Brexit minus two weeks (perhaps)

Theresa May loses another vote on her deal heavily, but threatens hard Leavers with a long Brexit delay if they don’t pass her deal. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On March 12, Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected in parliament for the second time, 391 votes to 242.  While the margin fell from the record 230-vote defeat on January 15, it was still a big loss.  Conservative MPs voted for the deal by 235-75, a much better result for May than the 196-118 Conservative split in January.  But just three Labour MPs voted for the deal, and The Independent Group, Scottish Nationalist Party and Liberal Democrats MPs were solidly against, as were the ten Democratic Unionist Party MPs who usually support the government.

Conservative MPs were offered a free vote on March 13 on a motion that would rule out a no-deal Brexit on March 29, but noted that, without a deal passing by March 29, no-deal would happen.  An amendment that would rule out no-deal in any circumstance was passed by a narrow 312-308 margin, with nine Conservatives and six Labour MPs rebelling against their party’s official position.

As the main motion had been amended, Conservative MPs were whipped against a motion on which they had been promised a free vote.  The motion passed easily by 321 to 278, with 17 Conservative rebels and many abstentions including ministers.  Despite these deliberate abstentions, ministers were allowed to remain in Cabinet.  Note that this motion does not rule out a no-deal Brexit.  Unless legislation is amended, the UK is still scheduled to Leave on March 29, with or without a deal.

After the defeats, May said that if a deal was passed, she would seek a short technical extension to enable parliament to pass necessary legislation connected to the deal.  If a deal is not passed, May would request a far longer extension that would require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections from May 23-26.  In this way, May is threatening hard Leavers within her party: back her deal, or Brexit will be delayed indefinitely.

But even if most hard Leavers buckle, a few Conservatives want a softer Brexit or to Remain, and May will have given Labour MPs no additional incentive to vote for her deal, as they will believe that there will be a long delay after a “No” vote.  To win many more Labour MPs, May needs to create a situation in which it is “my deal or no-deal”.

To extend Brexit, the UK requires the unanimous consent of all 27 EU nations.  While some countries would object to a short extension as it creates another cliff edge soon, I believe they will be happy with a long extension that kicks the can a long way.  If the UK participates in EU elections, there could easily be a re-extension.  However, hard Leavers are lobbying right-wing governments in Poland, Italy and Hungary to scupper any extension request.  If a country were to veto the extension, there is one way for the UK to avoid a no-deal: by taking the radical step of revoking the Brexit legislation, and Remaining within the EU.  The European Court of Justice ruled in December that the UK could do this unilaterally.

On March 14, an amendment that would have led to a second referendum was defeated by 334 votes to 85.  Labour officially abstained, and this abstention was supported by the People’s Vote campaign as they do not want a second referendum vote until it is that or no-deal.  25 Labour MPs voted in favour despite the official position, and 18 voted against.  No current Conservative MP voted in favour.

An amendment that would have enabled parliament to take control of the Brexit process was defeated by just two votes, 314 to 312.  15 Conservative and six Labour MPs rebelled.  The main motion that sought an extension to Brexit passed by 413 to 202.  Conservative MPs were offered a free vote on this motion, and split against it by 188-112.

Next week, there is likely to be another vote on May’s deal by March 20, and May will be hoping she can win enough extra support from the DUP, hard Leavers and a few Labour MPs to pass it.  If May’s deal passes, she will seek a short extension at the European leaders’ summit on March 21-22.  Otherwise, a long extension will likely be required.  Should such a long extension be granted, the Commons could still baulk at passing legislation for a long extension in the final week before Brexit on March 29.

Labour has continued to slide in the polls, with most of its lost support going straight to the Conservatives, not to the Lib Dems or Greens.  I believe the perception that Labour is now an anti-Brexit party is hurting it; most voters just want to get on with Brexit, not delay it.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

72 comments on “Brexit minus two weeks (perhaps)”

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  1. This question of Speaker Bercow allowing an already settled vote to parliament again adds some drama to it all. Mind you, if a majority somehow want to support May’s deal then that same majority could vote to override speaker and bring the vote to the floor?

    Benn’s amendment just falling short feels tragic but am not sure if could have stopped May’s 3rd vote plan even if it had passed?

    The ‘pass it or major extension’… to turn 75 more harder brexiters, the DUP, or a few more Labor members… again i hate the method and means, but as a tactic id be surprised if not quite effective.

