Brexit minus eight days (possibly)

Commons Speaker John Bercow blocks a third vote on Teresa May’s deal, but there is a workaround – if the votes exits. 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 18, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow announced that he would not allow a third vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal without substantial changes, citing a rule dating back to 1604 that says that the Commons cannot re-consider something in its current session once it has been decided.  A session is normally one year, but the current session is two years, expiring in June 2019.

While Bercow’s intervention was dramatic, there is a fairly simple workaround.  A “paving motion” could be used to state that the Commons wants another vote on the deal.  If there were a majority for the paving motion, there would be another vote on the deal.  May’s problem is not Bercow, it is that she does not have a majority for her deal.  May would have hoped that the Democratic Unionist Party and hard Conservative Leavers would fall in line under the threat of a long extension to Brexit, but this has not occurred in sufficient numbers to change the result of the 149-vote loss at the March 12 division on May’s deal.

On March 21-22, the European leaders’ summit will be held.  It had been suggested that May would ask for a short extension, conditional on passing her deal by mid-April, when the UK will need to commit to holding European parliamentary elections from May 23-26.  If May cannot pass her deal by mid-April, a long extension would be required.

Instead of asking for a long delay, on March 20 May asked for a delay only until June 30, regardless of whether her deal is passed.  The UK would not participate in the EU elections, so it would cease to be an EU member when the new EU parliament first sits on July 1.  However, European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU would only back a short delay if May’s deal passes – a delay needs the unanimous support of all 27 EU nations.

Late on March 20 UK time, May gave a speech in which she said that the public should blame MPs, not her, for any Brexit delay.  May has been under pressure from hard Leave Conservative MPs.  But by blaming MPs, she makes it more likely that her deal will be rejected again if put to a vote next week.  In summary, the events of March 20 make a no-deal Brexit more likely at 11pm March 29 UK time (10am March 30 Australian Eastern Daylight Time).

I think a long Brexit extension would be seen as a far greater betrayal of Leave voters than other options such as a softer Brexit with a customs union.  For the last two years, people have been told that March 29 is the day the UK leaves the EU. Many Leave voters will not care very much about the type of Brexit, but they will care a great deal about honouring the March 29 exit date.  If the UK took part in European elections, there would be no guarantee of any Brexit.

On March 14, the Commons passed a motion that would extend Brexit.  A Survation poll taken March 15 gave Labour a four-point lead over the Conservatives, the first Labour lead in any UK poll since January 30.  Two YouGov polls for different clients, both conducted March 14-15, had the Conservatives ahead by two to four points; however, the Conservative vote in both polls was down five since the last YouGov poll in early March.  I believe Labour dropped in the polls as they became perceived as an anti-Brexit party.  The Conservatives would be likely to suffer greater damage than Labour from such a perception as Leave voters make up a far larger part of their vote.

An overlooked reason for why the Conservative vote has held up well despite Brexit chaos is the economy.  On March 19, the November to January jobs report was released.  It showed that 76.1% of those aged 16 to 64 had a job, a record high.  The unemployment rate was just 3.9% (lowest since 1975), and inflation-adjusted weekly wages grew 1.4% over the year to January.  As long as these great jobs figures continue, the Conservatives have a good chance to win the next election despite Brexit.  A big question is whether the economy tanks if there is a no-deal Brexit.

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.

76 comments on “Brexit minus eight days (possibly)”

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  1. I have been mulling over the original question that I concocted for the Brexit guessing game, so many months ago.

    In your opinion, on or before 2019 March 30, Britain will decide for one of the following:
    (a) Hard Brexit – No Deal
    (b) Soft Brexit – Deal
    (c) Brexit Extension – Negotiations Continue
    (d) Brexit Extension – New Referendum
    (e) Revoke article 50 (withdrawn Brexit)
    (f) Something else
    (g) Don’t care

    The reason for the mull is that an extension now exists and perhaps I should name the “winners” or perhaps “closest to the pin”. My dilemma though is that there is still talk of the possibility of: (e) revoking article 50, (d) holding a 2nd referendum, (c) negotiating a softer Brexit, holding a general election (could be “f”) and even (a) forcing a Hard Brexit. At this time it looks to me like the race is still between b, c, d, e, and f. I realize that the EU have said quite clearly that negotiations are over, but we are talking about a British decision. They might decide to go down a dead end.

