the economy a greater capacity to produce goods and services. Higher GDP is important and underpins decisions about monetary and fiscal policy.”
In other words, freedom of movement from the EU has been good for the economy.
A report from British Future this week on attitudes to immigration found that even Leave voters wanted doctors, care-workers and fruit-pickers to come to the UK after Brexit in at least the same numbers as they currently do.
The think-tank revealed that of those who voted Leave in last year’s referendum, 92% want to see the number of foreign doctors in the UK stay the same or increase, 66% want the same for care-workers and 52% for fruit-pickers.
The research also reveals that 64% of all voters believe the Government should scrap its target of reducing net migration to the UK to below 100,000, and instead replace it with separate aims for skilled and unskilled workers.
The report proposed a hybrid system which will see free movement rights kept for skilled migrants, but an annual cap introduced for unskilled workers.
Interestingly, while 80% of Leave voters want to see a reduction in unskilled EU migration, the only jobs where more than 50% of Brexiteers agreed there should be a cut are waiters and bartenders.
Oh, and expats are so worried about the political instability in the UK it now ranks below Kazakhstan in a list of desirable locations for migrant workers.
So no one wants to come here anyway.
Don’t Get Angry, Get Blogging…
At HuffPost we love a good blog, and here are the finest Brexit-penned entries from this week. Have a read, and if any of them provoke an urge in you to speak your brain, send a blog to email@example.com and you could find yourself in this very newsletter.
Hilary Benn on why vital air quality laws must be protected through the Brexit process http://huffp.st/
Nazek Ramadan on how the leaked post-Brexit migration policy is a disaster waiting to happen http://huffp.st/Z0vlhnF
Dr Monica Poletti profiles the demographics of Tory members in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum http://huffp.st/
Sue Ferns on why we must remain open to the world’s talent, whatever happens with Brexit http://huffp.st/ez0LWvL