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Wednesday's Business and Politics round-up

05 Dec 2018

Commuters reading daily news on their journey to work

Good morning, 

It’s day two of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement debate in the House of Commons and Ministers will certainly be hoping that it pans out better than the previous one. Yesterday the Government suffered three defeats on major votes, following a set of debates that extended into the early hours – more on what happened below.

Today MPs will focus on security and what the Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal would mean for the future collaboration with the EU on security.

In other Brexit news, the BBC has dropped plans to air a Brexit debate between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which has been due to take place on Sunday, as both parties had been unable to agree a format in which the debate should take place. ITV has also offered to air the debate and said yesterday that “invitations remain open.”

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Winter of discontent

Theresa May suffered three defeats in the House of Commons yesterday, as the first day of Brexit debates concluded. MPs found that Ministers were in contempt of Parliament – in other words, broke the rules of Parliament – by refusing to publish full legal advice the Government received on the Withdrawal Agreement.

The vote came after Attorney General Geoffrey Cox published the summary of the legal advice and took questions from MPs on Monday. The Government had been arguing that the publication of the full document was not in the national interest. However, having been defeated, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the Government would respond on Wednesday.

MPs also backed calls for the House of Commons to have a direct say in what happens if Parliament votes down the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal next Tuesday, a move that could significantly reduce the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. Addressing her colleagues at the start of the debate, Mrs May said that MPs had a duty to deliver on the referendum vote.

If Parliament votes against the deal next week, which is highly expected, the Government will have 21 days to decide what to do next and present the plan to MPs. It’s setting out to be a fun Christmas period for the Prime Minister by the looks of it!

What seem to be endless arguments about the Brexit deal at home can make it easy to forget that the negotiations are actually taking place between the UK and the EU. Meanwhile, on the other side of the negotiating table, Advocate General to the European Court of Justice, Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona, commented that Britain could revoke its withdrawal from the bloc under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty without needing to seek approval by other member states.

We're getting it

A survey of IoD members released today shows that business leaders are getting to grips with the Apprenticeship Levy, with over half of employers who use the system now saying they understand it perfectly, an increase from 36% in March this year, as reported in The Times this morning.

While the increased understanding is certainly welcome, the survey also revealed that only one in three business leaders are aware of the increased scope to transfer Levy funds to smaller employers – from 10% to 25% - a reform that was introduced by the Chancellor in October. The IoD has urged the Government to help companies make use of the increased flexibility when it comes into effect in April next year.

Almost four in ten company directors said that the Apprenticeship Levy is not the most appropriate form of training for their organisation, with the majority highlighting that they would be able to benefit more if they could use the Levy funds on a wider array of training programs, including traineeships or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

IoD’s Director General Stephen Martin commented that “the Government deserves the credit for listening to the concerns of business” and introducing reforms in the autumn. Mr Martin has urged “larger employers who aren’t currently using all of their levy funds to talk to smaller suppliers to see if they could use an apprentice.”

The promised land

China has vowed to implement trade commitments made to the US “as soon as possible”, following an agreement between the two counties at the G20 summit in Argentina over the weekend. However, not much further detail had been shared which has caused concerns around whether it would be successful.

President Trump outlined some further information on Twitter following the summit, but the details appeared to contradict what White House officials were saying, while Chinese officials had not commented.

The US and China have been locked into an ongoing trade war which has seen both sides impose duties on another’s goods worth billions of dollars. They agreed to not introduce any new duties for 90 days, preventing the escalation of the trade war, for the time being anyway.

Other areas covered in the agreement include China agreeing to purchase a “not yet agreed, but very substantial” amount of agricultural, energy, industrial and other products from the US. Talks have also been agreed “on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft,” but it is unclear when they would take place. 

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