Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to defer the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal in December and the vote will now take place during the week commencing 14 January 2019. In another key development, the ECJ gave hope to the anti-Brexit lobby by ruling on 10 December 2018 that the UK could unilaterally revoke its Article 50 notice without needing the European Council’s consent.
Draft UK-EU withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the framework for the future relationship
Parliament’s concerns over the backstop led Prime Minister Theresa May to defer the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal (scheduled for 11 December 2018), acknowledging that it faced defeat “by a significant margin”. The Prime Minister then toured EU capitals seeking assurances that the Northern Ireland backstop would be temporary, and survived a challenge to her leadership after her colleagues triggered a vote of no confidence.
At the European Council summit on 13 December 2018, EU27 leaders underlined their position that the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the single market, and rejected the notion that the withdrawal agreement could be renegotiated. The House of Commons vote will now take place during the week commencing 14 January 2019.
Earlier in the month, following a vote by the House of Commons in favour of a motion finding ministers in contempt for their failure to publish the full legal advice on the withdrawal agreement, the Attorney General made the legal advice available to Parliament. The government also published the legal advice. The government was defeated again when MPs passed an amendment to the Business of the House motion to enable the Commons to express its views on the Brexit process if the Prime Minister’s current Brexit deal is rejected by MPs, although this would have political, rather than legal effect.
Unilateral revocation of Article 50 notice to withdraw from the EU
On 4 December 2018, Advocate General Sánchez-Bordona gave his opinion on a reference from the Scottish Court of Session’s Inner House, to the effect that the UK government could unilaterally revoke the notice it issued under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU. The European Court of Justice confirmed that the Article 50 exit clause can be unilaterally revoked, allowing a country to reverse its decision to leave the EU during the two-year period for negotiations, on 10 December 2018.
“No Deal” contingency planning
The European Commission continued with its preparations for a no-deal Brexit and adopted a Communication on implementing the Commission’s “no deal” Contingency Action Plan on 19 December 2018. Among other things, the Communication discusses the impact of a no-deal scenario for citizen’s rights to stay and social security co-ordination. The Commission calls on the EU27 member states to take action to mitigate the impact of a no-deal scenario on these areas.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport has also published:
- A summary of how the government intends UK data protection law to operate in the event of a no-deal scenario.
- Guidance to help digital services providers prepare for a “no deal” Brexit.
Practical Law has published Practice note, Brexit: implications of no deal, which provides an overview of the legal and practical implications of the UK leaving the EU with no withdrawal agreement and no transition period.
Government White Paper on the UK’s future skills-based immigration system
On 19 December 2018, the government published its long awaited White Paper on the UK’s future skills-based immigration system. The key provisions set out in the White Paper include ending freedom of movement, reducing net migration to sustainable levels and applying the same UK Immigration Rules to all migrants from 2021.
The government intends to modify Tier 2 of the points based system by simplifying the sponsorship regime, reducing the skills threshold, abolishing the resident labour market test and removing the annual cap on the number of skilled workers. It will also introduce a transitional temporary work route for lower skilled jobs, allowing stays of up to 12 months in the UK, followed by a 12-month cooling off period.
Agreement reached on texts of EEA EFTA separation agreement
The UK government agreed the texts of a separation agreement with the EEA EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), which protects the rights of UK and EEA EFTA citizens living in each other’s countries, on 20 December 2018. It also covers separation issues including arrangements on goods placed on the UK or EEA EFTA markets, intellectual property, ongoing policy and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, data protection, public procurement, and ongoing judicial procedures.
On the same date, the UK government agreed the text of a citizens’ rights agreement with Switzerland, which protects the rights of Swiss nationals in the UK and UK nationals in Switzerland after Brexit.
Brexit statutory instruments
More Brexit statutory instruments (SIs) were published throughout December. You can keep up to date with the increased volume of Brexit SIs by visiting our Brexit statutory instruments tracker.