Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

Articles, Current Affairs, Uncategorized

Bilal explains what is currently happening with Brexit, and includes commentary on Michel Barnier’s latest statements.

Turmoil and Technicalities – A Summary of the Brexit Process Thus Far

picture from BBC.

The European Union Customs Union is one of the key components of the EU, and has been at the centre of British politics recently as Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet struggled to develop a coherent strategy for exiting the European Union and pass two essential bills through the Commons amidst resignations and an onslaught of opposition and rebellions.

The EU Customs Union ensures there are no tariffs on trade between members of the union and requires a common external tariff to be imposed on all goods entering the union from nations that are not members of it. This means that if the EU, for example, imposes a 10% tariff on Japanese cars, the UK must do the same, and cannot negotiate its own trade agreement with Japan. In addition, the Customs Union means that all EU member states are represented by the European Commission in the World Trade Organisation.

This is different from the single market, which allows free movement of not just goods but also capital, services, and people, and involves standardising regulations to create a ‘level playing field’ for firms within the EU.
Given that about 43% of UK exports go to the EU, replacing the Customs Union with some sort of trade deal is a crucial element of Brexit.

Initially, the Prime Minister’s Chequers Plan proposed the UK exiting both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, followed by the formation of a new ‘economic partnership’ between the EU and UK, which would include a ‘frictionless’ free trade area for goods, combined with a ‘common rulebook’ for regulations. A key proposal contained within it is that of a ‘Facilitated Customs Arrangement’ which would involve the UK charging EU Tariffs for goods intended for the EU, and UK tariffs for goods intended for the UK.

Despite the emphasis on ‘new arrangements’ and allowing UK to negotiate its own separate trade deals with non-EU nations, it appeared to preserve much of the status quo with Europe and was seen as a ‘soft Brexit’ by many Eurosceptic Tories.

It prompted the resignation of Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis, who stated that he could not support a plan he did not believe in.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also resigned, stating in his resignation letter that this proposal was giving up too much and that the UK was “headed for the status of colony”. He ended with the claim that Europe is “a continent which we will never leave”, emphasizing the idea that the Chequers proposal represents a capitulation to Europe rather than an exit, as well as the fact that Boris Johnson doesn’t understand how Geography works.

Based on the Chequers plan, a 98-page white paper entitled “the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union” was released by the government. The paper seemed to be more focused on being palatable to the EU, and echoed much of the language used by European officials. For example, it repeatedly mentions ‘a balance of rights and obligations’, and gives assurances on nearly every page that the UK will take its obligations with regards to the proposed economic partnership with the EU seriously. This suggests that the Prime Minister considers preventing a ‘no deal’ scenario to be a high priority.

In order for any such plan to be implemented, a Trade Bill and Customs Bill, officially known as the ‘Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill’, need to be passed by Parliament, which would lay the foundation for further changes.
The ‘hard Brexit’ wing of the Conservative party, the European Research Group (ERG) currently led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, pressurised the Government into accepting four amendments to the bill which state that:

– The UK cannot collect Tariffs on behalf of the EU unless there is a reciprocal arrangement;
– A customs border in the Irish sea would be illegal;
– The UK would require a separate VAT system from the EU;
– The Government would have to pass legislation through Parliament if it wanted to remain in a customs union with the EU.

The Government insists that these amendments do not contradict the Chequers plan, while the ERG apparently believe that the amendments will cause the EU to reject the Chequers proposal, leading to a hard, no-deal Brexit.
This was followed by backlash on part of the pro-EU wing of the Conservative party, culminating in an attempt to pass an amendment that would have meant that the UK would join a customs union (not the EU Customs Union, but one similar to Turkey’s arrangement with the EU) if a free trade area agreement hadn’t been reached by January 2019. It failed by 307 to 301 votes. However, the Government did face defeat as an amendment that states the UK must remain part of the European Medicines Agency passed.

Both bills have now passed through their third readings in the Commons, and their first readings in the Lords – the next stage will be their second readings in the Lords, which will take place in September.

Despite all the issues and objections that have been raised against the Government’s proposal, it at least deserves credit for being pragmatic in recognising the need for diplomatically addressing the EU’s arguments and concerns if a deal is to be reached. Indeed, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it opened “the way to a constructive discussion”, despite questioning and criticising elements of the plan.

The fact that Barnier did not reject the plan is significant, as it may indicate the ERG’s bid for a no-deal Brexit has failed. The extent to which he ‘dissected’ or ‘dismantled’ it has been exaggerated in recent media reports. However, the Government clearly still has a lot of work left to do, and it is unclear to what extent the ERG’s four amendments will undermine it in the future.

By Bilal Asghar

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Katie looks at the significance of the abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland, and whether it is enough.

What will be the impact of the referendum in Ireland?

picture from Irish Mirror.

On the 25th of May a historic referendum on abortion laws took place in Ireland in which 66.4% of votes were made in favour of legalising abortion. This was a truly landmark decision for a nation in which four out of five people identify as Catholic, a region that stipulates that life begins at the moment of conception and therefore abortion is a kin to murder. The vote demonstrates that the tide has turned in the Republic of Ireland, more women than ever recognise their right to determine the fate of their body and more men than ever recognise the necessity for female choice. But what will this referendum really lead to, how will it impact the lives of Irish women for generations and will it change the nation for good?

