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The UK government has today started its 'Get ready for Brexit' publicity campaign for businesses and individuals, relaunching the Brexit guidance which has accumulated over the past two years.
Acting on the premise that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, the principal feature of gov.uk/brexit is a 'checker to find out what you or your business will need to do to get ready for Brexit'. A series of questions are asked, and then links to relevant government Brexit guidance are returned.
I used the checker to find the advice for a (hypothetical) renewables business expanding from the UK into mainland Europe. It returned 27 links, and much of that guidance is lengthy. Most looked relevant, though some is aged and some irrelevant ('check if you can export organic food to the EU').
Gov.uk/brexit brings together what looks like all published government guidance for business. It will be the first port of call for companies, particularly smaller businesses, trying to understand what a departure on 31 October might involve. It also contains guidance for individuals, covering visiting the EU after Brexit, UK nationals living in the EU, and EU citizens living in the UK.
The government's stated policy remains to leave with a deal. If that happens, then very little changes for business, as the UK would enter the 'status quo' transition period that is scheduled to end no earlier than 31 December 2020 (and which can be extended beyond that date in certain circumstances).
If the UK leaves without a deal, then it exits the Single Market and the Customs Union at the end of October, and becomes a 'third country' for all EU purposes.
The week ahead
Parliament returns from its summer break tomorrow and will briefly resume the current parliamentary session. That ends at some as-yet-unknown point later this week or early next week, when Parliament is prorogued for nearly five weeks.
This means that any legislation currently progressing through Parliament, such as the Trade Bill and the Agriculture Bill, will fall away if it does not receive Royal Assent by the time Parliament is prorogued.
It also means that this is a decisive week for MPs seeking to prevent a no deal Brexit. Here are three ways in which this week could play out:
No deal exit stopped: Anti-no deal MPs succeed in passing legislation forcing the government to either agree a deal or extend the Article 50 period again. That extension could be to as far out as May 2020, when the new EU budget has to be set.
If legislation is passed, there is some suggestion that the government may attempt to circumvent it (by refusing Royal Assent, for example, or by acting in a manner that makes it impossible for the EU to agree to the extension). That would be a remarkable moment.
No deal exit stopped, government goes for an election. The executive's response to the legislature binding its hands might be to go for what it would attempt to characterise as a 'people versus Parliament' general election – and perhaps the government will do this pre-emptively today or tomorrow. An election would have to be triggered under one of the two procedures in section 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
So we could be heading imminently into an election period. But calling an election is not solely in the government's power (because of the way that section 2 FTPA works), so one interesting question will be whether anti-no deal MPs make their agreement to an election conditional on an Article 50 extension being obtained first.
Government wins: If the government manages to prevent anti-no deal legislation (or wins a general election) then it would argue that its negotiating hand with the EU27 and the Commission has been strengthened. As Parliament would have failed to stop no-deal, then the EU would have to decide between no deal, or altering the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and in particular of the Irish backstop.
That would finally be the binary choice that the EU has not had to confront. That, at least, is the government's argument. All of this may, however, be overtaken by a general election.