Freight businesses may be relieved of their Brexit stress this week if a temporary solution to the process is found. The Conservative Party is still attempting to get its Brexit deal through Parliament, with possibly a third and fourth vote this week.
That quest may have been dealt a serious blow today, with the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, making a statement in Parliament that the Government cannot return to the House with substantially the same bill or motion twice in the same Parliamentary session.
Bercow said that a long-standing rule, in place since 1604, has been invoked 12 times since the seventeenth century (the last time in the 1920s) that protects the misuse of Parliamentary time. This means Government will need to return with a changed deal rather than the same deal. Bercow said that the second vote on the deal was allowed because the Government had negotiated changes with the European Union (EU). That cannot happen again as there are no more negotiations scheduled.
That means that the Government may be unable to return for another vote before “B-Day” on 29 March, making a longer extension of Article 50 a more likely option.
Further votes in Parliament will, however, only take place if the Government can get a working majority for its deal. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, and other Government officials worked to persuade Brexiteer members of the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to support the deal over the weekend.
The Government officials have been hoping to corner ardent Brexiteers and push them to vote for May’s deal with the threat of a far longer delay or even an outcome that could see the United Kingdom (UK) remain in the European Union (EU) should May’s deal fail this week. With the EU summit due to take place this week (before the EU retires for its elections in May), the last chance to pass the deal will be Wednesday, 20 March.
After two failures in Parliament, however, that deal will only be put to the test again if the Government is confident of winning the vote.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, said, “We will only bring the deal back if we are confident that enough of our colleagues and the DUP are prepared to support it, so that we can get it through Parliament. We are not going to keep presenting it if we haven’t moved the dial. But what’s happened since last Tuesday is a significant number of colleagues have changed their view and decided that the alternatives, on reflection, are so unpalatable that the Prime Minister’s deal is the best way forward.”
Playing the numbers game is difficult with some Members of Parliament (MPs) preferring to keep their voting intentions private until the vote. With that proviso in mind, it can be said that at lunch time in the UK on 18 March that the Government was still uncertain of achieving a majority vote for its deal.
Government officials have conceded that there is a core of about 25 Brexiteers who refused to change their stance and that they had still not persuaded the DUP of the benefits of the deal.
The DUP MPs give the May Government a majority in Parliament, and they have propped up May’s minority Government since the 2017 election.
However, DUP MPs have been reluctant to support May’s Brexit deal due to the Irish Backstop. That was part of the deal negotiated with the EU that prevents a hard border in Ireland, and the EU has steadfastly refused to alter the Backstop. DUP leaders have said that they want to be able to unilaterally leave the Backstop and to have a time limit on it. Neither of these positions were supported by the EU and with no further negotiations between the EU and UK, that will not change.
It is, therefore, difficult to see what could persuade the DUP to change its stance from a legally binding agreement on the Backstop to simple assurances from the Tory leadership.
But even if the Government manages to persuade the DUP to vote for its deal, that may not be enough. And this is why the Government is also attempting to lure some Labour MPs that have leave constituencies to ignore their party whip and vote with the Government.
Meanwhile, responding to last week’s temporary tariff announcement, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) in the UK said it was “astounded” that the Government was proposing a 22 percent tariff on new heavy goods vehicles for one year.
RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said profit margins were averaging two percent and that operators were already struggling to survive with high fuel costs and intense competition in the market. Burnett said that the tariffs will push the price for a new tractor unit with an Euro VI engine rating to over £100,000 ($132,500), making such an acquisition impossible for many operators.
“Government has already devolved responsibility for clean air zones and low emission zones to the regions, resulting in a completely uncoordinated pricing structure. These latest charges are just another hammer blow to an industry already on its knees,” said Burnett.
Other UK industries have voiced their support for an extension of Article 50. The Confederation of British Industries (CBI) surveyed 273 businesses from the services, manufacturing and distribution sectors. Some 88 percent of these firms wanted an extension to Article 50, eight percent did not want an extension and four percent answered “don’t know” to the question.
Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said, “An overwhelming majority of businesses want an extension to Article 50, which should be as short as possible, but as long as is necessary.” He went on to say, “No one wants this to drag on, but faced with the choice of a harsh no deal, businesses will back an extension every day of the week.”