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Delay is a Waste of Time

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Although the government has consistently tried to rule out any extension to the date upon which the United Kingdom exits the European Union, a private members bill was introduced by Nick Boles MP to require the Prime Minister to seek such an extension if the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration are not approved. A similar Bill seems likely to be shortly introduced by Yvette Cooper MP.

Delay and Revocation

It is paradoxical that the United Kingdom has the unilateral power to revoke the Brexit process altogether, but, if it seeks delay, it must obtain the agreement of the 27 other member states. It seems likely that such an extension would be agreed to if it were for the purpose of a second referendum or a general election. It seems unlikely that it would be granted for purposes of making preparations to facilitate a no deal Brexit, which would entail a ‘hard’ border in Ireland, which is one of the central goals of the EU27 to avoid. It is therefore almost certainly insufficient to obtain an extension to legally require the PM to ask for one. She would have to ask for a particular purpose.


Time Doesn’t Help

Delay will not change the arithmetic in the Commons. As we saw on 16 January, there is no majority in favour of a General Election. There is also an even smaller number currently in favour of a Referendum.  The deadlock would remain the same. We will have managed to delay taking a decision, but not added any further options.


Further, by delaying the exit date, the United Kingdom does not extend the transition period after that date. The UK only obtains the transition period if it agrees to the Withdrawal Agreement. The end of the transition period is not, as often stated, “two years”. It is not a rolling period. It comes to an end on 31 December 2020. This end date is fixed by EU budgeting requirements (ie they need to know the point at which the UK stops paying). This could be extended to 31 December 2021 or 31 December 2022, but the UK will have to pay into the EU’s budget throughput that time, and will be essentially a non-voting member of the EU (an uncomfortable position).


The transition period is crucial because it is during this time that the UK will negotiate the future relationship. The terms of the Withdrawal Agreement have taken nearly two years to settle, and are far more straightforward. An extension wastes time as it eats into the transition period. Without a clear objective in mind it should be opposed.


Change the Default to Something Else?

I have suggested changing the default in the absence of approval of the Withdrawal Agreement from no deal Brexit  to revocation of Article 50. This would not lead to Remain being the result. All options, even no deal Brexit, would still be possible alternatives for the legislature to approve.


May currently has two paths to attempt to persuade MPs to approve a Withdrawal Agreement. The first is to induce MPs to back her with the threat of something worse. Here the obvious worse thing is no deal Brexit. The procedural hurdles for parties other than the government to introduce and pass legislation to stop this are so dauntingly high that this tactic may still succeed. It does not, however, seem to me to be a democratically acceptable way to behave.


The other was the path I assumed that she would take.


The Labour Party has no substantive reason for opposing the Withdrawal Agreement (as opposed to the Political Declaration). Although Mr Corbyn’s amendment on Monday criticised the backstop as “ neither politically nor economically sustainable” Sir Keir Starmer interviewed on Sunday admitted that any backstop, which simply guarantees that there is no border in Ireland, is a requisite of any deal. What Labour’s current position on the Withdrawal Agreement is is unclear.


So, in a sensible world, the (non-negotiable) Withdrawal Agreement itself should be agreed. The Political Declatation on the future relationship is a mere statement of intent and is all up for grabs. Mrs May ought to offer Parliament a series of rolling votes on what it seeks in the negotiations that are to come on the future relationship ( a Customs Union? Freedom of Movement? And so on.). She should then treat these votes as binding and proceed to negotiate on that basis.


It now seems however that she will not do that whilst the threat of a no deal Brexit remains possible. She wishes to have her Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration approved together.


This would however be a hollow victory. Of course if Parliament had approved her preferred version of the Political Declaration this would have given her a mandate to pursue it. Approval obtained at the point of a gun is not a mandate at all.


So, those Parliamentarians who do not wish to be blackmailed and wish to avoid a no deal Brexit, which must include reluctant Conservaitve Brexiteers with the same views as Mr James Kirkup and Mr Daniel Finklestein, should back a change of default. This does not lead ultimately to Remain, but changes the path by which Brexit must be secured by the government. Compel the European Research Group to compromise.


