There has been a good deal of progress with Brexit recently, both in Parliament and in the negotiations in Brussels. With such a red hot topic like Brexit, there is a lot of media attention and I would like to give a short update about progress made.
On Thursday, 13th July 2017 the Government introduced the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to Parliament. The Bill, if passed, will enshrine all EU law into British law and thus, bring sovereignty back to the UK. All EU laws will automatically be converted into UK law which means that if any individual laws were to be removed, they will have to be voted on in Parliament.
Since then, the Withdrawal Bill has progressed through its First and Second Reading stages to the Committee Stage where the Bill was debated for over 64 hours – demonstrating our commitment to very full and proper Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit.
Hundreds of amendments were submitted to the Bill and MPs have been debating and voting on the Withdrawal Bill for many hours. Indeed, on a few occasions we have been voting well into the night and one evening until 1.20am. Bills of this importance do need to be given ample time for MPs to scrutinise and I fully support its passing into UK law.
Moreover, huge progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations as the UK and the EU have agreed, in principle, a deal on the first phase of negotiations and the EU have now confirmed that we will be moving onto the next phase which will focus on trade.
This deal does three things:
1) guarantees the rights of EU citizens living in this country and Britons living in the EU;
2) guarantees no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and
3) settles our financial obligations to the EU.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will have a small role in protecting EU citizens’ rights in this country. However, the deal states that British courts have the voluntary opportunity during the next 8 years to ask the advice of the ECJ strictly on matters relating to citizens’ rights – and this will only be used in cases in which British courts have undecided or novel issues before them. This only occurs on average twice a year at present. British courts will have the final say on these matters, not the ECJ.
With regards to the financial settlement, the offer that we have made to the EU is purely and simply about settling the financial commitments that we agreed to before Brexit. Government officials expect this to be much less than the figures that were being reported before Christmas and will be no more than the equivalent of 4 years membership of the EU – expected to be much less than the £50 billion figure. This money is to cover what we have agreed to pay in the coming years and does not include offering the EU more money than what we would have paid as a member of the EU.
This deal will also ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Much has been said about the term “full alignment” and I would like to clarify this: all parts of the UK including Northern Ireland will be leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. However, in order to ensure a frictionless border with Ireland steps do need to be taken. Our preferred solution to this issue is to either: negotiate a good trade deal with the EU which means that the border can automatically remain frictionless or to negotiate specific solutions to deal with the border issue. If, and only if, both solutions fail then we have committed to “full alignment” – which means sharing the same policy goals even if we achieve them by different means – with only the regulations and rules that specifically support a frictionless border. This is not full alignment with the whole Customs Union, it is alignment only on the specific issues relating to the Irish issue and this will only be done if our preferred two options are not achievable. “Full alignment” is not akin to staying in the Single Market or the Customs Union. If “full alignment” was to go ahead, we would still be able to negotiate our own trade deals.
It is important to note that the actual document of the agreement says “under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, this phrase ensures and makes clear that the UK has the power and is willing, if necessary, to withdraw from this deal depending on the outcome of future talks. For example, if there is no overall Brexit deal agreed the UK will be able to withdraw our financial settlement offer. This phrase allows us more negotiating power for future talks.
We are very much on track to deliver the Prime Minister’s vision for a genuine Brexit, one which takes us out of the Single Market, the Customs Union and brings back control over laws and our borders to the UK and this agreement in phase one of the negotiations is in keeping with that ambition.
I am pleased with the progress being made and fully support our Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit.