Monday, April 15, 2019

UK in Brexit limbo until Halloween

The UK is in limbo and a state of uncertainty as another Article 50 extension puts back a possible Brexit to 31st October. The PM faced a turbulent session in the commons where she battled questions from all sides on Thursday last week after returning from Brussels with the new extension [Guardian]. Afterwards she faced more anger as she left parliament surrounded by high security and to heckling from protesters as her car exited the parliamentary estate.

Theresa May had earlier told MPs to use the Easter recess to consider their 'national duty' to resolve the Brexit crisis. But there is no sign that that will happen. Indeed, it is more likely that October will roll around without any consensus.

A comical farce

The whole sorry mess of Brexit is playing out like a comical farce as the PM Theresa May attempts to carry out her mandate to deliver Brexit.

After nearly two years of negotiation to secure a 'deal' - technically speaking just a withdrawal agreement - May has failed completely to secure support either within her own party or across the house in order that she can get it ratified.

The Withdrawal Agreement had been secured late last year but May decided not to put it before parliament before Christmas as she admitted it "would be rejected by a significant margin" [BBC].

And so off she went to Brussels to ask for changes to it despite the European Council President Donald Tusk having said the remaining 27 EU countries would not "renegotiate" the deal.

In January Theresa May put the 'deal' before parliament only to see it rejected. Again she tried in March. Once again it was rejected and she was forced to ask for an extension or either allow the UK to crash out or revoke Article 50.

The EU gave her a short extension until the 12th April. But in the two weeks after the date Britain was due to leave the EU, parliament seemed unable to come to any consensus on anything.

A whole series of indicative votes failed and 'May's deal' failed to get a majority on a third attempt.

"Please Sir, can I have some more"

Rather like a schoolboy or girl asking for more time to complete their assignment Theresa May once again, cap in hand, returned to Brussels asking for an extension [France24].

The prime minister arrived with no real reason for an extension other than she had now decided to begin discussions with the opposition party in order to break the impasse following a marathon cabinet session.

And while there was some consternation emanating from Macron on the French side, the EU eventually decided to allow an extension until the 31st of October with a review of proceedings on the 20th of June.

The dates on the calendar were particularly poignant. And the fact that an extension was granted was also odd given that May's request for one gave no concrete plan or reason.

In fact it seemed clear that while the EU could have quite legitimately refused an extension since May was essentially just asking for more time, the EU did not wish to be seen to be deliberately forcing her hand into making a decision to either revoke or jump off the cliff.

Should May have failed to revoke article 50, the EU could have been seen to have helped push the UK off the proverbial cliff.

But by allowing an extension the EU has also gone back on its stated proclamation that an extension would only be granted if there were a new plan.

Simply stating she was in talks with Corbyn does not amount to a new course of action. Even if, as some within Labour want, May shifts her red lines and shows a leaning towards a customs union, the Withdrawal Agreement is - as the EU has stated any times - still not up for renegotiation.

Even if May were to relax her hardline approach - admittedly not as hardline as the likes of the ERG want of Brexit - the extreme hardliners within her party and the DUP might be joined by the less extreme Tory Brexiters.

So the chances of pushing her 'deal' through still remain somewhat implausible.

European Elections

Following May's decision to talks with Labour, many Tories were said to "be fuming". Theresa May was now "getting into bed with a Marxist," ERG hardliner Mark Francois said on College Green after May returned with an extension.

Meanwhile others were calling for her resignation.

Furious that she had agreed to the long delay, breaking her own pledge that, "as Prime Minister", she would not delay beyond the end of June, hardline Brexiter Peter Bone said, "If the PM intends to keep her word, can we expect her resignation later tonight?"

Only days before the media reported growing divisions in the party with funding drying up and [BBC].

The Observer reported she had been warned by her mutinous MPs that they would move to oust her if the UK was forced to take part in European elections and extend its EU membership beyond June.

The paper also reported that MPs feared many Conservatives would boycott the poll, increasing the chances of the far-right and Nigel Farage's new Brexit party [Guardian].

