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The Chequers Deal: what would it mean?

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What is Chequers?

The Chequers plan describes the agreement the government wishes to pursue with the EU. It was agreed in the cabinet during their meeting in Chequers in July. Despite some high-profile resignations in reaction to the proposal, the government continues to pursue this agreement in negotiations with the EU.

This is, ultimately, a compromise deal. It suggests that the UK should keep ties with the EU on a number of matters, though the UK will withdraw from certain EU institutions and manage issues such as immigration.

What does this mean for the data and marketing industry?

For many months, the DMA, along with many other industries and stakeholders have been lobbying hard to have a data agreement with the EU. Maintaining this relationship is crucial for the data and marketing industry. Many processes and products rely on the ability of the transfer of data from the EU and the UK and vice versa. You can read more about how this works here.

As it stands, the UK government has been receptive to our campaign and is in turn pushing for an alignment on data trading, plus a continued role for the ICO in European Data Protection Board, (formerly known as the Article 29 working party). If the government’s Chequers deal is agreed by the EU and passed by the Westminster Parliament, the data agreement will continue to support the practices that businesses throughout the UK and EU rely.

One of the concerns of industry is regarding continued access of skilled workers from both the EU and UK to the others’ markets. Under the Chequers deal, the government will issue new controls on immigration. However, they have made it clear that businesses will still be able to attract skilled workers (those who will earn over £30k) in a post-Brexit immigration system.

However, this week, the migration committee recommended that future immigration policy should not favour EU workers over the rest of the world. If this idea was implemented in policy, it would perhaps materialise in government caps on EU migration numbers. This would not be helpful for the plethora of businesses who have previously relied on the ability of workers to move between EU states.

DMA CEO, Chris Combemale said: “Over the last few months, we have been working with various government officials and departments to show how a deal that includes a data alignment deal is imperative for the success of the data and marketing sector and indeed many others across the UK economy. The Chequers proposals to respect this view and we are pleased to support the government in their push for this deal. We will continue to work with the government and our European partners, FEDMA, to ensure a deal that includes a data agreement is reached.”

Will it happen?

At present, the Chequers deal virtually seems dead in the water. At the Conservative Party conference, the mood towards the Prime Minister’s proposals were positively toxic, with ‘chuck Chequers’ being the prevailing message. Hard-line Brexiteers won the crowds over with their visions of Canada+ or no-deal Brexits. They will opt for a no-deal instead of Chequers, they claim.

At the Labour Party conference, the feeling was equally unkind. They insist that such a deal is too distant and that we should remain part of the Common Market. They will vote down the Chequers deal unless their 6 criteria are met. It is near-certain that these criteria will not be met.

The most likely way Chequers can pass is through the government forcing Parliament’s hand. The only thing no-deal Brexiteers may want less than the Chequers deal is the risk of the Labour party winning an election and negotiating an agreement that would keep close ties with the EU.

If the government were to lose the Chequers deal vote, they would be at deadlock. There are then several options:

  1. They could theoretically present an ‘Early General Election Bill’ which would require a supermajority (2/3rds) to pass and therefore call an early general election. This would be done if the government felt it could return with a renewed majority with which to pass the Chequers deal. Nonetheless, it is a leap of faith that would require Chequers-proponents to put it all on the line. The government would first need to extend the time period for Article 50 negotiations to allow a new parliament to be formed.
  2. The government could also propose a second referendum giving the options of Chequers, no-deal or remain, giving the choice ‘back to the people’. There would only need to be a simple parliamentary majority (half plus 1) to pass this motion. It is unclear how a non-binary result would be worked. Equally, the public do not like the Chequers proposal and, thus, calling a referendum would likely mean government defeat.
  3. They could ask to extend the Article 50 negotiating period and return to the negotiating table. While perhaps the most logical on the face of it, this is a hugely unpopular idea, and the government say they aren’t going to do this. Whether this means they would instead opt for one of the above options is unclear.
  4. Accept they have lost and try and steer the country through a no-deal. Falling back on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in order to conduct trade with the EU and other countries around the world. This would result in tariffs, which could disrupt supply chains, negatively impacting the UK economy.
  5. A motion of no confidence is proposed by Parliament. It would take 48 Conservative MPs to back a no-confidence vote and therefore trigger a leadership contest within the Conservative Party. If a new government with the support of a simple majority of MP’s isn’t formed within 14 days, then Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election triggered.

This is uncharted territory and these are all pretty extraordinary options. Perhaps this fact will motivate MPs to get in line with the government’s proposals. Perhaps, as Jacob Rees-Mogg said at the Tory conference it is time for ‘revolution, not evolution’.

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