An international logistics expert has advised the UK’s EU traders to watch events in Parliament closely on Wednesday (27 February), as these could lead to the government effectively losing control of the Brexit process.
David Johnson, managing director of Leeds-based Tudor International Freight, said Prime Minister Theresa May had promised to report to the House of Commons this week on her latest talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and her fellow EU leaders. She requested these conversations in a bid to prompt legally-binding changes to the draft withdrawal agreement she concluded with the bloc during November.
Mr Johnson said: “Mrs May has also said that the government intends to give MPs a meaningful vote on an amended deal agreed with the EU by 12 March, but it will table another amendable motion on the matter this week.
“That’s likely to mean a potentially crucial amendment, spearheaded by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Conservative backbencher Sir Oliver Letwin, being proposed on Wednesday. Its passing would mean Parliamentary time being provided for a bill that would instruct the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the UK’s current leaving date of 29 March from the EU. She would have to do this if the Commons still hadn’t approved a revised withdrawal agreement 16 days earlier.”
Mr Johnson said the amendment’s passing could therefore have profound implications.
He said: “It could lead to the government effectively losing control of the Brexit process and a UK departure without a deal next month, which would be highly damaging for the UK’s EU traders, being removed from the list of potential outcomes this week, against the Prime Minister’s wishes.
“Mrs May has said repeatedly she won’t rule-out a no deal Brexit or seek to extend the 29 March deadline. This has led to speculation that her strategy is to present Parliament with a straight choice between a no-deal departure and her agreement next month, so most MPs will feel compelled to back the latter.”
Mr Johnson added the Cooper/Letwin amendment could also ultimately force leave-supporting MPs currently opposing Mrs May’s deal to choose between backing it, possibly in amended form, and seeing Brexit delayed, perhaps for a lengthy period.
He said: “For all these reasons, we’d recommend that UK businesses trading with the EU keep a keen eye on the Commons on Wednesday.”
Mrs May’s talks with the EU in the last few weeks have centred her efforts to change the so-called Irish backstop. This mechanism, part of the draft withdrawal agreement, could effectively keep the whole UK in the EU’s customs union after its envisaged post-Brexit transition period, due to end in December 2020. The device would apply if these parties had not agreed a free trade deal making it unnecessary by then.
Mr Johnson said: “The backstop would guarantee a continued open border, assisting cross-frontier trade and the peace process, plus avoiding smuggling, through Northern Ireland and the Republic continuing to implement the same customs regime. Mrs May has agreed to the backstop applying to the whole UK, as she opposes parts of it having separate customs arrangements.
“Importantly, however, the draft withdrawal agreement currently states that, once in force, the backstop could only be abolished through the consent of both the UK and EU.”
Mrs May has been seeking to negotiate a unilateral right for the UK to exit the backstop and/or for the mechanism to exist for only a limited period. This is an effort to overturn the original draft withdrawal agreement’s Commons rejection by a record 230 votes last month. That defeat occurred largely because of opposition to the backstop possibly applying for many years, or in some cases existing at all, mainly from Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
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