However there is talk, even amongst hardline UKIP supporters that they would not vote in European Elections.

Meanwhile some were calling on voters to spoil their ballot papers rather than vote for a candidate [Telegraph].

Such actions could of course benefit pro-European parties and potentially leave other parties left out in the cold should MEPs take their seats in June. And if Britain were to remain in the EU beyond October the Tories and other hardline parties may well feel rather stupid.

Extension and review

But what of the extension? The EU has put two dates on the calendar. The first date is June 20th when it will review Britain's progress on the Brexit withdrawal process.

If the Withdrawal Agreement has still not passed then MEPs with take their seats on the 2nd July.

Mid-August poses another issue. This is the approximate time by which the prime minister would need to call a general election to be held before the article 50 extension expires – in order to meet the requirements of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, and also the timetable set out in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, which requires 25 working days for an election campaign.

In early September MPs will be returning from summer recess, unless recalled early, to deal with Brexit crises and contemplate any possible general election or second referendum.

And on 31st October the six-month article 50 extension will expire once again creating another new possible date for Britain's crashing out without a deal.

Trick or treat?

The choosing of Halloween as the new extension date has created many opportunities for headline writers.

The Guardian saw the new Brexit date as "very appropriate" with another column ran with the headline; "Halloween Brexit is a fitting outcome for the zombie prime minister" [Guardian].

The Halloween jokes on social media were prolific with suggestions of Jacob Rees-Mogg Halloween masks to puns on horror films such as the Exorcist, renamed Brexorcist and depicting Theresa May with her head rotated the wrong way [iNews].

Trick or treat? You couldn't quite make it up, said the BBC.

But the extension is bittersweet for all sides.

In its simplest sense, the prime minister asked for a delay so that she didn't open Pandora's Box.

Should she have revoked, as the clock ticked towards the default time that Britain was due to leave the EU on the 12th of April, she would have unleashed a wrath of fury against herself and her party.

On the other hand if she had allowed a no-deal Brexit it would likely have precipitated economic turmoil and thrown the country into uncharted waters.

After May went cap in hand to Brussels, the EU eventually said yes to a new timetable. But the new October deadline might not solve very much at all.

Impasse unlikely

There appears to be as much division within parliament as there was before and the chances of the Withdrawal Agreement passing seem as remote as ever.

Given the 'deal' cannot be changed or renegotiated, it seems rather futile discussing anything with the opposition as May has been doing.

May's red lines, of no single market or customs union, have essentially created the Withdrawal Agreement she has attempted to pass through parliament, and the particularly contentious Irish backstop.

Should she not have ruled out a customs union, the Irish backstop may well not have been necessary. But now it's too late to change since the negotiation is at an end.

And so all the extension does is to enable a little more can kicking while business and the UK population waits with just as much uncertainty as to what might happen on the 1st November.

No-deal planning

Businesses - and many individuals - have been making preparations for a no-deal Brexit for some time. Companies have been stockpiling - often at great cost in terms of storage. So too have many individuals, fearing panic buying or other disruptions to supply chains could result in shortages.

The two week delay after the March 29th Brexit date was cancelled was a slight inconvenience. But creating a six month delay creates many logistical issues for anyone stockpiling or planning for a no-deal Brexit.

Does one continue to keep a stockpile going? And if one does decide to continue, stock has to be constantly rotated especially for perishables. The government has reportedly stepped down its no-deal planning [Guardian]. But this does not necessarily guarantee a no-deal Brexit won't happen, perhaps just less likely.

For EU citizens there is no more certainty as regards their status, only that there will be a delay before they'll need to act.

For everyone that Brexit will likely affect, be it a hard no-deal Brexit or leaving on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the next six months only offer a brief respite and leave them in limbo.

What's next?

Theoretically, the UK could leave on Halloween, but given the previous adjustable dates of 29th March and 12th April, it's not beyond the realms of possibility of another extension later this year.

