23 May

Brexit Update - 23 May - Theresa May’s New Brexit Plan Under Fire; Commons Leader Resigns; Britain Votes in EU Elections














  • With her leadership under intense pressure, PM May gave a speech on 21 May at PwC’s London Headquarters announcing she would table a revised EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons within the next fortnight - giving MPs “one last chance” to back her Deal.  Many see the move as a “last throw of the dice” for May’s premiership.
  • In the speech, May promised a “new deal” and in an attempt to woo Remain-leaning MPs, offered the possibility of holding a subsequent parliamentary vote on whether to hold a second referendum.  This would be contingent on MPs backing her Withdrawal Deal first.
  • Over the past months, PM May has failed to secure parliamentary backing for her Brexit deal in the House of Commons on three separate occasions.  In April, the EU agreed to delay the UK’s departure from the EU to October 31st 2019 – the day before the new European Commission is due to take office.
  • Negotiations with the opposition Labour Party to find a way to block the impasse have now collapsed.  Labour had been pressing the Government for the UK to permanently remain part of the EU’s Customs Union – something unacceptable to the Government.
  • According to the BBC, the key points of PM May’s revised Withdrawal Deal include:
    • A guarantee of a House of Commons vote on whether to hold another referendum on the Government’s Brexit Deal, with a promise to honour the outcome
    • A vote on different future customs options, including a Government proposal for a temporary customs union with the EU on goods –what May called a “customs compromise"
    • A legal obligation for the UK to ‘seek to conclude alternative arrangements’ to replace the Northern Irish backstop by the end of 2020
    • If the backstop does come into force, the bill would guarantee Northern Ireland remains aligned with the rest of the UK and remains in the same customs territory
    • Legislation to ensure workers’ rights are “every bit as good if not better” after Brexit and guarantees of no dilution in environmental standards
    • A legal duty to seek changes to the political declaration on future relations with the EU
  • Opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has said he would not support May’s new deal as “It’s basically a rehash of what was discussed before.” He added that the proposed bill “doesn’t make any fundamental moves on market alignment or the customs union”.
  • In addition to Labour, the Scottish National Party (SNP); the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Liberal Democrats have announced that they will not back PM May’s deal.
  • There has been a strong backlash amongst Conservative MPs to May’s announcement.  The promise of a vote on a second referendum has been seen as “a step too far” by many Conservative MPs. 
  • In a further blow to PM May, House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom resigned from the Cabinet on 23 May claiming that she no longer believes that PM May’s approach will deliver Brexit.  Leadsom’s resignation is the 36th by a minister under PM May. 
  • With May’s leadership under intense pressure and rumours of resignation abound in Westminster, senior Conservatives are preparing to launch leadership bids. With up to fifteen in total, potential leadership contenders include:
    • Michael Gove - Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
    • Jeremy Hunt – the Foreign Secretary
    • Sajid Javid – the Home Secretary
    • Boris Johnson – the former Foreign Secretary
    • Andrea Leadsom – the former Leader of the House of Commons
    • Dominic Raab – former Secretary of State for Exiting the EU
    • Liz Truss – Chief Secretary to the Treasury
  • PM May has agreed to meet with Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs, on Friday 24 May to discuss her future.
  • Meanwhile the UK will hold EU Parliamentary Elections today, Thursday 23 May.  Despite negotiating Brexit, the UK is legally required to hold these elections as a standing member of the European Union.  Results are expected on Sunday 26 May when voting in other EU countries has finished.
  • The latest polls put the new Brexit Party, headed by former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage in first place. The Conservatives are on course for their lowest ever share of the vote in a nationwide ballot and could even slip into fifth place behind the Greens, according to The Telegraph.
  • An average of the latest polling puts the Brexit Party on a projected vote share of 36.8% followed by Labour (30%); the Liberal Democrats (11.3%); the Conservatives (8.5%); the Greens (5%); Change UK (4%); UKIP (3.3%).
  • EU elections are held under the proportional voting system unlike Westminster’s first-past-the-post system. 

The ABCC and Brexit
The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely. 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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