Brexit, Poland and elsewhere

A cynical explanation of Boris Johnson’s recent actions regarding seeking a deal. Also: the Law and Justice party (PiS) wins in Poland. 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 October 10, Boris Johnson met with Irish Taoiseach (PM) Leo Varadkar, and the two agreed there was a pathway to a Brexit deal. Johnson abandoned proposals for Northern Ireland that the European Union was never going to accept. But surely Johnson knew his original proposals were unacceptable to the EU – so why this sudden change just a week before the crucial October 17-18 EU summit?

A cynical explanation relates to the Benn Act. Under this legislation, Johnson must apply for a Brexit extension to January 31, 2020, unless he can pass a deal agreed with the EU through the Commons by October 19. Johnson can accept a shorter or longer extension, or refer such an extension to the Commons.

Johnson’s last-minute change makes it unlikely a deal will be finalised by the EU summit. But he may convince the EU that he only needs an extension of a week or two. Once they offer him such a short extension, and he accepts, the Benn Act is fulfilled. If Johnson appears genuine in seeking a deal, ex-Conservative MPs are unlikely to vote for a new Benn Act, so a Commons vote would fail.

The EU could agree to a short extension as the alternatives are worse. Once a long extension is granted, Jeremy Corbyn said on October 14 that Labour will vote for an election. With the Conservatives’ current large poll lead, they would likely win such an election, and then there would be a no-deal majority in the Commons.

If Johnson has a deal in late October or early November, he would interpret a Commons rejection of that deal as a vote for a no-deal Brexit. As filibustering is permitted in the House of Lords, there may not be enough time for a new Benn Act to pass parliament and receive royal assent before the new Brexit deadline. And Johnson could use other tricks, like advising the Queen to refuse royal assent, or another short prorogation.

There are two other plausible explanations for Johnson’s behaviour. One, he’s panicking. Two, he gambled on quickly reaching a deal, and putting it to MPs at the special Saturday sitting of the Commons on October 19, before it could be properly scrutinised.

PiS wins in Poland, but Senate a problem

Poland uses proportional representation in multi-member electorates for the lower house, which assists bigger parties. There is a national vote threshold of 5% for single parties and 8% for coalitions. At the October 13 election, the economically left-wing, but socially conservative and anti-immigrant PiS won 235 of the 460 seats (steady since October 2015), a coalition of conservatives, liberals and greens (KO) won 134 (down 32), the centre-left 49 (returning to parliament), conservatives 30 (down 28) and the far-right 11.

Popular votes were 43.6% PiS (up 6.0%), 27.4% KO (down 4.3%), 12.6% centre-left (up 5.0%), 8.6% conservatives (down 5.4%) and 6.8% far-right (up 2.0%). As no significant party missed the threshold, PiS made no seat gains despite a 6% vote increase.

The 100 senators are elected by first-past-the-post. Opposition parties co-operated in selecting just one candidate per seat (hint hint UK Labour and Lib Dems and Canadian left). PiS won just 48 senators (down 13), losing their Senate majority with no seats for the far-right.

This is PiS’ second successive lower house majority. PiS is popular because Poland is socially conservative. A poll had a legal option for same-sex partnerships opposed by 65% to 35% excluding undecided.

Election updates: Canada and the US

For the October 21 Canadian election, a surge for the Quebec Bloc and the NDP has cost the Liberals their seat advantage over the Conservatives. According to the CBC Poll Tracker, the Conservatives lead the Liberals by 32.4% to 31.8%, with the NDP at 16.7%, the Greens 9.4% and the Bloc 6.5%. Seat expectations are Liberals 137 of 338, Conservatives 135, Bloc 33, NDP 28 and Greens four. Two weeks ago, seat expectations were 162 Liberals, 139 Conservatives, 16 NDP, 16 Bloc and four Greens.

My October 10 Conversation article discussed Trump’s approval ratings, impeachment polling, the good US jobs reports and Democratic polls showing a surge for Elizabeth Warren. Trump could still be re-elected in November 2020 owing to the good economy.

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.

103 comments on “Brexit, Poland and elsewhere”

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  1. OK. I blinked.

