The inside track: September 2019

Welcome to our latest update on what’s going on in Westminster that might impact charities. This month’s round-up includes prorogation confusion, no-deal legislation, and multiple expulsions, resignations and defections.

Parliament

Parliament was prorogued last week until 14 October. However, this has been thrown into doubt by the Scottish court of session’s ruling that the advice given to the Queen to seek prorogation was unlawful. Parliament is not expected to sit again before the UK Government’s appeal against the ruling is heard by the supreme court next week.

I recently wrote about why this prorogation was unusual and what it means for charities.

The European Union (Withdrawal) (No.2) Act 2019

MPs once again took control of the parliamentary agenda to attempt to force the prime minister’s hand on avoiding a no-deal Brexit at the end of October. The Act, which has now been given royal assent, requires the prime minister to seek and accept an extension to Article 50 until 31 January, and accept any alternative offer of an extension unless parliament agrees to reject it.

Boris Johnson’s attempts to secure an early election twice failed, but it is expected that an election will be called once an extension has been secured.

Despite the legislation, a no-deal Brexit is still possible if any of the EU27 veto the UK’s request to extend beyond 31 October, or at a later date if parliament does not block a future no-deal exit. This means that charities will still need to plan for the possibility of no-deal, so this week we have published guidance to provide practical advice on what steps you may need to take. We also recorded a joint webinar with DCMS that you can watch back.

Debate on UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF)

Last week parliament debated the government’s UK shared prosperity fund. Concerns were raised about the lengthy delays to the consultation, and the lack of information on how much funding will be available under the new proposals.

MPs also raised concerns about whether the new fund would be distributed geographically according to need.

As the co-ordinators of a working group on the replacement of the European Social Fund, NCVO and ERSA, alongside 100 other organisations, recently wrote to the Prime Minister requesting that the level of funding is equivalent to that which would have been received were we to remain in the EU.

People news

This month saw a large number of Conservative MPs lose or give up the whip, with 21 rebels being forced out after voting to set aside parliamentary time to push through the withdrawal bill. These included former cabinet ministers Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart, Justine Greening, Greg Clark and Sir Oliver Letwin. Some of the rebels have announced they will stand down, though others such as Rory Stewart have indicated they intend to stand as independents if they have to. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd voted with the government, but later decided to resign both from the government, and the Conservative whip. She has been replaced in the cabinet by Suffolk Coastal MP Thérèse Coffey.

Defections

Three MPs joined the Liberal Democrats this month ahead of an expected Autumn election. Philip Lee literally crossed the floor from the Conservatives as Brecon and Radnorshire by-election winner Jane Dodds was sworn in as an MP, followed by former Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Angela Smith.

Can an election break the Brexit deadlock?

The one thing we can say now with (almost) certainty is that there will be an election this autumn. But it is much less clear whether it will provide a solution to Brexit. There is still a small possibility of a deal being agreed, helped by the establishment of a cross-party group, MPs for a Deal, but both the technicalities and the political implications will make it difficult in the limited time available.

The Conservatives are hoping that they can unite the pro-Leave vote to win a majority against a divided pro-Remain vote, but it’s still unclear how possible this will be on current polling, with some suggestion that they are not currently on course to make enough gains off Labour to offset losses to the Lib Dems and SNP. In truth, a lot could change over the course of a campaign, and there are a range of possible outcomes, so it’s probably pointless trying to predict anything (though that won’t stop me trying).

One thing that we can be sure of however, is that even if the parties end up in a broadly similar position overall, through retirements and seats changing hands, there will be a significant turnover of MPs. New Conservative MPs are likely to be more on board with the government’s approach to Brexit, so a smaller majority may be needed to ensure we leave without a deal if no agreement can be reached with the EU.

And from a charity point of view, it will mean a lot of new MPs to engage with. Like the current crop however, they may be too preoccupied with Brexit to commit significant time to your campaigns.

Party conferences

As we gear up for an election, NCVO will be at the Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative conferences trying to make sense of the current political turmoil. If you’d like to catch up with us, get in touch with me at chris.walker@ncvo.org.uk and we will try to arrange something.

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.

Our next Certificate in Campaigning, our flagship seven module course covering a range of campaigning tools and techniques with a focus on strategy, starts again in October, and is still taking applications for a couple of weeks.

Brexit updates

We’ve produced guidance on what charities should be doing to plan for a possible no-deal Brexit.

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

 

NVCO/Bates Wells Trustee Conference 2019

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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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