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Chris White: Time is getting extremely tight to pass all the required withdrawal legislation

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

The clock is ticking. We’re running out of runway.  Whatever metaphor you wish to use, Parliament has an awful lot of legislating to do before 29th March if it wishes to complete the passage of the seven Brexit Bills, along with a large amount of secondary legislation.

Today, the Prime Minister will update the Commons, setting out the Government’s progress in negotiating with the EU following the passage of the two advisory amendments last month.  They instructed, though not mandated, the Government to seek to both remove the backstop (Brady) and avoid a No Deal scenario (Spelman/Dromey).

Since then, the negotiations have been less than productive, revealed in striking language in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition over the weekend.  In it, she stated that she was still seeking alternative arrangements to the backstop without specifying in detail what they were, and that negotiating a free trade deal as a third party outside of the Single Market was a “negotiating challenge”, which is somewhat of an understatement.

A month on from the meaningful vote on 15th January, whilst significant column inches are dedicated to the possibility of the Malthouse Compromise we are no closer to knowing if the EU is prepared to alter the existing deal.  Parliament is running out of time before 29th March, either to pass a Bill implementing an agreed deal, or to pass legislation ensuring the UK is ready for a No Deal Brexit.

The scale of the challenge

On 31st January, the Leader of the Commons quite rightly cancelled the February half-term recess, yet also scheduled a range of business in the Commons that, whilst important, didn’t progress No Deal legislation in any way.  This risk-averse programming is almost certainly down to the fact that, with negotiations ongoing with the EU, the Government doesn’t wish to give any opportunities in the House to amend legislation to include unhelpful and challenging amendments.  For example, there have been strong hints that amendments could be tabled to the Trade Bill in the Lords that would seek to keep the UK in a Customs Union.

If this is the case, and with reports suggesting that the next ‘meaningful vote’ is in around three weeks, in the week commencing 25th February, we may not see any more progress in the Commons on much needed No Deal legislation until a deal is reached that the House can agree on.

In terms of readiness, a number of No Deal preparation Bills have already received Royal Assent, including the Customs Act, the Nuclear Safeguards Act, the Road Haulage Act and the Sanctions Act.  However much more needs to be done. For a start, winning the meaningful vote is only the first step – the Government must then pass a European Union Withdrawal Agreement Implementation (EU WAIB) prior to 29th March to give legal effect to the Withdrawal Agreement.  However the Government must not put all its eggs in one basket, and in order to provide security in the event of No Deal should pass a further six Bills, and additional secondary legislation.

These Bills range from allowing the UK to enter into trade deals, creating a domestic agriculture and fisheries market, maintaining our healthcare agreements, giving powers to implement financial services regulations, to bringing EU citizens under UK law.

The current state of play is as follows:

Westlake Legal Group Chris-White-Brexit-Bills-Final Chris White: Time is getting extremely tight to pass all the required withdrawal legislation Withdrawal Agreement Trade Bill law immigration House of Lords House of Commons (general) Highlights healthcare Fisheries Farming EU Comment Brexit

As you can see from the above table, agriculture, fisheries, and immigration are well behind schedule and will need considerable work to pass before 29th March.  Equally, Trade has its own issues as outlined above.

The Government also has to pass around 600-700 statutory instruments, or secondary legislation, before 29th March to be ready, in addition to the above Bills.  The timetable for their consideration has increased in recent weeks and the Government might just be on track, but around 200 still have to be considered in the next few weeks. Certainly the SI committees are working overtime, and have significant reading ahead of them.  The Times’s Esther Webber reported one SI from BEIS was “636 pages long, weighs 2.54 kilos and covers 11 matters that would be expected to go in separate documents.”

Will the UK be ready in time?

There are 45 days left until 29th March, and Parliament will sit for 26 of them (not counting sitting Fridays), unless it chooses to add more sitting days to the calendar or change the business on Fridays from Private Members’ Bills to Government business.  If the deadline of 29th March remains in place, it is unlikely that the Government will be able to pass both the EU WAIB and the six remaining No Deal preparation Bills.

