Greetings from Brussels!
In a word: Brexit. Yes, the monster roller coaster doesn’t appear to have any end in sight just yet. On Wednesday evening, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May — and the sitting Tory government — survived a “no-confidence vote” in the House of Commons by a margin of 325 to 306 votes. This slimmest of victories came a mere 24 hours after May suffered the largest defeat of any British PM when the House of Commons voted down — overwhelmingly — May’s Brexit divorce deal as negotiated with the EU.
This secondary “vote” motion was tabled by opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn following the Brexit vote Tuesday and failed in its bid to remove the government. However, it was widely expected that May would survive the “no vote of confidence,” although this was a closer result than most predicted. The alternative scenario would have been perhaps too daunting for most: a PM resignation, possibly followed by a general election, which would hardly help the situation taken the timing of the Brexit deadline is this March. What the vote may have also shown, perhaps, is that trust in the opposition bench to govern and navigate what is arguably the most important direction for the U.K. in modern times is equally questionable.
While May has survived a second attempt to remove her from her job, she still is unable to get her plan through Parliament as it stands. May remains adamant that the deal on offer is the best plan available and hopes for more concessions from the EU. She maintains her position steadfast, that the U.K. will leave the EU on 29 March, preferably with a deal. Conversely, the EU is in no mood to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and is asking the U.K. to clarify what they want: In short, we are at an impasse; it’s a stalemate.
May offered to immediately open cross-party talks to agree on a new Brexit deal after her narrow survival saying, “We must find solutions that are negotiable and command a majority of the house.” Opposition leaders promptly demanded that a “no-deal” Brexit be ruled out by the government. The government is expected to present its proposals to MPs next Monday, 21 Jan.
As with many things U.K. and particularly on Brexit, I reached out to John Bowman of Promontory in London, to get a sense of what was being said locally. Notably, as John said, with the Brexit date only 70 days away, the dramatic developments in the House of Commons this week will have done little to alleviate uncertainty about the U.K.'s future relationship with Europe. There remains a range of possible outcomes, including a revised deal being agreed by the Commons, a delay to the exit date being agreed with the EU, or in the absence of any agreement, the U.K leaving the EU with no deal at all at the end of March. There are simply too many parameters and permutations to consider presently. Although it is probably a safe bet to say that the majority of U.K. MPs would not like to go down the route of a no-deal scenario. This would be a resounding failure for both the U.K. and EU with incalculable economic and political consequences.
Eduardo Ustaran, of Hogan Lovells, also weighed in on what the latest Brexit news means for businesses, outlining an action plan for data transfers. Be sure to check out his Privacy Perspectives piece on this below.
My final thought here is this: There is also a growing wave for a second referendum both from political opposition parties — although the Labour party is sitting on the fence for now on this one — as well as from business. Influential industry leaders from the U.K. retail, media and telecommunications world, among others, also called for a second referendum Thursday, in an open letter to the Times. The government has repeatedly said that this is not an option, and while unlikely, it has more credence than six months ago.
What we can say for now, and John Bowman and I agree on this with certainty, is that the advice for privacy pros remains the same. Plan for all contingencies including a no-deal Brexit and continue to monitor the situation closely.
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