Parliamentary log jam on Brexit legislation

Labour Party

A parliamentary log jam is going to affect the ability for the government to pass important legislation relating to Brexit, according to the Guardian.

Its report revealed today that almost half the legislation required for Parliament to vote on the final Brexit deal has yet to be introduced.

Despite Parliament sitting for 123 days since the last election it has yet to pass a single piece of related legislation. There are only a further 80 days where Parliament will sit before MPs are expected to vote on the final deal scheduled for October this year.

The obvious problem is that Parliament will be asked to vote on a deal which it has little knowledge of because it won’t have approved any of the crucial legislation. It’s completely unacceptable that MPs will be expected to vote on a deal that they do not have the full details of because it won’t have been finalised! It just doesn’t seem feasible to expect Parliament to commit to such a vote which can’t possibly be meaningful since the government has failed to introduce any vital legislation.

Theresa May promised this parliament would be a “busy legislative session” and yet, as the Guardian report points out, just four pieces of legislation have been passed from the Queen’s speech which is half the amount at the same point following the 2010 election.

You can read the Guardian’s full report here.

Launch of the People’s Vote

Labour Party

The Peoples Vote launched last weekend and I am delighted to support it. Whichever way you voted in the referendum you deserve a say on the final Brexit deal.

This is something that will affect generations of people.

You can find out more about the People’s Vote UK campaign here.

Tourism industry hit by Brexit says industry chief

Labour Party

ABTA chief, Mark Tanzer, will say in a speech today that the failure of being straight about the consequences of Brexit will have a knock-on effect on tourism. Unless both sides can agree the terms over key areas such as trade, aviation, and the rights of workers to be posted overseas then there will be significant consequences for the tourist industry. And we know that some airlines have been vocal about the potential for a reduction in flights to and from the continent.

In his annual address to the industry Tanzer will say: “The access, security and rights that our membership of the EU has provided have benefited UK citizens and businesses here and overseas, bringing a vast range of destinations into scope.

“The 53 million trips from the UK to the EU every year are a vital trade and cultural artery; the challenge for the politicians and the diplomats is to maintain this flow into the future.”

It was also announced today that UK passports will change colour from the European burgundy to navy. “So, what!” I hear you say. However, the £490m contract could be awarded to the French firm Gemalto by the Home Office for the next 10 years, meaning the current production in the UK will end.

The chief executive of the British based firm which currently produces the passports spoke this morning on the Today Programme and said: “come to my factory and explain my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon.”

 

 

 

Northern Ireland remains an obvious sticking point after yesterday’s agreement

Labour Party

While Brexit Secretary, David Davis, grinned like a Cheshire cat following the announcement of yesterday’s agreement with Brussels on the transitional proceedings for Brexit, one fact remained: The uncertainty over Northern Ireland.

Although both sides seemed happy to announce the progress which had been agreed upon, the lack of agreement over the border issues between Northern Ireland and Ireland was the elephant in the room. This is a sticking point which all sides know only too well cannot simply be kicked into the long grass. Any future talks beyond what was agreed yesterday won’t progress unless this issue can be resolved.

Writing about yesterday’s developments, The Guardian’s editorial juxtaposed two significant European meetings which took place yesterday. The first concerned the joint position of EU foreign ministers in the wake of the Skripal poisoning and its editorial said it was: “sensible and constructive”. The second meeting was, concerned the Brexit negotiations and it said it was: “foolish and destructive”. The editorial continued: “Taken together the meetings illustrate the international wound the modern Britain is inflicting on itself and on Europe because of the Brexit vote.”

While some will be relieved that, seemingly, there is some progress, significant issues which cannot be underestimated remain: The question of the border in Northern Ireland is an obvious problem, already discussed above, which was no closer to being resolved. The other problem is the question of Britain being a reliable ally to its European neighbours, which was central to the Guardian’s argument.

As the Guardian pointed out Britain requires support from its allies more so now (after the Skripal poisoning) than it has for a long time. But as we embark on the road to Brexit, the concern turns to how Britain has weakened its own position in terms of its international strategic relationships.

The relationship between allies, by their very nature is dependent on responsibilities and trust which must be shared and the relationships equal, but as the Guardian states: “The principle of all for one and one for all is a reciprocal principle. That’s why Brexit is such a threat not just to Britain itself, but also to Europe’s essential and shared security interests.”