This will mean uncomfortable decisions about which Bills it has to prioritise, and whether workarounds can be found through alternative means.  The Trade Bill is probably the highest priority for the Government aside from the EU WAIB, but failing to set up domestic agriculture and fisheries markets prior to exit day, for example, will cause severe concerns and uncertainty in those sectors.  If Government, Parliament and the EU reach consensus about an amended deal, or agree to the existing deal, then it’s likely that there will need to be a short extension to Article 50 as passing the EU WAIB inside a month, whilst technically possible, would be extremely challenging.  However, the Government must continue to progress with the No Deal Bills over the next few weeks, or the UK faces running out of runway before 29th March.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Shanker Singham: How British farming can flourish after we leave the EU

Shanker A. Singham is CEO of Competere and Director of the International Trade and Competition Unit, Institute of Economic Affairs.

Last week, we have heard from Liam Fox about no-deal planning with regard to food prices. While tariffs on industrial goods are relatively low – so that the UK falling back on the Common External Tariff is less of an economically significant event – this is not true of agriculture.

Since the UK is a major importer of agriculture from the EU (the EU-27 has an approximately £23 billion surplus in agricultural trade with the UK), No Deal would mean falling back on the Common External Tariff.   Some agricultural tariffs are very high (for some products over 70 per cent).  That could mean significant food price inflation.

Right now, the major developed countries generally trade agricultural products using a system of tariff rate quotas; an import quota where there is a lower tariff for a certain volume of imports, and then, if imports exceed that amount, the tariff kicks up to a much higher and usually prohibitive level. This is highly managed trade. At the moment, there are no tariffs or other quota-based restrictions to our imports from the EU-27.  But this will change if we leave without a deal.

There are only two trade policy ways to curb food price inflation in the event of No Deal, hence the Secretary of State’s statements.  Either the UK would apply a zero rate unilaterally to all countries (it must be for all countries – because otherwise we would be violating the WTO’s rule that any tariff reductions should be applied to all members); or else it would have to open up those agricultural quotas to all comers on a first come, first served basis.

There have been reports of increasing worry – that either of these methods would put EU farmers in direct competition with the most efficient farmers in the world, and they would rapidly lose market share.

EU farmers are well aware of this, which is why they are starting to kick up a fuss about the damage that would be caused by No Deal.  They also know that, absent the protectionism afforded by the common external tariff and the regulatory barriers imposed on agriculture from non-EU countries, and they would not be competitive.

They would not only lose market share overnight, but the supply chains which have reoriented to more competitive suppliers would not come back. They would be permanently disadvantaged.

It gets worse for the EU-27.  It so happens that the producers who would lose out the most are in highly political sensitive areas: Bavarian dairy farmers, Northern Italian textiles and dairy, French wine, and beef – critically, Irish beef which accounts for fully 67 per cent of the UK market now.

The impact of the Irish beef industry losing market share overnight to the lucrative UK market (where beef prices are among the highest in the world) cannot be understated. This is the risk that Leo Varadkar is taking in refusing to allow the backstop to be modified.  If the UK puts its counter-offer on the table, and allows the pressure from these producers to build up on member states, then a deal is more likely.  If the UK does not fully exploit this pressure, a deal is less likely.

But all sides want to have a deal.  And so we turn to what sort of agricultural policy the UK would want to have in the event of one.

It is possible for the UK to have a new and improved policy that works for consumer, farmers and our trading partners if we make changes to our tariff policy, our subsidy policy and our regulatory policy.

First, we should open up our market so we gradually reducing tariffs and open up our import quotas.   Ultimately, consumers will benefit if the protections afforded to producers are slowly lowered.

This change does not have to be done overnight, and it is connected to the second area of reform – which is how we would use WTO-compatible direct payments to help British farmers, not only with the Brexit transition but beyond.  At the moment, our direct payments are based on the size of landholdings.  This is patently unfair. The two biggest beneficiaries of this funding now are English Heritage and the RSPB, worthy entities both, but hardly farmers.

We should instead focus direct payments more on actual farmers, and support their environmental remediation efforts as well as their stewardship of land, fully recognizing that their primary goal is to produce our food.  The beauty of our countryside helps support a £127 billion tourism industry, and farmers play a role in it.

Third, we can improve our regulatory system so we are not needlessly putting compliance burdens on farmers, and depriving them of access to new technologies provided the science shows us that they are safe.  At the moment, there are many areas where farmers cannot use new technologies, such as synthetic biology or gene editing.  These are the technologies that will increasingly feed not only our consumers but most especially the world’s poorest ones.

UK farmers can have a bright future, and the UK and EU can agree a deal with an alternative version of the backstop which works for all parties. In the strange world of Brexit, these two issues are now joined at the hip.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com