    So after reflection I have decided to wait until Saturday (Australia East Coast time) to see where the Brexit decision stands, and I’ll record any new guesses until then.

    And, if I may invoke a clumsy metaphor, the finish line is midnight March 29/30, and each horse is a clear decision to go down one path. Can anyone pick the winner yet?

  2. Late Riser, my understanding is that March 29 is now of no meaning since it has been replaced by April 12. Therefore what decision will have been made on or before March 30, to your specific question on strict wording, the answer is now almost certainly nothing – ie (f) is the only answer i think that can work.

    In substance, the question should evolve to replacing March 30 with April 13 and seeing what of the options are decided by then (which is now the replacement point by which something has to be decided).

    I am now beginning to think that a long extension can only be executed by Theresa May, whether of her own volition or possibly by legislative obligation. The chances of a different PM being sworn in by April 12 are very slim – what would trigger a no confidence vote, only May very clearly indicating that she will not request a long extension in the event of her deal failing to pass. If she only does this in early April, she will almost certainly be acting PM when the deadline comes.

    I hope the likes of Grieve/Cooper et al are framing a piece of legislation that forces a long extension request on the government that can be voted on by around before April 8 at the latest. Cant be a motion, has to be legislation. This to play it safe and avoid a no deal by omission.

    There is a piece of legislation already passed by the Lords (i cant recall its name) that is two paragraphs that legislatively prevents a no deal exit – i think it actually mandates a revocation in fact. Maybe that is what they might desperately have to turn to as the clock runs out and the mechanics of replacing May with a PM who will request a long extension cant be done.

    This whole indicative vote process feels like a joke. That should take place AFTER the long extension has been procured, not killing time that should be devoted to securing it and preventing no deal.

  3. Expat Follower, I am now convinced you and Adrian are right. I’ve put my ambiguities and mulling to bed. There are two dates, April 12 and perhaps May 22.

    Regarding the guessing game, again I agree that “(f) Something else” is closest. No-one guessed it, although Victoria got closest with “May resigns”. So I’m toying with the idea of simplifying the game to guessing which Brexit of “Hard”, “Soft” or “Revoked” will happen, when and why.

    I need to think about your other points, but I can already say I agree about it feeling like a joke (a bad one) and that I am intrigued by this.

    There is a piece of legislation already passed by the Lords (i cant recall its name) that is two paragraphs that legislatively prevents a no deal exit – i think it actually mandates a revocation in fact.

  4. MPs seize control of Brexit from May in ‘constitutional revolution’

    The UK parliament has seized control of Brexit from the May government and will hold an extraordinary session on Wednesday to choose between possible outcomes such as another referendum, a no-deal Brexit or even cancelling Brexit altogether.

  5. I was wondering if triggering a general election because May refuses to budge might work. Short answer is it doesn’t. There’s not enough time before April 12.

    … The Prime Minister asks the Monarch to dissolve Parliament by Royal Proclamation.
    … The election is held 17 working days after the date of the Proclamation
    … Since 1935 every general election has been held on a Thursday.
    … Results are declared in each individual constituency by the local returning officer.
    … Each individual MP assumes office immediately upon the declaration by the local returning officer.
    … The Prime Minister can try to remain in power even without a majority.
    … The most recent Prime Ministers who, having failed to win a majority, opted not to resign immediately, were … Theresa May in 2017.
    … the Monarch could in theory dismiss the incumbent Prime Minister and seek to appoint a replacement.

    So, the first Thursday, 17 working days (roughly 4 weeks to allow for slippage) after this Thursday would be the soonest any election could take place. That is on April 26, which is 4 days after the deadline to accept May’s deal to prevent a Hard Brexit. Unless the Queen gets involved (the Monarch could in theory dismiss the incumbent Prime Minister and seek to appoint a replacement) May has the upper hand. What are the chances for a “Dismissal”?

  6. oops. A belated correction to previous post:
    That is [the earliest date for an election] on April 26, which is 14 days after the deadline to accept May’s deal to prevent a Hard Brexit.

  7. Firstly, May’s deal wont pass. Secondly, Bercow might not even allow it to come for a vote. And lastly, doesnt the technical extension from apr 12 to may 22 only come into being if her deal is passed this week? Or do i have it wrong and she can try and bring it to the floor on April 10 to trigger the tech extension to execute it (if passed)?

