21 Mar

ABCC Brexit Update – 21 March 2019 - PM May Requests Brexit Delay

  • It was expected that PM May would hold a third ‘meaningful vote’ on her Brexit Deal this week ahead of the 29 March Brexit deadline.  May has been unable to pass her withdrawal deal through the House of Commons, with failed attempts in both January and March.
  • The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow thwarted May’s plans for a third vote this week by announcing on 18 March that he would not allow another vote on “substantially the same” motion MPs have already rejected.  Bercow cited a convention dating back to 1604 prohibiting the Government from bringing back a defeated motion in the same form during the course of a sitting parliament.
  • Following Bercow’s ruling, PM May wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk on 20 March to formally request a delay to Brexit beyond 29 March to 30 June.  A longer extension was not requested as it would require the UK to participate in the upcoming EU Parliament elections – something May explicitly ruled out.  The date of 30 June has been put forward as it is the day before the new European Parliament’s session would begin.
  • May’s request for a delay to Brexit has been met with opposition from both Remain supporting MPs (who have called for a longer extension) and from Brexit supporting MPs (who want Brexit to take place on 29 March). 
  • Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for not joining the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats, The Independent Group (TIG), Plaid Cymru and the Green Party in calling for a longer extension to Brexit.  Corbyn had refused to meet with other opposition leaders due to the participation of leading TIG MP Chuka Ummuna, a Labour defector.
  • In a televised address to the nation from Downing Street on 20 March, May appealed directly to voters to back her deal saying that she understands the country has “had enough” of Brexit.  Criticising parliamentarians, May said they have done “everything possible to avoid making a choice” and that it is “high time” to make a decision on Brexit.  Her address was met with derision from many MPs.
  • EU leaders, including Theresa May, will meet in Brussels on 21-22 March and are expected to formally respond to May’s request for a delay.  All EU Member States must approve an extension to Article 50 (the EU’s secession clause).
  • EU Council President Tusk immediately responded to May’s request for a Brexit delay by making any extension conditional on British MPs approving May’s deal next week in a third ‘meaningful vote’.  Tusk also said that the Withdrawal Treaty must be ratified by 23 May – the date of the next European Parliament elections.
  • Should May bring her deal back for a third vote next week, as is widely expected, she must take into account the Speaker of the House’s ruling that the vote must not be on “substantially the same” motion MPs have already rejected.  A meaningful amendment to her deal would be required to secure the Speaker’s approval to hold a vote. 
  • In order to pass her Brexit deal, May must still secure the backing of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and members of the influential Conservative Brexiteer grouping, the European Research Group (ERG).
  • Backing from the DUP and ERG would likely be contingent on the Attorney General updating or changing his legal opinion on the ability of the UK to leave the Northern Irish Backstop – the most contentious part of May’s Brexit deal.  The backstop requires the UK to stay aligned to the EU’s Customs Union until a solution is found to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland – something unacceptable to the DUP and ERG.
  • Early next week, Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson also plan to table an amendment to invite MPs to back May’s deal in return for the Government holding a referendum soon afterwards to gain the public’s approval.
  • Commentators speculate likely outcomes for next week:
    • May is able to pass her Brexit Deal in a third ‘meaningful vote’ with the UK leaving the EU on 30 June.
    • EU President Tusk has said that if May is unable to pass her deal early next week, another emergency summit of EU leaders could be called ahead of the 29 March Brexit deadline.  The outcomes of which are still not clear.
    • May is unable to pass her deal leading to the UK revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit.  (May has ruled out a longer extension to Article 50, saying “As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June.”)
    • May is unable to pass her deal, leading to a ‘No Deal’ scenario, with the UK leaving without a deal next Friday, 29 March.
  • 8 days remain until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 at 11.00pm UK time (10.00am on 30 March AEST).

The ABCC and Brexit

The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely in the coming weeks.  We look forward to keeping members up to date with the very latest from London and what it possibly means for the Australian-British business community.  

If you would like to receive more frequent Brexit updates or have any questions, please feel free to contact our office on abcc@britishchamber.com.

By Paul O’Hagan

Paul O’Hagan is the ABCC’s General Manager in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.  Prior to joining the ABCC, Paul was Senior Political and Economic Advisor to the U.S. Government in London, covering Brexit.

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