Tag Archives: Theresa may

‘Brexit Plan B’: Key Points from PM May’s Speech

Alicia Nicholls

After suffering a historic and crushing rejection  of her Draft Withdrawal deal in the House of Commons and barely surviving a no confidence vote brought by the Leader of the Opposition last week, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Theresa May today outlined her ‘Brexit Plan B’ in the House of Commons.

Prime Minister May is in the unenviable position of having to formulate an alternative Brexit Plan which secures the support of MPs of diverging views on the way forward for Brexit, and which would be palatable to the EU. All the while the clock continues to tick on the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, 2019, now less than seventy days away. In an effort to break the Brexit impasse, Mrs. May has been holding talks with leaders of the major parties in Parliament.

Prime Minister May noted that in light of Parliament’s overwhelming rejection of the current withdrawal agreement, it was clear that the Government’s approach had to change. But has it?

Here are the key points from Prime Minister May’s address:

  1. While the Prime Minister noted that a ‘no deal’ Brexit should be avoided, she did not explicitly rule it out as an option. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated he would not participate in talks with the Prime Minister, unless the ‘no deal’ option is off the table.
  2. Prime Minister May, however, explicitly ruled out the revocation of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) as an option, saying doing this would go against the referendum result of June 23, 2016.
  3. Prime Minister May also ruled out seeking an extension of Article 50 of the TEU, doubting that the EU-27 would agree to any such extension.
  4. She again stated her opposition to a second referendum saying it would set a dangerous precedent for how referendums are handled in the UK. She noted that it would also require an extension of Article 50 and could damage social cohesion in the UK by undermining faith in their democracy. She also doubted there was a majority in the House for a second referendum.
  5. She has promised a more ‘flexible, open and inclusive’ approach in how her Government engages Parliament in the negotiation of the UK’s future partnership with the EU. The Government will consult the Parliament on its negotiating mandate for the next phase of negotiations.
  6. She also promised a more consultative approach, and greater engagement with the devolved administrations, elected representatives in Northern Ireland and regional representatives in England, businesses, civil society and trade unions.
  7. She emphasized that the UK’s exit from the EU should not erode the UK’s protection for environment standards or workers rights and that they would support the proposed amendment to the meaningful vote that Parliament should be able to consider any changes in these areas made by the EU.
  8.  In perhaps the only major policy change of note, Prime Minister May noted that her Government will scrap the £65 fee for EU nationals resident in the UK to register to remain in the UK following Brexit. Those who apply in the pilot phase will have their fees reimbursed. She recommitted to EU nationals resident in the UK continuing to access benefits in the UK both in a deal and no deal scenario.
  9. With regard to the controversial Irish backstop option in the current Withdrawal Agreement, Prime Minister May vaguely noted that her Government will work to identify how they could ensure that they respect the terms of the Belfast Agreement and their commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in such a way that commands the support of the parliament and the EU.

In substance, there was little difference between Prime Minister May’s Plan A and the Plan B outlined. Members of Parliament will vote on the Plan B on January 29, 2019, which would pretty much be the same as the Plan A which they so soundly rejected by 230 votes last week.

The next phase will be continued discussions between Mrs. May and MPs and other stakeholders, which would (or should) inform Mrs. May’s re-engagement with the EU on the way forward.  The uncertainty continues, but it appears that a ‘no deal Brexit’ is increasingly more likely. This also comes against the backdrop of the International Monetary Fund’s downward revision of its global growth forecast, warning today (and not for the first time) that a ‘no deal Brexit’ was a major risk for the global economy.

The text of Prime Minister May’s speech may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Overwhelmingly Rejected by British MPs

Alicia Nicholls

With just over seventy days to go before the United Kingdom’s (UK) impending withdrawal from the European Union (EU) on March 29, 2019, British Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly against the current Draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. With only 202 MPs voting in favour and 432 voting against the deal, the 230 margin of defeat represents the worst legislative defeat inflicted on a British Government in modern history.

