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Brexit Briefing: Keep Calm, 2 Weeks to Go!

We hope you enjoyed our last Brexit Bulletin. There is only a fortnight until the 29th March 2019. Will this or will this not be Brexit Day? We’ll help you plan for Brexit, whenever it happens, to ensure you retain your valued workforce, despite the uncertainties in Parliament. Sign up here to stay informed with regular updates.

It’s been a jam-packed week in the developments on Brexit and we have a lot of news to bring you up to date. We will take you through developments day by day.

Monday 11 March

Following negotiations undertaken in Europe by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, Theresa May made a late trip to Strasbourg where she met Jean-Claude Juncker in a final attempt secure legally binding assurances to attempt to satisfy Parliament on the issue of the Irish backstop. The result of this late night meeting was a legally binding statement, which confirmed that neither side would engage in negotiations after Brexit which aim to retain Irish backstop indefinitely. May returned to the UK with renewed confidence on the prospect of securing a majority in Parliament in support of her Deal.

Tuesday 12 March

If Theresa May’s deal was to stand any chance of securing a majority in Parliament, May needed Geoffrey Cox’s advice to confirm that the Irish backstop issue was resolved. She also needed support from the ERG and support from the DUP. On Tuesday 12 March, Geoffrey Cos confirmed that legal risks of the Irish backstop remained. He confirmed that there remained no internationally lawful means of leaving the backstop without the EU’s agreement. He did, however, confirm that the extra reassurances obtained “reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained” in the backstop. Following this assessment, the ERG and DUP confirmed they were not satisfied that the assurances went far enough. By mid-afternoon, it was clear that the Deal was not going pass through Parliament.

The House of Commons debated the topic during the day and the Government’s Deal was defeated with 391 MPs voting against and 242 MPs voting for. This was a smaller margin of defeat from the vote in January but is still the fourth biggest government defeat since 1924.

Wednesday 13 March

Wednesday started with the Government announcing that 87% of imports to the UK would be eligible for zero tariff in the event of a No-Deal Brexit under the published WTO schedules. In response, the Director-General of the CBI said: “This tells us everything that is wrong with a no-deal scenario. What we are hearing is the biggest change in terms of trade this country has faced since the mid-19th century being imposed on this country with no consultation with business, no time to prepare. This is no way to run a country.”

With the Withdrawal Agreement now rejected, Parliament then faced a vote on whether to remove the option of a No-Deal Brexit.

Parliament spent another day debating the motion, before voting by a margin of 308 votes to 213 to reject a No-Deal Brexit. The votes are declaratory only and are not legally binding. The UK could still leave the EU without a deal.

Thursday 14 March

Mrs May announced that she intends to bring a third meaningful vote on her withdrawal deal by 20 March 2019, despite having suffered overwhelming defeats on two previous occasions. Mrs May argues that failing to back her deal will lead to a lengthy delay to Brexit. This view was reinforced in a tweet from Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council who tweeted “I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it.”

Parliament underwent another series of votes, with the major vote of the night being the vote to delay leaving the EU. This was passed by a majority of 412 to 202. An extension cannot be agreed unilaterally by the UK. Theresa May now needs to go to the EU to request the extension. The length of the extension requested depends on whether Mrs May can obtain a majority in Parliament to accept her Deal. If the Deal can be agreed then it is highly likely that a short technical extension will be requested and granted. If her Deal does not pass next week then the EU would likely be looking to agree a much longer extension, likely two years.

It is thought that Mrs May hopes that the threat of a long delay to the UK’s departure from the European Union may be sufficient to bring Brexiteers in to line to support her Deal in the next Parliamentary vote. This may however be offset by Remain supporters who would favour a long extension as this leaves open the possibility of the revocation of Article 50 and an end to Brexit.

Finally, the day ended with yet another vote; a vote for an amendment calling for a second referendum. This vote was rejected by a majority of 333 to 84. Labour whipped its members to abstain, believing the timing to be wrong for the call for a second referendum. Consequently 224 MPs, the majority being Labour members, abstained. Five Labour frontbench ministers resigned as shadow ministers over the party’s abstention order.

Friday 15 March

With only two weeks until the 29th March 2019, the details of our departure from the EU remain murky. At the time of writing, the available possibilities include: leaving the EU with no deal on the 29th March 2019, an extension of the Article 50 period to end June or for a further two years, further votes on Mrs May’s Deal, departing on the 29th March 2019, or at the end of an extension period with a Deal, a renegotiation of the Deal, further legal assurances being annexed to the current Withdrawal Agreement, a second referendum, a general election, a vote of no confidence in the Government, and/or a withdrawal of Article 50 which may mean no Brexit at all.

In the meantime, the UK has signed post-Brexit trade agreements with Fiji and Papua New Guinea, schools are being advised to stockpile food, Donald Trump has given his opinion on the matter and the value of the British pound continues to remain low.

If you have any questions about any aspect of our Brexit Bulletin, please contact Ashley Stothard at ashley.stothard@freeths.co.uk.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
Ashley Stothard, Imigration Executive

Author: Ashley Stothard

Immigration Executive

Tom Bradford, Partner

Author: Tom Bradford

Partner

Emma Brooksbank, Partner

Author: Emma Brooksbank

Partner

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