Last week was the first of parliament’s six-week recess (as a former parliamentary staffer I know that you’re not supposed to call it a holiday!) and a chance for MPs (and the general populus) to finally pause and take a breath. It’s fair to say that the last couple of months have provided yet more whirl in the whirlwind of British politics which we have only come to expect in recent times.
At 22:00 on Thursday, 8 June, the exit polls correctly predicted that Mrs May’s gamble on a general election had backfired spectacularly and that she was set to lose her parliamentary majority. The irony of the result was of course, that the whole reason she called the election in the first place was to boost her majority before entering into Brexit negotiations.
The Conservatives have now entered into a confidence and supply agreement — not a formal coalition (look how that went for the Lib Dems!) — with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which will see the Ulster party support them on key votes. Given this context, it would seem certain that Theresa May is now on borrowed time as prime minister. Newspapers will undoubtedly continue to be full of stories over the summer about Cabinet in-fighting and potential successors to Mrs May jostling for position.
Where does the government situation leave Brexit?
One of the many interesting factors from the election was the apparent return to two-party politics in the UK, with the Tories and Labour sharing over four-fifths of the vote (82.4%) between them. With both of these parties promising to deliver Brexit, the result has bolstered the resolve of Brexiteers, who view this as affirmation of the referendum decision and a strengthened mandate to pull the UK out of the EU.
The government on 13 July introduced the Brexit Bill, formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Once upon a time — namely, before the Tories lost their majority in the election — this was pencilled as the somewhat grandiose Great Repeal Bill. Yet, in a symbolic reflection of the government’s diminished status, the bill’s name has been pared down to be a little more matter-of-fact. It has had its first reading in Parliament, and will have its first debate when Parliament returns in September. This is the bill that, as I explained in my blog on the triggering of Article 50, ‘cuts and pastes’ all existing EU legislation into UK domestic law, which the government can then decide to keep, alter or repeal over time.
Where are we with the EU negotiations?
We have also now had two rounds of Brexit negotiations, though we haven’t seen too much compromise on either side over the prominent issues of citizens’ rights, the amount of the ‘divorce bill’ and the Irish border. The next round of talks are due to commence in late August, but the date to really look out for is the meeting of the European Council on 19-20 October. That meeting will decide whether the progress of the negotiations can be deemed to be ‘sufficient’ to allow the talks to move on to cover Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
What about immigration?
Media has been buzzing of late about a seeming indecision over whether the UK will be subject to free movement of people after March 2019, with different government ministers taking different lines. What we do know, however, is that last week the Home Office commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to review the impact of migration on the UK labour market, how the UK’s exit from the EU will affect our future immigration system, as well as how this can be made to align with the government’s industrial strategy. The CIPD will of course, be responding to this review, drawing on our in-depth recent report Facing the future: tackling labour and skill shortages post-Brexit, published in collaboration with NIESR, and continuing further research in this area as we move forward.