ABCC Brexit Update 24 April - Pressure Builds on May as EU Parliamentary Elections Loom
ABCC Brexit Update – 24 April 2019
Pressure Builds on May as EU Parliamentary Elections Loom
- Earlier this month, the EU agreed to delay the UK’s departure from the EU to October 31st 2019 – the day before the new European Commission is due to take office. The delay follows PM May’s inability to secure parliamentary support for her Brexit Deal.
- Opposition to May’s Deal largely focusses on the contentious issue of the ‘Northern Irish Backstop’. According to the Withdrawal Treaty negotiated with the EU, the UK would remain aligned to the EU’s Customs Union until a solution is found to avoid a hard-border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Given the fragility of peace on the island of Ireland, both the UK and EU have pledged to avoid such a border. Brexiteers argue that the arrangement would “shackle” the UK to the EU indefinitely with no ability for the UK to either shape EU decision making or pursue an independent international trade policy.
- Following the Easter parliamentary recess, talks resumed on 23 April between the Government and the opposition Labour Party to resolve the impasse. PM May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington took the lead for the Government whilst Labour was represented by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, Shadow Chancellor John McDowell, Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman.
- The two sides remain divided, with Labour pressing the Government to soften its red line on the UK leaving the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market. Many Labour MPs are also calling for a second referendum. PM May continues to face strong criticism from her backbench Brexiteer MPs for even holding talks with the Labour Party.
- Various press reports state that PM May seeks to conclude discussions with Labour this week in time to possibly introduce a bill next week to give effect to the Withdrawal Treaty. The move would decouple the Withdrawal Treaty, something which Labour broadly supports, from the political declaration on a future UK/EU relationship.
- With calls from many within her party to step down, pressure is intensifying on PM May to identify a way forward. If the UK is unable to pass the Withdrawal Deal through Parliament by 22 May, it will be forced to participate in the upcoming European Parliament elections on 23 May. Commentators expect the Conservatives to suffer heavy losses in both the EU vote and local elections due to take place on 2 May.
- Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, told PM May on 23 April that ‘time is running out on her premiership’. The group met last night to discuss changing the party’s rules to allow a change of leadership in the coming months. However, the group was unable to come to an agreement.
- With only a month remaining, preparations are underway for the UK to take part in the EU elections. Last week, ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage launched his new Brexit Party and is identifying candidates to run in the election.
- A YouGov poll published last week indicated Farage’s new party is on course to win the elections, with the Conservatives trailing Labour in third place. A questionnaire on the influential ConservativeHome website also showed that 62% of Conservative Party members intended to vote for the Brexit Party if the UK takes part in the vote.
- Separately, the pro-EU ‘Change UK’ party – formerly known as The Independent Group (TIG) of 11 former Conservative and Labour MPs – launched its campaign for the European Parliamentary elections on 23 April. The party has identified 70 candidates including journalist Rachel Johnson – the sister of the leading Brexiteer and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
- Pro-EU commentators fear that Change UK’s campaign will take votes from established pro-EU parties – effectively splitting the Remain vote.
The ABCC and Brexit
The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely in the coming weeks. We look forward to keeping members up to date with the very latest from London and what it possibly means for the Australian-British business community. Earlier ABCC Brexit updates can be found on the ABCC Blog.
If you would like to receive more frequent Brexit updates or have any questions, please feel free to contact our office on firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Paul O’Hagan
Paul O’Hagan is the ABCC’s General Manager in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Prior to joining the ABCC, Paul was Senior Political and Economic Advisor to the U.S. Government in London, covering Brexit.