It’s been a rather hectic few weeks for all things Brexit. Conflict between MPs, peers and the government over the finer details of the EU Withdrawal Bill was followed by a mess-up over the release of the long-awaited Brexit white paper, culminating the suspension of the House of Commons.
A series of resignations from some of the prime minister’s most prominent ministers, including Brexit minister David Davis, saw the prime minister’s grip on her Cabinet look a little shaky. This was not helped by tensions over the customs bill, which scraped through the House of Commons by the skin of its teeth, following the resignation of further ministers and some possibly dishonest tactics from the party whips during votes on some of the most controversial amendments.
Then, to top it all off, the prime minister announced out of the blue that the Department for Exiting the European Union would no longer lead on Brexit – the very purpose for which it was established in the first place.
With parliament breaking up for a six-week summer recess things may begin to look a little quiet. But the Brexit clock is still ticking. The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. And there’s still quite a bit of work to do. So what will be happening over the summer break?
No rest for government
The green benches of the House of Commons chamber may be lying empty, but the work of parliament and government will continue over the summer. Work will definitely not stop for the prime minister, especially with Tuesday’s announcement that she will be taking personal charge of Brexit negotiations, with Brexit Minister Dominic Raab’s role now being that of deputy. This is a sensible strategy given party divisions over the issue, Raab’s very short tenure in DExEU and the ever shorter period to March 2019. The prime minister is therefore likely to divide her summer between furthering negotiations at EU level and shoring up support for her Brexit strategy at home – continuing the work started in the Brexit away day for her cabinet.
Within the Department for Exiting the European Union itself, Raab will have time to familiarise himself with his new role and, given his confidence that the UK will be able to reach a deal on EU withdrawal by October, civil servants will continue to work hard on the finer details of the withdrawal process, focusing on the “principled and practical” Brexit outlined in the recent white paper. We can expect civil servants in other departments such as the Treasury, Cabinet Office and Home Office to also be working hard on negotiation options and solutions.
Within parliament itself, we won’t be seeing any debates or votes on Brexit legislation, nor will we see any high-profile evidence sessions with MPs. But several parliamentary inquiries into Brexit remain open, and parliamentary clerks, officials and committee members will be busy researching inquiries and finalising reports before the committee season kicks off again in the autumn.
Although the press often reports that MPs have broken up for their summer “holiday” we must be careful about assuming that they’ll be spending the whole of August on a beach somewhere. Like most of us, they will be looking forward to some well-earned time off, but it is only their formal parliamentary business which is on hold. Constituency work will continue in earnest.
This may mean holding summer advice surgeries, attending local events or dealing with ongoing casework. It will be a good opportunity for MPs to get out of the Westminster bubble and get a sense of what their constituents really think about Brexit. It will also be a chance to properly digest the contents and significance of the withdrawal agreement white paper as well as the evidence given to the Brexit Select committee by ministers and others on the progress of negotiations.
The first week back in September doesn’t look too exciting for the House of Commons but the same can’t be said for the House of Lords, where it will be the turn of the peers to scrutinise the customs bill that caused so much trouble for the government in the lower chamber. So we won’t have too long to wait until the next Brexit battle for May in parliament.