News in Brief UK Politics US Politics

Friday Update: 24th January 2020

Written by Callum Williams

Three and a half years after the referendum, this week Johnson’s Brexit deal passed into law and Labour’s Leadership Election entered the second phase. Across the Atlantic for the third time in US history, the senate trial of Donald Trump began.

Brexit Deal

On the 15th January 2019, Theresa May suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat in UK history when MPs rejected her Withdrawal Agreement by 220 votes. However, a lot has happened in British politics over the past year and this week Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement sailed through parliament and was granted royal assent on Thursday, paving the way for the UK to leave the European Union on the 31st January.

Trade Deal

However the Brexit saga isn’t over, the UK and the EU must agree a trade deal by December 2020 or face another no-deal cliff-edge. The transition arrangements can be extended although due to EU funding calculations, the deadline for requesting an extension is June 2020. Johnson has repeatedly said he will not extend the transition arrangements and enshrined his commitment into law. However, this move is largely symbolic and could be easily repealed.

Although Johnson has said a trade deal is possible, the European Commission President Von Der Leyen has said it would be ‘impossible’ to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal by December 2020 calling the deadline ‘very tight’. However, Johnson may still seek an extension as his large majority would enable him to pass legislation without the support of the ERG and the die-hard Brexiteers in his party.

Child Refugees Amendment

Johnson faced criticism over his decision to reject numerous lords amendments. The rejected amendments included the Dubs amendment which would have enshrined protections for child refugees into law. However, Johnson has promised to protect the rights of child refugees but based on his past relationship with the truth, it is hard to believe this promise is sincere.

ECJ Amendment

Another amendment related to rulings of the European Court of Justice. The original Brexit Bill only allowed the Supreme Court or the High Court of Justiciary (Scotland’s Supreme Criminal Court) to overturn previous ECJ rulings. However, when the Brexit bill was reintroduced following the General Election, the bill contained a provision to allow Government Ministers to grant any lower courts the power to overturn ECJ rulings.

Lord Pannick, a cross-bencher and the barrister who successfully challenged Johnson’s unlawful prorogation at the Supreme Court warned:

These are powers which step well over the important boundary between the Executive and the judiciary.

Lord Pannick QC

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords also warned of the chaos the changes to the bill would make:

[The] certainty that lower courts will follow the rulings of higher ones is a crucial part of our legal system. By removing it, the Conservatives would cause chaos and confusion.

Lord Newby

The House of Lords proposed an amendment which would reverse the changes asking the government to reconsider their decision. However, Johnson refused to listen and the amendment was defeated in the Commons.

Devolution Amendment

The Brexit Bill contained a provision stating the UK parliament was sovereign. Although, parliamentary sovereignty in a legal principle in English Law, there is no such principle in Scots Law, under Scots Law the people are sovereign. The inclusion of this provision, which extends to Scotland, could potentially undermine the Scottish Parliament and inserts a new principle into Scots Law without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, raising concerns regarding the devolution settlements.

To rectify this problem, the Lords introduced an amendment which wrote into law that this provision wouldn’t affect devolution or the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. Despite changing nothing in the Brexit Deal, Johnson blocked the amendment in the commons, either as a malevolent act to undermine devolution or a petulant refusal to accept any constructive criticism or advice.

This demonstrates a wider concern regarding Johnson’s and Cumming’s ‘golden age’ of politics, one where the government refuses to listen to the advice and concerns of experts and pursues only their own ideas regardless of the consequences, a dangerous trait for a Prime Minister with a significant majority.

Labour Leadership Election

On Tuesday, Jess Phillips dropped out of the leadership race after struggling to gain the required nominations of the trade unions and constituencies parties. She said:

The Labour Party will need to select a candidate who can unite all parts of our movement, the union movement, members and elected representatives. and I have to also be honest with myself, as I said I always would be throughout this campaign. At this time, that person is not me.

Jess Phillips MP

Both Lisa Nandy and Keir Starmer have gained the required trade union and affiliate nominations to get onto the final ballot. Rebecca Long-Bailey has only got the backing of one union but is expected to be nominated by Unite and will likely get on the final ballot. However, Emily Thornberry will struggle to gain the required nominations as she only has 2 of the 33 required constituency nominations and the support of no affiliates.

A new poll conducted by YouGov continues to suggest that Starmer will comfortably win the membership ballot.

Source: YouGov

However, with over two months left until the ballot closes nothing is certain and Rebecca Long-Bailey who has momentum’s backing could still close the gap.

Trump’s Impeachment

The trial of Donald Trump in the Senate began this week, Trump is charged with abuse of power and obstruction of congress over allegations he withheld military aid from Ukraine to force the Ukrainian government into opening an investigation into his rival Joe Biden.

The Democrats attempted to request more documents from key officials inside Trump’s administrative but the motion was defeated as senators voted along party lines. The trial will start with three days of opening arguments from both sides, followed by questions from senators and witness testimony.

Since a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict Trump, he will likely be acquitted as a conviction would require 20 Republican Senators to vote to remove their president less than a year before the election.

Further Reading

Follow live updates on Labour’s leadership election on their election site here.

Want to find out more about the Candidates in Labour’s leadership election? Read Fraser Innes’s analysis here.

About the author

Callum Williams

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