The cost of Brexit – continued…

Labour Party

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) announced yesterday that it expects the final Brexit bill to be in the region of £37.1 billion. That’s over £30 billion more than the Government said it has set aside (for the initial transition), something I highlighted on my blog earlier this week.

The OBR also said that it expects Britain will continue to make payments to the EU until 2064.

Its figures are, obviously, always based on sound evidence and on this occasion the estimates were put together using a joint report published by UK and EU Governments covering phase one of the Brexit negotiations. The report provided “sufficient evidence” which enabled the OBR to make its calculations.

But it’s not only the spiralling cost of Brexit which is a problem for the UK.

Again, on this blog I have discussed the serious implications Brexit will have for the NHS. And yesterday the independent research body, UK in a Changing Europe, published its report of the effect Brexit will have on the NHS. It challenged the now known spurious claim made by the Leave campaign plastered across its campaign bus during the referendum that the £350 million a week spent in the EU could be diverted back directly to the NHS. The report identified four specific threats facing the NHS because of Brexit.

These are:
1. NHS funding: Despite the claim that more money will be spent on the NHS the report claims it will in fact receive less and asserts this is a result of the slowing down of economic growth.

2. Staffing problems: If immigration rules become so restrictive that it essentially prohibits health and social care workers from coming to work in the UK then staffing shortages will be an inevitable consequence, the report found.

In any case the 11,000 EU doctors working here along with the 20,000 EU nurses and 100,000 social care staff all already doubtful about their future with figures emerging that EU nationals in these sectors are departing the UK. There was a staggering 92% drop in the registration of nurses from the EU in 2017. It’s hardly surprising-we don’t know what the immigration rules will be, and such uncertainty is not exactly an enticing prospect for any EU national seeking work in the UK.

3. British patients travelling to the EU: Private travel insurance will be essential to holiday makers. If the UK fails to negotiate continued access to the European Health Insurance card which allows EU nationals to access health care when in another EU country the individuals will need to make alternative arrangements before travelling which removes the ease of travelling throughout the EU.

4. Access to drugs: Like so many other issues, May has said she wants the UK to remain part of the European Medicines Agency, but any special agreement for this to continue has yet to be negotiated. Access for UK patients to life saving drugs will be delayed if Britain is not a member of the Agency and if it wants to remain then the UK will have to continue to adhere to EU law which underpins the regulation of pharmaceuticals.

The threat to the NHS alone provides a compelling case to want to examine our future relationship with the EU (as it currently stands).

The reality is that we need the EU to keep our NHS healthy. These reports from the last 24 hours alone show the real cost implications for the UK if Britain leaves the European Union next March and new and credible research is published weekly (if not more regularly) highlighting similar concerns.

£2bn cost of Brexit is exorbitant – and that’s just the start

Labour Party

The cost of Brexit has been calculated at around £2 billion according to the think tank The Institute for Government.

It found that *six Whitehall departments will be particularly affected and in the region of 10,000 new roles will be created across the departments to cope with the additional challenges.

The think tank warned that even before the UK officially departs from the EU in March next year some £1.3 billion will have been spent on policy work alone.

The true cost of Brexit can’t be fully calculated until it happens of course, but many of us may recall that in his Autumn statement in 2017, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said that he had shared £250 million between Whitehall departments and that a further £3 billion would be set aside to fund Brexit over the course of the next two years.

Although it hasn’t been specified precisely how the money will be allocated it is expected that Defra will receive a large sum of money to devise a completely new agriculture and fisheries policy.

In addition, the Institute found that some departments such as the Home Office are using 50% more agency staff than it did before the referendum. If it continues using staff at the current levels it will have spent almost £40 million more on agency staff in the current financial year than it did in the year leading up to the referendum.

In many ways the additional allocation of funds shouldn’t come as a big surprise; however, the exorbitant cost of agency staff and consultants (in 2017 DExEU signed a £1.9m contract with McKinsey for just six months of work; and both BEIS and Defra signed £1m contracts with the Boston Consulting Group) is clearly an indication that the government departments are wholly ill equipped to cope with Brexit, and this is even before the UK is set to ‘leave’.

If the departments are reliant on agency staff now, then it is clear; the cost will almost certainly rise, and the budget set aside won’t be enough to cover the cost of experts to help the departments fulfil their obligations. And this is just in relation to the start transition period. We do not know the full cost for the transition period or beyond.

