05 Apr

ABCC Brexit Update – 5 April 2019 - Cross Party Brexit Talks Continue – House of Commons Back Brexit Delay

  • With Parliament deadlocked over Brexit, PM May announced on 2 April that she would seek a further delay to Brexit with EU leaders and would meet with Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to “try to agree a plan – that we would both stick to – to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal.”
  • The announcement was met with outcry and derision from Conservative Brexiteers leading to the resignations of two ministers:  Department for Exiting the EU minister Chris Heaton-Harris and Minister for Wales and government whip, Nigel Adams.  No cabinet ministers have resigned.
  • Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused the PM of “entrusting the final handling of Brexit to Labour,” and warned that Brexit was “becoming soft to the point of disintegration.”
  • On 3 April, May met with Corbyn and agreed a “programme of work” to seek a way forward on Brexit.  Further discussions between the Conservatives and Labour were held on 4 April.  In attendance during the discussions were Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.  On the Conservative side, senior Cabinet minister David Lidington, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Chief Whip Julian Smith, Business Secretary Greg Clark and the PM’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell were in attendance.
  • Downing Street has insisted the Withdrawal Agreement is not open to negotiation.  Focus remains on the political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU – namely the UK’s relationship with the EU’s Customs Union.
  • Following the initial meeting with PM May, Corbyn said he raised a number of issues including the future customs relationship with the EU, trade agreements and the possibility of a confirmatory public referendum on the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU. 
  • Corbyn, who has been a long-time eurosceptic, is under pressure from many in his party to seek a second or confirmatory referendum.  Meanwhile, a letter from 25 Labour MPs has been sent to Corbyn pressing the case not to hold a second referendum.
  • Meanwhile, on 3 April, the House of Commons passed a bill by a majority of one (313-312) to force the Government to ask the EU for a further delay to Brexit beyond 12 April.  Importantly, it would enable Parliament to determine the length of delay.  The move again underlines Parliament’s desire to avoid a ‘no deal’ scenario.
  • The bill now heads to the House of Lords for scrutiny.  Commentators expect it will encounter opposition from Conservative peers who will seek to frustrate passage into law.
  • Separately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond said there was a ‘credible case’ for a referendum on the final Brexit Deal. 
  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox also said that if a Customs Union with the EU were the only way forward, he would agree to it – with the caveat that a future UK Government could revisit the issue in the future.
  • An emergency summit of EU leaders has been called for 10 April – May will be expected to inform EU leaders on her plan going forward.
  • If the UK Government fails to propose a different way forward, it faces leaving the EU without a deal on 12 April.
  • If May is able to pass her Deal, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 22 May.

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.   Earlier ABCC Brexit updates can be found on the ABCC Blog.

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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