UK Transport and Brexit News & Views No. 91

Mark’s EU Week for Transport 
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Threat of Cabinet revolt, Parliament seeking to take more control, a once-again delayed Meaningful Vote, and outrage from both wings of the Conservative Party. What would otherwise be a devastating weekend of news for a British Prime Minister has proven to be quite the norm for Theresa May. She has survived crisis point after crisis point since becoming Prime Minister and has made an art form out of successfully navigating being caught between a rock and a hard place. However, we are now seeing the clock being run down and we are no closer to knowing under what conditions the UK will be leaving the European Union than we did 2 years ago. Admittedly, a lot of this has been purposeful as Theresa May has used uncertainty to keep her party and government together. But the time for good politics has surely been surpassed by the necessity for economic certainty for UK business. 

As I once wrote in a previous post, do not confuse motion with progress. Yes, Theresa May and various members of her government have come over to Brussels and have been seen trying to extract concessions from the EU and European leaders. However, the EU 27 have remained firm in their stance against re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement, seemingly the only way for Theresa May to achieve what she has promised Parliament she would achieve. 

With Parliament seeking to take some degree of control away from Theresa May’s government over the near future of the Brexit negotiations, one cannot help but wonder whether this will help inject certainty or simply leave Brexit in the hands of a chamber that has not covered itself in glory in recent months by appearing disorderly throughout the Brexit process. Could Parliament be the Backstop that the UK needs to securing a Brexit deal?

This week’s song of the week, with an Italian singer, English lyrics, French title, and from a Japanese series is Deja-Vu by Initial D

1. Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke issue delay warning
Writing in the Daily Mail over the weekend, Cabinet ministers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke publicly stated that if hardline Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group scupper a deal they will back other MPs to try to force Mrs May to extend Article 50 and delay Britain’s exit from the EU. This leaves May facing the prospect of Cabinet revolt, with the three ministers being clear that a No Deal departure would wreck the economy, put the defence of the realm in jeopardy and risk the break-up of the UK. The joint article states that “if there is no breakthrough in the coming week, the balance of opinion in Parliament is clear – that it would be better to seek to extend Article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on March 29”. Although Cabinet disagreement on Brexit has never been far from the surface, a public joint-letter of this nature has raised the stakes for both the government and the Conservative Party. In the aftermath of 3 Tories resigning the whip to join the Independent Group, with rumours of further MPs considering taking the same route, Theresa May finds herself, once again, caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. As we approach the Brexit endgame, we will be witnessing a zenith where the lack of time, uncertainty, and tough choices will lead to big decisions being taken by MPs in a party struggling to cope with its two entrenched Brexit positions. 

2. Meaningful vote postponed, but key votes to still happen this week
Yesterday Theresa May announced that the British parliament’s next vote on her Brexit deal could be as late as March 12, just 17 days before the UK is due to leave the EU. In a move that has further extended the uncertainty around the UK’s departure from the EU, Theresa May has gambled on this new move as a way of extracting concessions from the EU, but also delay the impending defeat she was heading for in Meaningful Vote II. Although there won’t be a Meaningful Vote in Parliament this week, there will surely be votes with plenty of meaning for determining the near future of these Brexit negotiations. Chief among these votes will be one on the cross-party Cooper and Letwin ‘No-Deal’ amendment. Should the amendment pass, “the government would be legally obliged to offer MPs the option of requesting an extension in the Article 50 exit process beyond March 29”. However, there is also another amendment being supported by the so-called Brexit Delivery Group that would seek to delay Brexit to May 23rd should no deal be reached by March 12th. No Meaningful Vote this week, but Theresa May will still need to contend with Parliament’s attempts to take more control of the rest of the Brexit negotiations. 

3. Eurostar chaos under No-Deal Brexit?
The Financial Times has reported that according to a report drawn up by the Department for Transport, “queues for Eurostar train services at London’s St Pancras International could reach up to 15,000 passengers each day in the event of a no-deal Brexit”. Such a queue would, according to the report, develop if France subjects UK and non-EU passengers to rigorous passport checks. The article does quote a government official as admitting that “Eurostar and the UK authorities would have to cancel trains and pre-notify passengers to prevent them turning up. A 40-60 per cent reduction in Eurostar services would be the only conceivable response”. Under current conditions, French police impose minimal checks on UK and non-EU passengers, through the use of e-gates. 

4. Trade pact with Japan ruled out by Brexit deadline
The UK government has ruled out agreeing to roll-over the existing trade deal with Japan before the end of March. Sky News report in their article that by “ruling out a deal before 29 March with Japan – by far the largest of the current trading partners with £10bn of exports in goods to the country annually – it means cargo arriving there – or here from Japan – on 30 March will be subject to World Trade Organisation rules and therefore additional tariffs”. Such news will concern businesses on both sides as Japan has always been seen as a crucial trade deal to roll-over, with the government so far having confirmed continuity agreements with Switzerland, Chile, the Faroe Islands, Eastern and Southern Africa, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This news comes in the wake of Panasonic and Sony shifting their European headquarters away from the UK, and Honda closing its Swindon factory.

5. Transport and decarbonisation: two steps forward, one step back?
In his new blog, Mark takes a look at recent developments in the EU and at COP24 and asks whether we have gone two steps forward, and one step back when it comes to decarbonising transport. He says that despite a very bleak prognosis, the good news is there is at last significant evidence that the EU is starting to take the challenge of decarbonisation seriously.

6. UKTiE has also put together the latest timetable for Brexit. We will keep this up to date as the process develops:

  • 29 March 2017 – A50 triggered.
  • 5 April 2017 – European Parliament adopted Brexit guidelines.
  • 22 May 2017 – Brexit negotiating directives approved by Council.
  • 19 June 2017 –  Negotiations formally began.
  • 23 March 2018– European Council agreed guidelines on the future trading relationship.
  • 30 September 2018 – Date by which EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, wanted to conclude the terms of Britain’s exit from the Union.
  • 11 December 2018 – House of Commons vote on WIthdrawal Agreement
  • By 12 March 2019 – Meaningful Vote II
  • 30 March 2019 – Britain formally exits the EU, following ratification of Brexit by all other member states and the European Parliament.
  • 23-26 May 2019 – European Parliament election.
  • 31 December 2020 – End of Transition Period
Mark Watts
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