New twists and turns to Britain’s Brexit escapade are occurring almost daily.
After the setback of January 29th hopes for a People’s Vote have recently risen significantly, though there is still not enough support in parliament. A delay to departure scheduled for 29th March now looks almost certain, even if it is only a short ‘technical’ delay of a few weeks to get the necessary legislation in place. A longer delay (over 2-3 months) would require participation in the European Parliamentary elections that take place in May.
The (second) ‘meaningful vote’ on the Withdrawal Agreement took place on March 12th and the government again suffered a resounding defeat of 149 votes – 242 to 391. This was smaller than the defeat in January (230 votes), but still a massive defeat for the government on the defining policy issue of our time.
The key group again was the Conservative hard Brexiters and the Northern Irish DUP. 40 MPs switched sides and supported the government, all except one, were Conservative Brexiters. More of them held out against the deal than I expected – 75 Conservatives voted against (about 8 of them being pro-EU). The 10 DUP MPs also voted against the deal. The hard Brexiters still seem to hope for either no-deal or for a much more significant concession on Irish border backstop than has been offered by the EU.
But the outcome of this whole process will not be dependent only on the hard Brexiters. On the following day (March 13th) the pro-EU Conservatives, beyond those (about 8) who have been very vocal against Brexit, played a key role. While the Prime Minister appeared to support ruling out no-deal, her trick was to propose a motion that effectively read ‘no-deal is taken off the table, provided no deal remains on the table’. A vote on an amendment to that motion ensuring that taking no-deal off the table really meant that (ie removing the contradictory second element) was won by a narrow margin of 312 to 308.
Then in the key vote on the amended motion the government lost by 321 to 278. Crucially 17 pro EU Tories voted against the government and 30 abstained, including 4 cabinet ministers. One junior minister immediately resigned. Although the motion does not provide the legal mechanism to avoid no-deal on 29th March (or a later date if there is an extension), it puts very strong political pressure on the government to ensure no-deal is ruled out.
All this will then have a knock-on effect on the hard Brexiter Conservatives and the DUP. If no-deal really is ruled out, and May’s deal is again put to a vote in parliament, they would be forced to choose between accepting the deal and allowing either no Brexit (possibly via a referendum) or a soft Brexit. The other important group – the pro Brexit/’respect the referendum’ Labour MPs) would then come into play. Only 3 of their number voted for May’s deal on March 12th. If that number stayed very low and all the hard Brexiters supported the deal the outcome of another vote would be very close.
With the uncertainty of the votes today (14th March) on extending the article 50 process the situation remains highly fluid.
The central aim of this site is to assess where we are and where we might be going in an attempt to see the bigger picture beyond the minutia of the moment. To this end the site encapsulates in brief form the central arguments, the difficulties and tensions, and the possible outcomes which could lead towards a lasting relationship between Britain and the EU.
Brexit is hugely chaotic and unpredictable. The most honest experts admit that they cannot understand all of it and cannot be certain what will happen. This has provided hope to the anti-Brexit cause, despite a long held mainstream view that it is done deal except for the details. On this page I consider the ways in which Brexit might be stopped or deferred.
I come to this from a clear pro-EU perspective. I strongly believe that there is a need for close international cooperation in a wide range of issues that affect us all. We live in a highly interconnected world, from the economy to the environment, and from transport to the internet and social media. These issues should be addressed democratically. The EU, for all its limitations, is perhaps the world’s best attempts at this. For a part of my career I have studied, researched and written on EU and related political issues. I give more details on my views here.
I also include some facts, myths and explainers, but this is not the main purpose of the site. There are many fact checker and ‘mythbuster’ websites. These are important but giving people the ‘facts’ on their own is unlikely to change minds.
Shouldn’t the deal be accepted as a compromise? Most of the country wants to ‘move on’ doesn’t it?
Many people wish the European question and Brexit would go away. I do and I’m sure many of my fellow anti-Brexit campaigners do. So much time and energy is being wasted on Brexit when there are many other huge issues to address such as inequality, low pay and poor working conditions, housing shortages, and above all climate change and the environmental crisis.
Shouldn’t reasonable people view the deal as a necessary compromise which will allow us to move on? Surely it ‘splits the difference’, allows the sides to meet each other half way, and offers an opportunity to heal deep wounds.
If only. Unfortunately the deal falls a long way short of any such hopes.
The deal is only an arrangement that gets Britain out the EU with a transition period and an Irish border backstop without a time limit. The deal does little more than get us past the next deadline (March 29th 2019).
Huge amounts will be left undecided. The deal settles nothing of significance on Britain’s long term relationship with the rest of Europe. Very many big questions would be unanswered such as:
- Will the UK be closely aligned to the single market and customs union or not? We don’t know.
- Will high tariffs be put on imports from EU countries leading to much higher food prices and other goods? We don’t know.
- Will tariffs be reduced across many sectors keeping prices down but putting much of the UK’s food and other industries in jeopardy? We don’t know.
- How will the open Irish border be maintained (if the backstop is indeed temporary)? We don’t know.
- How will current pan-European security, policing, and data sharing be maintained? We don’t know.
- What kinds of consumer and labour protections, food, health and safety standards will apply in Britain? We don’t know.
- How will Britain contribute to pan-European action against climate change, such its current role in the EU emissions trading scheme? We don’t know.
The deal would leave many uncertainties across a wide range of other areas. To name a few: – the inter-operation and safety of transport systems; the regulation, development and supply of medicines; pan-European research and innovation programmes; and the operation of communications systems including tariffs for mobile phone use across Europe.
Oh but, some people may say, we need to move on, these are technical things which will be sorted out, we’ll muddle our way through.
This is a complacency of the highest order that fails to recognise that the current huge difficulties in moving forward with Brexit will apply equally after EU departure. Reaching agreements in the short transition period (from 1¾ to 3¾ years) on future relationships in a wide range of different areas will be extremely difficult if not impossible.
Brexit is not an event, it’s a process. That process is likely to last many years. The deal only allows us to move to the next stage of the process when negotiations on a new long term relationship can start.
As Ian Dunt has said, we are facing a deal ‘so unimaginably bad that no one wants it’ (23 November 2018). If the deal is endorsed the political tensions and controversies will continue for many years to come.
Much as we may want it, the deal will not allow us to move on.