In Depth

Brexit: Theresa May says ‘trust me’ to deliver

PM appeals to the public for ‘help’ in bid to break Brexit deadlock

18 April
Brexit: Lords inflict ‘crushing’ defeat on May’s EU bill

Theresa May has lost a vote on her flagship EU Withdrawal Bill, with the House of Lords opting last night to amend the proposed legislation and send it back to the Commons for further consideration.

The “crushing” defeat is a severe blow to the Government's plan for the UK to exit the European Union customs union following Brexit, says The Daily Telegraph. The amendment was carried by a majority of 123, with one of the largest turnouts ever recorded in the Lords.

Among the 348 peers voting for the amendment – which commits the Government to making a statement about the steps it has taken on a customs union - were 24 Conservatives, including former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine and former health secretary Lord Lansley. There were 225 votes supporting the Bill.

Ministers are now “bracing themselves” for a new House of Commons vote on whether the UK should quit the customs union when it quits the EU, claims The Guardian. However, the amendment does not commit the Government to such a vote.

The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said that last night’s result would not affect policy. In a statement, the department said: “Our policy on this subject is very clear. We are leaving the customs union and will establish a new and ambitious customs arrangement with the EU while forging new trade relationships with our partners around the world.”

The Telegraph reports that ministers have dismissed the defeat as “meaningless” - but The Guardian quotes Environment Secretary Michael Gove saying that the Government would be relying on “the persuasive powers of ministers to get colleagues to support” the Prime Minister on this issue.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, insists support is growing for the UK to stay in a customs union. He said: “There is a growing view, I think a majority view in Parliament now, that it is in our national interest and economic interest to stay in a customs union with the EU.

“We’ve got a huge manufacturing sector in the UK that needs to be protected.”

Conservative grandee Lord Lawson, a former chancellor, insisted there was no economic case for remaining in the union, and insisted the vote defeat had been politically motivated by ideological Remainers. The House had passed a “wrecking amendment”, he said.

18 April

What happens next in Brexit negotiations?

The vote is the first of several that the Government is expected to lose as it negotiates the EU Withdrawal Bill through both Houses, says the BBC. The Government does not have a majority in the Lords, so is braced for trouble there.

Lord Patten, a Conservative former EU commissioner, gave notice during the debate yesterday that he would be a serial rebel against the Bill, saying: “There are times in one's political career where what is alleged to be party loyalty comes way behind trying to stand up for the national interest.”

Talks are due to commence in Brussels today on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, as the Brexit bill returns to the House of Lords.

Negotiations in Brussels

A “milestone” in Brexit negotiations, the talks will be “mostly limited to a formal presentation on the negotiating guidelines agreed by EU leaders in March, as well as setting a schedule for future meetings”, says The Guardian.

The newspaper adds: “Nonetheless, it is a significant moment for the UK, ten months after the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, was forced to bow to the EU’s timetable, having previously promised the ‘row of the summer’.”

Syed Kamall, Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the EU Parliament, welcomed the start of future relationship talks, telling MEPs: “Now we can stop talking about the past and focus on the future.”

But President of the European Council Donald Tusk insisted the UK is still at risk of crashing out of the EU without a sufficient Brexit deal or transition period if it does not produce a solution to the Irish border issue.

Tusk said Britain had “caused the problem” in Ireland by voting for Brexit and would therefore have to help solve it.

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt also weighed in, warning that in the wake of the row about the UK residency rights of the so-called Windrush generation, “we need to ensure the same is not happening to our European citizens”. Discussion of the withdrawal agreement and citizens’ rights are “not over”, he added.

Brexit bill returns to Lords

The latest round of talks come as Theresa May’s government prepares to face an “embarrassing defeat” in the House of Lords on Wednesday. The Upper House is expected to challenge the PM's refusal to remain in a customs union with the European Union following Brexit, reports Reuters.

May has said in the past that the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union after quitting the EU, so that London can negotiate its own free trade deals.

But a number of members of the Lords, where the Conservatives do not command a majority, are understood to be unhappy with the EU Withdrawal Bill. The peers are reportedly seeking an amendment that would require ministers to report what efforts they had made to secure a customs union by the end of October.

17 April

Brexit: majority of Britons living in EU are working age

The majority of Britons living in other EU nations are working age, new figures from the Office for National Statistics show. The finding overturns the usual claim that most are retirees, says The Guardian.

The ONS says 784,900 Britons live in EU countries which are not the UK or Ireland – and two-thirds of them are aged between 15 and 64.

According to the Guardian, there is a “widely-held belief” that most EU British expats are “pensioners sunning themselves in southern France or Spain” - and the ONS figures suggest this is not the case.

It matters because the post-Brexit status of Britons working overseas within the EU has yet to be decided. Late last month, The Guardian reported that “EU leaders have been relatively silent on the matter”.

A campaign group has been started to protect the rights of Britons who fall into this camp, called British in Europe.

Its director, Jane Golding, told the newspaper last month: “EU countries have the option of going for a default position which will mean we don’t have to make an application for a new status, or they could go for something like the UK’s settled status, but so far we are entirely in the dark.”