    Jean-Claude Juncker: Where there is a will, there is a #deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that #EUCO endorses this deal.

    I wonder what it says about the Irish borders. And is it that the EU gets to endorse this on Friday and then the UK on Saturday?

  2. Michel Barnier has said the deal rests on 4 elements.

    Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of EU rules, notably related to goods;

    Northern Ireland will remain in the UK’s customs territory but will “remain an entry point” into the EU’s single market;

    an agreement to maintain the integrity of the single market and satisfy the UK’s legitimate wishes over VAT;

    Northern Ireland representatives will be able to decide “by simple majority” whether to continue applying union rules in Northern Ireland or not, every four years.

    The first seems to imply a “soft” border down the Irish Sea. (NI alone will use EU rules.)
    The second seems to imply another “soft” border between NI and RoI. (NI will be an entry point into the EU.)
    I don’t understand the third point, about integrity.
    And presumably DUP et al. are the NI representatives who get to chose whether or not to continue with the EU rules. From an EU perspective, that bit surprises me, but perhaps it puts the responsibility for the border where it should be, with the Irish.

    There was speculation on PB months ago that the most sensible outcome was to allow leakage at the border, basically to pretend there’s a border but to ignore it. Does this achieve that?

  3. As I end my day the Brexit status seems to be:
    * Johnson loves ‘his’ deal.
    * Rees-“something” is ecstatic with it.
    * Juncker is happy with it.
    * Varadkar is happy with it.
    * Some Labour MPs like it.
    * Sturgeon doesn’t like it.
    * Foster hates it.
    * Farage hates it.
    * Corbyn hates it.

    I’ve probably missed it but presumably the ERG were waiting for the DUP to go first and I’ll find out in the morning.

    I see the usual accusations of surrender-traitors, this time because apparently that’s what you call a UK parliament that discusses and decides. It’s like a football crowd. And I see reports that Junker is ruling out an extension. “We have a deal. No extension needed.” I imagine he will change his mind if/when the UK parliament rejects the deal.

  4. ERG/Spartans look like they’ll support it. This seems to have been Number 10’s tactic all along – to get the Spartans on board at the expense of DUP. Poor DUP – they spent so much effort wanting to appear reasonable to Johnson, then he just throws them under the bus anyway. Problem of course is now Johnson’s only hope is getting a handful of labour votes. I have no idea if he’ll get this – I certainly don’t put it past some labour members agreeing with the deal and supporting it on principle. But then they have to ‘wear’ the inevitable traitor tag, and being forever branded as the members who are solely responsible for what will likely be seen as a millstone around Britain’s neck for years to come. In addition, they’ll also most likely be handing the election to Boris.

    Weighing all that up – will they be prepared to make such a sacrifice? And keep in mind these would need to be labour people further to the ‘hard brexit’ spectrum- not the typical Blairites who might see this as a great opportunity to backstab Corbyn (again). Those sorts would presumably be appalled at this deal.

    I look forward to a couple of days of excruciating scrutiny amongst labour ranks by the media and social media to see who might jump for Boris.

  5. If Labour and the LibDems won’t vote for it then the deal won’t get through Parliament.

    Boris Can then write asking for an extension and it’s up to the EU to decide if one should be granted.

  6. It is pretty clear now that a handful of labour MPs will vote for it. One random twitter figure has it at 11 so far. I have no idea if this is right – but I have no doubt that some will vote for it – even if it means losing the whip.

    So the question is is it enough? He’ll need a lot more than the 21 labour members who signed a letter calling for a deal. Apparently the Spartans/ERG (are they the same?) are not united behind supporting it. Rees-Mogg is now saying it will be a conscience vote – which acknowledges divisions. Of course they may end up all uniting behind it still.

    I don’t know about the Tory rebels – but would be safe to assume the vast majority at least will support it. Would probably also need the 4 independents who voted for May’s deal.

    In short, Boris needs everything to go his way during the vote, which is a big ask – but not impossible by any means.

  7. Bucephalus:

    1. If every single labour and LibDem member vote against, then yes it will be defeated. This almost certainly won’t happen though.

