ABCC Brexit Update - Parliament Blocks Snap General Election While Bill To Stop 'No Deal' Brexit Progresses - 6 September 2019
- Following the momentous events on 3 September when the House of Commons took control of the parliamentary agenda and the Brexit process, the Government suffered further defeats in two separate votes on 4 September.
- In the first instance, MPs voted 327 to 299 to require the Government to seek an extension to the 31 October Brexit deadline if a withdrawal deal with the EU is not secured. This bill has now progressed to the House of Lords. Despite initial reports that Brexit-supporting Peers in the Upper House would filibuster the bill, the Government has said it will receive Royal Assent and is now expected to become law on Monday 9 September, ahead of the planned prorogation (suspension) of Parliament.
- According to the bill, if a withdrawal deal is not agreed with the EU by 19 October, the Prime Minister would be required to ask the EU for an extension of the UK’s departure date to 31 January 2020. The bill states that if the EU agrees to the extension, the PM must accept it immediately. It goes on to stipulate that if the EU offers a different departure date, the PM must accept within two days (and no later than 30 October) unless MPs vote to reject the EU’s offer altogether.
- Reacting to Parliament’s requirement to extend the departure date, PM Boris Johnson said it “scuppered” Brexit negotiations with the EU. The Prime Minister then tabled a separate motion to hold a snap General Election in mid-October, ahead of the 17/18 October meeting of EU leaders. Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Prime Minister is required to obtain the agreement of two-thirds of the House of Commons (434 members) to call an election.
- Following opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence that legislation is first passed to avoid a “No Deal” Brexit on 31 October, Labour MPs abstained during the second vote. Reports stated that Corbyn had initially been in favour of backing a snap election, but influential figures within his party advised he first secure legal assurances that “No Deal” was “off the table.”
- The Government subsequently failed to secure agreement from two-thirds of the House to call a snap election, with 298 voting in favour and 56 against.
- Johnson accused Corbyn of “dither and delay” by not supporting an election. In response, Corbyn accused Johnson of “running down the clock” on a “No-Deal” Brexit.
- In a direct appeal to the public on 5 September, PM Johnson stressed the necessity of holding a General Election to break the Brexit deadlock. Responding to a journalist’s question, Johnson said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than request an extension from the EU.
- In a further blow to PM Johnson, his brother, Jo Johnson (MP for Orpington since 2010 and Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation), tweeted his resignation as both MP and Minister claiming he is “torn between family loyalty and the national interest.” Whilst serving in his brother’s ministry, Jo Johnson has been a long-term opponent to Brexit.
- With next Monday the last scheduled sitting day ahead of the prorogation of Parliament, commentators expect that PM Johnson will once again table a motion for a snap general election. Commentators note that it is unlikely that this will pass, leaving much doubt on how the Government will proceed. Some speculate that the only option other than requesting an extension from the EU would be for PM Johnson to resign.
- The Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) have separately agreed to block any attempt to hold a snap election before 17 October when EU leaders will meet in Brussels.
- Separately, according to the BBC, EU diplomats in Brussels have been briefed on the UK’s latest demands to renegotiate the existing withdrawal deal. David Frost, the UK’s lead negotiator, held an initial meeting with EU counterparts yesterday and according to reports, the UK suggested major changes to the Northern Irish “backstop”, arguably the most controversial aspect to the withdrawal deal. According to the BBC, EU diplomats described the situation as “exasperating”. Negotiations are expected to continue today, 6 September.
The ABCC and Brexit
The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely. 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, General Manager, Victoria, South Australia & Western Australia