If MPs manage to break the deadlock and agree on a withdrawal agreement in good time before 31st October, the UK can leave on the first day of the month following the passing of a deal. But few believe the deal will ever pass.

As parliament went into recess for the Easter break one could be forgiven for thinking Brexit was all but over.

College Green - from where the world's media have broadcast their reports about Brexit was almost deserted on Friday morning and most of the gazebos had been taken down.

On Friday much of the news media had veered away completely from Brexit news. Indeed it reminded one of those days long ago when there was something else in the news besides Brexit.

The lull will not last of course. In two short weeks MPs return to parliament, and there will once again be a glut of  opinion and debate surrounding Brexit and the upcoming European Elections that Britain is now obliged - due to the extension - to take part in.

And so the circus continues….

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, April 04, 2019

No-deal still likely as the Brexit chaos continues

Only a day before Britain was originally set to leave the European Union no-one was clear what would happen next. An extension had been secured until 12th April such that the PM might get her Withdrawal Agreement passed. But despite a busy week in both cabinet and parliament nothing is certain.

Withdrawal Agreement rejected

The Withdrawal Agreement, secured by Theresa May with the EU last year, was rejected by parliament twice, once in January and again in early March. This forced Theresa May to hold two more votes which she had promised. The first was to establish whether parliament would take a no-deal Brexit off the table whilst the second vote was to ask whether May should seek an extension from the EU.

No-deal was firmly rejected by parliament, with 321 votes against leaving without a deal to 278. However, whilst the vote was not binding it did lead to parliament agreeing in sending Theresa May scuttling back to Brussels to ask for some more time.

Seemingly begrudgingly the EU gave Theresa May until 12th of April to secure her 'deal', and if secured Britain would leave 'in an orderly' fashion on 22nd May. Should her 'deal' not be passed however, Britain would - by default - crash out on the 12th April.

Of course Britain could go back to the EU and request more time. However, just as the the Speaker of the House dismissed a third vote on her deal without substantial changes, the EU seemed likely to dismiss any further requests for an extension without a plan.

Indicative votes - round 1

On Wednesday last week, with only 15 days until the new possible exit date of 12th April, MPs voted on a number of tabled motions, referred to as 'indicative votes'.

However all eight motions put before parliament were rejected. In a repeat of the earlier move to remove no-deal from the table, a no-deal Brexit was firmly dismissed with 400 rejecting such a proposal whilst only 160 backed it.

A so-called Common Market 2.0 or Norway plus option garnered only 188 votes in support while 283 rejected it. Meanwhile another proposal of EFTA & EEA was also rejected by 377 against with only 65 supporting the motion.

A UK wide customs union option did gather a little more support but again there was almost a 50/50 split with 272 MPs rejecting the motion while 264 supported it.

Corbyn's so-called alternative plane also failed with only 237 voting for it whilst some 307 voted against.

There was also no support in the house to Revoke Article 50 to avoid a no-deal Brexit as only 184 voted in favour while 293 rejected the motion.

Meanwhile a Confirmatory public vote motion - or second referendum - also lost with only 268 backing the idea whilst 295 rejected it.

And the last proposal of Preferential arrangements was rejected out of hand with 422 dismissing it while only 139 back the motion.


And so nearly a week on from when parliament sent May to Brussels to buy more time, parliament seemed to be no further forward and in apparent deadlock.

No proposal has been agreed upon, though there is a clear dismissal of a no-deal Brexit with 400 against 160. This was an even more emphatic dismissal on the previous week's vote. In that vote 321 voted to remove a no-deal from the table while 278 had voted in favour of keeping the prospect in place.

While parliament's opposition of a no-deal Brexit has apparently grown there doesn't appear to be much growth in support for the Withdrawal Agreement.

On the day Britain was originally set to leave the European Union the Withdrawal Agreement was once again rejected [BBC].

The government lost by 344 votes to 286, a margin of 58, and meant the UK has missed an EU deadline to delay Brexit to 22nd May and leave with a deal. Speaking afterwards the prime minister said the UK would have to find "an alternative way forward", which was "almost certain" to involve holding European elections.