    2. I think the EU will grant an extension if its requested – as they don’t want to be responsible for no-deal brexit.

  8. So what are the numbers?

    CON 288, Labour 245, SNP 35, Indies 35, LibDem 19, DUP 10, Sinn Fein 7, Ind Group Change 5, Plaid Cymru 4, Green 1, Speaker 1
    TOTAL 650 (Mid Point 325)

    * Sin Fein won’t vote => majority is 322
    * Indies split half for and half against ???
    * Plaid Cymru half each way ???
    * Against: Labour, SNP, LibDem, DUP, IGC, Green
    * If it is close Labour should close ranks

    Likely Against
    Labour (245) + SNP (35) + LibDem (19) + DUP (10) + Indies(17) + IGC(5) + Plaid Cymru (2) + Green(1) = 333

    Johnson has to keep his MPs united, convince a handful of Labour MPs and the expelled Tories. Can he do it?

  9. The mood in Britain might be driving it. Maybe it always did.

    Guardian Pick

    I think finally reached the bottom. I actually found myself quite relieved when I heard that they had agreed a deal. A deal that I didn’t vote for, a deal that no-one in their right mind would ever have voted for regardless of how they initially voted. Is this how torture works? They just keep going until you finally break and a really shit outcome seems better than prolonging the pain.

    If the MPs are plugged in to their electorates Johnson might get his deal.

    Interesting thing is that I’ve been watching Brexit now for a year and a half learning about the UK and EU, and my mood is “please, let it continue.” That’s the difference I suppose with having skin in the game and merely watching through a telescope.

  10. The thing is, the pain of prolongation some Brits feel now is purely psychological. It doesnt actually impact their lives in any tangible way. This is because while the dithering continues, Britain’s economic situation remains exactly the same, ie continue to receive the benefits of being in the EU.

    This all changes of course once the plug is pulled.

  11. Don’t know how true this is but I have read a suggestion that both France and Hungary have both said that if this deal is rejected, they would not support a Brexit extension. Of course, this could just be bluffing on their part, their way of saying to the UK Parliament that they are choosing between this deal and no deal.

  12. 3 out of 4 constituent nations in the United Kingdom get more or less what they voted for:

    England voted to Brexit, it gets to leave the EU
    Wales voted to Brexit, it gets to leave the EU
    NI voted to remain in EU, it gets to stay in common market and gets the right to decide when or not to leave (when it gets its Assembly back)
    Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but it has to leave and is not allowed to have any say in its future relationship with the EU!!

  13. This deal is all about removing the requirement under the Benn Act to apply for an extension by getting the required resolution for a deal (since there would be no resolution for no deal). The legislation required to actually get the deal through has only a fortnight (including only about 8 sitting days) to get through and requires the Government to actually put it up. Be prepared for a No Deal Brexit, as that is is what this deal passing (if it does so before the extension is fully approved) increases the chances of. If the motion for this deal passes Parliament, the only ways to stop a No Deal Brexit would be to revoke Article 50 or depose and replace the Johnson Government (which means either the LibDems or Corbyn and Co massively backing down on who gets to be PM) and seek an extension (and if the EU knocks the extension back, something being scammed by Johnson may change EU opinion, it is only revoking Article 50 that stops a No Deal Brexit).

  14. A tweet from Nicola Sturgeon

    Hope I’m wrong but I have a real suspicion that Labour would be quite happy to see this deal go through. They will officially oppose but give nod to ‘rebels’ to ensure numbers there to pass. It will be the end of them in Scotland if they do end up facilitating Brexit.
    Quote Tweet

    Nick Eardley
    · 9h
    Understand Labour MPs will not lose whip if they back PM’s deal on Saturday

  15. It all hangs on Boris convincing about 20-25 expelled Tory and Labour mps to vote in favour whilst losing no spartans.

    I think its going to be incredibly tight one way or the other.

    If lineball i wonder if parliament might try to insert a confirmatory referendum amendment before the main vote… If it fails then its a pretty strong indicator that the deal will pass?

    If it passes without amendment and BoJo somehow contrives it to purely circumvent Benn and exit no deal… In any other era id say that was incredulously impossible to contemplate, but in this case who the #### knows?

    There would have to be a no-conf compromise and an extension requested sometime next week – surely?

