One year till Brexit: The domestic challenges Theresa May will face in countdown to EU withdrawal

The Independent takes a look at the key challenges the Prime Minister faces over the next 12 months

What could the sticking points be in the Brexit trade deal?

As Theresa May faces the arduous Brexit negotiations abroad with the EU27 she also faces a battle on the home front in the House of Commons over the next 12 months.

She has the unenviable task of getting major pieces of legislation related to Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union through the chamber. Expect Brexit to dominate the parliamentary agenda.

Given the fragility of the Government, a working majority – along with the Democratic Unionist Party – of just 13 and a healthy pro-EU majority in the House of Lords, anything could happen in the febrile atmosphere at Westminster.

Here The Independent takes a look at the key challenges the Prime Minister faces over the next 12 months in the build-up to Britain withdrawing from the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019.

EU Withdrawal Bill

This is the crucial piece of legislation – currently making its way through the Lords – that aims to transpose European law onto the UK’s statue book on the day Britain formally leaves the bloc in March 2019. The purpose of the bill is to ensure Britain does not face a legal cliff-edge when it leaves the EU. Briefly known as the “Great Repeal Bill” the legislation will also repeal the 1972 European Communities Act.

During the Commons stage the Government endured one humiliating defeat when around a dozen Tory MPs voted against the party whip. It required the Government to write its assurance for a vote on the final Brexit deal into legislation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described the Commons defeat as a “humiliating loss of authority” for the Government.

Trouble could also be brewing after the Easter recess when peers will have the chance to amend parts of the bill at the Report Stage. While they will not attempt to block the bill or prevent Brexit they will expect to win some concessions from the Government.

Expect some parliamentary ping-pong in the coming months.

Immigration Bill

This significant bill – set out in the Queen’s speech – will outline the UK’s plans for its post-Brexit immigration system. The changes expected in the legislation, such as ending the free movement of people – a key pillar of the EU – will come into force after the Brexit transition period in December 2020.

The immigration white paper was originally due to be published last summer, and then by the end of 2017, but last month was pushed back again until the Prime Minister had agreed a transition deal with the EU27.

The delay prolongs uncertainty over the Government’s intentions for post-Brexit immigration rules and for people entering the UK. In February “hugely frustrated” business groups condemned the hold-up which means the anticipated Immigration Bill will also be delayed until much later in 2018.

Agriculture Bill

As Britain will no longer be subject to the Common Agricultural Policy after Brexit, which provides financial support to farmers across member states, it will need a new Agriculture Bill. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove also wants to use the bill to achieve his stated ambition of a so-called “Green Brexit”.

A consultation – expected to last until May – is underway for this bill. There is no timetable yet as to when it will enter the Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn announces support of a customs union after Brexit

There is also expected to be a Fisheries Bill and given the recent controversy over fishing rights after Brexit expect there to be a heated debated on this. This legislation will replace the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy – despised by Brexiteers – with the aim of the UK regaining full control over its waters.

Nuclear Safeguards Bill

Since Britain is leaving Euratom – the European nuclear regulator it has been a member of since 1957– after Brexit, this bill aims to establish a UK nuclear safeguards regime and will create new powers for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary. It will also establish the Office for Nuclear Regulation that according to the Government will be “as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom”.

This has already passed through the Commons and is expected to have its third reading in the Lords this week.

Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill

Also referred to as the Customs Bill, the new legislation will, according to the Government, provide ministers with the ability to establish a standalone customs regime and ensure that VAT and excise legislation “operates effectively” after Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

But last month the Prime Minister was accused of “running scared” of the Commons to avoid a possible Government defeat on an amendment to the bill.

The pro-EU Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke are leading a Conservative rebellion to keep Britain in “a customs union in the EU in the same terms as existed before exit day”. Labour is likely to back a vote on the issue.

Given Ms May has explicitly rejected remaining in a customs union with the EU and it being unacceptable for Cabinet heavyweights such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the amendment, if accepted, could pose a serious threat to the stability of the Government.

Its return to the Commons is yet to be announced.

Vote on the final deal

This is expected in the autumn or at the beginning of 2019 – theoretically leaving enough time for the Prime Minister to head back to Brussels for a renegotiation should MPs vote down her withdrawal deal in the Commons.

But some ministers are more bullish about the issue, claiming that if MPs vote down the final deal then Britain will quit the EU without a deal. Just last week Brexit minister Lord Callanan suggested that the UK would fall back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Asked what the Government would do should the Commons reject the deal, he replied: “In such circumstances – first, we hope that Parliament will not reject it and we will negotiate for the best possible outcome – that would be an instruction to move ahead without a deal.”

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, has also insisted the vote will not be an opportunity for MPs to reject Brexit and the UK will leave the European Union regardless of the result of the vote.

But if Ms May loses the vote on whether to approve the deal it will be a significant blow to her authority and her premiership could even be on the line.

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