Hamish Morrison provides a preview of what’s to come regarding future Brexit negotiations during the transition period.
Monday will kick things off with the first House of Common’s debate on the Queen’s Speech focusing, appropriately titled, “Britain in the world”. In the wake of the assassination of Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, Boris Johnson emphasised the UK’s alignment with the EU in its response to the killing at his first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new year. It remains to be seen what sort of the relationship the UK Government wishes to have with the EU after the UK’s departure, with Monday’s debate providing some information on the possibilities.
In the House of Lords, Peers (including the newly appointed Lord Zac Goldsmith of Richmond Park and Baroness Nicky Morgan of Cotes) will debate the Withdrawal Agreement, passed by the Commons on Thursday. The Bill is not expected to be met with substantial opposition from Peers and will be scrutinised until Thursday.
Legislative gridlock and constitutional legal wrangling have been put to rest by the UK Government’s new majority and the Withdrawal Agreement is expected to pass in both houses, setting up the UK’s exit from the EU on Friday 31 January. MPs have called for the exact moment of departure to be marked with a ceremonial toll of Big Ben (just don’t ask for whom it tolls). Parliament’s agenda is looking substantially different than from prior to the election, with members turning their attention away from constitutional politics towards everyday things like housing, local government funding and public services.
With that said, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will field questions on Thursday, during which, the SNP will attempt to focus on the constitutional implications of the Conservative’s election pledge to establish a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission. On Tuesday, Margaret Ferrier, Martyn Day and Green Peer Baroness Bennett are expected to ask the Government about its plans to take this forward. All Scottish MPs asking questions to the Justice Secretary will focus on the implications of Brexit for human rights and justice. While the Conservative manifesto was light on detail, these questions could be well placed to reveal some of the Government’s plans for constitutional matters once Parliament has “taken back control”.
Boris Johnson will face the Commons on Wednesday, giving more regularity to Prime Minister’s Questions than in the previous session. The timescales of exiting the EU are likely to crop up, in light of Michel Barnier’s intervention on Friday, which claimed the transition period of one year was not enough time to agree the nature of the EU and Britain’s future relationship. This, alongside reports from the Institute for Government and the House of Lords European Union Committee, will fuel concerns from the Government’s opponents that the Brexit timetable is not workable. Opposition MPs, turning their attention away from stopping Brexit altogether, will now question the feasibility and desirability of leaving on the Prime Minister’s timetable. Questions still remain regarding workers’ rights, food standards and replacements to EU subsidies as well as the impact of the end of the transition period to business. These will form the bulk of the questions directed to the Prime Minister from his opposition in the Commons and the Lords moving forward.