Spain most popular

The ONS estimates that 293,500 Britons live long-term in Spain, the single most popular place for UK expats to move within the EU. Even there, the majority are aged 15 to 64.

France is the next most popular country, with 152,900 Britons. Germany has 96,500 and the Netherlands 45,300.

Last week, The Times reported that the latest figures showed the number of Britons becoming citizens of other EU nations doubled in 2016, compared to the previous year. A total of 6,555 applications were approved, compared to 2,478 in 2015.

9 April

How might devolution work after Brexit?

The relationship between Westminster and devolved institutions will need to be rethought after Brexit in order to avoid “irreparable harm”, the Institute for Government (IfG) has warned.

In a new paper, entitled Devolution after Brexit, the think tank says that Brexit negotiations have put devolution in the UK “under serious strain”.

With one year to go until the UK formally leaves the European Union, “tensions have surfaced” between the UK and the governments in Cardiff and Edinburgh in discussions over the EU Withdrawal Bill, the legislation outlining Britain’s departure from the bloc, the report says.

The Government has identified more than 150 areas of policy where powers are returning from the EU, but there is limited scope for policy variation across the UK. “The devolved administrations want these powers to return to their capitals but Westminster is resisting, arguing that it needs to guarantee continuity and certainty,” reports The Times.

So how might the stand-off be resolved?

According to the IfG, in some of the policy areas identified, UK-wide legislation may be needed, but in the “majority of cases”, non-legislative agreements are likely to be sufficient. “There will be some areas where no new agreement is necessary, with each part of the UK able to go its own way after Brexit,” it adds.

Around a quarter of the policies relate to environment, agriculture and fisheries, with the pro-EU newspaper The New European reporting that "wrangles over sharing out cash for farmers will be one of the biggest challenges ministers face".

The think tank has outlined eight key challenges to address, including distributing funds, establishing new regulators, and coordinating the UK’s input into future international negotiations.

The four nations must “strike a careful balance”, says the report. “Keeping powers at the centre will threaten the stability of existing devolution arrangements and could cause irreparable harm to the relationship between the devolved administrations and Westminster,” it adds.

5 April

Brexit: curry houses angry at plans to favour EU migrants

Curry house bosses who backed Leave before the referendum believing they would be able to secure more visas for top chefs from south Asia are furious at reports that the Government plans to prioritise EU migrants after Brexit.

Reports that ministers are considering plans for EU citizens to leapfrog workers from elsewhere in sectors where skills are in short supply, “drew bitter condemnation from leaders of the £4.3bn curry industry”, the London Evening Standard reports.

Mitu Chowdhury, organising secretary of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, said: “We attended every single campaign meeting with Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove and they said that the British curry industry would be a first priority. We think we have been let down.”

Last May, curry house bosses said they felt used, and might have been given “false hope” by politicians that quitting the EU would allow more workers from South Asia to address staff shortages.

Both Downing Street and Brexit Secretary David Davis have refused to rule out preferential treatment for EU workers after Brexit. Their stance has been widely criticised by Brexiteers, including former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who said: “After Brexit, people from around the world should be treated equally.”

At the time of the referendum, a “save our curry houses” campaign was backed by prominent Leavers and Johnson argued that unchecked immigration from the EU had impact the number of visas available for Commonwealth citizens.

However, the Standard says Johnson is now “reported to be among ministers willing to concede preferential access for EU migrants in return for a favourable EU trade deal”.

4 April

UK ‘should not rule out’ free trade deal after Brexit, say MPs

Britain should not rule out staying in the European Economic Area (EEA) after leaving the EU, the influential Brexit committee of MPs has told the Government.

A new report from the cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee (ExEU) also urged the Government to consider being a member of the European Free Trade Area (Efta) alongside Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland should also be an option.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has previously ruled out both options as the “worst of possible worlds”.

However, ExEU was split by the recommendation, with hardline Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg voting against it being included. They were defeated 10-6.

Rees-Mogg said: “The ExEU select committee report is another effort by Remainers to reverse the [referendum] result. The high priests of Remain on the select committee voted to thwart Brexit by stealth.

“This serves no useful purpose as select committees’ reports are only influential if they are unanimous, dividing on leave/remain lines simply refights the referendum.”

The Guardian writes that the report also contained 15 “key tests” for the final Brexit deal, which Labour chairman Hilary Benn said were based on previous pledges by the Government. These include keeping an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, cooperation on crime and terrorism and the free flow of data between the UK and EU, The Herald reports.

Benn added: “It is vital that UK businesses are able to continue to trade freely and sell services into our largest market after we leave, without additional costs or burdens or a hard border in Northern Ireland and that we maintain close cooperation on defence, security, data and information sharing and consumer safety.

“Should negotiations on a ‘deep and special partnership’ not prove successful, we consider that Efta/EEA membership remains an alternative which would have the advantage of continuity of access for UK services and could also be negotiated relatively quickly.”

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