    If no deal happens this way, there would you’d think be some electoral blowback for such an act of govt treachery? But the deed is done.

    If it passes on merit with intention to enact then are the opponents/remainers done in terms of any avenue to block? I would think its over.

    If it goes down then does BoJo request the extension as legally promised? Can parliament seize agenda and pass some referendumy thing so that EU has to grant the extension

    Might Labor alternatively offer a revote with an extension req attached to referendum and pass it through then?

    Its going to be wild wild wild. Massive stakes.

    My bet is that the former tories vote for the deal and its a question of how many Labor vs Spartan defections that settle it.

  16. Tom the first and best @ #64 Friday, October 18th, 2019 – 5:11 pm

    Gibraltar, which is part of the UK`s EU membership, voted over 96% remain (unlike Scotland`s about 3 eighths Leave vote) and is being taken out of the EU (with Spain able to veto re-entry).

    Hmm. I hadn’t thought about the Rock. Time for the Internet…

    Gibraltar is … a British Overseas Territory that lies at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, on the southwestern side of Europe. … area of about 2.6 square miles and a population of more than 30,000 people. … Gibraltar is the only British territory that has membership in the European Union.
    8 months old but…

    Although Northern Ireland has assumed a more prominent role in the Brexit negotiations than Gibraltar, there are striking parallels between the two. Picardo’s commitment to remaining wholly part of the U.K. has its counterpart in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)

    I’m not sure what to make of the first bit, that Gibraltar has a separate membership in the EU. Seems odd. (Wikipedia has more.) But the parallel with Ireland is easier. Spain threw them a “lifeline”. They turned it down. They want to be in the UK more than they want to be in the EU.

    It’s another rabbit hole and I may return to it, but it not surprisingly the relations between England and Spain dominate. I’ll note the outrage when the EU decided that “Gibraltar is a colony of the British Crown”.


    Financial Times have crunched the numbers and come up with 318 for and 321 against.

    If true, Boris needs only convince 2 members to change their vote.

    I don’t know, but I just have a feeling in my gut that this will get through – based on a “lets just get it over with – no matter how crappy the deal is” vibe.

    Also, DUP are now actively lobbying eurosceptics in the tory party to vote no. I suspect they are pretty much all won over though.

  18. Big A Adrian @ #68 Friday, October 18th, 2019 – 7:07 pm

    Financial Times have crunched the numbers and come up with 318 for and 321 against.

    If true, Boris needs only convince 2 members to change their vote.

    That’s 639 out of 650. I don’t subscribe to FT. Do they break it down? Who are the 11 they didn’t include?
    Sinn Fein (7) + Speaker (1) + 3 of the Independents? Who might be in Johnson’s sights?

    I don’t know, but I just have a feeling in my gut that this will get through – based on a “lets just get it over with – no matter how crappy the deal is” vibe.

    If I read various BTL stuff and twitter there is a solid mood to “Fuck it. Just end it.” Johnson has fatigued them.

    Also, DUP are now actively lobbying eurosceptics in the tory party to vote no. I suspect they are pretty much all won over though.

    Too late? Should they be lobbying elsewhere? Love to read the FT breakdown on this too. 😉

  19. There’s a lull, so I’m looking at Brexit sentiments. The language in this tweet from Leave.EU is appalling, using words like enemies, plotting, losers, and crush, and images of subversion, weakness, and desperation. This is mob mentality. You have to wonder who actually is the desperate one. Just nuts.

    The enemies of Brexit are hoping and praying that Boris’s deal doesn’t pass. With Speaker Bercow in their pocket, they’ll refuse an election and continue plotting to keep us in the EU. We can end the Losers’ Vote campaign in a single day – pass the deal and crush their plots!

  20. wouldn’t it be funny if Sinn Fein decided to come along and vote (though I’m not really sure which way they would vote!)


    The hardline Eurosceptic Tories being won over is a sign that it is likely a scheme to remove the Benn Act as an obstacle to No Deal, then have a No Deal Brexit. Unless they are telling the hardline Eurosceptic Tories that it is a ruse but double crossing them (rather than the EU and majority in the Commons), a deal the genuinely support would be hard to convince the hardliners.