    Basically dawdling until Apr 10 is a strategy of “pass this or your worst nightmare will happen” – either a long extension to the ERG types or a no deal to the others. Incredibly scary to each opposite side, but how can she play both sides at the same time?

    What i suspect she is trying to do is eat up enough time so that there is no time to replace her and then lay out her stake – either ‘my deal or long extension’ or ‘my deal or no deal brexit’.

    i dont know if there are enough hard brexit tories to pass her bill (she needs 75 or so without the DUP) but am sure in the face of a no deal that 75 opponents of her bill would fold.

    Is she really prepared to let no deal happen? I would like to think not, but no way can count on it. Makes such a tactic extremely effective imho.

    All this indicative voting means something if there is a PM in place who will attach the winning result to a long extension request?

    One day for indicative voting is enough. The rest of the time has to be spent either binding her legislatively to extend or ousting her and installing another PM just to get the long extension.

    There is plenty of time to identify and negotiate a softer brexit or set a referendum once the extension is in place. I dont see the need for wasting precious time getting some majority indication when getting the extension is the priority?

    From April 1, all majority parliamemtary effort should be to secure a pm who will request the extension. I would think once that is secured that there will be a General Election anyway and any indicative majority coming out of this parliament will be moot.

  8. Expat Follower, the situation makes me think of a kidnapper holding out for a ransom. “Give me the deal or the country gets it.”

    In the time left, how do you replace a PM who doesn’t want to go? Do you need a PM to ask the EU for an extension?

  9. Firstly, May’s deal wont pass. … And lastly, doesnt the technical extension from apr 12 to may 22 only come into being if her deal is passed this week?

    I’m confused, but sky news has the same thought.

    And if you’re right (and Sky News too) then by the weekend Britain’s options will have shrunk. By then either May’s deal will be accepted and everything else will be off the table (there will be a soft Brexit on May 22) or May’s deal will be off the table and only revoking article 50 or something dramatic would prevent a hard Brexit on April 12.

    It seems likely that by the weekend the only three options left will be Hard Brexit or No Brexit, with the uncertain compromise choice being to Start again (referendum).


  10. It looks more like May is offering to resign and threatening a long extension alternative as an inducement to get Tory support for her deal in an mv3.

    I am skeptical that this will work for the DUP and assume there arent any Labor votes she hasnt already gotten.

    She needs pretty much all of the 75 tories who voted against her deal last time to now support it.

    But some of those tories are Grieve and Gymiah (who really impresses me) opponents of brexiting at all.

    Without the DUP im not sure even with the above offer+threat that she can get a majority for her deal?

    Yesterday i said her deal cant pass… i still dont believe it can but obviously not certain.

    There is still Bercow to deal with, but i think his position is more to rule out mv4,5,6 repetitions rather than mv3 (?)

    In the meantime maybe some Norway+ option will emerge with majority support after this indicative vote. Again i am not sure if this helps the obviating of no deal or May’s deal or hurts it by April 12. Unless perhaps some kind of indication is required for the EU to ok the long extension… all i know is that May wont execute it and that an election may be required…. but, to repeat myself, priority has to be to secure the extension itself rather than seek to bind how it will be used

  11. Expat Follower

    priority has to be to secure the extension itself rather than seek to bind how it will be used

    I think you’re right. A quick read of Sky News and the Guardian this morning turns up these stories.

    Friday 22 March 2019 10:01, UK

    If Mrs May’s deal does not pass before the end of next week, the new Brexit date will be 12 April.

    Wed 27 Mar 2019 07.31 AEDT

    …There is the small matter of officially delaying Brexit. The government will lead a debate on a legal order that needs to be passed to delay the UK’s scheduled departure on Friday 29 March. This is expected to pass with ease.
    …The government has until 12 April to propose a different way forward to the EU if it cannot get May’s deal through parliament.

    Should the words “this week” appear at the end of the previous sentence? What does the Guardian think is the “legal order” that satisfies the EU offer and isn’t May’s deal? Perhaps I’m not the only one who is confused. At the very least something needs to happen to make the extension real on the UK side or Adrian’s “Schroedinger’s Brexit” will be created.

  12. On the “Indicative Vote”

    Wed 27 Mar 2019 06.52 AEDT

    At 7pm, “ballot papers” will be made available in the division lobbies next to the Commons chamber. Unlike most parliamentary votes, which are cast by walking through a lobby, MPs will vote by putting crosses next to “aye” or “noe” for each proposal. MPs will be able to vote for as many of the proposals as they wish to support. How each MP has voted will be published later that night.