Change to a Referendum?

Instead of changing the default to revoke, it might be possible to change the default to a referendum. This would however require the form of the referendum to be specified. It would require far more complex legislation than my simple draft.


For myself, I consider this a worse option. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that another referendum would be a re-run of the last. We cannot maintain that it would instead be a referendum on ‘the terms’ as most of those remain to be agreed.


The best path is to change the default to revoke, thereby compelling those who desire Brexit to compromise with the 48% who did not.

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Why are people cheering for no deal? Because they’re thinking about it the wrong way | Anand Menon

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In an encounter with a Question Time audience in Derby I tried to explain that Brexit is no ordinary transaction

There are moments in life when your heart sinks. I had one last night, right at the start of my terrifying debut on Question Time. Isabel Oakeshott had just said we should leave the EU with no deal. And the audience cheered. Not a subdued, start-of-the-evening, not-quite-warmed-up cheer. But a roar. A loud one. Shit, I thought. Do I dare point out the problems with this? Because there are problems aplenty.

Metaphors matter. And Brexit has become a metaphorical cornucopia (if you see what I mean). Perhaps nowhere is this more true, and more damagingly and misleadingly so, than when it comes to the question of “no deal”.

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Jeremy Corbyn: what's really happening when he says 'no' to Brexit talks?

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Jeremy Corbyn will not talk to Theresa May unless she agrees to rule out a no-deal Brexit. The UK Labour leader will get a cheer whenever he says this publicly over the next few days, because it sounds like he is merely insisting that leaving without a withdrawal agreement should not be an option regarding Britain’s exit from the EU.

But that is not at all he is saying. What he really means is that there are no circumstances in which Labour will offer the prime minister any votes. He knows May cannot rule out no deal at this stage, just as she cannot be seen to be compromising in plain sight with Corbyn. It should not be so, but it is. And by refusing to participate in private discussions, Corbyn knows full well he is pushing May further in the direction of the hard Brexiters within her party, making no deal much more likely.

This is not to suggest that Corbyn wants to leave without a withdrawal deal. But what he wants, almost to the exclusion of everything else, is a general election. Again, this sounds creditable, at least to some extent. May’s government has failed, and by British constitutional norms, the prime minister should have resigned.

But she has not, and is not going to. And Corbyn knows full well, again, that Labour would in all likelihood lose a general election anyway. Admittedly I, like the majority of Corbyn’s own supporters, under-estimated his appeal at the 2017 election, and could be wrong again. But unlike 2017, most people know enough about Corbyn by now to have made up their mind. His policy programme could be popular, but his Brexit antics are not – and the latter obscures the former.

Worse, even if Labour does eventually inflict a no-confidence defeat on May, the rules state that the Conservatives will be given time to form a different government before an election can happen. There is no reason to believe that another Conservative leader would acquiesce to an election. Likely candidates, such as Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid, would probably have to claim to have made peace with a possible no deal in order to win the leadership. Pursuing a general election therefore also makes no deal significantly more likely.

Corbyn’s origin story

So why is Corbyn pursuing something that is unlikely to happen, and unlikely to work in Labour’s favour even if it were to happen? We must not overlook the sense of persecution which underpins the perspective we now call Corbynism. Corbyn’s worldview obviously has its roots in the Bennite politics of the 1970s and early 1980s. But its more specific genesis is in fact the defeat of Bennism: Michael Foot’s resounding election loss in 1983, the failure of the National Union of Mineworkers to defeat Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Benn’s failure to remove incumbent Labour leader Neil Kinnock in 1988.

Corbynism is thus defined by its marginality, a vantage which drove a self-affirming folklore of political martyrdom on Labour’s residual hard left. In 2015, when Corbyn unexpectedly won the Labour leadership, everything changed and nothing changed.

This is not the same as saying that the Labour leadership does not care about winning elections. But it wants to win on its own terms. It is odd that we credit Corbyn for his political savvy in fudging the Brexit issue at the 2017 election. He did no such thing: he insisted that Brexit had to happen, and at the same time criticised the right-wing Brexit project, because he too wanted to have his cake and eat it. Many of his supporters read this as a strategic fudge, because that was what they wanted it to be.

