Brexit minus two weeks (again)

Brexit delayed until at least April 12, as Theresa May’s deal is defeated again by a reduced margin. 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 21, a European leaders’ summit was held. Leaders of the 27 EU nations, not including the UK, agreed to delay the date of Brexit until April 12 (originally March 29). If Theresa May’s deal passes the House of Commons, Brexit would be delayed until May 22 to allow necessary legislation to pass.  European parliament elections will be held from May 23-26. If the UK were to participate in these elections, a longer extension could be given, but the UK must inform the European Commission of its intent to participate by April 12, hence the new deadline.  On March 27, the Commons passed this Brexit extension by 441 votes to 105.

On March 25, the Commons passed an amendment that allowed parliament, rather than the government, to control the agenda, and set indicative Brexit votes.  This amendment passed by 329 votes to 302, with 30 Conservative MPs rebelling, though eight Labour MPs also rebelled.  However, an amendment that would have attempted to prevent a no-deal Brexit failed by 314 votes to 311.  On March 27, a motion for more indicative votes on April 1 passed by 331 votes to 287.

All of the March 27 indicative votes were lost, but two came close to passing.  Conservative MPs were given a free vote with Cabinet members told to abstain, while Labour MPs were whipped on most votes.  A customs union proposal came closest, losing by 272 votes to 264, with abstentions from pro-Remain parties.  An amendment that would require a confirmatory referendum on any deal failed by 295 votes to 268, with 27 Labour MPs rebelling.  Another soft Brexit option failed by 283 votes to 188, a motion in favour of no-deal failed by 400 votes to 160, with Conservatives favouring no-deal by 157-94.  An amendment that would revoke Brexit to avoid no-deal failed by 293 votes to 184, with Labour MPs favouring revocation by 111-22.

Commentator Stephen Bush says that, while the second referendum proposal had more Yes votes than any other proposal, it also had more No votes than any other proposal that would soften Brexit, showing that it is a polarising proposal.  Had the second referendum proposal lost badly, it would be clear to pursue the customs union proposal, but a live second referendum option makes no-deal more likely as MPs may be unable to coalesce around any option.

What these votes show is that, while there is a large majority against a no-deal Brexit, there is no majority for an option that would prevent a no-deal.  Unless a deal is approved by April 12, the UK would be required to participate in EU elections to obtain a further extension to Brexit.  Participating in these elections is also unlikely to win Commons support, as it would effectively remove a Brexit guarantee, and the Conservatives would likely suffer the anger of betrayed Leave voters.

Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the next election is not due until May 2022, but there are two ways to get an early election.  One way is if two-thirds of the Commons votes for an early election (as happened before the June 2017 election when the Conservatives were deprived of their majority in a massive upset).  An early election can also be held if there is a successful no-confidence vote, and no government can be formed in the next 14 days.  The earliest an election can be held is April 25, taking it past the April 12 deadline.  If the UK does not want a no-deal Brexit in the middle of the election campaign, it must agree to participate in EU elections first.

On March 27, May made a vague promise to resign if her deal was approved.  The Conservative membership, which is pro-hard Leave, will choose between two candidates nominated by Conservative MPs if there is a leadership vacancy.  This promise appears to have won over prominent hard Leave MPs Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who sniffed an opportunity to become PM.  However, more moderate Conservatives do not want PM Johnson.  May also made progress with hard Leavers by threatening them with a long extension and perhaps no Brexit if her deal is rejected again.  The question is whether she follows through on that threat.

On March 29, the same day as the original Brexit date, the Commons rejected May’s deal for a third time by 344 votes to 286; the 58-vote margin was much reduced from 149 on March 12 and 230 on January 15.  Conservative MPs voted for the deal by 277-34 (235-75 on March 12), but the ten Democratic Unionist Party MPs, who usually vote with the government, were opposed, and just five Labour MPs were in favour (three on March 12).  This was a vote on the legally binding withdrawal agreement alone, and did not include the political declaration.  By separating these documents, May got around Commons Speaker John Bercow’s disallowance of her deal being brought back.