    Tuesday 26 March 2019 22:08, UK

    House of Commons Speaker John Bercow will announce which Brexit options he has chosen for debate and to be voted on. These will then be debated until 7pm, at which point MPs will be give half-an-hour to vote on the various options. They’ll each be handed a piece of paper and asked to write “aye” or “noe” next to each option.
    …In legal terms, the votes mean nothing and will not compel the government to change its Brexit strategy.

    OK, so it’s just an opinion poll, run by the Speaker.

  13. And the UK’s relationship with the EU deteriorates.

    Wed 27 Mar 2019 07.55 AEDT

    The British support for the law, which is expected to be confirmed at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday, has stunned traditional northern European allies that take a hard-nosed look at public finances. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are unhappy with the plans, but have been unable to muster a blocking minority without British support.

    Petulant? Shouldn’t Britain at the very least be abstaining?

    Wed 27 Mar 2019 04.49 AEDT

    Senior Spanish MEPs have been seeking to push Moraes out of his role as the chamber’s rapporteur, a role in which his job is to represent MEPs’ views on draft legislation.

    Britain will be gone soon, so why the pressure to remove British MEPs from key position? Could it be a way to damage Britain’s status within the EU should Britain at the last minute decide to remain? Or is it tit-for-tat petulance?

  14. If f&^&ing Jeremy Corbyn could commit to seeking a long extension plus one piece of legislation establishing a parliamentary majority framework over the course of the extension period that proposes, negotiates and passes an alternative Brexit (with a referendum either to confirm or -in the absence of any parliamentary majority – as the ultimate tiebreaker between nodeal brexit and revoking) then i think he would be installed as PM next week.

    It might only be to pass that legislation and get the long extension (ie followed by a general election) but would be the best 10 days of his career – and help his electoral chances no end esp if up against a nodeal brexit wrecker tory leader.

    But he is no better than May really. Wants a rubber stamp to do what he wants, only lauds parliamentary democracy when its in his self-interest.

    May and Corbyn make Scomo/Shorten look like Socrates/Plato. Just utterly pathetically incompetent

  15. Results of indicative votes ballot, in order

    And here are the results, ranked in order, with the least unpopular at the top.

    J – Ken Clarke’s – Customs union

    For: 264

    Against: 272

    Majority against: 8

    M – Dame Margaret Beckett’s – Confirmatory public vote

    For: 268

    Against: 295

    Majority against: 27

    K – Labour’s – Customs union and alignment with single market

    For: 237

    Against: 307

    Majority against: 70

    D – Nick Boles’s – common market 2.0

    For: 188

    Against: 283

    Majority against: 95

    L – Joanna Cherry’s – Revocation to avoid no deal

    For: 184

    Against: 293

    Majority against: 109

    B – John Baron’s – No deal

    For: 160

    Against: 400

    Majority against: 240

    O – Marcus Fysh’s – Contingent preferential arrangements

    For: 139

    Against: 422

    Majority against: 283

    H – George Eustice’s – Efta and EEA

    For: 65

    Against: 377

    Majority against: 312

  16. Well that was helpful wasnt it – indicative votes show no majority support for anything, mind you the amount of abstentions is massive.

    Doing this before killing May’s deal once and for all was stupid.

    Fortunately, i think the DUP coming out against May’s deal does the job of killing it.

    Get a long extension, try to get a majority behind Ken Clarke’s deal negotiated and passed in 6 months or else hold a referendum between No Deal and Revoking a50 with that binding outcome @ end of extension date. Pretty simple roadmap?

    Its clear that friggin Labor’s preferred option has little chance of every garnering a majority in this parliament (and i dont think a General Election will make a great difference as they are not going to get a thumping majority).

    Bercow on mv3 sounds ominously unfavourable. It wont pass anyway. Wasting time on Monday trying to refine a clear indication is daft at this stage (should have been done after last Gen Election), its not like this govt is going to action it.

    Get the extension. Nothing else matters but this in the next 2 weeks.

    Hold a General Election, most likely. But pass some legislation beforehand ensuring 6 months to get a deal that passes or else a referendum. A referendum on a majority passed deal i dont think will ever gain a majority in the Commons?

