UK Parliament to have final ‘take it or leave it’ vote on Brexit deal
MPs returned to the House of Commons this week to begin discussing amendments and proposals tabled on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. The bill, which intends to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and bring existing EU law onto the UK statute book, had been delayed for weeks due to the tabling of numerous amendments. It faced significant scrutiny and opposition from Pro-EU MPs on both sides of the aisle who aimed to water it down.
One such amendment laid down was by the Tory MP Dominic Grieve which called for parliament to have a meaningful vote on Britain’s departure terms from the EU. Fearing that government could suffer a defeat on the proposal, the Brexit secretary David Davis announced that legislation would be introduced to parliament that will allow MPs to vote on the final Brexit deal.
Although it was a significant concession by the Conservative government, the decision will be strictly limited to either accepting the agreement presented by Government or rejecting it outright. This take-it-or-leave-it vote does not grant MPs the power to send the government back to the negotiating table if they are unhappy with the final deal. This led to severe criticism from several MPs who described it as a ‘’fake meaningful vote’’.
Mr Davis also announced that if the government fails to reach a deal then the UK would leave the EU without consulting Parliament. Among the various amendments put forward was one by the government itself which stated that Brexit must happen at 23.00 on April 29th 2019. Although reports soon emerged after that the set departure date could be reversed after a rebellion from pro-EU conservatives who warned it would limit the government’s room to manoeuvre, it again highlights the strong hold that Eurosceptic British ministers have on this government.
Brussels set to offer UK a limited Canada-style free trade deal
Framework documents prepared by the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and seen by media sources have revealed that the EU will only offer the UK a free trade agreement like that of the Canada deal which only recently came into force. According to the leaked document, Brussels view this type of trade arrangement as the only realistic option to pursue, given the UK government’s strong insistence that it will exit the EU single market and the customs union.
The EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) has been touted often since the Brexit vote as a possible framework to follow for future trading arrangements between the UK and the EU. However, the British Prime Minister Theresa May refuted the prospect of such an arrangement, claiming that such a deal would be inferior to current arrangements. Addressing the issue in her Florence speech two months ago, she said a CETA style deal ‘’would nevertheless represent such a restriction on our mutual market access that it would benefit neither of our economies’’.
News that Brussels will only offer London a Canada style arrangement will be a blow to Ms. May since, as she indicated, it offers nowhere near the type of access that the UK currently enjoys. Although tariffs will be slashed, there would be no regulatory harmonization or freedom of movement, in addition to strict restrictions being put in place on food and financial services.
Mr. Barnier’s framework document goes on and explains that the UK’s desire to have ‘’single market arrangements in certain areas’’ or the ability to manage the ‘’evolution of our regulatory framework’’ as incompatible with EU laws. As a result of this, it deems the only working model available as one in line with a ‘’standard FTA’’.
Macron eyes Vestager as next Commission President
French President Emmanuel Macron is apparently keen on making the current Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, the next European Commission,. The incumbent, Jean-Claude Juncker, will end his presidency in 2019 and Mr. Macron is hoping to convince Ms. Vestager to stand as a candidate.
Mr. Juncker announced last year that he would not seek a second mandate when his current term ends in 2019 and Ms. Vestager has an extremely strong profile across the bloc. Dubbed as the ‘’most powerful women in the EU’’, the competition commissioner has been a driving force in clearing out anti-competitive behaviour, with several landmark rulings being delivered such as ordering Dublin to collect €13bn in back taxes from Apple.
Ms. Vestager’s office declined to comment on the reports but it is believed that she has an interest in the job.
Although she would be a strong candidate to succeed Mr. Juncker, she faces stiff competition from fellow Commissioners such as Jyrki Katainen and Pierre Moscovici, as well as the Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. A victory for Ms. Vestager would make her the first ever female European Commissioner President.
Commission to set out key policy recommendations at EU Social Summit
EU leaders and social affairs ministers will gather in Gothenburg today for a European Union Social Summit to address several core policy recommendations that the EU Commission hopes to improve the bloc’s education and cultural field. It is the first such social summit in twenty years and European leaders are expected to sign off on the EU’s new pillar of social rights, as well as discuss a range of opportunities to tackle common labour challenges facing the union.
Six policy proposals are put forward by the European Commission for leaders to consider. The core education recommendations include a plan to boost the Erasmus+ programme so as to double the number of participants by 2025 and radically improve language learning in Europe so that all young Europeans finishing secondary education will have good knowledge of at least two languages, in addition to their mother tongue.
The Commission also hopes to create a network of European Universities that are able to operate across member states borders in order to improve their international competitiveness, as well as strengthening the financial capacity of the EU’s cultural sector by allowing banks to significantly increase their financing to small and medium-sized companies in the sector.
Jamaica Coalition negotiating talks miss deadline
Three-way exploratory talks between the CDU/CSU, the Greens, and the Freedom Democratic Party (FDP) broke up in the early hours of this morning as negotiators failed to overcome a number of remaining sticking points between each party, thereby missing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s self-imposed deadline.
Delegates from each party will return this afternoon to resume talks but it appears that with plenty of hurdles still to be overcome, talks may move well into the weekend and beyond. The biggest difference facing the so-called Jamaica alliance (based on the parties colours) is over immigration. Ms. Merkel’s CDU/CSU are proposing an annual cap of 200,000 asylum seekers while the Greens are against any kind of caps and demand successive migration to reunite families.
Further challenges include the environment whereby the greens are pushing to close Germany’s coal energy plants in order to have a chance of meeting its 2020 climate targets, in addition to the EU where the FDP are against any kind of European banking union or a euro finance minister.
The parties and particularly the Chancellor will have to resolve the differences soon or else face the prospect of either forming a weak minority government or returning to the polls for fresh elections. The latter option should be avoided at all costs though, as throughout the last few weeks of coalition talks, support for the Jamaica alliance dropped by almost 12 points while the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) saw its support rise.