*The six core Brexit ministries are:
1. the Department for Exiting the EU
2. the Department for International Trade
3. the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
4. the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
5. the Home Office
6. Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

 

Exiting the EU impact assessments warn of the true cost of Brexit

Labour Party

The FT reports today that Brexit will hit five sectors hardest in the EU, while in the UK smaller companies and specific regions will be “disproportionately affected.”

The research, published by Oliver Wyman and Clifford Chance law firm, found that the hardest hit sectors following Brexit will be financial services, automotive, agriculture, food and drink, chemicals and plastics which are heavily dependent on EU trade.

This corroborates the release of the document by the chair of the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee, Hillary Benn, which also published its economic impact of Brexit last week.

Even taking into consideration the admission by the reports authors that economic modelling in this way is difficult and contains uncertainties it is of concern that the Government and others continue to dismiss and/or refute the “best case scenarios” put forward.

The Committee’s report predicts that between -1% and -12.5% will be wiped off the growth of the UK economy in the long term, under the government’s current plans for a wide-ranging free trade agreement. Even leaving the EU but remaining in the single market results in growth between 1.1% to -10% over the course of 15 years.

Meanwhile the assessment published by the firms Oliver Wyman and Clifford Chance found that potential non-tariff barriers would have a much more significant effect on companies than tariffs.

Reporting in the FT, the research calculated that if a future customs arrangement was in place, equivalent to the current customs union then the impact of Brexit would be reduced to £14bn for the EU and £17bn for the UK.

While it must be accepted on both sides that these are estimates only, it would be foolish to claim that Brexit will have no economic impact at all, and the potential that the impact will be significant  is, obviously, a real threat to the UK economy.

Uncertainty over Brexit risks delays in access to lifesaving treatment

Labour Party

The Shadow Secretary for Health, Jonathan Ashworth, visited Brussels yesterday and told the Socialist and Democrat Group that it is utterly unacceptable for there to be any uncertainty about access to medicines and other related arrangements after Brexit.

He reiterated throughout the speech that Labour would seek to continue to be part of European Medicines Agency and reciprocal health care schemes after Brexit. He also said that a Labour Government would ensure that medical staff and those who work in the care sector would be able to continue to come to the UK to work post Brexit.

But in terms to accessing life saving treatment it is an absolute red line (for Labour) to ensure there are no delays. This shouldn’t in many ways be an ambitious goal, it is something that should be an absolute priority for all sides. But, to be clear, without a firm agreement in place we risk that very thing-huge delays. The situation in Switzerland provides a good illustration of delays which can occur without any agreements in place. Despite having numerous trade agreements in place Switzerland has nothing covering gaining access to medicines and as a result its access to new medicines on average arrive 157 days later than the rest of the EU.

“Disease has no borders,” he told the group referring to how crucial it is to cooperate in this area. He also explained that it would be irresponsible to dismiss the medical benefits which have built up over the course of our relationship with Europe. To dismiss this would be a “great folly”, he said.

He is right, not only does any ambiguity or lack of cooperation in this area mean delays in accessing potentially lifesaving treatments but what a waste to not continue to share information and to continue the relationship in any way possible in such an important area.

In relation to the NHS workforce, Labour he said, would guarantee European workers’ rights ensuring the NHS and care sector were still able to recruit staff post Brexit. Official figures provide clear evidence of how reliant we are on those who come here to work from the EU. For example, some 167,500 European nationals work across the health and care sectors with 90,000 in adult social care and 60,000 in the NHS itself. Furthermore, estimates show between 7-10% of doctors currently working in the UK are from the EEA and some 21,000 nurses are from the EU.

In September NHS figures revealed that 10,000 employees including nurses and doctors had quit. It’s not a surprise that so many health care workers are choosing to terminate their employment in the UK- their future here is for now uncertain.

This environment of uncertainty does not help the NHS to function, and this has been echoed by the Royal College of Nursing who noted that “lack of certainty is undoubtedly a key reason that EU nurses are no longer choosing to work in the UK, which is already putting pressure on staff and services.”

Our relationship with Europe in respect to medicine, access to medicine and health and care work is crucial to continue to be able to deliver a first-class NHS. Uncertainty simply put jeopardises this.