  22. Tom the first and best @ #75 Friday, October 18th, 2019 – 11:18 pm

    The hardline Eurosceptic Tories being won over is a sign that it is likely a scheme to remove the Benn Act as an obstacle to No Deal, then have a No Deal Brexit. Unless they are telling the hardline Eurosceptic Tories that it is a ruse but double crossing them (rather than the EU and majority in the Commons), a deal the genuinely support would be hard to convince the hardliners.

    Really sorry. Trying to parse. Let me know, please, if I got it.

    * Johnson truly wants a No Deal.
    * Johnson knows how to get a No Deal Brexit but only if there is no extension.
    * Johnson wants to avoid his letter to the EU to avoid an extension, but needs parliament to approve the Johnson-Deal to do this.

    * Johnson has fooled the hardliners (Spartans?) into believing the previous scenario, but
    * Johnson actually wants his deal.

    Either way, “remain” is not an outcome.

    (Where is Occam’s razor when you need it?)

    EDIT: clearer language

  23. Tom F&B

    You may be on to something.

    Brexit: Johnson urged to win over ERG by confirming no deal still possible – live news

    The Tory Brexiter John Baron told the BBC this morning that ministers such as Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, have told him that, if the trade talks with the EU do not produce a deal by the end of next year, the UK would leave the transition and trade with the EU on no-deal (ie, WTO) terms.

    the People’s Vote campaign says Baron’s comment show that the government is not sincere about wanting a trade deal and that is is preparing for a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year.

    BREAKING: John Baron reveals the NO DEAL promise from Michael Gove & Dominic Raab that is making #Brexit extremists vote for this fake deal. They have no intention of signing up to a free trade deal before 2020. They want the UK to crash out out with No Deal.

    This points to your first scenario: No Deal Brexit.

    Question though. Why would Johnson not involve the DUP in this? It would make the vote certain. Or maybe Johnson did and the parties have now switched to signalling their supporters.

  24. Ok so the Letwin amendment looking like the crucial vote tomorrow

    [from the Guardian:]

    “The amendment would remove almost all the government motion (which says the Commons has approved the Brexit deal) and says the Commons is withholding approval of the deal until the legislation implementing it has been passed.”

    I like it!

    Fills the Benn Act no deal loophole. Decent chance of it passing on the same numbers as the Benn Act itself plus now the DUP.

    Extension + election to follow, but one where i suspect Boris wins a majority and its all for nothing anyway…. the hope funnily enough is that the Brexit party who hate this deal siphon Tory votes in key swing seats.

    If it gets to a vote, i also cant help but feel that deal approval will squeak over the line.

  25. Aaaargh maybe i overestimate this amendment… it mandates an extension but the implementing legislation can still be passed next week which renders it needless. I think. All typically confusing really.

    This deal getting up and then paving the way for a no deal at the end of 2020 is the more tenable strategy, it appears.

    Seems that at the end of next year, its key that BoJo does not have a bulletproof post-election majority somehow.

    Sounds like at least 10 Labor mps will join most of the expelled tories to get this deal over the line nxt week even if the Letwin amendment passes? Optics of BoJo having to ask for an extension prior to deal approval the ff week – meaningless once its done.

    Im resigned now. Johnson wins any which way i suspect. No justice in this world

  26. Letwin amendment requires Boris to ask for extension to Jan 31 as required under the Benn Act.

    If legislation passes in next two weeks, then he could cut the extension. But legislation also needs to pass the European parliament before a deal is finalised.

  27. Polls today have a boost for the Tories from Boris’ deal. Question is whether Labour can successfully attack it during an election campaign.