To really understand the origins of the debate on abortion one must look back over two thousand years, to Jeremiah 1.5 in which it is revealed the Lord said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. This line from the Bible has been used by Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, people from all denominations of Christianity, to argue that we were mapped out by God before our conception, that any conception is a part of God’s plan and therefore to terminate any pregnancy is to go against the will of God. People have come to conclude that from conception, even from your conception in the eyes of God, one is a life and has the same value as all life outside the womb. It is on this fundamental point that those who have spent years campaigning for repealing of Ireland’s eighth amendment would disagree. Pro choice activists in Ireland and across the globe are not all, though some will be, claiming that the foetus is of no value but believe that the woman’s right to determine what happens to her body is of superior worth. This means that while one woman is free to decide that her life is such that she wants a baby and can take care of one, the woman standing next to her in a queue or at a pro choice rally can choose for herself what suits her, if she is too young, already has too many children, financially unstable or simply does not want to be a mother then she can make that choice, for her own body.

After the referendum women in Ireland are now promised they will have that choice. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has stated that new legislation will be introduced by the end of this year and will permit abortions up to the 12 week mark and up to 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances. While 12 weeks may seem an early stage in a pregnancy 79% of abortions in England and Wales take place in the first 10 weeks. As a result, statistically speaking, this change to Ireland’s laws will have a huge impact on Ireland’s women and now the vast majority seeking abortions will be able to do so within their own country’s health system. This will dramatically reduced the numbers of women, which often exceed 6,500 per year, secretly travelling to the UK to receive an abortion, completely alone and without support. These women will now be able to share their story more freely and seek support from those around them, so that women in the future will be less riddled by the shame and ignominy that has always come with abortion in Ireland. Women in Ireland are now not only free to make choices for their own bodies but free from the pain of stigma and judgment.

However, there are limits to the impact this law change will have. The most important is that women who have no idea they are pregnant, who may not realise until much later than 12 weeks, will not be able to access abortions unless there are mitigating circumstances. In England and Wales the law is different as abortion is allowed up until 24 weeks as this is recognised as the point of liability, after which the woman no longer has the power to make choices for the baby because it would be a viable life separate from her. As a result some women, when their pregnancy is between 12 and 24 weeks, may still travel to the UK to seek an abortion. However, given that only 10% of abortions take place after the 13 week stage far fewer woman will be forced to make this journey than currently are. In addition, we must remember that this it is not a ‘cure all’ result, women in Ireland will likely have to defend their right to choice for decades to come as the pendulum of politics will mean that one day this right may be threatened. However today, for the majority of women, the referendum result will have a transformative impact. Women’s issues are firmly on the political agenda in the Republic of Ireland and this result is a fantastic leap in the right direction. Next stop, change in the North!







Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

Articles, Current Affairs

Alice explains some of the causes and consequences of Brexit Secretary David Davis’ resignation.

Another One Bites the Dust: What David Davis’ Resignation Means for Theresa May

picture from Sky News.

On Sunday night, David Davis threw a proverbial grenade into the Conservative party with the announcement of his resignation, and not even 24 hours later, Boris Johnson followed suit. The mass exodus of minister resignations comes as a response to the Brexit plan agreed at Chequers on Friday, which Boris Johnson tactfully stated that trying to defend would be like ‘polishing a turd’. So how could the plan possibly have elicited such a momentous reaction? Put short, the consensus among many Brexiteer Tory MPs is that the plan presented a Brexit that was unacceptably ‘soft’. Their primary objection was the proposal to ‘maintain a common rulebook’ governing goods in the UK and EU, with David Davis telling LBC that he could not be, ‘the champion of a policy (he) didn’t believe in’. The agreement at Chequers was the closest the Conservative party have come to delivering a clear, united proposal for leaving the EU, but in light of recent events, not only does this progress hang in the balance, but so does the fate of Prime Minister May.

The recent resignations have sparked rampant speculation over the possibility of a vote of no confidence against Theresa May – but how likely is this? While some Eurosceptic MPs have allegedly already begun submitting letters of no confidence to Graham Brady, it will take 48 Tory MPs submitting letters to trigger a leadership contest. The resignation of two leading Brexiteers could draw the support of Eurosceptic Tory MPs further away from May, and Davis’ resignation in particular is likely to inspire fear that the clean break they trusted him to deliver will be replaced by a softer Brexit. This could trigger more Eurosceptics within the party to vote no confidence, in an attempt to redirect the course of our divorce deal with a more pro-Brexit Prime Minister.

However, it would be unwise to begin digging May’s grave just yet. The most obvious obstacle to a vote of no confidence is the fact that there is no clear successor to May, as the divisions within the party mean that it is more difficult to determine a candidate with majority support. Not only that, but the split also makes the job of Prime Minister wholly undesirable; no matter what stance on Brexit one chooses to pursue, one is always going to have a large part of their own party working against them. Thus, Brexiteer MPs are probably aware that even if a leadership contest were triggered, it is likely May would win, as there would probably not be enough support behind one alternative candidate to oust her, and she still has considerable support within the party.

Considering this, at the moment it would be more in the interest of the Eurosceptic faction of the party to hold off on writing their letters of no confidence, and instead turn their attention to Davis’ replacement Dominic Raab, ensuring he sticks to carrying out the ‘full fat Brexit’ he told one interviewer he was in favour of. As long as there is the hope that Raab may do what Davis could not, and there remains no strong alternative candidate for a leadership contest, we can perhaps tentatively conclude that the Prime Minister may be spared from a vote of no confidence – for now.

By Alice Kenny