The Mansion House speech was ‘fantastical’-despite a more conciliatory approach

Labour Party

Theresa May’s road to Brexit speech last week at Mansion House delivered the inevitable. Instead of inflammatory “red, white and blue” language it was honest, detailed, serious and perhaps the most conciliatory we have seen her to date. It was inevitable that eventually she must deliver a speech which aimed to bring together the warring factions. She has spent the last 20 months alienating those in the Remain camp and internally her party is tearing itself apart, and that’s even before we start on how she has handled relations with the EU.

John Major said that Europe is the beast that gets to all Prime ministers in the end- it did it for him, and we all know what became of David Cameron.

But back to May’s speech; the positives are that she acknowledged things she previously had resolutely refused to, for example she admitted for the first time that Britain will not get the same kind of access to the European markets after Brexit in the we currently do. She was also clear that in order to operate within the EU it will be necessary for the UK to continue to make financial contributions, and she conceded that the European Courts will have some effect over UK legislation. The latter point had previously been a red line, so this was a big shift.

The message was clear: the expectation that the UK would continue to enjoy the same benefits outside the union as inside would has gone-realisation is finally setting in.

However, although a shift in her speech was clear what she articulated continued to be, as Andrew Rawnsley wrote this weekend, “fantastical”.

She told those gathered at Mansion House: “We must bring our country back together, considering the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

May’s great plan to unite where there is such huge division is an impossible task, one she clearly underestimates. Although May should not be blamed for all that has happened in the last 20 months, after all she did inherit Brexit, she has made life more difficult for her own premiership but more importantly her tone has on many occasions threatened to jeopardise the entire agreement.

Her lack of experience in international negotiations is no secret, she was, in fact, previously Home Secretary. Even this weekend she told Andrew Marr that in many ways Brexit is a very simple thing. What a magnificent underestimation that really is. The complexity and risk are enormous – we need not look any further than the current negotiations over the issue of Northern Ireland to realise the implications of taking such a gamble.

May’s, up until now, hard line approach to Brexit has divided a country where the outcome of Brexit was so narrow. Yet she has continuously alienated the entire Remain camp by using terms like “crushing the opposition”, and its won her no plaudits. Most importantly, and as Andrew Rawnsley observes, by taking such a trajectory with the European Union she has “made the negotiations much thornier.”

The speech wasn’t met with any great shakes on either side, what it will achieve is yet to be decided. What we do know is that by next March we must have a much clearer idea of where the UK is going.

But my own position remains-as I said in my article for Left Foot Forward last week: “It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process.

Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one.”

Draft withdrawal agreement shows the government is gambling with Britain’s future

Labour Party

Today’s publication of the legal agreement that could underpin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU confirms that the government’s cake-and-eat-it strategy is as alive and well as ever.

Despite the last-minute fudge agreed by the UK and the EU in December, today’s document makes clear that the government’s preferred strategy for the border in Northern Ireland is pie in the sky. Indeed, the only workable solution appears to involve keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union; something which Theresa May has consistently ruled out.

With only six months until the deal needs to be ratified, we’re yet to see any evidence that the government’s proposed plan to withdraw from the single market whilst simultaneously avoiding a hard border is a workable solution. Though the EU is open to this in principle, the UK has so far failed to produce any proposals that would solve the problem.

Instead, today’s document seeks to establish a “common regulatory area” in Ireland that covers a range of areas such as agriculture, energy and VAT rules, amongst others. It also grants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and proposes customs arrangements that are strikingly similar to the existing customs union, thereby breaking Theresa May’s red lines on Brexit.

The prime minister has defiantly rejected the EU’s proposal but is yet to offer an alternative vision for how the border could work in practice post-Brexit.

So what now? Leaked correspondence from Boris Johnson to Theresa May shows the Tories are still prepared to gamble with Britain’s peace and prosperity by even contemplating a hard Brexit. This would be catastrophic for the future of the country and put jobs, standards and stability at risk.

Peace is Northern Ireland should not be taken for granted and being part of the customs union is the only realistic way to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to 30 horrible years of bloodshed and sectarian conflict. That’s why Labour’s commitment to keeping the UK in the customs union, as Jeremy Corbyn outlined on Monday, is the only sensible basis on which to discuss Britain’s future with the EU.

But we shouldn’t stop there. The draft withdrawal agreement published today also outlines the terms of the so-called transition period. This would see Britain subject to all EU legislation without any decision-making powers, with no clear trajectory for what would happen next.

It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process. Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one. Unless or until the government can guarantee that Britain will get a better deal than our existing relationship with the EU by leaving, it would be an unquantifiable act of self-harm to do so.