    Was a weak ‘extend lead to Remain’ better last week… think odds of May getting her way nxt wk are shortening. Her methods as pm have been a disgrace…

  2. I note this is the second post on PB where the Scottish National Party is incorrectly referred to as the Scottish Nationalist Party.

    I am sure it is just an innocent mistake. 🙂

  3. From the previous thread.

    1) Labour is divided on a 2nd referendum. Shadow ministers are resigning rather than abstaining over it.
    Voting AGAINST a referendum and resigning her position was more important than abstaining and not voting either way. Another 4 shadow ministers joined her after the vote.


    only 85 MPs voted for a referendum that would have had remain as an option

    A 2nd referendum is far from certain.

    2) May will try a third time to get May’s Deal accepted before going to the EU to ask for an extension. The EU have signalled that May will need a good reason for an extension, and hinted strongly that a referendum may be a good reason. My thought is that May is only talking to her government MPs. To them she is saying you have three bad choices. (A) May’s deal. (B) A Labour government if you decide for a referendum. (C) Hard Brexit.

    She expects self-interest to win, that is a Soft (May’s deal) Brexit.

  4. Thank you Adrian. Difficult to summarise what is going on.

    As you say, this is May’s leverage to get her deal passed.

    …hard Leavers are lobbying right-wing governments in Poland, Italy and Hungary to scupper any extension request. If a country were to veto the extension, there is one way for the UK to avoid a no-deal: by taking the radical step of revoking the Brexit legislation, and Remaining within the EU. The European Court of Justice ruled in December that the UK could do this unilaterally.

    And this is Labour’s weakness.

    …the perception that Labour is now an anti-Brexit party is hurting it; most voters just want to get on with Brexit, not delay it.

    Although there is a sliver of hope that another path will be made.

    An amendment that would have enabled parliament to take control of the Brexit process was defeated by just two votes, 314 to 312.

    I think May is more canny than people have given her credit for, and is still on target to get her deal through.

  5. I think most have forgotten this guessing game that started on the main thread late last year. But I thought I would post it now to see how it reflects the current situation. If anyone wants to change their guess I will watch for it and adjust my record. (Note, this is not guesses as to the ultimate fate of Brexit, but what the state will be after the deadline on March 29 has passed.)

    On or before 2019 March 30, Britain will decide for one of the following:
    No. Of PB Respondents: 46
    50% (a) Hard Brexit – No Deal
    4% (b) Soft Brexit – Deal
    17% (c) Brexit Extension – Negotiations Continue
    13% (d) Brexit Extension – New Referendum
    4% (e) Withdrawn Brexit
    6% (f) Something else
    7% (g) Don’t care

    (a) Adrian Beaumont
    (a) allan moyes
    (a) bc
    (a) Bennelong Lurker
    (d) Bert
    (b,c) Big A Adrian
    (a) BK
    (a) Bonza
    (a) briefly (Remainer Majority)
    (a) C@tmomma (back at the polls rather than another referendum)
    (c) Confessions
    (d) DaretoTread
    (a) DisplayName 
    (c) Douglas and Milko
    (c) Expat Follower
    (a) Fargo61
    (a) Fozzie Logic
    (f) Frednk (no bexit because Britain will come foul of the requirement that they must withdraw according to the states constitution. Or won’t happen; poms can no longer organize a pissup in a brewery)
    (d) Gippslander
    (a) guytaur (general election)
    (a) Hugoaugogo
    (a,d) imacca
    (a,c,d) It’s Time
    (a,g) Jack Aranda
    (e) Jaeger
    (c) John Reidy
    (f) KayJay (Café au lait for two – with lunch at 1:00 P.M. — Curried Prawns and Rice.)
    (a) Late Riser
    (g) nath
    (a) pica
    (a) Player One
    (g) poroti
    (a) Puffytmd
    (a,d) Question
    (a) ratsak
    (b) Ray (UK)
    (a) Rocket Rocket
    (a) Sceptic
    (c) Steve777
    (a) swamprat
    (a,d) Tom the first and best
    (c) TPOF
    (c) Tristo
    (g) Ven
    (e,f) Victoria (May resigns)
    (a) WeWantPaul

  6. I’m not sure if its an issue with Wikipedia’s presentation of the polls or an issue with the polling itself, but polls with The Independent Group have them at 5-10% while polls without them have ‘others’ at 2%. That isn’t consistent. They are also responsible for a chunk of the decline in Labour’s vote (possibly most of it).

