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Political Affairs Manager's Blog - 30 January 2019

Political Affairs manager Clare Slipper reminds us: “Only 58 days to go!” 

Another week passes, another ‘crunch’ for the Prime Minister. In the latest series of parliamentary votes on the Brexit deal in Westminster on 29 January, the UK Government – to some surprise – came out relatively unscathed.

This might be some brief relief for the Prime Minister, but the same cannot be said for NFU Scotland, the UK farming unions and businesses up and down the country that are desperately seeking certainty from the Brexit process.

Here is a quick summary of where we are now - but before anybody gets too excited, the negotiations are by no means any further forward. 

For those of you who, unlike me, were not glued to Parliamentary TV on Tuesday evening, what was being voted on were a series of amendments that had been tabled to a government motion. If approved, some of the amendments would have been controversial in that they could have allowed the UK Parliament to wrestle back some of the control of the Brexit process from UK Government and attempted to rule out a ‘no deal’ outcome. 

As it happened, the more contentious amendments for the UK Government were killed off during voting. 

By a slim majority, an amendment that sought to rule out a ‘no deal’ outcome was carried by the House. However, it’s really important to stress that this amendment was not legally binding, and therefore does not require the Prime Minister to actually rule out a ‘no deal’ within her negotiating mandate. It is purely a symbolic vote.

MPs also voted in favour of an amendment tabled by Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady which supports the Withdrawal Agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated with Brussels, so long as “the Northern Ireland backstop is replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. The Prime Minister has said she will use this mandate to re-open negotiations in order to secure “legally binding changes” to the agreement.

An initial, rather important, red flag is that the EU negotiators have already said that no aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Irish ‘backstop’, is open to renegotiation. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister will now return to Brussels to start work on the above mandate. This really is her last role of the dice.
 
If the Prime Minister achieves revisions to the deal, it will return to the Commons to be voted on as soon as is feasible.
 It is however worth bearing in mind that if the Prime Minister does not achieve legally-binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, then her Eurosceptic backbenchers (the so-called European Reseach Group chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg) have already said they will vote against the deal again.

Which will return us to square one. 

If no new deal is agreed by Parliament by 13 February, then the Prime Minister will need to make a statement to Parliament setting out what she intends to do next. At this juncture MPs will again have the opportunity to table and vote on amendments, similar to the ones tabled on Tuesday night. 

Also returning us to square one. 

In the interim, the Prime Minister has invited backbench Conservative and cross-party MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, for talks on how to secure a deal for Brexit and avoiding a no deal.
 
With no clear picture of what to expect over the coming days and weeks, NFU Scotland’s position remains as it has been since the referendum result became known. Scottish agriculture requires a Brexit deal that delivers on free and frictionless EU trade; upholds exacting standards of production; ensures EU and non-EU workers can come to work in the sector on a seasonal and permanent basis; and delivers a future Scottish Agricultural Policy. And that to achieve this, no deal must be avoided at all costs. 

This is a position that we will repeat to every MP and government minister until there is a clear path ahead.
Meanwhile, despite MPs agreeing by narrow majority yesterday that a ‘no deal’ should be ruled out, the pure fact that the UK Government’s renegotiating mandate is to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement with a mere 58 days to go does not bode well for avoiding this outcome. 

Since the start of 2019, NFU Scotland has jointly written with the UK farming unions to the UK Government highlighting the dangers of a ‘no deal’. NFU Scotland has also co-signed letters with wider Scottish food and drink industry groups, and crop sector groups, to the same effect. 

Now more than ever, we urge members to write to their MPs to highlight how important it is that politics are put to one side and a deal is achieved. Politicians need to hear from their constituents what their businesses need from the Brexit process.

If any members want assistance with contacting their MP, please contact me at Clare.slipper@nfus.org.uk 

Author: Clare Slipper

Date Published:


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About The Author

Clare Slipper

Clare Slipper joined NFU Scotland in 2014 as the Union’s first dedicated Parliamentary Officer. Within her role, Clare briefs politicians in the Scottish, Westminster and European parliaments on key issues impacting Scottish food producers and represents members interests in the policy-making process. Clare started her career working for a public affairs and communications agency, where she worked with clients in the renewable energy and planning sectors. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Politics and Sociology in 2012.

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