The next generation

There are clearly people around Corbyn who understand that this accidental strategy has exceeded its shelf life, and recognise that Labour needs eventually to oppose Brexit in order to keep the Corbynite movement, and its fledgling electoral coalition, intact. Ironically, it is the veneration of “Jeremy” among party members that is inhibiting figures such as John McDonnell from pushing Corbyn towards a more member-friendly position on Brexit.

Such is the reverance of Corbyn, or the idea of Corbyn, that many on Labour’s left have now embraced “Lexit”, or left-wing Brexit. But most Corbyn supporters are dedicated remainers. The younger, more liberal Corbynite wing now begrudgingly advocates some form of soft Brexit, such as Norway plus (which the EU has of course rejected, although this could change).

They have unfortunately not explained why, if they have accepted Brexit, they cannot simply throw their weight behind May’s withdrawal deal, since it essentially means Britain gets a very soft Brexit for now, until a trade deal is agreed (which may or may not be before the Northern Ireland “backstop” is required). The only reason politically for Labour to accept Brexit – concerns about free movement in many Labour constituencies – is one of the few issues May’s deal actually delivers on.

Labour’s next generation of leaders remain too attached to Corbyn, organisationally and emotionally, to break ranks yet in sufficient numbers, whether in favour of the second referendum they desire, or the compromise they know is necessary to avert no deal.

All or nothing

It is worth noting finally that Corbyn should be taken at his word regarding his advocacy of remaining in the customs union. It is probably not a realistic solution, since the EU would not agree to a permanent customs union with Britain which does not include single market membership. This is effectively what the backstop would entail anyway – the EU will not want to make this arrangement permanent, which is why May will not entertain the proposal at this stage. The Labour position on the single market is also based on a misunderstanding of EU state aid rules.

But it would be quite wrong to understand Labour’s position as a compromise, even though it is sincere. It represents exactly what Corbyn wants: to leave the EU while at the same time disabling the Brexiters’ neoliberal trade policy agenda. He would risk a chaotic no deal to continue pursuing this highly implausible outcome.

The Conversation

Craig Berry is a member of the Labour Party

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Change the Default

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In democratic politics, the most important skill is the ability to count. Roughly, but adequate for our purposes, the division in the Commons as revealed in recent voting is along these lines


May’s Deal 200

Referendum 178

Labour’s “Permanent Customs Union” Brexit 141

No Deal Brexit 120


So, if we wish to avoid no deal Brexit we can discount the following options.


A Second Referendum: the political will and (probably) time is missing for this. The hurdles of legitimacy, form and political exhaustion rule this out. The PeoplesVote campaign have done well to keep this on the table as long as it has been.


“Revoke and Reconsider”: if a referendum is impossible, the numbers who would support revocation without one are very small. Most MPs do want to deliver the result of the referendum.


Norway +: although there might be a cross Parliamentary majority for this option, it needs a government that will negotiate it. No such government is in prospect even if there were a General Election.


A “Permanent Customs Union”: the actual difference between the government’s version of Brexit and what Labour is calling for is, when examined closely, almost insignificant. The real division  between the parties is: who gets to negotiate the future relationship. On this the government and opposition are, inevitably, irreconcilable. There is no deal that May could offer the Labour leadership to obtain their support for any version of Brexit.


May’s Deal?: here we enter the realm of uncertainty. The government loss by 230 votes was very large, much larger than I expected. The coalition against it is however obviously unstable, including Remainers such as Mary Creagh and Caroline Lucas, and no deal Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood. If come the end of March the options are still no deal v May’s deal, in a rational world May’s deal should win. But, the scale of her defeat makes this a dangerous gamble.


Where there is deadlock, what matters is the default. Currently that is no deal Brexit. Even though supported by only around 120 MPs it has far greater prospect for success than other better supported options.


So, easily the most vital thing to do is change the default.