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK, Survation poll:

    CON-ECR: 32% (+5)
    LAB-S&D: 24%
    LDEM-RE: 21% (-1)
    BREXIT-NI: 13% (-3)

    +/- vs. 25 Sep

    Fieldwork: 17-18 October 2019
    Sample size: 1,025

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK, ComRes poll:

    CON-ECR: 33%
    LAB-S&D: 29% (+2)
    LDEM-RE: 18%
    BREXIT-NI: 12%
    GREENS-G/EFA: 4%

    ± vs. 4-6 Oct

    Fieldwork: 16-17 October 2019
    Sample size: N/A

    Europe Elects @EuropeElects
    UK, Panelbase poll:

    CON-ECR: 36% (+3)
    LAB-S&D: 27% (-3)
    LDEM-RE: 17%
    BREXIT-NI: 11% (-1)
    GREENS-G/EFA: 3%

    +/- vs. 9-11 October 2019

    Fieldwork: 17-18 October 2019
    Sample size: N/A

  28. Brexit feels different today than it did back in March. Even though just about everyone is saying that May’s deal was better for the UK than Johnson’s deal, they are also saying it is Johnson’s deal that is getting support, and that there is a very good chance the UK parliament will approve it. Moreover Johnson’s deal apparently allows for a No Deal Brexit at the end of the transition period on Dec 31 2020, and people know this. For better or worse, depending on your politics, Brexit is ending.

    For the wrong reason, I hope I’m wrong.

    When I started watching Brexit unfold it was with a sense of schadenfreude, but my sentiments changed as the intrigue flowered(?) and I was pulled in. I started to feel for the people involved, on both sides of the debate. And now Brexit is an old friend and I will mourn its passing. It’s selfish. That’s why I hope I’m wrong.

  29. Im still trying to figure out whether or not passing the Letwin ammendment would be a win for remainers. Suspect it would, even though Letwin himself is a brexiter whp supports Boris’ deal…

  30. Lately I have become convinced that General Election will come very soon. In such a general election, the Labour Party are going to be clobbered.

    Because a large segment of young people, who voted for Labour in 2017, have said won’t be voting for Labour, if they seen as enabling Brexit. Honestly I can see a combined vote for both the Liberal Democrats, along with the Green Party of English and Wales being maybe as high as 30%, which is the result which was achieved by both parties combined during the recent European Parliament elections.

  31. Tristo,

    a transfer of seats from Labor to Lib Dems would be acceptable, but what is more likely to happen is that the Tories come up the middle as the opposition vote splits between Lib Dems and Labor in a huge swathe of seats, the bulk of which are remain-voting Labor seats. FPTP is a joke.

    If we go to an election with BoJo’s brexit done and dusted, then i’m not so sure there will be that much fracturing of the Labor vote to the Lib Dems… honestly, in that scenario, i’m not sure what the Lib Dem raison d’etre continues to be? If anything, the Brexit party could take the “this deal is bs” line and fracture off some of the Tory vote in some marginal seats.

    As someone who regards Corbyn as a disaster, Labor losing seats is an acceptable outcome – as long as it isnt the Tories who win them!!

  32. Brexit is in the air…that’s my excuse for revisiting some old quotes on the subject. I came across these by Francois Hollande on the subject of Brexit.
    * “There must be a price to pay.”
    * “Unity was very important.”
    * “We have a saying in France, divide and conquer.”

    “There must be a price to pay.”
    This is an interesting point. Does the Brexit deal Johnson has agreed to (and the UK parliament is still “examining”) set out the price, or is that still to come? Someone noted that FTAs take years to negotiate. The UK needs to trade. The EU is their nearest trading partner. After Brexit their negotiations are only beginning. I suspect the UK is going to be in the cold for a long time dealing with Brexit. (The corollary is that the only real way to end Brexit is to cancel it.)

    “Unity was very important.”
    I think he probably meant the remaining 27 members of the EU. They must not be split, and were not split, during Brexit negotiations. This is a key principle, maybe THE key principle, of the EU. I don’t know if the UK even now has grasped that.

    “We have a saying in France, divide and conquer.”
    I puzzled over this. It is obviously a warning to the EU27 to stay united, but I wonder if there is a second message aimed at a United Kingdom; a kingdom might be divided by Brexit. Johnson’s Brexit will separate NI from the rest of the UK. Scotland is getting restless.

  33. Will Boris use this parliamentary loss as an excuse to crash out without a deal? All his previous behaviour points towards this type of reckless pursuit of his destiny?


    Johnson chose his words carefully saying: “I will not negotiate a delay with the EU, and neither does the law compel me to do so.”

