The breakthrough in Brexit negotiations which enabled the European Commission to recommend that sufficient progress had been made to proceed to the next phase of Article 50 negotiations was by far the most significant development in December.
Sufficient progress made in Brexit negotiations to move to next phase
A breakthrough in Brexit negotiations on 8 December 2017 allowed the European Commission to recommend to the European Council that “sufficient progress” had been made on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Northern Ireland/Ireland for it to start discussions on a transition period and exploratory discussions on the future UK-EU relationship.
The EU27 member states sitting as the European Council (Article 50) subsequently adopted Guidelines formally deciding that there had been “sufficient progress” in the negotiations with the UK for them to proceed to the second phase and, later in the month, the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper looking at the path towards “sufficient progress” in the first phase of Brexit negotiations and the joint report agreed by the UK government and the EU.
On 20 December, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation for a Council Decision for supplementary negotiating directives for the next phase of the Article 50 discussions with the UK. If and when adopted by the General Affairs Council (Article 50) on 29 January 2018, the new negotiating directives will supplement existing European Council negotiating guidelines.
Transitional arrangements for exiting the EU
The House of Commons Treasury Committee published its report on transitional arrangements for exiting the EU on 14 December 2017. This report deals mainly with a point of process: how can the UK move from its position within the EU to its end-state relationship in a smooth and orderly way, particularly when that final relationship might not be fully agreed on 30 March 2019?
UK government publishes Brexit sectoral analyses
Towards the end of December, 39 Brexit “sectoral analyses” prepared by DExEU were published, each containing a description of the sector, the current EU regulatory regime, and an explanation of existing frameworks for how trade is facilitated in that sector – but no analysis of the impact of Brexit on those sectors or indication of the government’s Brexit policy objectives for them. The sectors covered by the analyses included:
Amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19
In mid-December, the House of Commons voted to amend the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 to require parliamentary approval by statute of the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The amendment was approved by 309 votes in favour to 305 against and is the first motion on the Bill on which the government has lost in the House of Commons. Daniel Greenberg’s blog post examines the legal impact of the government’s defeat on the amendment to the Bill.
Just before the Christmas recess, the House of Commons voted to amend the Bill to prescribe “exit day” as 29 March 2019 at 11.00 pm and to empower ministers to amend this in the event that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is extended. In practice, the power may be invoked if the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is delayed beyond 29 March 2019, as is currently projected as a result of the Article 50 process, and it remains a signatory to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union until a later date.
The government also published two sets of draft employment regulations to illustrate the powers under clause 7 of the Bill that may be used to correct employment law which will be retained after Brexit. The draft regulations reflect the technical amendments that need to be made to existing legislation to ensure that the law will continue to operate effectively after Brexit.
International trade with developing countries
On 18 December, the House of Commons International Trade Committee launched an inquiry into the UK’s future trade relationships with developing countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth. Among other things, the Committee is considering the trade preferences to be given to least developed countries and developing countries after Brexit. The deadline for written submissions is 16 February 2018.