In glad news for UK and sad news for Brussels, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, declared this week that “when Britain starts to negotiate their own free trade deals then everyone wants to make a free trade deal with Britain”. In an interview on BBC’s Today programme, Thórdarson said that “everyone” wanted to sell Britain goods and services; he suggested UK should join Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein as members of the European Free Trade Association to have access to the single market and continue enjoying the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. He warned against any technical or trade restriction and said that “everyone would lose” if a solution was not found as soon as possible. At present, the British government policy is to leave the single market and the customs union. A transition period is planned and “hard Brexiteers” hope that trade deals can be signed during this period.
Norges Bank is the fund manager for Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global. The changes they recommended this week were welcome news for Britain. Norges Bank Real Estate Management expanded its partnership with UK’s Crown Estate, acquiring an additional 25% interest in 20 Air Street in central London, for £112.5million. No financing was used in the acquisition and the asset is held unencumbered by debt. Norges says nominal government bonds issued in dollars, euros and pounds are more liquid than the segments and currencies in the emerging markets they propose removing from the index. Norges believes the US-EU and UK markets are large and trading volumes are stable, even in periods of turmoil in financial markets.
Both the above must have irritated Michel Barnier, EU’s chief negotiator, who finds Britain’s position on separation issues unclear and ambiguous and under this pretext is delaying the commencement of trade talks.
The Home Office’s latest immigration proposals were leaked mid-week. Two senior ministers put tough curbs on EU migrant workers (designed to protect British jobs) at arm’s length, just as SkyNews reported that the government had approached FSTE 100 companies, asking them to sign a letter endorsing Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy. Because they objected to the harsh immigration proposals, not all CEOs and chiefs were willing to sign the letter, which if all had agreed, was destined to be published on Sunday before the vote in the House of Commons.
The EU Withdrawal Bill (formerly the Great Repeal Bill) is scheduled for its second reading on Monday. The Bill converts EU law as it stands at the moment of exit (March 2019), into domestic law; this is one of the most challenging legislative projects ever attempted. Typically, primary legislation can be amended, but secondary legislation is not. The so-called Henry VIII powers allow secondary legislation to make changes to primary legislation. Therefore, some folks are concerned that changes to important public policy might pass without the appropriate scrutiny and debate.
In spite of Labour’s obstreperous objections to the Bill and the divisions within both parties, it is expected that all Conservative MPs and the DUP will carry the Bill through to the next vote in the House of Lords. Although Labour does not have the mandate to block the Bill, Sir Bob Kerslake, left wing peer and former head of the Civil Service told Newsnight that a no deal Brexit would be a “utter and complete disaster”. Baroness Taylor, Labour peer and politician, has recommended additional scrutiny to limit the powers of Government over Parliament; both these Labour positions indicate that amendments could still be made to the Bill before it is passed by both Houses. Following this, it will be up to the newly formed Select Committees to scrutinise the objectives, the seamless transfer of legislative powers, the roles of Parliament and the Welsh and Scottish devolved governments before any secondary legislation is introduced.