In recent weeks, rather than hourly twists and turns in the Brexit saga, two big events have dominated the scene. The resignation of the Prime Minister, Theresa May (formally to occur on Friday 7th June), and the European Parliament elections which took place on May 23rd.
However, neither event has led to a significant breakthrough in the Brexit impasse, nor to any clear indication as to how things will develop in the coming weeks and months. What we now see is an intensification of the division and difficulties. On the one hand the chances of a no deal Brexit occurring on 31st October have significantly increased. On the other hand the probability of a referendum with Remain winning or even the revocation of article 50 has increased. The chances of a ‘middle way’ (leaving with the current withdrawal agreement, something similar, or a softer Brexit), though still possible, seems to have receded.
The resignation of the Prime Minister – one of the several possible developments of the past few months – has finally happened. She was finally worn down by Brexit and especially the ebbing support in the Conservative party. One can have no sympathy with her given that her whole approach has been one of grinding down MPs and the country to support her narrow Brexit vision. Rather than attempt to seek consensus and bring the country together, she used all the huge resources of central government and the office of Prime Minister to force her deal through.
It is great to see that this has failed. Not simply because Brexit has been delayed and the chances of stopping it entirely have increased (important though that is). But above all because parliament – a parliament elected in 2017, a year after the 2016 referendum – has prevailed against the overmighty executive. This is democracy in action – MPs holding the government to account. Of course the downside to May’s failure is that she will almost certainly be replaced by a hard Brexiter.
The EU parliament results are also facing both ways. The headline result is clearly bad – the Brexit party getting the largest vote share with 31.6%. But behind that are some much more encouraging results. The strong Remain parties (Liberal Democrats, Greens, Change UK, Welsh, Scottish and Irish nationalists) got 40.4% of the vote while the hard Leave parties (Brexit and UKIP) got 34.9%. Allocations to Remain or Leave of the Labour vote (16%) and Conservative vote (9%) on the basis of opinions polls put the total vote at something like 53-56% for Remain and 44-47% for Leave.
The 31st October extension appears to have bought some time. But recent events have intensified the divisions and there is little real sign of the parliamentary deadlock being broken before October. There is unlikely to be any significant development until the new Prime Minister takes office. On the current programme this is likely to be mid to late July (though it could be in late June if – as with Theresa May in 2016 – there is only one candidate left standing before the vote is due to go to Conservative members). And the new PM, however hard a Brexiter they may be, will face much the same problems with parliament and the EU as Theresa May.
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.