May 2018 Brexit Update

The EU Withdrawal Bill now looks very different than it did when it first entered the House of Lords with the government losing a total of 14 votes on amendments. The bill is due to go back to the House of Commons where it will be asked to reconsider the below amendments:

  1. UK to negotiate participation in a customs union with the EU.
  2. Enhanced protection for certain areas of EU law, including employment rights, equality protections, health and safety entitlements, consumer standards and environmental standards.
  3. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is maintained.
  4. Ministers ability to specify in regulations when individuals may bring challenges against the validity of retained EU law is removed.
  5. The right of action in domestic law if there is a failure to comply with any of the general principles of EU law is now included in the bill.
  6. In Clauses 7 and 17 delegated powers are no longer to be used “as the minister considers appropriate” but only to be used when “is necessary”.
  7. A meaningful vote on the final deal which will allow Parliament to set the terms if they reject the final deal negotiated with the EU.
  8. The Government are required to seek approval from Parliament on its negotiating mandate about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
  9. Maintenance of refugee family unity within Europe.
  10. Continued North-South co-operation and the prevention of new border arrangements between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
  11. The UK cannot be prevented from replicating EU law or continuing to participate in EU agencies after Brexit.
  12. Exit date is removed from the Bill.
  13. Continued membership of the European Economic Area.
  14. The scrutiny procedure of statutory instruments is strengthened.

(List provided by Fix the Repeal Bill).

The issue of the customs union is still a major sticking point within the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Customs Bill and within the EU negotiations. The Customs Bill alongside the Trade Bill are intended to allow the UK to continue its existing trade policy after Brexit and allow the government to create a functioning customs, VAT and excise regime for the UK after Brexit. The Customs Bill has not been previously amended but amendments have been put forward at report stage including for continued participation in the customs union.

The government has set out two options for a future customs relationship with the EU; the first is a customs partnership and the second is a highly streamlined customs arrangement or ‘max fac’ as it is becoming known as. In the first option, the UK would apply EU tariffs on goods that are imported into the UK but will be shipped onwards to the EU and then set its own tariffs on imports destined for UK markets. The second option relies on technological solutions and the trusted trader scheme. Many pro-Brexit Labour backbenchers are using this split within the government to put pressure on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to reconsider his opposition to membership of the EEA.

No date has been set for the return of the EU Withdrawal Bill, the Trade Bill and the Customs Bill to the House of Commons, but there is speculation that the government will delay bringing these bills back until the autumn.

The Irish border question remains unresolved as it still not agreed how a frictionless border can be continued outside the EU customs union. Concerns have also been raised about ‘non-routine’ border controls that target perceived non-British/Irish citizens based on racial profiling.

EU Chief negotiator, Michel Barnier has claimed that little progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations since March and with the next EU summit coming up in June, there needs to be progress in reaching a deal between the EU and UK or there is a risk of failure.

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