In summary, May’s deal was defeated again, MPs will not be able to coalesce around a customs union because the second referendum option did unexpectedly well, a general election would require an unpopular extension to participate in EU elections, and concrete efforts to prevent a no-deal Brexit failed.  Unless something is resolved within the next two weeks, a no-deal Brexit looms.  More indicative votes will be held on April 1.

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.

123 comments on “Brexit minus two weeks (again)”

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  1. EU says long delay or nothing

    Theresa May’s appeal for a short Brexit extension has been rejected by Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that unless the withdrawal deal was passed within nine days the UK would crash out of the EU or have to sign up to a long delay.

    but that the EU would not “kick out” a member state, in a reference to the certain offer of a lengthy extension of article 50.

    It may have been the needed incentive.

    A cross-party group of MPs has forced through an emergency bill in less than six hours to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit, despite government opposition.

    And this vote was one they really cared about judging by how many voted.
    YES 313 – 312 NO

  2. Right now, either Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal on April 12 or it agrees to a long delay, which will require Britain to with it to participate in the European Parliament elections in May. Honestly, I am more inclined on the former occurring, since the May government is unlikely to agree to later.

  3. I think the chances of no deal are falling. A significant majority of the parliament does not want a no deal. The Europeans seem to be solidifying around a position that they will only support a long extension of article 50. The UK has put itself in a weak negotiating position and I think is likely to go along with this rather than crash out, however reluctantly. What happens beyond that is still anyone’s guess, but I think the chances of a second referendum as the only way of breaking the deadlock are increasing.

  4. All they need now is to get that emergency bill through the Lords. Which might happen by Monday, a whopping four days before the cliff. So nothing to worry about there, then.

  5. Matt, i was talking about the DUP supporting Corbyn’s alternative plan in a hypothetical show-down against May’s deal.

    Hopefully this one vote win (my goodness how dramatic) is a legislative forcing of May to accept a long extension (with participating in the Euro elections a necessary by-product) and taking no-deal off the table come April 12.

    The tied vote i think means no more indicative voting along the Letwin/Benn gameplan.

    I’m still confused, even if Corbyn and May could agree on anything (which is unlikely), how that or any other Govt-sponsored indicative vote could produce an outcome that allows Brexit by May 22… as far as i can see, the only way the UK can Brexit before May 22 is via May’s deal. Or is it via May’s withdrawal agreement only. Either way it would be sheer madness to exit on those terms – whoever comes after May on the Tory side can pretty much make it up as (s)he chooses?

    To me, get this Cooper bid past the Lords, dont bother trying to play silly games with Theresa May whose sincerity to find a compromise is highly doubtful, get the long extension and have a general election to determine the next parliament who will try and work out what to do over the extension period (be it no deal, revoke, customs union, 2nd referendum or May’s deal)

  6. Expat Follower

    That sounds like a plan! Is that allowed?

    * Dont bother trying to play silly games with Theresa May .
    * Get this Cooper bid past the Lords.
    * Get the long extension.
    * Have a general election.
    * Work out what to do over the extension period.
    * (no deal, revoke, customs union, 2nd referendum, or May’s deal)

  7. To be cynical though, though this part of the plan has already been tried.
    * Have a general election.
    * Work out what to do.

  8. LR, indeed… a new parliament is v likely to be similarly deadlocked. Esp if a tory minority government with someone to the right of May at the helm.

    My hunch is that this has to end up as a referendum between no deal and revoking unless a softish brexit can pass the house.

    A confirming referendum on a majority-approved soft brexit is the remainer gameplan, i guess if the maj of the new parliament (having stood on that platform in the election) wishes it so then so be it?

  9. This is an article about the ease with which Facebook was subverted for Hard Brexit propaganda last week. I might post something about it on the main thread too.

    Jim Waterson
    4 Apr 2019 11.10 AEDT

    A series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company and a former adviser to Boris Johnson

  10. The bit about working out what to do was supposed to happen over the last two years. If there’s an extension, I see no reason not to anticipate another crisis as the new deadline approaches.

