CWO Forum Report: Brexit What Next?

Monday June 26th 2017
Committee Room 19, House of Commons

Chair: Julie Iles, National Chairman, Conservative Women's Organisation; Jacob Rees-Mogg, Member of Parliament for North East Somerset; Adam Chapman, Head of Public Law, Kingsley Napley LLP; and Kevin Green, Chief Executive, Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

Julie Iles opened the Forum by welcoming our members and reminding everyone that it was a year since the Brexit Referendum and politically the result had been seismic. In introducing the panel she described the MP Jacob Rees-Mogg as a most loyal rebel who was deeply Eurosceptic; the lawyer Adam Chapman whose entry in the Chambers and Partners guide to the Best Lawyers and Law Firms, describes him as a ‘leader in his field' with great skills who can see the details as well as the bigger picture; and Kevin Foster who as Chief Executive of the REC has hosted women in recruitment webinairs and crucially believes that Brexit will create an NHS workforce crisis.

Jacob Rees-Mogg began by saying that the CWO has always been so important to the Conservatives in making sure we win elections. When he first joined the Conservatives in 1983 he remembers that it was the women in Ebury Street who were writing the envelopes and historically worked hard during Elections. He continued by saying that the Party does very well when it is led by a woman.

Turning to the future of Brexit he offered a toast to Gina Miller (the financier who challenged Brexit in the courts). As a constitutionalist Jacob noted that Brexit is now settled; it has become a law of the land and cannot be changed by Royal Prerogative. Article 50 was passed into law by an Act of Parliament and a Royal Prerogative cannot take us back out. The Repeal Bill is settled and we will leave the EU on 29th March 2019. The European Communities Act 1972 is clear that this applies to Directives and the European Court of Justice, but it is not clear about Regulations. There is a risk that if the Great Repeal Bill is not passed then we could be left adrift with no legal clarity in many areas.
He predicts that in this current Parliament, the Bills set out in the Queen's Speech will all go through and remain intact, although there will be a great deal of noise and furore during the process of getting them enacted. If by 2019 no laws have been replaced we will find ourselves in a muddle. The Miller case sets out that Parliament can only bind using legislation. The constitutional position is clear that we are leaving and just need to discuss the deals made.
We now need to leave behind the negative and ask ‘what do Conservatives want?' ‘What will improve people's lives?' There is the fundamental belief at the heart of this that we can create a better life and to do this we should focus on trade.

The biggest areas of restriction in trade are clothes, food and footwear. We need to make the staples of our lives cheaper, and this does not involve us importing food with lower regulatory standards. Currently, for example there are high tariffs on oranges which serves to protect orange growers in Southern Europe. There is a 38% tariff on wine coming in from Australia and the US, protecting European producers, but without EU regulation we will have greater choice at better prices.
EU interference has affected our agenda for business. Rural broadband provision which is essential to allow our rural economy to thrive has been delayed as EU regulations determined that any Government funding was illegal state aid. EU regulation is a drag on the City of London's performance and out of the EU we can have sensible regulation instead of some of the destructive regulations we have now.

Jacob concluded with the message that Brexit is happening and we need to find the opportunities therein. We did badly in the recent Election owing, in part, to the negative messages which were presented. Above all it is essential to change the view of Brexit from something that is dangerous and frightening to a point of light and positivity.

Kevin Green started by saying that he was disappointed by the tone of the recent General Election campaign, particularly through the narrative regarding jobs and employment, where employment has never been higher and this is something that ought to have been celebrated. 2.7million jobs have been created since 2010 – unemployment is at its lowest since 1975. We have a successful labour market and we are very close to full employment in the UK. From a business perspective there is, however, a labour, skills and talent shortage in the UK. The challenge is to make successful businesses and a dynamic, agile labour market.The deals achieved after Brexit needs to take into account those challenges. Brexit should be spoken of as a positive. Immigration has been a negative focus recently. 2.2 million of our workers are EU residents. In London alone, 50% of the restaurant and catering staff come from EU countries.

In the high skills sector10% of workers have already moved overseas. We need to grasp the brightest and best and those who will help the economy. Understanding the Brexit vote, we need to retain people who are currently working here. The Prime Minister made great strides on that today (with her statement to the House on last week's EU Council meeting and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK) and we need a clear transition process for immigration. It needs to move away from the political domain – it's necessary now for Government to support business and training and development. The Government could be creative around tuition fees and helping those who are studying for degrees in STEM subjects, those who care for the elderly, nurses and those who contribute to the economy.

Adam Chapman spoke about Brexit from a legal perspective and the legislation surrounding it. said that his law firm has seen a surge in business in the immigration and business department owing to the EU workers who are currently here. Their clients want to know what's going to happen and they are very worried.
It is important to provide context for some of the challenges which relate to primary legislation, secondary legislation and the devolved administrations. The next Parliament is going to be busy with the Repeal Bill, Brexit Bills, as well as ordinary Bills.

There will be a huge amount of time devoted to the Brexit Bills and he predicts that time will be short to debate Brexit Bills. Additionally, we cannot ignore the domestic agenda. There are reams of legislation coming out at the moment. Brexit Day is 29th March 2019 and at that moment our current legislation cannot be allowed to fall into a legal black hole. There are 8 Brexit Bills including the Repeal Bill which will repeal the European Communities Act 1972. The ECA '72 currently gives effect directly and indirectly to EU legislation. Post Brexit EU law needs to be converted and preserved – making into UK law all EU laws, as well as preserving domesticated laws; and EU derived law will need to be corrected so that it is workable, for example permissions which currently have to be sought from the EU will have to be gained from UK bodies instead, but substantive law may not be so different in a post-Brexit UK.

There will probably be lively Parliamentary debate on these issues and the power to correct legislation will be the most controversial. Ministers could use Statutory Instruments to correct legislation, although this mechanism receives very little scrutiny, which could result in a loss of Parliamentary control. Secondary legislation can be challenged using Judicial Review, although the downside of this for the Government is that it is much easier to challenge secondary legislation in the courts, rather than primary legislation, leaving Parliament with the risk that the courts will have greater control over legislation than Parliament.

Relations with the devolved administrations may change as the EU is currently active in areas where the devolved administrations have competence (for example in agriculture and environmental affairs). The White Paper is not clear what effect this may have, which may be because it was produced hastily. There is a possibility that powers could be returned to London, rather than the devolved powers, so there will need to be transitional arrangements to allow certainty which will need to be negotiated post-Brexit. It may be that these negotiations prove as difficult as Brexit itself.

The Chairman then opened the floor to questions which encompassed issues as diverse as employment and building the Post-Brexit immigration system where it was suggested that the Government will need to work harder to bring people back into the work place and that the apprenticeship levy should be used more creatively; how to appeal to younger people, especially after the disastrous Election campaign; the housing crisis with particular reference to the fallout from the Grenfell Tower fire; the Northern Irish peace process and trade.

In conclusion, Jacob was clear that Brexit would be positive and that the UK would take control of our money, laws and borders, and that we should have confidence in our country. Kevin believed that it was time to paint a picture of optimism and opportunity. We need to recognise we live in a global world and that business and politics need to come together to ensure that Brexit is a success. Adam stated that whatever happens, Brexit will bring a bonanza for Lloyds. He felt that no one has a degree of foresight as to what is going to happen, there is little certainty as to the outcome and the global picture is uncertain. He believes that the Election campaign ought to have been more positive and that the youth think that Brexit heralds a return to a close-minded outlook.

The Chairman, Julie Iles, closed the meeting by thanking the panel for providing a lively and diverse debate.

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