MPs debate what kind of Brexit UK will have

British MPs are set to debate today Withdrawal Bill amendments that could determine what kind of Brexit Britain has – including whether to stay in the wider EEA, a move which would safeguard expat rights.

The bill relates mostly to how the UK will incorporate EU laws into UK law after Brexit, but the Lords tacked on 15 changes, including staying in the EEA, which would mean remaining in the single market. If this happens then the rights of Britons in France will remain largely unchanged with no requirement for a carte de séjour or other formalities. 

This comes after MPs yesterday voted 324 to 298 against a key Lords amendment on the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ which would have given MPs the power to tell the government to go back to the negotiating table if they do not like the final exit deal expected to be concluded later this year. This deal will concern key matters like expat rights, the Irish border, the ‘divorce bill’ and a transition period. An outline of intentions for the ‘future relationship’ is meant to be attached to it, with the full detail of the latter expected to be concluded during the transition period until the end of 2020.

The government had so far promised MPs a ‘take it or leave it’ vote on the deal which could see the UK leave with no deal at all next March, with everything that has been negotiated so far for expatriate rights and a transition period falling away.

According to the BBC most would-be Conservative rebels backed down yesterday after assurances they would have ‘input’ into what the government would do in a ‘no deal’ scenario and promises to discuss a compromise position put forward by one of them, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, which could be tabled as a new amendment when the bill returns to the House of Lords.

However government sources have said no actual concessions have been made. Just two Conservatives, Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke voted against the government.

Today MPs will consider further Lords amendments including the one to stay in the EEA and one for the government to negotiate to stay in a customs union with the EU.

Staying in the single market as part of EEA membership would remove the need for regulatory checks on products coming into ports and a customs union would avoid checks on rules of origin and customs duties. However the former would mean retaining free movement – unpopular with many Brexit voters – and the latter would mean the UK could not negotiate its own trade deals.

Government policy is to reject both of these and while many Labour MPs favour remaining in the EEA the party’s leadership opposes it. Labour MP Stephen Kinnock writing in The Independent has argued however that EEA rules allow for ‘emergency brakes’ on free movement that the UK could invoke.

The EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed yesterday that Britain could keep frictionless trade with the EU by a combination of EEA membership and a customs union and said it was a possible model for the ‘future relationship’.

 

  • An MPs debate was held on Monday following a petition that called for MPs to have a ‘no Brexit’ option when they vote on the deal, which is not government policy. The whole two-hour discussion can be found at this link. 

 

  • This comes also as a number of campaigners for expat rights in France are preparing to join a march in London on Saturday June 23 which will argue that a ‘People’s Vote’ should be held on the exit deal, including an option to remain (this is also Liberal Democrat policy). Backers include Gina Miller, who succeeded in obtaining an MPs’ vote before article 50 was triggered.

 

  • A crowdfunded legal action known as the ‘Article 50 Challenge’ which argues that Brexit was never triggered properly because Parliament did not explicitly vote to leave the EU, was thrown out by the High Court yesterday with judges calling it ‘hopeless’ and ‘totally without merit’. Those taking the action had hoped to win permission for a judicial review.

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