Lord Boswell: Is the UK really ready for a no deal Brexit?

Posted On: 
18th January 2019

The government’s preparations for a ‘managed no deal’ leave many questions unanswered, writes the chair of the Lords EU Committee Lord Boswell

Lord Boswell warns a no deal Brexit would have a profound effect on Gibraltar
Credit: 
PA Images

This week has been yet another momentous one for Brexit, Parliament and the government. While the dust settles on the House of Commons rejection of the government’s Withdrawal Agreement, the date on which the UK is scheduled to leave the EU moves ever closer.

While some commentators have said the Withdrawal Agreement defeat (and the earlier regret motion in the House of Lords) mean that a no deal Brexit is less likely than it was a week ago, it remains a fact that under both UK and EU law the UK will leave the EU on the 29 March, even if there is no deal in place. Indeed, tweets from both Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker after Tuesday’s vote suggested that on the other side of the channel the feeling was that the chances of ‘no deal’ had increased rather than reduced.

So, it is important to understand how prepared the UK is for a no deal Brexit, and part of the role of the EU Committee, which I chair, is to scrutinise those preparations on behalf of both the House of Lords, and also the wider public. It was on behalf of the Committee that I wrote to DExEU Minister Chris Heaton-Harris on Wednesday to seek greater clarity about the state of the UK’s preparedness for ‘no deal’, and to express our concern about the apparent view of some in government that we can have a ‘managed no deal’. 

Now that the Commons vote has taken place, and the government’s negotiated deal has been convincingly rejected, it is important that Parliament and the public should understand whether ‘managed no deal’ is really a viable approach. We have real doubts as a Committee.

The European Commission in November of last year made it clear that it envisaged it’s no deal preparations as taking the form of a series of unilateral EU measures, instead of an attempt to reach agreements with the UK. The government needs to explain how it will attempt to persuade the Commission to move to working jointly with the UK on no deal planning, rather than taking forward preparations separately.

We are also concerned about the impact of Brexit on Gibraltar. We have visited Gibraltar and had regular meetings with the Chief Minister. Brexit will clearly have a profound effect on Gibraltar and key issues such as the movement of goods and people across the Gibraltar-Spain border remain unresolved in the event of no deal. The European Commission no deal preparations specifically exclude Gibraltar, and we want the government to clarify the implications of this and, crucially, to explain what support it is offering the Government of Gibraltar to make its own preparations.

We have also asked about the Commission’s position that after Brexit UK nationals in the EU may be subject to national rules, which may affect their right to stay and work in their country of residence. The government says this is ‘unacceptable’ but has not said what it is doing to rectify it. We are pressing the minister to explain what the government is doing to persuade EU Member State governments to reciprocate the UK’s offer to EU citizens and provide reassurance to UK citizens who have made their home in their countries.

Making predictions about Brexit is a dangerous business. We still don’t know whether an agreement is still possible by the end of March, or whether there will be an extension to Article 50 to give both sides more time. But it would be remiss not to be ready for a no deal Brexit, so the Lords EU Committee will continue to press the government to ensure it has appropriate plans in place.

Lord Boswell is a non-affiliated peer and chair of the Lords EU Select Committee