The government cannot rule out no deal Brexit, that requires legislation.  Further as a matter of Parliamentary tactics it may wish not to do so as the only way of applying pressure to obtain more support is to leave no deal Brexit as the default.


However, unlike all other options, there should be a majority in Parliament for an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act along these lines.

X. Duty to revoke notification of withdrawal from the EU

(1) If Y days before exit day no approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU has occurred in conformity with section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Prime Minister shall notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s revocation of its intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union.

(2) Upon such notification, the sections of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specified in schedule Z shall be repealed

Schedule Z

1 For the purpose of section X(2), the relevant sections are [all of them except 13].


This would make Remain the default result. This should obtain the support of all those who favour a  Labour led Brexit, a referendum, and May’s deal over no deal Brexit. It enables all those who favour the only Withdrawal Agreement there will ever be to say “I backed the government’s deal to achieve that” whilst avoiding a no deal Brexit.


It seems very unlikely that any amendment along these lines will be tabled by the government or the leader of the opposition. It is therefore vital that backbench MPs such as Nick Boles, Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper back such an amendment. It is our last, and best, hope.


[Please spread, this needs to be generally understood.]

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A dangerous political void

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There is now a dangerous void of leadership and policy at the heart of British politics. Indeed it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that, as regards Brexit, the UK no longer has a functioning government. There are no obvious solutions in sight, and the outcome is completely unpredictable.

The House of Commons has decided that it has confidence in Theresa May’s government, but at the same time that it is opposed, on a massive scale, to the central and defining policy of that government: a truly bizarre situation. In rejecting May’s Brexit deal, the core underlying problem with Brexit itself was revealed: there is no consensus about what it means, even amongst those who support it.

Thus some voted for the deal because it ‘delivers Brexit’, whilst others opposed it because it ‘betrays Brexit’ whilst still others opposed it because it is ‘the wrong sort of Brexit’. The consequences of the failure of the Leave campaign to specify its meaning, and of May to build a durable consensus as to what it could mean, have now been brutally revealed, as has the vacuity of every proponent of Brexit claiming that their particular version is sanctified by 17.4 million votes.

Pointless politics and junk ideas

So May is now, far too late, in the process of ‘reaching out’ across parties to modify her deal. But, so far, it seems that the only aspect she is willing to modify relates to the Irish backstop provisions. Since there is no prospect of the EU re-negotiating the substantive parts of this, since changes which aren’t substantive will not placate those who oppose the deal on those grounds, and since much of the opposition isn’t simply or even at all to do with the backstop, this seems to be an utterly pointless exercise.

By, apparently, insisting that her main ‘red lines’ still define the true meaning of Brexit, May therefore begins this exercise by rejecting the main Labour demand, to remain in a customs union. But that demand is, in and of itself, also pointless. Being in a customs union (not, note, ‘the customs union’, which is only for EU members) in itself has little value. It certainly doesn’t solve the Irish border issue, nor does it deliver frictionless trade. Equally pointless is the reason given for not being in a customs union, an independent trade policy, since the economic benefits of this are, at best, nugatory and swamped by the wider costs of Brexit.

May also rejects the demand to ‘take no deal of the table’, made from any number of quarters, including Labour. But this demand is also pointless. No deal can only be avoided by agreeing to do something else. If nothing else is agreed, no deal happens by default. Equally pointless is the commonly given reason for not taking it off the table, that it gives the UK leverage in negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, since those negotiations are closed. There is no reason at all to think that the EU-27 would extend the Article 50 period to re-open those talks, or that a substantively different outcome would result.

This makes Labour’s idea that, if in power, it could negotiate a better deal as ludicrous as the ERG idea that May’s Withdrawal Agreement can be rewritten - or, even more ludicrous, dropped altogether as a prelude to miraculously negotiating a future trade deal having refused the preconditions for such a negotiation. These are junk ideas, with no foundation in political reality and at this very late stage in the day we shouldn’t have to suffer politicians and others propounding them.

