Flybe: Brexit to blame

Flybe’s spokesman, Rick O’Shea, has admitted the reasons for Flybe’s collapse, pinning the blame on Brexit:

“We saw tens of thousands of people on that march saying they would leave the country if Britain left the EU. We bought extra planes, landing slots, fuel, hired staff – and they are staying in droves. We planned to help businesses relocate to Europe as they said they would, but instead European businesses are relocating to Britain. We feel let down.”

He added “We hoped at least that Andrew Adonis would leave the country – but I think everyone did.”

Open Britain struck back at the government’s handing of the crisis: “We maintain that the referendum campaign was based on lies, and we have been justified: the Leave campaign claimed repeatedly that the economy would suffer only a temporary downturn, but in contrast we have seen constant growth. While it is true that a great many of our supporters did say they would leave Britain in the event of Brexit, that decision was based on figures provided by the Tory government forecasting economic meltdown, and that has proven to be yet another lie which must invalidate all three recent general elections.”

The government agreed to reschedule the troubled airline’s tax debt. They admitted “We are largely to blame. Under Theresa May the negotiation was handled so cackhandedly that the airline had every reason to think that Brexit would be followed by economic and political chaos, and the May government even published a paper claiming that middle class families would starve in the street, leading to a total, Hobbesian breakdown of society and descend into cannibalism. We must accept that when Boris sacked the civil servants involved and did the job properly, we upset their long-term business planning. Now the economy is shooting ahead of Europe’s, all those businesses which planned in good faith for collapse have suffered.”

Andrew Adonis was unavailable for comment, but he is believed not to have left the country. A plane is waiting for him.

Act now!

Yes! Royal assent at last, and the Bill is now an Act; the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, after all the fighting. The commentary on this site will shortly be updated to “The Act – a commentary”, but for the moment is a time to reflect.

It has been three and a half long years, with one referendum, two general elections, three Prime Ministers, several unprecedented legal actions and many longstanding Conservative highfliers cast into the dustbin of history for rebellion.

Amongst those departed Members, we may wonder about their feelings. Are they content in their hearts that they stood for a principle even if they cannot remember what it was, or wistful that they threw their careers away in vain when they could have come aboard and still now be feted in golden coaches, or are they glad in retirement that their actions, however shocking at the time, brought about a general election that handed the Conservatives a majority of 80.

Next week will be ‘Brexit week’ culminating in the actual British Exit at 11 pm GMT on Friday 31 January 2020. We will wonder in future years how this point ran so close.

Today’s royal assent should not be momentous: it is just an Act of Parliament authorising the government to sign an agreement, and to put it into effect. The actual withdrawal was enacted under Theresa May; it is just that she could not make it stick even with a sovereign act, an Act of Parliament, commanding it. That is where it all went wrong for her.

The clog in the road was the unlucky Section 13, forced into the Bill by extreme Remainers and Labour. It said “all this means nothing unless your withdrawal agreement gets a vote in the Commons and a new Act of Parliament too”, and so the Withdrawal Act was neutered. All this, a year of political crisis, was forced by that one Section in the Act, a bastard child of K Starmer and D Grieve. The new Withdrawal Act repeals Section 13, and good riddance to it.

Therefore, quite inadvertently, this is a momentous moment, and the moment Brexit is finally, mercifully sealed.

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You’re on your way now, Bill

After three and a half years, it is hard to believe we are finally (almost) there. A joyous Brexmas to us all: the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is through the Commons; and woe betide the Lords should they try to stall it, after they rushed the Surrender Bill through.

When the first Bill was presented during the Zombie Parliament, I wrote a frank if hurried commentary. The one newly passed by the Commons today is almost identical, with some telling changes.

Much fuss has been made about the loss of a clause headed “Protection for workers’ rights”, but the heading of the lost clause is misleading: it had no protection of any rights: all it was going to do was order Ministers to make a statement about it in every new relevant Bill, which was a ridiculous burden with no legal effect. The fuss about it is disingenuous or mistaken. Additional protection in the area is unnecessary: employment law is mostly enshrined in primary legislation with no reference to European rules and so cannot be changed without an Act of Parliament. In those areas which are affected, such as the ‘TUPE’ regulation, it may in fact need technical adjustment to change references to the European Union and European Economic Area, and where limits are defined in euros.

The clause actually protecting foreign workers’ rights remains unchanged.

The headline change concerns extending the Transition Period. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an agreed extension and the original bill had clauses on that, but as I wrote a few of days ago, the possibility of an extension makes that extension inevitable, and therefore the new Bill forbids any extension. The Europeans’ negotiators may thing they can override that, but it is not Theresa May in charge any more nor her negotiators (if they could be described as that) but Boris Johnson, who is a very different character, as they have seen. Banning extension is necessary.

A second big change is one I begged for before more than once: the clauses that would have tied the Government to clearing every little step of the negotiations with the Commons have gone. Thank goodness: this part would have made impossible what needs to be a swift, nimble-footed negotiation.