    Do indicative votes again to settle on Ken Clarke’s plan (unless some other majority emerges)

    Get some form of soft Brexit ok’d by the EU and passed in the Commons – endgame #1

    If cant do the above, hold a referendum between No Deal and Remain no later than a month before the extension expiry date. Endgame #2

    That is the only fair, sound and decisive process i can think of?

  17. If anyone is reading the ABC news, it looks like it has the referendum votes wrong by exactly 100 votes. Maybe someone typed it up in a hurry. (I say ‘wrong’ because I checked with Sky News and Guardian reports and that one number on the ABC is the only one that is not the same among the three of them.)
    Sky News

  18. I have tried to summarise the Indicative Votes and sort them by Yes-No, as a measure of popularity. All negative.

    -8 Leave: keep customs union
    -27 Leave: second referendum for any agreement
    -70 Leave: customs union + EU rights and regulations
    -95 Leave: Norway “plus”
    -109 Remain: Revoke Article 50
    -240 Leave: Hard Brexit on April 12
    -283 Leave: with new trade agreements
    -312 Leave: Norway but no customs union

    While that looks like a preference for leaving with the customs union, I then looked at the total number of votes either one way or the other, which I interpret as the level of caring or perceived importance.

    By total number of votes cast, the ‘most important’ options (to the MPs) are:
    # of VOTES (Yes-No)
    563 (-27) Leave: second referendum for any agreement
    561 (-283) Leave: with new trade agreements
    560 (-240) Leave: Hard Brexit on April 12

    And the bottom three are:
    477 (-109) Remain: Revoke Article 50
    471 (-95) Leave: Norway “plus”
    442 (-312) Leave: Norway but no customs union
    These three aren’t happening. Batted away.

    My read is that the MPs sort of want May’s deal put to the people perhaps with something from the two middling options (a customs union). And for damn sure they don’t want Hard Brexit or a bunch of trade agreements. But the timing and the constraints are horrible. How to get there from here is the dilemma.

  19. The magic number is 320.

    May needs 320 to pass her deal – about 75 away, no DUP, no abstentions

    Becketts confirmatory vote and Clarke’s Custom Union deal are about 65 votes away. The latter had 100 abstentions, Beckett’s far fewer. The abstentions dont total absence of support, just party whipping at this stage of the process (the entire Tory ministry abstained, i think the revoke parties like LibDems and SNP might have abstained).

    I still dont get the purpose of eking eg Clarke’s deal over the 320 on Monday even if they can (which is unlikely)… its not like May will action such a vote.

    At this stage i still think its a my deal or no deal / long extension gameplan from May… the DUP are a massive spanner in her works, and Bercow a material one. At some point soon even she will have to accept that her deal simply cannot pass either with another vote or not even bothering to bring a vote to the floor.

    Then she has no choice but to let a no deal Brexit happen or request a long extension. The only way parliament can force this choice is presumably to legislatorily mandate her (which she even then could still ignore for a few days and get held in contempt, not that this would matter much since her career is over anyway) or – exactly because even that is not a guarantee – no confidence her out with a 5-day deal of 98% of Lab, TIG, SNP/LD/other MPs + i suspect it will have to be 30-40 rational Tories supporting Corbyn purely for the purpose of obtaining a long extension and getting to April 12 and then bringing him down for a Gen Election.

    I’m going out on a limb with these probabilities @ April 12:
    May herself requests the extension – 55%
    May booted out and Corbyn requests the extension – 20%
    May hangs on and no deal brexit ensues – 25%

    I would think an extension = a general election. But imagine if the Tories can still form government but with some hard brexit wingnut at the helm… i guess as long as its minority government then there is still a chance parliament can topple and revoke by the end of the extension…

  20. I have just sent another Brexit article to WB.

    I’m sorry this thread is down on pg 2 after all the NSW stuff. I would have posted earlier, but was busy with a Conversation article about Fraser Anning. It was a good idea to post today after May’s deal was defeated again.

  21. Adrian Beaumont @ #73 Saturday, March 30th, 2019 – 4:49 am

    I have just sent another Brexit article to WB.

    I’m sorry this thread is down on pg 2 after all the NSW stuff. I would have posted earlier, but was busy with a Conversation article about Fraser Anning. It was a good idea to post today after May’s deal was defeated again.

    No worries. Your efforts are very much appreciated. Looking forward to your article.

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