Several things obvious to eventually take place, at least to those paying close attention to the Brexit process, have been confirmed this week already. Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, has tacitly admitted that the EU isn’t going to reopen negotiations and change the backstop in any meaningful way. This means the ERG won’t vote for the deal and it will be defeated again on March 12th. On March 13th, parliament will vote on no deal. This has to be a free vote. It will be voted down by a massive majority. The following day, parliament will vote to extend the Article 50 period. It will win by a comfortable margin. The government, through Jeremy Hunt, has all but confirmed this will be a free vote. It has to be, as nothing else is possible without causing May massive immediate problems.
May will state that the extension will be brief, in the order of two or three months, short enough to avoid the UK having to take part in the EU elections in June. The EU will not accept this and insist on a longer extension – more like 21 months. The logic is that this is the minimum amount of time needed to negotiate a future relationship between the UK and the EU and if the backstop is the issue, then that is what they will need to do. With no deal having been explicitly rejected by parliament and an extension explicitly approved, May will have no choice but to accept whatever extension the EU wants. Worse, this means it will have to be voted on again by parliament. What happens if parliament rejects the longer extension I will leave aside or the time being.
It is very difficult for me to see how the above sequence of events is now avoided. There is one possibility: the ERG just accepts that it’s probably May’s deal or no Brexit, at least eventually, and so they best take what they can get while they can get it. But that isn’t how those MPs think and so this is very unlikely to happen.
What happens after parliament accepts a 21 month extension? There is a lot to consider. Everyone in the Conservative party will want May to resign, but there is now no way to really compel her to do so if she doesn’t want to go, unless the whole of the cabinet resigns – which I suppose is possible. Labour looks set to blow apart at any moment, and the resolution, for now, of the immediate Brexit issue could be the catalyst for whatever the next stage might be. Yet one should never underestimate the power of inertia.
How will the country react? The culture war will enter a new stage of hellishness in all probability, but one can hope something saner takes over.
Uncle Vince Cable says
It’s fitting that the intransigence and uncompromising nature of the Tory backbenches will be the reason we wind up staying in the EU.
Dean Wilkinson says
Can I ask how extending the process solves the issue of the backstop,and if it doesn’t what is the point of a long extension if it isn’t coupled with the proviso of a 2nd ref or designed to allow time for us to have a GE?
It theoretically solves the issue of the backstop by making it redundant – a new relationship will be agreed in that period of time. Again, theoretically, the idea being the UK sees it needs to stay in the Customs Union alongside other concessions in order to avoid a hard border/the backstop becoming permanent during this period.
Dean Wilkinson says
It theoretically solves the issue of the backstop by making it redundant – a new relationship will be agreed in that period of time
But this is very theoretical: if a new relationship couldn’t be agreed in the last 33 months, what are the chances of it happening in the next 21? Slim to none I’d say.
The parliamentary arithmetic would have to change to make ratification of any deal possible (it’s been conclusively proven that at the moment there is no positive majority for any particular deal, there’s just a majority against each option), which means a general election. But that means a new Tory leader, thanks to May’s promise to stand down, who will almost certainly be a Eurosceptic, thanks to the Eurosceptic shift of the party membership.
So what would be the point of an extension? If progress hasn’t been made so far, nothing suggests it will be made simply by kicking the can further down the road.
You need to get out into Europe a bit more. Talk to political representatives. Very many see no point to an extension of Article 50 if there it is not for something new (this is what a fairly prominent MEP said to me a couple of days ago). A referendum choosing between abandoning Brexit and opting for a particular Brexit, would be something new, but a prolongation of uncertainty and political disorder in the UK is unlikely to be agreed.
Do bear in mind that to write about “the EU” is often lazy writing; it actually means agreement of member states and the EU Parliament; in this case unanimity is required. Without this “the EU” does not mean anything.