    A government source reinforced the message, saying that “the PM will not negotiate for an extension – he will tell EU leaders this weekend that there should be no delays”. The source suggested that Johnson would palm off responsibility for the letter to parliament and ask the EU to “reject parliament’s letter”.

    Hmm. Is he right, in the legal sense?

    Johnson sent three letters: an unsigned photocopy of the request he was obliged to send under the Benn act, an explanatory letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU and a letter explaining why Downing Street did not want an extension.

    So basically, “You can’t make me!… SIGH… Ok then. I’m sorry. (She made me say it. And anyway I had my fingers crossed.)”

    EDIT: fixed quote marks


    The Commons voted on Saturday that it would not approve the Brexit deal until all related legislation was passed.

    I don’t understand the mechanisms in play. This would mean that the UK parliament has to pass legislation to implement the WA before accepting the WA. I can see how legislation might be independent of an agreement with a foreign state, but what happens to the legislation if, by some chance, the WA isn’t accepted? I’m confused. (Nothing new.)

  36. LR, yes I was confused as well. But my interpretation is this:

    By default, the UK is due to drop out of the EU on October 31 in accordance with their invocation of article 50 in 2017. An exit date was agreed, originally March 2019 I think, but has of course been extended a couple of times – to the current October 31.

    Most people – and probably most brexiters – agree that it is better to exit with a deal between the UK and the EU, which essentially sets up the future trade and movement arrangements between the borders – which will now be from inside to outside the EU. Britain will now be out of the single market, and therefore new trade, custom and immigration arrangements are needed between the borders. Johnson’s deal is basically identical to May’s deal on most matters like rights of EU citizens living in Britain, the ‘exit fee’ and the transition period. The sticking point as well know is on the one land border between the EU and UK.

    And so with this part of the Boris deal, the two sides have made an agreement about specific arrangements on that border in terms of customs and tarrifs on goods moving in and out of the EU (between Ireland and Northern Island). What is this for? Essentially this is to set up trade arrangements for a future UK-EU relationship, which of course will be two separate markets. This will require the UK to set up specific bits of infrastructure in NI, and of course make certain changes to British law – in order to make NI into the ‘special status’ customs territory it is proposed to be under the deal. Then, after the exit from the single market is complete, and once the NI customs arrangements are put in place – along with all the other elements of the deal – the EU will then start negotiating a free trade deal with the UK based on the new arrangements that Britain has set up.

    What does this all mean? In essense, all the ‘deal’ is, is the UK, or Boris, giving assurances to the EU that future trade relations between the two markets will be based on these customs arrangements Britain will set up in British territory. The UK pledges to set all this up, and the EU pledges to abide by the new customs/regulatory and tarrif regime when moving goods into the UK market. Ultimately, it is a template for a future free trade agreement. But actually it doesn’t really compel the UK to do anything for the EU – the ‘deal’ is merely the two agreeing that if these customs arrangements exist between their two markets, they are both happy to do trade with each other within this arrangement. The point is, the EU don’t need this ‘deal’ before the UK can exit – they are exiting anyway by default – as soon as article 50 was invoked. Basically they are saying “you are leaving – but you might want to make some arrangements with us before so we can still have a relationship and trade after you leave. Or not – its entirely up to you”. And thats what this is – all up to Britain – and that includes the ‘deal’. Its entirely up to Britain whether or not they want to actually implement the deal – all the EU is saying is *IF* you set it up this way, it works for us.

    So thats where the EU fits in with the deal. The other side is domestic – and in this case, Boris has to get it passed in parliament if he ever wants to implement the deal. This is because it involves changes to British domestic law. However before the Letwin ammendment, Boris was merely going to put forward a motion that essentially said ‘we have a deal, you all know the essense of the deal, we will therefore exit the EU on the basis of this deal’. But here’s the kicker: the only legal implication of this bill would be to remove the need for the Benn Act – which requries seeking an extension. Had it passed, the Benn Act would be nullified, no extension would be requested, and the UK would simply exit the EU on October 31 – as scheduled. So I think by this stage you can see whats happening: Britain would be officially out of the EU come October 31 – before any British legislation had been passed – or even tabled – to implement any of the customs arrangements stipulated in the deal. Britain would in fact be in a default hard brexit position – and would require active work by parliamentarians to table legislation, debate it, and then pass it – before the UK can even begin to move from a no-deal ‘hard’ brexit reality to one that resembles the customs reality stipulated by Boris’s deal. Of course it is easy to see how easy this could all be derailed – as all the ‘hard brexiters’ need to do is ensure the status-quo is maintained. And if its a hung parliament, it would be even easier for them.

