Brexit 5: The world is watching

By Laura Contin September 18, 2020 3:38 pm

The Internal Market Bill passed the second reading…

On Monday, 14th September, after a heated debate, the House of Commons voted in favour of the controversial Internal Market Bill in its second reading by 340 to 263. By way of reminder, for those who stopped following all these Brexit shenanigans and moved on with their lives, this bill seeks to prevent disruption to trade between the four nations of the UK if no deal is reached with the EU. In a nutshell, this bill aims to ensure regulations between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are aligned so once the UK leaves the EU, the four nations will have the power to set their own rules on matters such as food safety and air quality. On paper, it almost sounds like quite a reasonable move, but some would argue that this is not the case…

… but the path is still gruelling

The bill has attracted criticism from across the political spectrum – including from some of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party colleagues – as it seeks to overrule and go against parts of the Brexit – “oven ready” – deal, also known as the Withdrawal Agreement” (WA) between the UK and the EU that came into effect last January.

The WA is a fully-fledged international treaty and is designed to prevent a hard border returning between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. So, a breach of the agreement would undermine the reputation of the UK with the rest of the world and fracture the confidence needed to build a future relationship with the EU. The bill is now likely to face more difficulties as it heads for debate in the House of Lords. The saga for now continues.

A retreat in sight?

In a bid to avoid a potential party rebellion, Boris Johnson attempted to restore some unity among the rebel backbenchers with a policy paper, issued on Thursday, 17th September, which sets out the powers the government would seek to override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.  In its policy paper, No 10 explained that it will ask parliament to support the provisions in the relevant clauses “only in the case of, in our view, the EU being engaged in a material breach of its duties of good faith or other obligations, and thereby undermining the fundamental purpose of the Northern Ireland protocol”.

Former Tory leader Lord Howard, who was in favour of Brexit but has been an open critic of the Internal Market Bill, said the compromise “isn’t enough” for him to back it in the Lords. Some EU officials claimed the move as “promising” but reiterated the EU’s distress at the UK’s attempt to overrule the Withdrawal Agreement.

The world (and Joe Biden) is watching

The controversy of the UK Internal Market Bill did not go unnoticed across the pond. The US presidential candidate Joe Biden stated in a tweet on Wednesday, 16th September, that “”we can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.” Biden also retweeted a letter to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson from members of the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, which warned that Congress would not pass a U.S.-U.K. trade deal if Britain fails to uphold commitments to Northern Ireland.

Biden’s remarks will certainly serve as an unwelcome reminder to the UK that the Irish lobby in DC is solid, despite the British impression that it has a special relationship with the US. As former President Bill Clinton took a leading role in the talks that led to the Good Friday Deal, the Democrats have a clear interest in this.

The US political landscape could in fact drastically change in November and the chances that the UK’s most important ally goes from a leader who admires both Johnson and Brexit, to a man who served as Vice President to Barack Obama, and who, in view of the UK referendum in 2016, mentioned that Brexit would put Britain at the “back of the queue” in trade talks. The world (and Joe) is watching…

Madame President von der Leyen also has something to say

In her first State of the Union speech to the European Parliament chamber on Wednesday, 16th September, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen strongly addressed the controversial passing of the UK’s Internal Market Bill mentioning that this would give UK Ministers the power to undermine clauses in the Withdrawal Agreement, which von der Leyen defined as something they had worked ‘relentlessly on… line by line, word by word’. She quoted a much-admired predecessor of the Conservative government, stating that the UK should honour the words of Margaret Thatcher: ‘Britain does not break Treaties…’. She said the EU and the UK had agreed the Withdrawal Agreement was the ‘best and only way for ensuring peace on the island of Ireland’ and stressed that the EU would never backtrack on that.

The future of UK-EU relations is still rather wobbly, and at this late stage of the year, von der Leyen’s speech seemed to show a lack of confidence in the ability to negotiate an agreement.

The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at chris.whitehouse@whitehouseconsulting.co.uk

By Laura Contin September 18, 2020 3:38 pm

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