The vote, termed the ‘meaningful vote’, was highly anticipated. Originally scheduled for last December, Prime Minister May had postponed the vote at the last minute in the face of overwhelming opposition to the current deal, particularly the fall-back provisions on the Northern Ireland/Ireland Border – the so-called ‘backstop’. In the interim, Mrs. May unsuccessfully sought to obtain greater concessions from the EU in order to assuage skeptics, including those in her own party. However, the EU had been adamant that the  500-page Draft Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation.

Indeed, the reaction by the EU to the outcome has been swift. In a statement released immediately thereafter, President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, lamented that “the risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote.” President Juncker further reiterated that “the Withdrawal Agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

In her remarks after the outcome, Mrs. May lamented that the vote gave no indication of what the Parliament does support. She promised to continue her pursuit of Brexit as instructed by the British people in their referendum result of 2016. She has again ruled out a second referendum. However, her future appears to be in the balance. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for a general election, has immediately tabled a motion of no confidence which will be debated tomorrow. In December, Mrs. May survived a no confidence motion within her own party.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Domestic Squabbles and International Blunders: Will There Be a No-Deal Brexit Scenario?

By Renaldo Weekes, Guest Contributor 

Renaldo Weekes ping pong

Renaldo D. Weekes

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Prime Minister, Theresa May, has had her hands full ever since she took the job and began leading the Brexit negotiations. She has had to suffer through several resignations as various Secretaries and Ministers opposed her Brexit deal. More recently, she has been ensued in a serious battle with the House of Commons and, more specifically, Members of Parliament (MPs) from her own party. With the high tension squabbles that surround the Brexit deal in the UK, European Union (EU) leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain confidence in May and are not willing to change any part of the current deal, much to the Prime Minister’s detriment.

No Confidence Vote

Tensions surrounding the Brexit have culminated when Prime Minister May decided to delay Monday’s Brexit vote until January. Feeling as though they have tolerated enough, her own MPs launched a no-confidence vote against her. She survived that vote and we now continue on the same path as before. Theresa May’s options remain the same, those being: succeeding with her current deal or an amended deal, holding a second referendum, unilaterally reversing Brexit, a no-deal Brexit and a relatively new option of restarting the process that inadvertently arose out of the European Court of Justice’s ruling on Monday, December 10. The no-confidence vote was merely a bump in the road for the most part and Tory MPs cannot challenge her leadership for at least another year.

Funnily enough, if the rebellious MPs won the vote, things would not have been any better. The same options would be open to the new PM and his or her team. The likelihood of each option happening would change, however, and it seems a no-deal Brexit would be even more likely. May’s current deal would be scrapped as MPs have made it clear that they do not like the deal in its current form. Holding a second referendum or reversing Brexit are not likely to happen because the MPs who challenged May are not willing to even open the possibility of slowing down Brexit. There seems to be no intent to revoke their article 50 notification because doing this may be interpreted as retreating from the battle.

Appeasing the Tories

On Thursday, fresh off the heels of her victory against the no-confidence vote, Theresa May headed to Brussels to squeeze more concessions out of the EU. Her elation from winning the vote did not last long as the EU made it clear that it will not be budging. The EU is not being stubborn for the sake of it, however. According to reports, EU leaders are not sure they can trust Prime Minister May anymore. Not because she is being underhanded but rather, she does not know what she is doing. She has offered what has been described as either vague or impossible changes that relate to the backstop on the Irish border.

One of her suggestions was to have a sunset clause on the backstop whether or not a deal is reached. This is rather dangerous because the point of the backstop is to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. If the backstop deal comes to an end with no replacement, the border they were trying to prevent will be realized. Some fear that this will resume conflicts that were put to a halt 20 years ago with the signing of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement. The fact that Tories are willing to let this happen because they want to be completely severed from the EU shows their irresponsibility. They have not suggested ways to deal with the backstop, they simply want a Brexit and they want it now. How can May really appease persons who are not suggesting a fix to the main problem? Understandably, she would try to tweak a deal that, in its current state, will not pass the House of Commons but she and the Tories must face facts. If this squabble of theirs continues, there will be a no-deal scenario.