    As the saying goes, “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done”.

  11. Ante Meridian

    As the saying goes, “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done”.

    There is a lot of truth in that. I worked for a bit with a Doctor of Philosophy (that’s the step beyond a PhD) in the field of mathematical risk assessment. (Academics take great delight at the difference between “Doctor of” and “Doctorate in”.) He told me that procrastination has enormous benefits in an uncertain environment. I declined his offer to show me the proof (maths). But the idea stuck with me. You can’t negotiate something before you know enough about it.

    The problem is that once you “sort of” know where you want to end up and then you lay it all out, there are a lot of hurdles that need jumping in a special order, and each one of them has a “last minute”. I hope if there is a second go round the goal will be decided early.

  12. I made a mistake. The guy I worked with was a Doctor of Science, obtained for substantial contributions beyond that needed for a PhD. Please ignore the stuff on “of” versus “in”.

  13. JA
    Belly laugh stuff. In the intervening time they have thrown out the teabag AND the cup of tea and are now wondering what to do next.

  14. Every delay, every contortion:

    1. Increases the loss of British soft power
    2. Deepens and extends the perception of sovereign risk
    3. Speeds capital flight.

  15. This about sums it up this morning:
    While Merkel supports Ireland and promises to try anything to avoid an irish border,
    May continues to move agonizingly slowly,
    And subversive elements continue to subvert.

    Rory Carroll
    Fri 5 Apr 2019 06.12 AEDT

    …“I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish … what I have heard here will encourage me to explore ways and means to continue the peaceful co-existence.”
    …“We want to stand together as 27. Until the very last hour – I can say this from the German side – we will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit.”

    Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart
    Fri 5 Apr 2019 06.28 AEDT

    Theresa May to make written Brexit offer to Jeremy Corbyn
    …after the government delegation reported back to May on Thursday, officials began drafting a letter setting out a way forward.

    Jim Waterson
    Fri 5 Apr 2019 05.55 AEDT

    …a series of apparently grassroots advertising campaigns for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of the Tory election guru’s lobbying company.
    …The network of supposedly independently pro-Brexit campaign groups with names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future have collectively spent as much as £1m urging voters to contact their local MP and demand a hard no-deal Brexit, creating the impression of a large-scale grassroots rejection of Theresa May’s deal.

  16. I am reading

    Cabinet ministers have been told they must set in motion new plans to keep planes flying to North America, as well as keeping British troops legally in Bosnia, in case the EU forces a no-deal exit.

    Repeating the important bit

    in case the EU forces a no-deal exit

    So, who started this? Who can’t make up their mind?

    Attitudes are the raw materials for building or repairing relationships. If blaming the EU is the prevailing attitude and if it cannot be changed, then the relationship is doomed.

  17. The whole point of ‘Muddling Through’ is not the first bit. It is the second bit: eventually you get somewhere.
    ‘Muddling Stasis’ is a whole nother thing.

  18. Daniel Boffey
    Fri 5 Apr 2019 16.40 AEDT

    European council president determined to give Theresa May options to avoid suggestions Britain being trapped in EU.

    Donald Tusk will push the EU27 to offer Theresa May a one-year “flexible” extension to article 50 with an option to leave the EU once the withdrawal agreement is ratified by parliament, according to senior EU sources. The European council president will tell leaders at a summit on Wednesday the “flextension” idea would avoid the heads of state and government having to consider extra Brexit delays every few weeks.

    My read of this is that it extends that second date. 2019 May 22 becomes 2020 May 22, but only if May’s deal is approved by the HoC. There are two problems with the idea. Firstly on the UK side, the UK will have to hold EU elections. Secondly on the EU side, the UK will subsequently be allowed to “meddle” in affairs they have no long term interest in. So the headline neatly sums it up. This is just a way for the EU to defend itself against accusations of forcing the UK out prematurely.

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