The margin of rejection of the deal was certainly down on the March and January votes [391 against to 242 for, and 432 against to 202 for respectively], but is seems clear that getting the extra 50 plus votes in a possible fourth vote is very unlikely [Guardian].

Indicative votes - round 2

After the weekend MPs returned to discuss and vote upon a second, but smaller, list of proposals. But once again there was no consensus and all four indicative votes failed [BBC].

Speaker John Bercow chose four proposals to put before MPs; a customs union, a common market 2.0, a confirmatory public vote and a parliamentary supremacy proposal which would seek to rule out no-deal and revoke Article 50 if no extension could be secured.

But as in the previous week's round of votes there was no consensus. Ken Clarke's customs union plan lost by only three votes, defeated by 276 to 273.

The Common Market 2.0 plan - put forward by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Dame Caroline Spelman, Labour's Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell, and the SNP's Stewart Hosie - was defeated by 282 to 261

A motion put forward by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson calling for a confirmatory vote failed by 292 to 280 votes. Meanwhile Joanna Cherry's proposal was defeated by 292 to 191.

Ticking clock

With the clock ticking down to a no-deal on the 12th April, Theresa May was now faced with few options.

She could attempt to put the Withdrawal Agreement before parliament for a fourth time but that would have to be approved by Wednesday 10th in order that the EU can ratify the agreement and approve the 22nd May extension.

However, it appears that horse has already run and Theresa May has to come up with another plan to present to Europe in order to obtain an extension.

Following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday 2nd April which lasted more than 5 hours Theresa May announced she was to consult with the leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn in order that she might establish cross party support for a proposal she might present to EU leaders [BBC].

In an address to the country the PM said she was "taking action to break the log jam," by "offering to sit down with the Leader of the Opposition to try to agree a plan that we would both stick to, to ensure that we leave the European Union and that we do so with a deal."

Of course, as the EU have so often repeated there will be no renegotiation and there is only one 'deal' on the table. Theresa May appeared to recognise this in saying that, "Any plan would have to agree the current withdrawal agreement."

But as has already been seen through the votes on the WA itself as well as a series of votes on various Brexit related motions, there is almost complete deadlock in parliament.

Whilst there was some positive news emanating from the meeting between the PM and Jeremy Corbyn, there were signs that any resolve would be difficult [BBC].

While Labour and Downing Street described the discussions as "constructive", Jeremy Corbyn himself described them as "useful but inconclusive." [BBCGuardian].

Fantasy plans

There has been much discussion concerning the possibility that the PM and Corbyn could present a plan of a softer Brexit to the EU. But this could be seen as somewhat incredulously by EU leaders.

There is growing impatience amongst EU politicians with Britain. Indeed there has even been talk that Britain should just leave. And while many are still sad to see Britain disgrace itself, Europe seems almost resigned to Britain crashing out on WTO rules.

Britain won't know until Thursday 11th whether the European Union will offer an extension to Article 50. Should there be no extension offered, Britain will crash out of the EU the following day.

If an extension were granted it could well last many months and force Britain to take part in EU elections.

With all the indecision and lack of consensus shown in parliament it seems unlikely that the PM will have an acceptable plan to present to Brussels. Thus as time draws nearer to Friday 12th of April Theresa May will have a choice of either revoking Article 50 or letting Britain crash out of the EU. Will it be a case of "Torschlusspanik"* and May cancelling Brexit? Or will she let Britain crash out and sail into an uncertain economic future?

There is one sticking point as regards the revocation of Article 50. Last year the European Court of Justice ruled that Britain had the power to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. But the decision to withdraw the notification has to be made in line with the country's "own national constitutional requirements" which could mean that any revocation would have to be put to a parliamentary vote.

Given this scenario Britain could potentially crash out by accident since a parliamentary vote cannot be guaranteed to produce the desired result.

Nearly three years after the referendum there is still only further uncertainty ahead.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

*Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means "gate-shut-panic." Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall