A New Year and time to put some thoughts to paper once again. Not that a lot has changed with pretty much the same story dominating the media. With Brexit we are still mired in the deep impasse that has existed more or less since the referendum. As the estimable David Allen Green reminds us: “In a matter of weeks, UK will leave EU by automatic operation of law, without a deal. This is the default unless deal is agreed, or there is an extension, or A50 is revoked. None of these three possibilities currently seem likely.”
The deal that David Allen Green refers to is in a Withdrawal Agreement. It is worth reminding ourselves of this. The deal is about how the UK formally leaves the EU. It provides for a transition period, more realistically a standstill period, which will last for two or possibly four years. This is to allow for the brand new, comprehensive trade deal between the UK and the EU that everyone says they want. Most trade experts reckon that even four years is a tad optimistic for negotiating and implement such a new deal. But we can for the moment safely kick this particular can down the road. More immediate and pressing issues are at hand.
The key one is can Theresa May get her deal through parliament? For a second time the UK parliament is about to start debating this Withdrawal Agreement (WA). A vote is expected to take place next week. According to most informed observers the WA is almost certain to fail. For one reason or another most Brexiteers dislike the WA, even though it does achieve what they want – leaving the EU. However, many Brexiteers fear that, in part because of the Northern Ireland backstop, any future trade deal with the EU will leave the UK so closely aligned with the EU that the UK becomes a rule taker. The infamous BINO outcome – Brexit in name only.
A majority of the rest of the MPs also oppose the WA, either because they oppose Brexit altogether, or as Labour claim, they insist they can get a better WA. So the best guess, note guess, not a prediction, is that the WA will fail.
However all is not lost for Theresa May and her WA. She and the government are trying to frighten enough MPs to vote for the WA on the grounds that the alternative is a No deal Brexit. Something that would be so damaging to the economy that nobody in their right mind would allow it to happen.
The difficulty for May is that the majority of Brexiteers prefer a No deal outcome to the WA. Indeed for many, possibly most of them No deal is their preferred outcome. The prospect of No deal is most unlikely to win over this group of Brexiteers. Quite the opposite.
On the other hand those who oppose Brexit or hope for a better WA don’t seem to believe that the government would actually, when push comes to shove, go through with a No deal outcome. Some of the recent moves in parliament are designed to avoid a No deal.
An alternative approach for Mrs May would be to threaten recalcitrant Brexiteers not with a No deal, but with No Brexit. The prospect of revoking article 50 and remaining in the hated EU might well concentrate the minds of all but a few Brexiteers.
The difficulty for Mrs May with this approach is that neither she nor the government can seriously push for this – remaining in EU. If she did make this a realistic option, then while she might win back Brexiteers, she runs the risk of losing as many pro Remain MPs. I am thinking of the likes of Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry for example.
So, somehow the government has to make revoking article 50 genuinely possible, but not definite and not with government support. The most recent amendments in parliament, which in principle return power to MPs, may well paradoxically work in favour of May’s deal. Not at the moment though. Jacob Rees-Mogg for one doesn’t appear to be worried.
However, as someone once said, a week is a long time in politics. So, to recap, the WA is still unlikely to pass in parliament, but it cannot be completely ruled out. MPs work and vote in mysterious ways.
Further speculation can await the result of the vote on the WA next week.