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 looks at how one Constitutional crisis has been avoided with the passing of the Article 50 Bill while another rears its head in the form of Scottish independence, and the EU team sets out what the impact can be of the Dutch election results on the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
No sooner had we avoided one Constitutional crisis this week, with the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill receiving Royal Assent after it passed smoothly through its final stages in Parliament, did we encounter another in the shape of the Scottish independence question, with the Prime Minister seemingly quashing demands for a second ballot before Brexit is formalised.
For the UK’s progress towards Brexit, the renewed calls for a second Scottish independence referendum present Theresa May with a significant additional challenge. The Prime Minister is now faced with potentially tough negotiations both at home and in Brussels, something Number 10 fears could be a “distraction” to the mammoth task of Brexit itself, a process which is due to begin formally once Theresa May pulls the trigger on Article 50 later this month.
This week has also seen further jitters arise around the prospect of the UK leaving the EU without first securing a post-Brexit deal. Comments from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last Sunday and further concessions by Brexit Secretary David Davis in Parliament seem to suggest that the UK Government is neither fully prepared or indeed concerned about the potential for the UK to “crash out” of the EU without a deal. While much has been made of these comments in the media, it’s important to bear in mind that like in any negotiation, the UK Government will want to show it is prepared to “walk away” in order to ensure it is positioned strongly against its negotiating partner in Brussels.
With the Scottish National Party and Conservative Party Spring Conferences taking place this weekend, the week ahead may see the Government’s focus shift from Brexit to the ever-challenging domestic agenda. However, with Article 50 expected to be triggered towards end of this month this Brexit respite is unlikely to last long.
The dust is settling in the Netherlands; having been in the spotlight for weeks as polls showed populist Geert Wilders to be on course to win the elections, the results have come in and handed victory to incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The result is the first nudge away from a populist uprising and the predicted demise of the European Union. Yes, Wilders’ anti-EU populist party came in a distant second but it did not become the biggest party as many in Brussels had feared. Instead, a pro-EU government can be expected that will look to reform the European Union and promote long-term sustainability for the bloc.
The Dutch election result could very well be a turning point for the EU; 2016 saw Brexit, Trump’s win, Renzi’s loss, and a myriad of other crises. The Dutch vote could be the first event in a year of stability; the Dutch will likely get a pro-European government, polls predict (though caution should be attached to them) a pro-EU Macron win in France and the Germans are seeing the populist AfD haemorrhage support in the polls. Taking a big leap, if all three countries end up with relatively pro-European governments, the EU will have stability at its core. Apart from Italy where populist M5S could make gains, the first major elections would then be the 2019 Polish elections and the 2020 Spanish elections.
All of a sudden it looks very possible that Theresa May and the UK will face a European Union at the Brexit negotiating table that will have reconfirmed its commitment to the Union, rather than a continent in disarray with Nexit and Frexit referenda looming.
However, the Dutch election timing does mean the role of the Dutch in the first steps of the Brexit process will be limited. Seeing as the formation process will likely take many weeks if not months, Rutte is faced with a situation where he does not have a mandate to take a strong position in the Council negotiations on the EU27 guidelines for Brexit. It is highly unlikely that Rutte will succeed in forming a government before the Brexit process really starts moving.
On a related note, the team has put together an overview of the Brexit negotiation timeline here, mapping the process from Article 50 being triggered through to the withdrawal agreement being approved. We hope you find it useful.
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