    The resilience of the Conservative vote despite them being a rabble barely able to govern the country and the increasingly evident incompetence of many of their ministers is remarkable. I don’t have much hope for post-Brexit Britain.

    Anyway, Tuesday’s vote will be remarkable as many of the Tories and DUP will be ‘finding reasons’ to support May’s deal. If it fails, then May will be asking 27 nations’ leaders for a long extension to Brexit wih only a vague plan for the way forward. Promises to be awkward.

  7. Late Riser, just a note that if May’s deal passes, they will still be seeking an extension till June to pass legislation, which doesn’t fit your options that well (as post 29 March they will not have Brexit, but won’t be negotiating or referending)

  8. Simon @ #9 Saturday, March 16th, 2019 – 9:47 am

    Late Riser, just a note that if May’s deal passes, they will still be seeking an extension till June to pass legislation, which doesn’t fit your options that well (as post 29 March they will not have Brexit, but won’t be negotiating or referending)

    You are right of course. In my defence, I came up with the options months ago.

    I suppose you could choose “(f) Something else”? Or maybe I could persuade you that since it is a guess on what decision is made before March 29, and not as to what actually happens, then “(b) Soft Brexit – Deal” might be close enough?

  9. Simon, polls ask two types of voting intention questions. One type includes TIG as an option, the other doesn’t. The 2% Others in the first type is just for various Others, not TIG.

    Late Riser, I think I said a no-deal Brexit was a plausible scenario, not that I thought it would happen.

  10. I dont understand why there is not more political pressure to remain, the referendum only barely scraped through, it surely does not have majority support anymore now that they know whats involved, for the last years there has been a majority opinion that the vote shouldnt have taken place (according to wikipedia).

    Seems like a very simple wedge issue that a party could campaign on and get significant support.

    It looks like existing party positions are so entrenched they just cant budge, but then Labour have been pretty vague AFAIK (which isnt much), i dont know why they can move their position on it.

    The issues might warrant a new (perhaps micro) political party.

  11. Adrian Beaumont @ #11 Saturday, March 16th, 2019 – 10:58 am

    Simon, polls ask two types of voting intention questions. One type includes TIG as an option, the other doesn’t. The 2% Others in the first type is just for various Others, not TIG.

    Late Riser, I think I said a no-deal Brexit was a plausible scenario, not that I thought it would happen.

    Sorry. My error. I have removed the entry.

  12. I’m not so sure that Labour’s apparent slide in the polls is due to them becoming associated with an anti-Brexit viewpoint. Rather I think it is a by-product of Labour trying to walk both sides of the street on Brexit for several months, and so not really ever articulating a coherent position. As things move towards the pointy end of the process, this duplicitous position is being found out a bit, not helped by the change in position regarding a second referendum. Basically, Labour’s wispy-washy stance on Brexit since 2016 is starting to work against them, as they have dealt themselves out of the game to some extent.

    Personally, I think a second referendum is the only logical move at this point, notwithstanding that this is not necessarily in line with public opinion as things stand at the moment. Parliament and the political class have shown themselves as completely incapable of dealing with this issue in any sensible or coherent fashion, in which case the issue must return to the people. But I appreciate that sense hasn’t often been a factor throughout this process.

  13. bug1, a fair chunk of those who voted Remain at the referendum think that Britain should respect the will of the voters, and just get on with it. Also people are FED UP with Brexit and want to move on to other issues.

    That’s why the Lib Dems and Greens, which do support a 2nd referendum, haven’t been able to gain much ground.

  14. A Survation poll taken March 15 – after all those votes – gives Labour a 39-35 lead over the Tories. Survation has tended to be better for Labour than other polls, but this poll is REALLY out of whack with the overall trend.

    Maybe last week changed things, we’ll have to wait for more polls to confirm. The last Survation, taken the day of the TIG defections, had the Tories ahead by 40-36.

  15. I think it’s a NO DEAL Brexit on March 29 with NO Extension.

    Macron’s wife is a teacher who would have had plenty of experience of weak students begging for an extension. It’s kinder to not grant an extension so they don’t fall behind with their other work.

    British politicians don’t demonstrate any understanding of the regulations governing membership of the EU, don’t sound like they have ever been Negotiators and fail to appreciate that as they are leaving the EU, the EU is not obliged to do them any favours and it’s up to the EU to grant an extension or NOT

    Sabine Weyand the Brexit negotiator

    Jeremy Corbyn is as anti-EU as Jacob Rees-Mogg. Theresa May voted Remain and only became Prime Minister when the Brexiteers ran away. She was never expected to remain Prime Minister post Brexit. Is she a good negotiator????

    Commentator Fintan OToole says of DUP leader Darlene Foster “Oscar Wilde wrote that each man kills the thing he loves – the DUP, for all its history of homophobia, has been in this respect positively Wildean.”

    I firmly believe UK will be very chaotic in April and I would not expect British issued credit cards to work in Australia (& vice versa) until bank agreements are re-signed after 30 March.

  16. If only David Cameron had engaged John Howard to organise the British brexit referendum in the same way he organised the Australian Referendum on whether to become a republic.

    Put up a model that had majority support of brexiters, but split them enough to make sure it didn’t get them over the line.

    My feeling is that Her Madge is not a happy Monarch at the moment.

    Had John Winston Howard added a British Brexit referendum success to his Australian republic referendum success, he might have gotten to wear the funny hat as successor to Menzies as Warden of the Cinque Ports.

  17. So hard Brexit is still possible even though parliament voted against it? That would be something.
    Last I read, the hard brexiters were warming to May’s deal, sensing it might be that or no brexit

  18. Bonza, as best I know, a hard Brexit (aka No Deal Brexit) is what happens if there is no agreement between the UK and everyone else who is involved. A hard Brexit is not just possible, it is what WILL happen unless Britain AND the rest can agree on something. The only escape clause is Britain pulling out of the Brexit process. (AFAIK)

    After 2 years of negotiation there is no agreement. Britain is tired. Everyone else is fed up. 12 days 10 hours to go.

  19. Labour’s support for a new referendum might change things but at the moment it feels like no-one in the EU or the UK has any appetite to keep this Brexit “thing” going and a referendum won’t eventuate. At best Britain might choose a short extension for a last gasp attempt for a soft Brexit, even if the EU gives Britain a long extension.

    There is a headline at the moment in the Guardian, “A long delay is now the only way out of this Brexit quagmire”. It struck me that staying in a swamp is not the way out. It is of course a bad analogy, but the mood I get from the comments and various news outlets is to finish this. I suspect people will follow their emotions.

    So my guess is that May will fail on Tuesday/Wednesday for a 3rd time. Later this week the EU will offer Britain an extension (long or short). Assuming May stays as PM, the referendum question won’t be put to the UK parliament. So May will have a 4th go at passing her deal before responding to the EU’s offer. May will be rejected a 4th time. Britain will have chosen a hard Brexit.

    I never knew I was such a pessimist. 🙁

  20. Late Riser

    Yes I think you’re right. And so a delay of a few months will achieve nothing (except that May might get overthrown by her own panicking party to no real avail).

    A small island in the Atlantic Ocean will find that life can be tough in a world of transglobal commerce.

  21. Have to say that, as odious as May’s efforts to get her way have been – Corbyn has been just as if not more diabolically bad.

    I presume if May cant switch 75 votes to her deal, then its long extension and the Hilary Benn process of seeking parliamentary majority indications?

    So many moving parts: if May buys the DUP and offers to resign to get her deal passed, will it turn enough Tory votes? Will Corbyn switch to the “pass subject to referendum” bargain (where the other options in said referendum are as clear as mud)?

    It is the biggest clusterf***k i have ever seen.

    All these grubby means of getting this deal thru on the 3rd attempt… i hope they fail. But am not confident they will

  22. With the UK HoC speaker ruling out more voting on May’s deal that should mean that other outcomes become more likely, though there is still a path to May’s deal.

    We’ve reached step 7 of 10 in my simple ladder. The overall chances for what happens have become…
    10% No Brexit
    45% Soft Brexit (May’s deal)
    45% Hard Brexit (No deal)

    Which I get by combining these guesses.

    100% Step 7: EU leaders vote on extension
    (Thursday 22nd, Eastern Australia)
    YES: 90% ==> keep going (step 8)
    NO: 10% ==> Hard Brexit
    Hard Brexit because the speaker has ruled out more votes on May’s deal and EU has ruled out further negotiation.

    90% Step 8: UK parliament votes to hold a new Referendum
    YES: 25% ==> keep going (step 9)
    NO: 75% ==> keep going (step 10)

    22.5% Step 9: People vote at the referendum
    May’s Deal: 50% ==> Soft Brexit
    Remain: 50% ==> No Brexit

    67.5% Step 10: UK parliament votes on May’s Deal
    I am assuming this will be allowed because because a referendum was rejected.
    YES: 50% ==> Soft Brexit
    NO: 50% ==> Hard Brexit

    It comes down to the UK parliament’s appetite for a referendum, essentially admitting they can’t decide what to do. I suppose that a general election is also possible, but I haven’t added this to my simple ladder at this stage.

  23. Interesting analysis of the possibilities in this article (from the main thread, by antonbruckner11).

    I wonder if May could replace the speaker, and how that works? But given that one of the options even being considered is having the Queen give a speech (who knew?), so that parliament can reboot, it seems that none are very realistic. May must go to Brussels, do something, get something, come home, and then she can try again.

  24. Late Riser:

    The conventions around the Speaker in the British Parliament are quite different from ours.

    Once elected, the Speaker resigns from their party and no longer participates in party business. They are traditionally not opposed for re-election in their constituency at general elections, and are re-elected to the Speakership unopposed in each subsequent Parliament for as long as they wish to remain in the position.

    I do not believe that deposing the Speaker would ever be considered in circumstances such as these – it would take some kind of gross misconduct.

  25. Late Riser

    The Speaker had given hints last week about this, but I am still surprised.

    In the Australian Parliament I sort of think of an equivalent being that if something passed in the House is defeated twice in the Senate, the that’s it. You can either call a double dissolution or forget that bill – I don’t think it can come back a third time.

    I still think an ‘accidental’ no-deal Brexit is coming, either next week or after a few months delay.

    I am glad I am not living and working in the UK – as are some people I work with (who are from there).

  26. Speaker Martin was persuaded to resign in 2009. As Wikipedia puts it:-

    “He resigned from the position on 21 June 2009 as a result of diminishing parliamentary and public confidence owing to his role in the expenses scandal.[2]”

    Speaker Bercow was a Conservative MP, when elected to the chair. It is thought that most of the MPs that voted for him came from the Labour Party. He still has a few old friends, in the Conservative Party, but most Tory MPs despise the Speaker.

    Even if the Conservatives wanted to breach strong conventions and try to vote Bercow out of the chair, they almost cerainly do not have the votes.

  27. These the times in which “the crown” may have to use its’ reserve powers… if the government of day cannot pass critical legalisation, yet bizarrely will not fall… Lizzie Two might have to demand a solution.

  28. I can’t see an election solving anything much. I don’t think Labour could get a majority, and I don’t think Teresa May could get enough of a majority (if she even got one) to change the ‘balance of power’ in the Tories to push her deal through.

    I had this fantasy of Sinn Fein’s elected MPs marching in and tipping the balance in a close vote.

    It won’t happen of course – but fun to imagine the drama! (maybe save it for a TV series)

  29. Interesting how Trump has chimed in on Brexit.

    Bolton added: “The president has been clear that he wants a resolution of this issue that allows the United States and Britain to come to trade deals again. He sees huge opportunity if Britain’s status can be resolved.”

    One would almost think the Brexiteers are worried, reaching out for a hand. But then there’s the fine print. The opportunity is for Trump.

    Trump, who has sought to tear up many of the US’s existing trade agreements and seek terms he sees as more favourable to Washington

    So I reckon, the Brexiteers might have asked for a bit of help and been disappointed with the clumsy response. I doubt they will give it any oxygen.

    And for aficionados, the article also has a great image of Mr. Backpfeifengesicht himself, Trump Jr.

  30. The @BBC has been seen to be one of the handmaidens of #Brexit. Every pointless Vox Pop goes to a Leave area & mainly interviews staunch Leave voters.

    @BBCNews never reports that a 3 figure number of constituencies have now flipped to #Remain I’m now appalled by BBC News.

  31. As the UK goes to hell in a handbasket, Lewis Goodall (political correspondent of Sky News UK) tips the bucket on the PM on her trashing of Parliament.

    She has reacted not with humility or contrition or openness, but with a tone so lecturing and hubristic that many MPs have thought her deeply arrogant. Her spokesman explains this by saying she is frustrated with parliament’s “inability to take a decision”.

    The truth is it has, repeatedly on all manner of things – they’re just not decisions to her liking.
    Government and our institutions are the same. Theresa May’s most solemn duty as prime minister, the current custodian of our democracy, is to respect the past, our political institutions, how they operate and crucially bequeath a functioning political system to its future tenants.

    That is more important than delivering her version of Brexit or keeping the Tory party together. It is more important than anything. I deeply worry that this thought might never to have occurred to her.

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