The Wishful Immovable Object and the Ostensibly Unstoppable Force

Prime Minister May has maintained her stubbornness throughout this entire ordeal until the crucial December 11 vote came and she postponed it until January. We finally saw the ostensibly immovable object shake under pressure. This continued on when the no-confidence vote hit and she essentially begged the EU to make more concessions but they rebuffed her. May is still standing, however, and continues to dismiss the idea of a second referendum as folly even though some of her Cabinet members are reportedly flirting with the idea.

Though the Prime Minister wants to maintain the image of being an immovable object, she has been clearly rattled. There is also the impending, ostensibly unstoppable force that is a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit is not as unstoppable as it may appear. Its status as ‘unstoppable’ depends on how immovable Theresa May wants to be. If May is willing to change her position and, at the very least, holds a second referendum, it is more probable that she prevents the UK’s disastrous crash out of the EU. If she revokes the Article 50 notification, she prevents Brexit almost immediately and can even restart the negotiation process to craft a better deal.

It is sad to see the state of affairs that the UK finds itself in because of the unrealistic and irresponsible demands of some Tory MPs and a Prime Minister who is trying to mollify these MPs but, at the same time, wants to remain unnecessarily obdurate in the face of legitimate concerns about where the country is headed as the March 2019 deadline approaches. Only time will tell if things will change, whether for better or worse.

Renaldo Weekes is a holder of a BSc. (Sociology and Law) who observes international affairs from his humble, small island home. He has keen interest in how countries try to maneuver across the international political and legal stage.

Brexit White Paper Released by UK Government

Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May Government has today released its Brexit White Paper . The official policy document, which is entitled “The United Kingdom’s Exit from and new partnership with the European Union“, was introduced into Parliament today by Brexit Secretary, David Davis.

The House of Commons yesterday voted overwhelmingly for the Brexit Bill to proceed to the second parliamentary stage – the Committee Stage where it will be subjected to increased scrutiny by Members of Parliament next week. Already, a number of amendments have been tabled for discussion. However, once the bill becomes law, the Government will have the legal authority to make the UK’s notification of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Setting out the Government’s strategy for its expected upcoming exit negotiations with the EU, the White Paper mostly elaborates on the 12 priorities which had been outlined by Mrs. May in her major Brexit address delivered at Lancaster House last month. The paper reiterated that the objective was not only to build a new partnership with Europe, but to build a “stronger, fairer, more Global Britain”.

Among the priorities identified in the Brexit Strategy are taking control of its own laws, controlling immigration, pursuing a free trade and new customs union agreement with the EU, securing rights of EU nationals in the UK and for UK nationals in the EU, securing new trade agreements with other countries, inter alia. The Plan has received mixed reviews from parliamentarians.

The full White Paper may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


Brexit Bill Clears First Parliamentary Hurdle

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The Theresa May government may have lost its Supreme Court Appeal last month but today the Government’s Brexit bill cleared its first parliamentary hurdle. After fourteen hours of debate spread over two days, the House of Commons voted 498 to 114 in favour of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, a bill to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify the UK’s intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty).

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union provides for any member state to decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with that state’s own constitutional requirements. Last month, the UK Supreme Court, in dismissing an appeal by the UK government, held that a parliamentary vote was required in order for the Brexit process to begin. It should be noted that many of the parliamentarians who voted in favour of the Bill’s advancement had originally supported staying in the EU. However, many felt compelled to put aside personal views in order to give effect to the will of the 52% of British voters who had voted for Brexit. Mrs. May has reportedly indicated that she will publish a White Paper outlining the Government’s Brexit plans.

So what’s next?

Today’s House of Commons vote (the second reading) means that the Brexit bill is one step closer to becoming law, and will go to the next stage in the parliamentary process – the Committee Stage. During the committee stage, the Bill will be subjected to more enhanced scrutiny and it is here that any amendments may be made.

Upon leaving the Committee stage, the bill (whether or not amended) will again be debated and subjected to a final vote in the House of Commons. If the ayes have it, then it will pass to the House of Lords where the process will be repeated. The bill will be referred back to the House of Commons if the Peers make amendments to the bill.

However, once everything goes smoothly (i.e. there are no further amendments and the peers vote in favour of the bill), the Brexit bill will be sent to the Queen for the royal assent and thereupon will become law. This confers on the May Government the legal authority to make the Article 50 notification which commences the formal withdrawal negotiations with the EU. Mrs. May has indicated the end of March 2017 as her timeline for the notification. She has also promised that she will put the final withdrawal deal to a parliamentary vote.

