Political chaos in wake of withdrawal deal 'concerning' and 'unacceptable', say trade bodies

Political chaos in wake of withdrawal deal 'concerning' and 'unacceptable', say trade bodies

Industry bodies have expressed concern over mounting political instability following the publication of Theresa May's long-awaited draft Brexit deal. The Publishers Association called the current political uncertainty "unacceptable for businesses of all kinds, including publishers". The Society of Authors said it welcomed certain provisions in the deal, but warned of the heightened risks of a no-deal Brexit following the political turmoil.

Since the 585-page document was published by the Government, speculation has been rife it is close to triggering a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. Forty-eight letters declaring no-confidence are needed for this to go ahead (the equivalent of 15% of Tory MPs) and, at the time of reporting, 23 MPs have publicly revealed they have submitted such letters, including Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. If this happened, May would then need the backing of 158 MPs to avoid being forced to resign, but she could also decide to resign if she feels she has lost the support of her party. Either way, there appears to be no parliamentary majority for the deal, with the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, and the DUP signalling that they would not support it.

Setting out terms for the UK's exit from the EU, the draft withdrawal agreement confirms the UK's official exit date from the EU on 29th March 2019, when it will cease to have a bearing on EU decision-making, and says both parties will "use their best endeavours" to conclude a future trade agreement before the end of December 2020; in the interim the UK will remain inside the bloc's single market and be subject to the EU's laws and regulations.

Among a range of issues, the draft deal outlines how it will calculate how much money the UK will have to pay to leave the EU (at least £39bn) and what might need to happen to avoid a hard border in Ireland, should the transition period be jointly extended, by proposing a controversial "backstop" solution. Also in the agreement are details in relation to citizens' rights after Brexit, confirming people will still be able to work and study where they currently live and to be joined by family members.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive for the Society of Authors, welcomed certain provisions contained within the draft in relation to immediate customs arrangements, but shared her worries the ensuing political instability since the deal's publication may have increased the chances of a no-deal Brexit. Furthermore, until a future trade agreement is negotiated, much remains to be seen, she said.

"We are concerned by the political instability that has followed the publication of the draft withdrawal agreement. This has heightened the risks of a no-deal Brexit which would not be in the interests of authors or the wider industry," said Solomon. "There are some provisions in the prime minister’s deal that we welcome, including certainty over customs arrangements for the immediate future which would enable books to move freely across the UK/EU border. However the majority of our key concerns around Brexit – including copyright, trade and free movement for creators – will not be addressed until the UK starts negotiating its future relationship with the EU. We will be watching developments with interest and keeping our members informed as matters progress."

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, also expressed his disquiet over the current political uncertainty, calling it "unacceptable for businesses of all kinds, including publishers", and he urged politicians to "pull together".

"We have been closely watching the political events of the last week unfold and updating publishers. Things are moving quickly, but it’s clear there is no consensus across the political system, no clear route for a parliamentary majority for the withdrawal agreement and little detail on the future relationship," he said.

"The ongoing uncertainty and acute political instability is unacceptable for businesses of all kinds, including publishers. We need certainty, we need clarity on how things will progress and, above all, we need politicians to pull together and find a way through this."

In order to protect the rights of creators and the opportunities afforded to the publishing industry in the UK as a whole, the SoA, PA and AAA have been lobbying together, as well as through The Alliance for IP and the Creative Industries Federation. Commenting on the latest developments, the AAA's president Lizzy Kremer said: "We will continue to scrutinise the government’s plans for post-Brexit Britain and to campaign on all the important issues from maintenance of our gold standard copyright regime to workable tax harmonisation systems and the free movement of our international workforce."

May's Cabinet agreed to support the draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday (14th November). An emergency EU summit is scheduled for 25th November in Brussels to confirm the deal.