A general election special from the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, going over what to look out for in the campaign and what might be coming down the line.
After months of political gridlock, MPs have now approved a general election on Thursday 12th December.
This means that all Brexit bills including the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) have been dropped as the Parliamentary session now ends. This is the same session that has just been started by the Queen’s speech a few weeks ago.
If the Conservative party win enough seats and become the governing party again it is safe to assume that Johnson’s deal will return to Parliament in the form of the WAB. We don’t know if this will be the case for any of the Brexit bills mentioned in the recent Queen’s speech.
Key things to look out for in the campaign are any promises around the European Settlement Scheme or UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). This government has previously promised to set up the UKSPF to replace EU funding after the UK leaves the EU. However, we have seen little to no progress on this. It is, therefore, worth keeping an eye out for developments on promises on this from all the political parties.
Dates for your diary
November 6th – Parliament dissolved
Week beginning November 18th – Likely launch of manifestos
November 25th – Voter registration deadline
December 12th – Polling day
New Parliament means new MPs. With this parliament ending, we are seeing the retirement of many senior MPs, such as Ken Clarke the Father of the House. We will see some MPs defeated too. Meanwhile, the snap nature of this election means there will be some candidates picked by parties in a hurry who could be untested novices. In preparations for any parliamentary work you may do in the new year you should be aware of these changes to the makeup of parliament.
All this change means we will likely have a parliament with significantly less institutional knowledge. This is incredibly important when it comes to scrutiny. New inexperienced MPs won’t want to rock the boat, will be looking to their parties for guidance, and simply won’t know their way around the complex parliament rulebook. And if there is one thing the departing Parliament became very skilled at through the last years, is knowing how to use parliamentary procedure to hold the Executive to account.
Furthermore, the momentous legislative task of preparing the UK to leave the EU has always meant that powers to make secondary legislation would be needed. But with new MPs lacking institutional knowledge of intricate parliamentary procedures, the chances of secondary legislation slipping through without proper scrutiny are increased.
Meanwhile, if the Conservatives win a majority (they are currently ahead in the polls)expect to see a return of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. This is a critical piece of legislation and we have covered it in more detail here. The election gives organisations a chance to prepare for this (if you’re not campaigning). I would expect it to be rushed through in this circumstance too.
If Labour win a majority their policy is to go for a new deal and then a referendum on that deal. The danger for scrutiny here is that MPs will therefore likely be focused on the referendum rather than the deal. If Labour negotiates a new deal, it is equally crucial that enough time is given for parliamentarians and external stakeholders to scrutinise it.
Remember that a no-deal Brexit is still the legal default. As has always been the case, the only way to prevent a no-deal Brexit is for a deal to pass or Article 50 to be revoked. The electorate is incredibly volatile at the moment, according to psephologists, therefore it is entirely plausible that they will return a hung parliament. As we have seen with the current parliament, it is easier to agree on what everyone is against but impossible to find something everyone is in favour of. Unless the above preconditions are met and MPs legislative to stop no deal once they return, we could see the UK crashed out on the 31st January 2020 accidentally. A 100 organisations have set out their concerns with a no-deal Brexit, read the letter and sign up here. Crucially, if you’ve not already done so, it is crucial that you map out what that will mean for your organisations, use our no-deal preparation guide available here