The inside track: April 2019

Our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities, including ‘flextension’ news, ministerial resignations and appointments, and whether there is any prospect of a swift Brexit resolution.

Despite disagreements between some EU27 leaders, an extension to the Article 50 period until 31 October has been offered and accepted. The extension will allow the UK to leave the EU sooner if parliament is able to back a withdrawal agreement before the deadline – described as a ‘flextension’.

The government has now indicated that elections to the European Parliament in the UK will be held on 23 May, unless we are in a position to leave early. This means that if those elections do go ahead, the regulated period in relation to non-party campaigners will have retrospectively begun on 23 January. NCVO’s campaigning law expert Douglas Dowell has set out why this is unlikely to present problems for most charity campaigners.

Parliament

EU Withdrawal Act 2019 and Brexit extension

Over the last week, parliament has passed the EU Withdrawal Act requiring the Prime Minister to request a further extension of Article 50, delaying the UK’s exit from the EU. The Prime Minister had already made a request to extend the deadline, but the bill placed additional requirements. It has demonstrated that if there is parliamentary support, legislation can be passed against the government’s wishes relatively swiftly.

People news

Wales office minister Nigel Adams and DExEU minister Chris Heaton-Harris have resigned from the government after the Prime Minister ruled out a no-deal and entered into Brexit negotiations with Jeremy Corbyn. They have been replaced by Kevin Foster and James Cleverley respectively. The Prime Minister has also filled the following ministerial vacancies caused by earlier resignations:

  • Justin Tomlinson, minister for disabled people, health and work
  • Seema Kennedy, minister for public health and primary care
  • Andrew Stephenson, minister for business and industry.

Newport West by-election

Ruth Jones has been elected as the new Labour MP for Newport West. She won the by-election after the death of veteran backbencher, and author of the book on how to be an MP, Paul Flynn.

Another resignation

Conservative MP Nick Boles is the latest MP to resign their party’s whip. He dramatically crossed the floor of the Commons after sharing his disappointment that his party hadn’t compromised during the indicative votes process.

Recall procedure

Conservative MP Chris Davies has pleaded guilty to two charges of making a false expenses claim. If sentenced to a year or more in prison he would be automatically disqualified as an MP. If not, he will be subject to the recall procedure, whereby if 10% of the electorate in Brecon and Radnorshire sign a recall petition a by-election will be called.

Will the Conservatives and Labour agree on a Brexit deal?

As talks have taken place over the last week, it’s become increasingly difficult to see how the Conservative and Labour leadership can put together a compromise that is capable of securing enough parliamentary support, and not causing deep division in one, or both, of the parties.

Conservatives have raised concerns over potential compromises such as a confirmatory referendum or agreeing to a permanent customs union, and some have even spoken against the principle of negotiating with Jeremy Corbyn. Some Labour MPs have demanded a referendum as the price of agreeing  to a ‘Tory Brexit’, while others have insisted there mustn’t be one. Whatever happens there seems to be big obstacles, and no guarantees that the parties would be able to whip in favour of any solution.

For charities hoping that clarity is coming, the agreement of a further extension means a swift resolution currently looks unlikely. For People’s Vote supporters, the additional time might help to win over more converts, while Brexit-supporting MPs who are backing leaving without a deal, will look to force out Theresa May and replace her with someone more in tune with their thinking. The only things that seem likely to change this scenario are a change in the parliamentary arithmetic (though at the moment it’s unclear that an election would do that in a meaningful way), or if the public loses patience and there is a clear political cost to failing to compromise.

So what should charities be doing to prepare?

Despite the extension, it’s still worth making sure you’re on top of what you need to do for Brexit. The government has issued a short checklist for charities that might help your planning.

However, with Brexit negotiations continuing to rumble on and dominate the thoughts of those in Westminster, it may be a good time to take stock of what we ultimately want a post-Brexit Britain to look like, as our Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington set out in January. A ‘flextension’ may provide an opportunity to spend some time looking at potential policy options, so that when politicians are able to focus on a wider range of policy questions, we’ll be in a position to know what we want and how we propose to achieve it.

With that in mind, the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, NPC and the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales have organised an event looking at some of the challenges and opportunities for post-Brexit Britain, and the role of civil society, in London on 26 April.

NCVO can help you to navigate Westminster and Whitehall

Make sure your voice is heard by those making the decisions. We can provide a range of advice, support and training, contact chris.walker@ncvo.org.uk for details.

If you’re looking for campaigning training, our new training website now has all of our courses in one place.

We’ll be running our Influencing Select Committees course on 26 April, helping charities to make the most of their engagement with committees, and ensuring they are well-placed to write compelling submissions and prepare senior staff to give evidence.

Our next Influencing Parliament course will be on 8 July. As Brexit continues to limit parliamentary and government time for other matters, it’s even more important that you make effective use of the tactics available to influence through parliament.

We’ve also opened bookings for our Campaigning Conference on 6 September. As usual we’ll be looking at a range of things for you to think about in your campaigning, with more details to be announced soon. Our keynote speaker will be Sue Baker OBE, global director of Time to Change.

Brexit updates

We’ve produced a factsheet for charities to help them prepare for the impact of Brexit.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest Brexit news, it’s also worth following these:

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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