A watching brief on the Draft Withdrawal Agreement
19 November 2018
It’s been a tumultuous week, which has seen a string of high-profile ministerial resignations since the Prime Minister presented her draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA). London First has set out its response, and we now look to the critical next few weeks and what may lie ahead.
The draft WA is inevitably a compromise, but one that we felt business should get behind, not least because it avoids a cliff-edge, which would be disastrous for jobs and growth.
The agreement lays the groundwork for a final deal – and we’ve been clear that our future relationship must retain as many of the benefits of the customs union, safeguard our service sector and keep us open to the talent and skills our economy needs.
Possible next steps
But the next few weeks will be critical, and there are many political hurdles ahead, before the WA makes its way before Parliament. With the high levels of uncertainty, it is difficult to say what will happen next, but the following is an indication of possible next steps:
First, the PM could face a vote of no confidence from Conservative MPs. If this goes against her, she would need to resign and a leadership contest would be triggered, destabilising the WA process. If it happens this week, the expected next step in the process, the EU Summit, would inevitably be delayed.
Second, if the PM wins a confidence vote, or one doesn’t take place, the EU Summit is currently scheduled for Sunday 25th November. Member states are expected to vote on the draft WA.
Third, if the EU accepts the draft WA, the next and perhaps most perilous hurdle is the meaningful vote in Parliament, expected to be around the 10th December. An agreed deal means we move towards an orderly exit. A rejection raises two possibilities:
One, the serious prospect of no-deal, unless the EU could be persuaded to come back to the negotiation table.
Two, a second referendum if there was enough parliamentary support. Continued negotiations or a second referendum would likely delay the whole process in a timetable that is already very tight, and could require the UK/EU extending Article 50. A no-deal outcome would require Government to step up its preparations ahead of the 29th March.
A fair and managed immigration policy
With so much at stake for our country, we have written to the London MPs to stress the importance of cool heads and leadership, and to reiterate the point that crashing out must not be an option.
With the Immigration White Paper also expected imminently, we are continuing to push for a fair and managed system. We will be publishing more detailed recommendations in the coming weeks and discussing those with the Immigration Minister on 5th December.
We have already invited our members’ senior executives to take part in a call on Monday 26 November with Jasmine Whitbread and our Brexit lead Mark Hilton to discuss the latest developments and to share their views.