Gillian Fawcett, Head of Governments, CIPFA
It is becoming increasingly difficult to distil what is happening about the UK’s exit from the European Union. But with the current media frenzy, I guess most of us are hoping for a Brexit free Christmas!
To date, the spotlight has been shining on the absence of detail about the Government’s negotiating strategy and date for leaving the EU and on the dispute over who in the UK has legal authority to formally notify the EU that we will begin our withdrawal under article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union.
We now know that the most meaningful forecasts on the economic impact have proved to be inaccurate. Also, we know that divorce settlements are often hugely complicated and extraction can be difficult. Our exit from the EU is no different. At both the international and domestic levels there are a huge range of wicked issues to resolve, such as budgetary contributions, European Investment Bank (EIB) loans, research funding, civil service and pensions, to name but a few. There are also massive economic decisions still to be made on trade and the single market – both challenges are areas of concern and have unknown consequences.
The legal dispute rumbles on with the Government maintaining that its executive powers are enough for it to initiate an exit from the EU without holding a vote in Parliament. Its challengers argue that, since Brexit will abolish many citizens’ rights, only Parliament has the authority to take away rights created by the 1972 European Communities Act. The Supreme Court has held its final evidence sessions and will announce its decision in the New Year. If the Supreme Court decision isn’t favourable there is still the option to take the case to the European Court of Justice. Ironically, it may have ultimate authority on Brexit.
The House of Commons debates are becoming more protracted and feistier with both sides of the House declaring victory, particularly after lively debates about the absence of a detailed strategy on exiting the EU. One such debate lasted more than six hours between Starmer, pro-remain Conservative backbenchers and David Davis, the minister for exiting the EU. Starmer insisted that a detailed picture of his negotiating strategy before article 50 is formally triggered.
Exiting the EU must be costly, but who is counting the costs? The Government will be spending huge sums of public money on legal and financial advice and changes to the machinery of government to cope with the transition and negotiations. Similarly, Parliament will have to absorb additional costs, as well as manage a squeeze on parliamentary time. We strongly advocate that these costs are identified, monitored and reported upon to aid accountability to Parliament and the electorate.
Since the public vote to leave the EU in June we have been living with a high degree of uncertainty so let’s hope that when the Christmas festivities come to an end we begin the New Year with more clarity and direction about our future relationship with the EU.