Brexit Brief: Labouring Toward a Softer Brexit

Posted on 7th June 2018

Opposition shifts toward softer Brexit – will it take parliament with it?

Britain’s principal opposition party, the Labour Party, has signalled a shift toward a much softer Brexit.  With Prime Minister Theresa May lacking a majority in the House of Commons, and facing rebellion from her own party, Labour’s position makes the parliamentary arithmetic more interesting.  Labour has tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to keep Britain in a single market with the EU.  If passed, the amendment would force the government to reconsider a ‘Norway’ option – in the single market, more or less, with no formal vote.  Previous attempts at keeping Britain in the single market have failed because it required accepting freedom of movement – a position neither of the two largest UK parties has been willing to champion.  The Labour leadership suggested it would attempt to negotiate concessions on freedom of movement from the EU, although it is unclear why they would grant to Labour what they have denied the Conservatives thus far.

EU Withdrawal Bill back in parliament

A marathon session is in store for those watching the House of Commons next Tuesday as the EU Withdrawal Bill returns.  The government will ask MPs to consider some 15 amendments passed by the House of Lords over the past few weeks, including amendments to keep Britain in the European Economic Area (EEA, like Norway) or in the customs union (like Turkey).  Another would force the government to submit the withdrawal agreement to a ‘meaningful vote’ in parliament.  It’s likely that many of the Lords’ amendments, particularly on the EEA, will be reversed – but Labour’s, being more vaguely worded, may yet pass.  The one where May is most vulnerable is on the ‘meaningful vote’: should she lose it, parliament will take greater control of the negotiations than it has been willing to do so far.  As ever with Brexit, this kicks the can down the road: parliament will reserve to itself the right to make decisions later in the year.

Galileo: animosity over the satellites programme grows

Galileo, the EU’s global navigation satellite system, has once again been the centre of acrimony in the Brexit negotiations.  Brexit Secretary David Davis last night used a speech to claim the EU was “shooting itself in the foot to prove the gun works” over its position to exclude Britain from its public regulated service (PRS), the highly accurate and secure version of the service available only to EU member states.  The British government has been rarely united on this point, saying that Britain’s significant financial and technical contribution warranted a special access deal.  The EU, in an approach described as “legalistic” and “theological”, insists that its rules prevent third countries from providing the access the UK wants.  However, Britain claims excluding it will cost the EU €1 bn more and delay the roll out.  Separately, it had threatened to delay the process by using its membership of the European Space Agency (which is independent of the EU), although the EU yesterday circumvented Britain’s ESA veto by assuming its liabilities in relation to Galileo, meaning it can proceed by majority.

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