Remote prospects for a solution

Where there is scope for renegotiation is in the Political Declaration on future terms. It is here that May’s red lines are plain and where they could, if she would agree, be dropped. The particular issue, of course, is the single market (and, hence, the freedom of movement and ECJ red lines). Yet not only is she adamant about these red lines, but Labour’s policy of seeking a “strong single market relationship” is so vapid as to be entirely meaningless. For that matter, it is not notably at odds with what May would claim she seeks.

The real issue is single market membership: what used to be described as soft Brexit until the goalposts changed so that it meant anything other than the kamikaze Brexit of no deal. If Labour were to pivot to supporting single market membership (as well as a form of customs union), and amending the Political Declaration accordingly, it seems highly likely that, with Tory rebels, that would command a majority in the Commons. It’s not even entirely inconceivable that the DUP would support it, in that it upholds their deepest red line of Northern Ireland and Great Britain leaving on the same terms. Alternatively, a cross-party coalition of backbenchers might conceivably be able to create a majority for amending the Political Declaration in defiance of both front benches.

This would only take things so far, though. For the point about the Political Declaration, of course, is that it is non-binding. So even if a cobbled together cross-parliamentary alliance were to get such an adjustment it would be immediately prone to unpicking, post-Brexit – for example by a Brexiter successor to Theresa May.

Alternatively, if Labour were to spearhead and succeed in this initiative, the likely fallout in terms of Tory splits could well be a successful no confidence vote, an election and, potentially, a Labour government to implement soft Brexit. If Labour hadn’t led the way then much more difficult, but not entirely impossible given these crisis time, would be some form of semi-permanent coalition based upon that which had forced the amendment of the Political Declaration. In effect, this would be a form of national government.

If a parliamentary majority for another referendum could be found, however, that would only need to endure long enough to frame the legislation and hold the vote (and, of course, seek the Article 50 extension that would be needed and, most think, would be granted). But May is resolutely opposed (even though it is actually the only route in which her deal might have a chance, possibly a good chance, of succeeding), as is Corbyn. Again, were Labour to change position then that would make it far easier both to create a parliamentary majority for a referendum and to sustain it to agree the vexed issues of the question and the franchise. What the outcome of a referendum would be is, of course, another matter.

All pathways are blocked

So every pathway is convoluted and currently blocked by one or more apparently immovable obstacle. The incoherent nature of the Brexit project was always likely to have brought us here, but it has been compounded by lamentable leadership. May seems to care about nothing but her monocular version of Brexit whilst Corbyn seems to care nothing about Brexit at all, to the extent that he apparently doesn’t understand even the most basic facts about it.

Despite their political differences, May and Corbyn are remarkably similar in their grotesque rigidity, and their slightly tetchy muleishness born of a mediocrity of character, intellect and judgment. Indeed the most notable thing about the closing speeches in the ‘no confidence’ debate was that they provided devastating critiques of both party leaders. Certainly neither seems remotely prepared or competent to create and lead the kind of temporary or semi-permanent cross-party parliamentary alliance that looks like the only route out of this mess.

A theme of many posts on this blog has been that various actors within the Brexit process need to face up to realities. Indeed, the central reason for the current fiasco is that so many have failed to do so. From that perspective, we all now need to face up to the reality of what is happening. The leaders of the two main parties are woefully inadequate and neither has a deliverable policy on Brexit (May’s is in tatters and Corbyn barely has a policy at all), the party system is completely inadequate to the situation, and parliament is spavined.

Unless something radical changes – and it may, precisely because of the desperate plight we are now in - then it seems highly likely that Britain will leave the EU with no deal. That will mean that in ten weeks’ time we will face severe economic and social dislocation, with the probability of food and medicine shortages, troops on the street, disruptions to travel and much else.

It would be an outcome desired by only a tiny minority of grossly irresponsible ideologues in parliament and amongst the public. The division, crisis and extremism it would unleash make that feared were there to be another referendum, or even a revocation of Article 50 without a vote, seem like a walk in the park.  
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May's Brexit Debacle: Britain Finally Confronts Reality

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Now that British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal has been rejected by parliament, it is time for the European Union to concentrate on preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Because a deal with the UK is not currently possible.
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"British politics is still not prepared to accept the consequences of the Brexit decision"
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