It was noted before that there is an extraordinary Henry VIII power at one point, namely power to modify “any provision made by or under an
enactment (including this Act)“. That is only in an administrative Schedule, not the body f the Act, but the wording looks unprincipled. It appears in Schedule 2 which constitutes the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements; once in Paragraph 39(7) and once in Paragraph 40(3), in both cases to allow the transfer of functions from or the abolition of the quango. In that strictly limited context with a strictly limited scope it is not a worry. It is extraordinary though in its wording, for an Act to grant power for itself to be changed, and I hope its appearance here does not become a precedent.

Finally, the Bill still contains a major constitutional error in Clause 39: it (nominally) says: “It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign.” No it is not. If “Parliament” is here an abbreviation for “the Queen and Parliament together” then it is correct. If “sovereign” is a loose term, then they can get away with it, but Parliament, meaning the two Houses, is not sovereign and never has been. One hopes that a throwaway line in a narrow, functional Act will not be taken as changing a most fundamental part of the Constitution, but with judges these days you cannot be sure.

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The work begins: Get Brexit Done

I’m still celebrating, but the work is beginning at once. Just as after the office party the ’phone will ring, so now the new, giddy MPs must get to work at speed, to get done all those things that should have been done in the last three and a half years, and more.

First of all: get Brexit done finally.  It is almost a year late.

A Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be introduced on Friday, and a programme motion to push it through the Commons before Christmas – or alternatively a Section 13 motion. One problem facing the renewed Government is that the Surrender Act is still in force and obliges the Government to go for the Malthouse Compromise and nothing else:  that must be cleared away and all the tripwires the awkward squad imposed during the Zombie Parliament, and so a Bill is needed.

We had a commentary on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill on the day it was published.  If the same Bill is introduced, the same issues are there; it is unnecessarily complicated because it was done in a hurry and appears to duplicate powers which are already in the existing European Union Withdrawal Act.  It also has provisions with a burdensome procedure for the Government to have to keep referring back to the Commons on the course of the negotiations for a new trade deal. Maybe that was a way to win some wavering support in the hung House of Commons. The voice of the Commons should be heard in the negotiations as they will be required to pass an Act to implement the resulting treaty, and they will want to voice priorities in terms of the extent to which Britain will be bound by agreements, and this will include important areas such as intellectual property, state aid, level-playing-field tendering and co-operation in VAT and data-sharing. However too much structure can make the negotiation slow and encumbered, and since it has to be concluded by December 2020, that is worrying.

In one element though the government can properly be hobbled in its negotiation, and that is where there is the possibility of extending the Transition Period (the ‘vassalage period’ as it has been called). The Withdrawal Agreement provides for an agreed extension, but it would be unwelcome and against the Manifesto pledge. It is hinted that the Bill to be brought on Friday will bar the government from actually extending. That is wise: it was the possibility of extension of the Article 50 period which made that extension inevitable, and the possibility of extending the vassalage will be very tempting to Brussels as they prevaricate in their negotiations over the course of 2020.

Never forget in all of this, that although there is a large Conservative majority and the will to get this through, and though all the blue rebels have been ousted and swept into obscurity, the Labour benches still contain the likes of Hilary Benn, prime mover of the Surrender Act, and Keir Starmer, co-author of Section 13 and one of those who gave aid and comfort to the enemy in Brussels. They may be overpowered, but they will not be silent.

This morning Michel Barnier made a useful observation: he said that a complete negotiation of an international trade treaty would take far longer than twelve months, but that it should be possible to do enough in that time to continue the trading relationship. That is a constructive way ahead.

With a common-sense approach and goodwill it should be possible to do the whole treaty in twelve months, but common sense and goodwill and not among the EU’s known qualities, not alacrity come to that. Theresa May’s team were content to sit back and wait for Brussels to propose things, with the result we saw. This time it will need British will to push the new trade deal at every stage, and an open line to Eire – the one European state which does display common sense on occasion. Then if the treaty text can artfully keep to areas within the European Union’s ‘exclusive competence’ then the treaty need only pass through the European Union’s own procedures and not be tripped up by a troublesome member state; the EU-Canada CETA strayed beyond and was felled by the Walloon regional parliament. If for a full treaty it is impossible to keep to the areas of exclusive competence, Monsieur Barnier’s “enough” treaty could, with detail to follow.

If it is likely then that the trade treaty will be a multi-stage process then the Government must be free to negotiate it in stages and sign up in stages, and the terms of any Bill before the Commons must not inadvertently hamper that.

I may be getting ahead of things though: the first thing is to get Parliament to grant whatever authority the Government needs to sign the deal, and (whether at the same time or following on its heels) to repeal the Surrender Act and the unfortunate Section 13.

Then by December we may see a signature on a new treaty. Not in Rome, as it is too redolent of the original treaty which got us into this mess in the first place, and of the Europeans’ imperial ambitions: may I suggest Wittenberg?

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The five stages of Grieve

The five stages of Grieve have been identified by psychologists:

1.   Denial

2.   Anger

3.   Bargaining (with foreign enemies)

4.   Believing your own wildest rhetoric

5.   Standing as a vanity candidate out of spite in a General Election

Many former MPs recently defenestrated may be feeling the signs of Grieve as the nights lengthen and the season of ill-will approaches. Once outgoing characters in an established rut, now thrown into the real world and feeling Gaukey, we should not be cruel – they are in need of help and counselling.

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Books