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Political Affairs Manager's Blog - 11 April 2019

Trick or treat?  Political Affairs Manager Clare Slipper ponders on the new Halloween deadline for Brexit.

Overnight, it was announced that the European Council has agreed to a further extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiating period to 31 October 2019.

(Just to get the joking out the way… the beautiful irony of the chosen date and the fact that this is nothing short of a nightmare for the Prime Minister is not lost on us).

For a significant number of NFU Scotland members, the political theatre of Brexit has been far from the top of the list when there is lambing, calving, ploughing, sowing and fertilising to be done on the farm. Indeed, the constantly shifting sands of Brexit are enough to disengage even the most politically engaged of us all.

But it is important to take heed of what these developments mean.

In order to achieve an ‘orderly exit’ from the EU – essentially, avoiding a ‘no deal’ – the UK House of Commons must approve what is known as a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Withdrawal Agreement that the Prime Minister has negotiated. The UK Government has lost the ‘meaningful vote’ three times, and the Speaker (read: Chairman) of the House of Commons has ruled that the vote cannot be brought back again unless there are material changes to it.

Thus, the Prime Minister has invited talks with the Labour Party to try and seek consensus on what changes can be made to the UK Government’s negotiating strategy with the EU in the hope that a renegotiated outcome might then win the support of the House of Commons.

However, progress in finding consensus is not happening as quickly as some might have hoped. And because ‘Brexit day round two’ was fast approaching this Friday (12 April), the Prime Minister sought a short extension to Article 50 from the EU.

Theresa May’s preferred date was 30 June; the EU 27 generally wanted a 12-month extension. What we have now is somewhere in the middle, but many believe that another extension is not out of the question. What is key is that if the UK House of Commons does pass the Withdrawal Agreement, then the UK can leave at any time before 31 October.

As with all things Brexit, there are some other issues at play that complicate matters further.

A key milestone is 22 May. If the UK has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by this date, then it must hold elections for the European Parliament. If it does not, it will automatically be expelled on 1 June. The UK Government is already putting plans in place to hold elections – NFU Scotland will advise members of the implications of this in due course, but it is entirely possible that we end up in the rather bizarre situation where we elect six new Scottish MEPs who will never take up their seats.

Furthermore, the EU Council has made it clear that that the Withdrawal Agreement on the table cannot be reopened. What is up for discussion is the non-legally binding Political Declaration on the Future Relationship. This puts the onus back on the cross-party talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s teams to find a pathway that is deemed acceptable to the UK’s House of Commons which is, as it stands, bitterly divided.

And this is where the real bread and butter is for NFU Scotland and its members.

NFU Scotland is crystal clear that a ‘no deal’ would be catastrophic for the whole agricultural industry and that must be avoided at all costs. However, it is absolutely vital that any extension to the negotiating period is used constructively rather than as a can-kicking exercise to avoid an imminent ‘no deal’.

Cross-party talks between the two major UK parties have not yet borne fruit however the buzz around the talks suggests that the compromise could be in entering a customs union with the EU after Brexit.

An EU-UK customs union would remove the threat of any new tariffs and customs checks on goods being traded. However any new customs agreement with the EU would need to be totally comprehensive and include regulatory alignment with EU standards.

The UK would also be prohibited from signing agreements with third countries on mutual recognition of technical requirements for goods unless the EU had the same agreement with those third countries without creating a need for extra checks at the border with the EU. This has greatly displeased the UK Government’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP. But that’s a can of worms for another blog…

In May’s edition of the Scottish Farming Leader, we will be including a special feature on what you can do to prepare your business for Brexit. And remember, you can view NFU Scotland’s handy Brexit jargon-buster online at https://www.nfus.org.uk/policy/brexit.aspx.


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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