The ‘backstop’ was agreed over a year ago; it was part of the first phase of negotiations and is part of the foundation of subsequent negotiations. Theoretically there could be an agreement on full compliance with the Customs Union and the Single Market; it might be possibly even to point to a majority of MPs who would prefer this. However, if it is clear that the state of politics in the UK means that this cannot happen in practice, I cannot see how an extension could be agreed.
Where there is such a thing as “the EU” would be in terms of how the commission and other instituions would have contingency plans; these would be couched entirely in terms of EU interests, not in terms of a level playing field that includes the UK.
a prolongation of uncertainty and political disorder in the UK is unlikely to be agreed
Also: does the EU really want the UK to hold a European election in July which will certainly see Farage’s new Brexit Party taking 50-70% of the vote and sending a whole corps of, basically, wreckers to Brussels with a mandate to make things as unpleasant for everyone as is humanly possible?
“a European election in July which will certainly see Farage’s new Brexit Party taking 50-70% of the vote”
Have you actually noticed that recent opinion polls put remain ahead? The remainers will vote for pro-Europe candidates.
Have you actually noticed that recent opinion polls put remain ahead?
They did that just before the referndum too. Which way did that go again?
European elections this year will basically be an opportunity for the public — who are fed up of all this and just want the government to do what it was told and leave the EU — to give the politicians a kicking. The UK public understands they aren’t real elections, after all, and always uses them in that way.
So last time, in 2014, UKIP got 27% of the vote — clearly they’ll all go for the new Brexit party. The Tories got 23%, and given that it will be the Conservative government blamed for us not leaving, they’ll probably all go there too. That’s 50% right there. Add to that those who are annoyed about the trampling of democray inherent in ignoring the result of the referendum.
Obviously the 10-15% of the electorate who actually like being in the EU (as opposed to the other third or so who made up the 48% in 2016, who don’t like the EU but were made nervous enough by Project Fear to not want to rock the boat but who have now seen things like the promised technical recession, the unemployment surge, the housing market crash, etc etc, fail to marterialise, so aren’t going to fall for it again) are never going to switch and will vote for, probably the Lib Dems. And there’s always the tribal Labour voters and Corbynites.
But yeah, I think 50% is a reasonable floor for the Brexit party vote.
You seem to assume that the 2019 European elections (if they happen) will be a repeat of the 2014 elections. However, in 2014 most people hardly noticed the elections were happening and those who did were mainly Euro-sceptics. 2019 European elections in the shadow of Brexit will be entirely different. They will be another referendum. The huge number of people who dislike Brexit will turn out to vote for pro-remain candidates.
In addition, people like to vote against the government. In 2014 and 2016, the way to vote against the government was to vote for Brexit. Now the government is pro-Brexit so the way to vote against it, is to vote remain (Lib Dem, Alternative Group, Remain-Labour, SNP etc.).
I am a referendum-sceptic. For months I have thought that it would be better to have European Parliament elections rather than another referendum. I think it is better to ask people to vote for representatives than for specific policy questions. I think specific policy questions tend to be interpreted as ways of asking the question: Do you like the government? I think a large proportion of British people do not like the government. European elections are held by proportional representation so the results accurately reflect the votes. They are the only fully democratic elections ever held in England.
They will be another referendum
Yeah, that’s my whole point.
The huge number of people who dislike Brexit will turn out to vote for pro-remain candidates.
There aren’t a huge number of people who dislike Brexit, there’s a few tens of thousands of them. It’s just they’re all on Twitter.
Now the government is pro-Brexit
It isn’t. It’s pro-May’s-deal, which is basically Remain; and if it allows an extension, especially a lengthy one, then it’s basically nailed its anti-Brexit colours to the mast. People will therefore — by your own logic, which incidentally is mine as well — vote for the Brexit party as a protest against the government which is conspicuously not delivering Brexit.
Hence, the European elections will be treated as a second referendum and so will deliver a hefty majority vote for the ‘deliver on the last referendum’ party.