The Cicero Brexit Insights team is producing regular updates, comment and insight on both the broad themes and the technical detail of Brexit. We aim to give readers a clear view of the issues and challenges as they are seen in Brussels, London and Member States. This week, the UK team considers potential obstacles to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill’s passage through the Lords and the EU team sets out European discussions about post-Brexit visions for Europe and upcoming elections.

Following a relatively quiet week of Parliamentary recess, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill will enter the House of Lords on Monday (20 February) and bring Westminster back to life with a jolt. Despite the chatter about whether the Lords will seek to frustrate the Bill’s passage, it is unlikely that the Government will have much difficulty shepherding it through its next stage.

Having left the House of Commons unamended, there will be pressure on peers not to ‘frustrate the will of the people’ by holding up the Bill’s progress. Any attempts to significantly amend the Bill and push it into prolonged ping-pong will undoubtedly lead to backlash against the unelected House. Further, there are also technical obstacles for rebellious peers who may attempt to tack on amendments. Notably, the Bill lacks a ‘money resolution’, and amendments with significant financial implications (for example: those committing to a second referendum) may be considered out of order. Similarly, if such amendments appear to be “material and intolerable infringements” of Commons financial privilege (in that they impose a charge), they will fall out of order. This caveat certainly limits the scope of possible amendments, but there will be no shortage of points for discussion. Labour peers, for example, are allegedly determined to amend the Bill on points related to the rights of EU nationals, a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final deal and regular reports on the exit talks.

It is also worth noting that the Government has no formal control over the Bill’s timetable. In the Lords, there is no guillotine or programming of business, and most business is not time limited. The ‘usual channels’ (the Government and Opposition Whips Offices) negotiate how much time to allocate to each item of business but deals are not set in stone and can be altered if the House deals with business more or less quickly than expected. Peers are not strictly bound to the timetable as it is currently set out should business proceed less quickly than expected.

While it seems likely that the Government can comfortably meet its reported 7 March deadline for Royal Assent on the Bill, the rumours of triggering Article 50 at the March European Council summit have been rowed back on this week. Brexit Secretary David Davis has said that Article 50 would be triggered on the Government’s timetable, and not necessarily at the Summit. That said, business should be on notice as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, from which moment on Theresa May will officially hold the power to pull the trigger.

Jasmin Harper
Senior Account Executive  

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit – for weeks now the UK has been living in its own little bubble where the entire political scene is consumed by Brexit discussions. It is easy to assume then that the rest of Europe does the same, but it is time to burst that bubble.

Life on the continent has continued and topics other than Brexit dominate the news in Brussels as well as the Member States. Apart from big international topics like Trump and the future of NATO, Brussels is gearing up for significant discussions on the future of Europe. On 14 March the European Commission will publish its plans and European leaders will look to agree a path forward at the Rome Treaties anniversaries on 25 March. That is, a path forward in a more united European Union.

Although the challenges for the EU are plentiful, the trends in the core countries that will have elections this year are turning away from populist anti-EU parties. Ahead of the 15 March Dutch elections, Geert Wilders has been losing support since December, slowly losing his leading polling position. Brexit has not been a topic in the major debate so far and assuming Theresa May listens to the informal pleas of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to not trigger Article 50 on 9 March, Brexit is unlikely to become a major item with the Dutch electorate focusing on health care, migration and jobs.

Marine Le Pen’s rise in the polls seems to have halted, whereas Emmanuel Macron’s pro-EU message is catching up fast. It seems he actually stands a chance to survive the first round on 23 April and make it to the 7 May runoff, and thus be in with a good chance of becoming France’s next President. And finally, internal struggles of the AfD in Germany see its support dropping and potentially splitting the party whereas SPD’s Martin Schulz has been gaining ground.

Yes, the returning Greek crisis and increased tensions with Russia will certainly test the political will of the European leaders, as will Brexit. However, a pro-European outcome in the Dutch elections, agreement on a long-term course for the EU in Rome and potentially even a pro-EU French President can ensure the EU27 Member States have a strong negotiating position towards the UK and a bright unified future.

Alexander Kneepkens
Senior Account Manager – Brussels

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