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 the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill through the Lords and Thursday’s by-election results and the EU team considers the misconceptions of the EU’s top negotiating priorities.
This week saw the government’s first defeat in the passage of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, with the Lords voting in favour of an amendment to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit. While the government has expressed disappointment in the defeat, the reality is that they knew this vote was likely to go against them, and are showing little signs of giving way on this point.
The amended Bill will now progress to Report Stage and Third Reading on the 7 March. Having secured a majority of 102 to vote through Amendment 9B, Peers may be feeling confident that they can push through more amendments at Report Stage and Third Reading, in particular to call for Parliament to have a “meaningful” vote on the final deal.
The amended Bill will then have to be sent back to the Commons in parliamentary ping pong, where it is likely that any amendments will be defeated, despite the best effort of Peers to pressure Conservative backbenchers to rebel and support the amendment. The dates for this stage have not yet been confirmed, although it has been widely speculated that this will be on the 13 or 14 March. While the government could seek to fast-track the ping pong process by undertaking it on the 7 March, it is our understanding that the Government Whips office have not notified their MPs that they will be needed in Westminster on the Tuesday evening, and no instruction has come to cancel longstanding plans.
Outside of the Brexit bubble, it is also worth remembering that the Spring Budget will take place on Wednesday 8 March. The government that is still trying hard to show that Brexit is not all-consuming will not want the Article 50 Bill to upstage this fiscal event.
Senior Account Executive
This week saw the most detailed indication yet of France’s approach to the Brexit negotiations in a report by the French National Assembly’s fact finding mission on Brexit. The mission consisted of 30 interviews and four site visits to London, Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt following the referendum, and contains a set of recommendations for the French government.
The Parliamentarians call for negotiations to be conducted in an amicable spirit, for the EU27 to avoid “threats and blackmail” and to recognise the need for a special relationship with a country of the “importance” of the UK. But beyond this, the report makes clear where the EU’s negotiation red lines should lie. The first is that the European Union must be preserved. This would manifest through ensuring that the UK cannot enjoy the same advantages as Member States and that a logical conclusion of choosing to leave the Single Market is restricted access to it. On the structure of negotiations, Parliamentarians recognise that there needs to be discussion of the future relationship during the withdrawal agreement. But the negotiating mandate given to the Commission should be clear that this would be a second phase and follow discussion of the issues related to the divorce; such as rights of EU citizens and the UK’s liabilities for withdrawal.
France’s position has added significance beyond many other Member States’. One effect of Brexit will be to galvanise the Franco-German alliance that has traditionally been the driving force of EU policy, but has weakened as France’s economic position has declined. With Brexit and the departure of an ally, Germany must now work closely with France to steer the EU forward. The Franco-German joint statement this week indicating a preference among Commission President Jean Claude Juncker’s suggestions for the future of the EU shows that this is already happening. French Parliamentarians say bluntly that the government must work in “close collaboration with Germany”. A renewed Franco-German alliance will have clear implications for the negotiations. Most significantly, any appetite that there may have been in Germany to protect industries with close economic links to the UK will be much reduced in a French-German approach to Brexit.
Account Director – Brussels
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