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Time has passed. Moons have waxed and wained. Seasons have changed. My hair grew a bit and was cut. Yes, it’s been seven months since we had a deal. Obviously that time round it was defeated by MPs. By a lot of MPs. Including our (now) Prime Minister.
It may be voted down once again. Consigned to the same bin as the last deal. I’ll look at that in the next section. For now, though, what’s in the deal?
• As before we’ll pay the EU – although it looks like the bill has come down from £39bn to £33bn
• As before we’ll give all EU residents in the UK permanent leave to remain and all UK residents in the EU will get the same
• As before we’ll get a transition to the end of 2020 – but with a possible two-year transition extension, taking us to the end of 2022
What’s really different are the arrangements for Northern Ireland. The old (much-derided) backstop said that if we hadn’t sorted something out for the EU/NI border at the end of the transition, the whole country would remain locked into EU rules and regs so that the border could remain open. Lots of people didn’t like that. They argued that it effectively kept us in the EU.
So now we have an alternative arrangement. The whole country will leave the Customs Union so we can make trade deals around the world and all that good stuff. Northern, Ireland, though, will be a bit different. There will be a border in the Irish Sea so all goods coming in and out of Northern Ireland will be subject to customs checks.
This new border means that NI can have similar regulations to the Republic / EU and, once again, the border can remain open. So far so simple.
It all gets a bit complicated when we look at stuff going into NI. Stuff that is going to stay in NI won’t be subject to duties or tax or whatever, because it’s staying in the same country. Things that are going to go into the EU will be taxed. There’s going to be a committee (there’s always a committee) to work out which goods are subject to those taxes and, presumably, how this whole thing is going to work.
‘What about VAT?’ I hear you say. A wise question and one which I would imagine has been playing on your mind for some time. Well, NI will have two different rates of VAT. They will pay Irish / EU VAT rates on stuff and UK rates on services.
Oh, and the guarantees of maintaining human rights, workers rights and environmental guarantees were part of the backstop, so they’re no longer in the Withdrawal Agreement. Instead, they’ve been moved to the much less certain Political Declaration.
This has only changed a bit. Mostly because it’s just lots of warm words. It mostly reads like a sixth former’s shirt on the last day of the school. ‘We’ll be friends 4eva!’, ‘Gonna miss you, bro’, ‘let’s form a comprehensive trade deal’.
Yeah, it’s general goodwill about immigration, about trading and about security and defence.
The reason it’s all so vague is because – even if we leave on 31st October at 11pm – Brexit isn’t anywhere near over. We’ve got to work out a new relationship with the people who we’ve been so close to for so long. It’s no good reminiscing about the LOLs we had at Maastricht, we’ve got to knuckle down and look to the future.
If we do leave on 31st (and it is still a big if, despite Junker’s words yesterday) the real work starts on 1st November. That’s one of the reasons we’ve got a two year transition period, so we can sort out the details of what life is going to be like on after 11pm on 31st October 2021.
What has changed, then? There is less of a commitment to maintaining close alignment to EU standards and regulations. This means that the UK could move further away from the EU, allowing for more trade deals around the world, but making that ‘frictionless trade’ with the EU much harder.
There is also the new addition of those guarantees on the environment, workers and human right.
Saturday’s debate / will the deal pass?
If you are only reading this because you want to know what I think the result will be, I’m going to save you time. I don’t know. It’s too close. There are too many variables. If you were looking for a definitive prediction I apologise.
There will be a day of debate (9.30 – 2.30) during which MPs will repeat the same lines as they’ve been using for 3 years in Brexit debates. Possibly with a bit more passion. The real action, though, will be the end of the day with the big vote.
Quick note on the voting: the motion is amendable, which means that MPs can suggest changes. These are put to the vote. I’d expect amendments about excluding Scotland, a second referendum and a few others. I also expect these motions to be voted down as none of them will have enough support. That means, at the end of everything else,
Let’s have a look at who is going to vote which way.
Conservative MPs – 288 votes
Team Conservative are almost all going to vote for the deal. They have backed Johnson and this is the clearest way to get Brexit done. The ERG used to say they’d all follow the DUP, but their Big Man, Mr Rees-Mogg, is in the government now and will be persuading them to get behind the deal. A few of them won’t but generally, we can expect the vast majority to give this the thumbs up.
Ex Conservative MPs – 21
This lot were booted out the Party for voting in favour of the Benn Act. A couple – Sam Gymiah and Dominic Grieve – have moved on to do slightly different things, and won’t vote for the deal. The rest, though, are still members of the Conservative Party. Most of them voted three times for May’s deal. They voted for the Benn Act to rule out no deal. They’ll vote for this for the same reason.
Labour – 245
The official line is that this is a terrible deal. Labour are incensed over the removal of the worker’s rights guarantees. John McDonnell was on the radio saying that when people lose their jobs in the future – where were the Labour Party standing up for their rights? It’s strong words and there is real fighting talk. Most of the Labour Party will definitely vote against.
Also, walking through the voting lobbies with the Conservative Party on any issue is a hard thing to do. Supporting ‘the enemy’ is never easy. Labour will have whips literally standing in the entrance to the Aye Lobby (MPs vote by walking through corridors, one for Aye and a different one for Noe). To vote with Johnson MPs will have to walk past the people there to stop them doing so.
The reason this vote hangs on a knife-edge, though, is that we don’t know how many Labour MPs will make that journey down the Aye Lobby and rebel. 19 signed a letter to the EU calling for them to compromise and get a deal. Will they all vote for a deal? Another Labour MP was on Today saying he didn’t know what he’d do. There will be some rebels. Labour types who sit in leave constituencies will feel particularly motivated to support the deal, especially with an election imminent.
One factor that might be important is the herd effect. If it looks like Johnson will win, more Labour MPs from leave constituencies will follow. They won’t be the vital votes, the votes that give Boris Johnson a huge victory and they can tell their voters that they were on the right side. If it looks like the deal will be voted down, they won’t risk the anger of the Top Dogs when it won’t pass anyway.
The DUP – 10
Remember the days when it was all about the DUP? Here, DUP, have loads of money for Northern Ireland. No PM could ever break up our union. Crumbs, Mr Dodds, that suit really brightens up your eyes.
Well, those days are gone. There is effectively a border in the Irish sea and they are furious. The DUP do furious really well. In a world where few things are definite, few things are tangible, few things and bankable, the DUP will vote against this deal. It will feel odd to them, rubbing shoulders with Ian Blackford, Dominic Grieve and Rebecca Long-Bailey, but they’ll control their gag reflex and do it anyway.
SNP, Lib Dem, Change UK, Plaid, Green – 64
They won’t back this deal. Nope.
They won’t vote for them here or there. They won’t vote for them anywhere. They do not like Brexit and the deal. They do not like them at all.
And there we have it. Different tribes. One big vote. One big outcome. Cancel any other plans for Saturday afternoon. It’s on.
The Week Ahead.
Saturday: It’s the big debate.
Monday: On paper, it’s the fifth day of the Queen’s Speech debate. Except that it probably won’t be. There might be an election debate. There might be the start of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. It might be, well… it all depends on the vote on Saturday. We’ll see.
Tuesday – The vote on the Queen’s Speech is scheduled for today. I think it was partly put back to today so it might not happen. It’s really not a great look to lose this vote. Again, I’ve honestly got no idea what’s going to happen today.
Wednesday – Good news people, I’m fairly sure of something today! At midday, it’s going to be PMQs. Amazingly it will only be Johnson’s second PMQs as leader. So that’s something to look forward to.
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