The full text of the Brexit bill and further reporting on the UK House of Commons’ vote may be found here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

5 Main Points from PM May’s Davos Speech

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2017 currently underway in Davos, Switzerland this week, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, presented what may be considered a follow-up to the major Brexit speech she had given in London earlier this week in which she had outlined her 12-point Brexit plan.

It was the Prime Minister’s first appearance at Davos in her capacity as Prime Minister of the UK and she reiterated many of the main points she had made in her speech earlier this week, focusing most of her attention on Brexit and outlining her plans for building a “truly Global Britain”.

Below are some of the main points from her Davos Speech:

(1) Brexit is not a rejection of Europe

Mrs. May reiterated that the Brexit vote was not a repudiation by Britain of the EU but “simply a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy and national self-determination”. She further explained Britain’s desire to pursue a “bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the European Union” while also being free to negotiate new trade deals with both longstanding and new allies around the world.

(2) UK to be leader of free markets and free trade

To this extent, she expressed the intention for the UK to “step up to a new leadership role as the strongest and most forceful advocate for business, free markets and free trade anywhere in the world”. Mrs. May noted that discussions on future trade ties have already begun with a number of countries, while others have already signalled their interest.

(3) She will build a “Global Britain”

Aiming to dispel the notion that the UK was turning “inward”,  Mrs. May emphasised her desire to build a “Global Britain” which would be in control of its own destiny once again and would help to underpin and strengthen the multilateral rules-based system. She reiterated that she believes strongly in a rules based global order and that “we must continue to promote international cooperation wherever we can”.

Although Mrs. May has  previously highlighted the need to take control of the UK’s immigration policy, she did mention in this speech that the UK derives “much of our strength from our diversity”, emphasing that “we are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy, and we’re proud of it”.

It is here that her rhetorical tone is strikingly different from that of her counterpart across the pond, incoming US President Donald Trump who has not only expressed his disdain for both the United Nations but called the World Trade Organisation a disaster. Moreover, Mr. Trump has been consistently anti-immigrant, seeing immigration as a threat rather than a strength.

(4) Britain has embarked on “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”

Mrs. May noted that the UK has embarked on what she termed “an ambitious programme of economic and social reform”. The issues of growing income equality and popular discontent with trade and globalisation have been a consistent theme in the Davos discussions, which is not surprising given the political ramifications which these issues have already delivered.

In tackling these issues Mrs. May outlined what she believed should be the roles of both governments and businesses and that the status quo could not remain. She noted the need for leaders to work together to shape new policies and approaches in order to deliver for all people in their respective countries.

Interestingly, she noted that the role of governments was not to just “get out of the way” as has been the mantra of neoliberal economic theory, but to “step up to a new, active role that backs businesses and ensures more people in all corners of the country share in the benefits of its success”. Turning to businesses, she noted that “it means doing even more to spread those benefits to more people”, including paying their far share of tax and recognising their obligations to their employees, inter alia.

(5) Support for the Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership

To this effect, she expressed her support for the World Economic Forum’s new “Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership” initiative proposed for signature to all participants of the Annual Meeting 2017. This initiative aims to “create a corporate governance framework with a focus on the long-term sustainability of corporations and the long-term goals of society”.

The full text of her speech may be read here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


Why PM May’s “Hard Brexit” Choice is no surprise

Alicia Nicholls

In a much anticipated speech delivered at Lancaster House on Tuesday, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mrs. Theresa May, confirmed speculation that the UK’s membership of the European Single Market was off the table, an option which has been colloquially dubbed a “hard” Brexit. The news may be dismaying (no pun intended) to some who preferred a “soft” Brexit (remaining in the single market). However, it is not unexpected given the main reasons why 52% of Britons voted in favour of leaving the EU in the first place, inter alia, stemming the tide of immigration and getting away from the “intrusiveness” of Brussels.

