The UK’s departure from the EU increasingly reflected acrimonious divorce proceedings this week, as the House of Commons debated the Bill to allow the government to trigger Article 50. Despite divides between and within parties, impassioned arguments on both sides and wrangling late into the night, the Commons voted overwhelmingly for the government “to get on with it”, in the Prime Minister’s words. Although played down by the party’s leadership, one fifth of Labour MPs rebelled, including 17 frontbenchers.
Further details on the government’s negotiating position on the EU were eked out in the form of a White Paper published on Thursday. Although far from chapter and verse on the government’s plans for Brexit, the White Paper did reveal some more detail contained in the government’s 12 priorities. The document hints that a future immigration system might feature specific regional and sector immigration targets, and clarified that the government will bring forward separate bills on immigration and customs.
Ministers also acknowledged the potential for a “phased implementation of new arrangements – whether relating to immigration controls, customs systems, co-operation on criminal and civil justice matters, or future regulatory frameworks for business” to avoid a “disruptive cliff-edge”. Anyone feeling jaded after what felt to be a turbulent week in parliament needs to brace themselves for not just weeks, but years of debate as we unpick our relationship with the EU.
In an unexpected ‘buy one get one free’ development, the government revealed that a second White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill is in the pipeline, expected to examine which elements of EU law the UK will keep, amend, or repeal. With the timing of this White Paper yet to be announced, however, questions over which laws will or will not be transferred into domestic law will linger a while longer.
The Bank of England, meanwhile, has upgraded its growth forecasts for the next three years, increasing the GDP estimate for 2017 to 2%. With raised inflation forecasts predicted to curtail consumer spending and slow growth in the longer term, Brexit Secretary David Davis’s comments on Thursday that the UK’s “best days are still to come” may yet come back to haunt him. That is, if you still trust forecasts.