In a speech that was both conciliatory but also declarative, Mrs. May said as much as she succinctly outlined the reasons for the UK’s decision. It should be noted that while serving as Home Secretary, Mrs. May was part of the “Remain” camp during the Brexit campaign. However, during her bid to assume the office of Prime Minister, she  strongly and famously stated that “Brexit means Brexit“. Among the reasons enumerated by Mrs. May include Britain’s “profoundly internationalist” history and culture and the belief that EU membership has come at the expense of the UK’s external trade relations. To this effect, she noted that trade as a percent of UK GDP (an indicator of a country’s trade openness) had stagnated.

She went further by noting the difference in political traditions between the UK and EU, including the incongruity between the UK constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the power of supranational institutions in Brussels to make laws for the UK, and the inability to hold those institutions accountable. While stressing that she did not wish to see a disintegration of the EU, she ultimately argued that there was need for greater flexibility by the EU if it is to succeed.

12-point Brexit Plan

In her biggest speech since coming to 10 Downing Street, Mrs. May sought to quell criticisms over the lack of clarity of her Brexit strategy by outlining a 12-point plan which would guide the UK’s Brexit negotiations, and with the overarching goal of fostering “a new, positive and constructive partnership” between the UK and the EU.

Mrs. May, therefore, ruled out membership of the Single Market, citing instead her preference for a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) with the remaining 27 countries of the EU.Five main models of arrangement have been proffered in the literature but Mrs. May has strongly stated that she wants a model unique to Britain.

She has stated that the UK would not have to contribute to the EU budget but noted she was prepared to make contributions if there are any specific European programmes in which the UK may wish to participate.

More confusingly, however, was her statement that she wanted to remain a partial member of the EU Customs Union (EUCU), yet still control the UK’s trade policy by not being bound by the common custom tariff or the EU’s Common Commercial Policy. To my mind, this is at cross-purposes. There is, of course, precedent in the EU of countries being in a customs union relationship with the EU, while not being EU members, such as Turkey, San Marino and Andorra  who apply the CET on only certain goods. However, the essential element which differentiates a customs union from an FTA is that parties to a customs union apply a common external tariff (called the Common Customs Tariff in the EU). I am at pains to see how the UK can be a member of the EUCU without being bound by the CET to some extent. In such a case, it would be best to simply just negotiate an FTA.

More Outward Looking Britain

Besides outlining her vision for a future relationship with the EU, Mrs. May also elaborated that she wanted to build “a truly global Britain” and significantly expand its trade with the world’s fastest growing export markets, as well as have its own tariff schedules in the WTO. As an EU member, the UK was bound by the Common Commercial Policy and was unable to enter into third party trade negotiations.

The outward looking Post-Brexit UK is good news for Caribbean countries. As I noted in previous articles, countries of CARIFORUM (countries of the Caribbean Community plus the Dominican Republic) currently enjoy preferential access to the UK market under the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Once the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer be bound under the EPA and Caribbean countries will no longer have preferential access to the UK market. Since the UK is a major trading partner for the region and the region’s largest in Europe, it is within the region’s interest to negotiate some form of WTO-compatible preferential agreement with the UK post-Brexit, even though admittingly the region would likely be at the back of the queue.

On this note, she highlighted her newly created Department of International Trade (headed by Mr. Liam Fox) and mentioned the large queue of countries eager to negotiate an agreement with post-Brexit UK, including the US under incoming President Donald Trump. It is worth noting that recently the Dominican Republic indicated its interest in an FTA with the UK.

Deadline and Preparedness to walk away empty-ended

Of interest is that Mrs. May has stuck to her previously stated end of March deadline for making the Article 50 notification under the Lisbon Treaty (which is the only way the formal process of withdrawing from the EU can begin). The UK Supreme Court is set to render its judgment in the appeal on whether parliament or the executive branch has the power to decide to make the Article 50 notification. Depending on the ruling, Mrs. May’s timeline may not be realistic. Mrs. May has called for a phased-in approach to the withdrawal and has also reiterated that Parliament would have a vote on the final withdrawal agreement.

Highlighting that a punitive approach by the EU would be “an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe”, Mrs. May has indicated that she is prepared to walk away with no agreement rather than a bad one.

Reaction in Europe to Mrs. May’s speech has been mixed as this Telegraph article notes.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.