    So this is what Letwin wants to avoid – a situation where come October 31, the ‘withdrawal agreement’ is just that – an agreement, that has no legal status whatsoever – and potentially very easy to remain like that. Britain would be in ‘hard brexit’ forever. So his ammendment was to say before we agree to pass the WE (which in practical terms is merely removing the legal requirement for an extension), we first want to put in the required legislation that makes the implementation of the deal legally binding (customs and tax laws for the NI border, a commitment to set up any required infrastructure etc).

    The thing is though, passing all this legislation – including tabling and debating and ammending – must be hugely complex, and I can’t imagine it would take less than some months to do. Who knows when Boris’s deal could get passed even in the best case for him. And then you would have to assume there will be a hell of a lot of scrutinising and second-thoughts from previous backers that will come put of this – once the actual details of the deal come out (something that Number 10 was at pains to keep as concealed as possible).

  37. Big A, phew. Long post. Thank you. I “think” I can see the logic.
    * Pass various legislation to implement what is in the WA.
    * Then agree to the WA as you might put a ribbon on a parcel. (Agreeing to the WA becomes symbolic.)
    It raises another question; what does the EU have to legislate to implement the WA on their side, and by when?

  38. Big A, echo thanks for that interpretation.

    There is no way that enabling legislation can be passed in the next 10 days, one would think. Therefore the extension must be requested and hopefully granted?

    Even if Boris has not signed it and added some other letter, isnt it simply the case that the EU can act on the basis that it considers the extension requested? Taking Boris to court and whatnot might be a political spectacle, but i cant imagine the EU saying “um we have received no request”?

    Agree if EU says no, then this action ushers in No Deal. Being frustrated enough to agree to shoot one toe off when one doesnt have to does not strike me as a sensible strategy, despite what ever rhetoric Makron and Junker have peddled. They surely have to grant an extension?

    Cant tell if 31 Jan was officially requested or if they can grant whatever extension they want…

    Either way, looks like Boris can choose to write up the enabling legislation and take his chances in this parliament (currently would probably sneak over the line by a few votes, but a lot can change) – or just go for an election to win a majority and either pass his deal or repeal Benn/Letwin.

    An election with this deal as the focus will lose the Tories 10 seats in Scotland and bring the Brexit party into the picture a bit in leave seats. In remain seats, unless they have a suicide wish, Corbyn and Swinson have to agree to not compete with each other… Lib Dems should not run in Labor remain seats, and Labor should sit out in all Tory remain seats where the LDs are the #2.

    It makes sense in this parliament to have a go at a 2nd referendum bill, this time the DUP could support it, some Tory mps might also and most of the ex-tories could. Labor should really think hard about this. Its more likely that with Corbyn at the helm, and the antipathy between Corbyn and Swinson, that they compete with each other across the board + fracture the vote 20% each and the Tories win a swag of seats with 35% on FPTP.

    If Starmer were leading Labor, i think a very different result could ensue.

    Tories bringing this WA voteon Monday should be disallowed by Bercow, as it is just as pointless to do it then as it was on Saturday because of the Letwin amendment?

    Also lets remember that the Commons votes for a new speaker on Nov 1… again the opposition has to unite around a candidate or else the Tory candidate will win as i assume its a FPTP process as well?

  39. “Big A, phew. Long post”

    Yes apologies, you know how it goes – start out with what you think is a relatively simple point, and end up writing a novel :p

    If I could put it more succintly, its that:
    a) the only point of Boris’s original motion or act or whatever it was yesterday, was to release his obligations under the Benn Act (to ask for an extension) – as the Act states that if an agreement is passed by parliament, the extension is not required.

    b) if the, lets call it ‘The Boris Bill’, was passed yesterday, new legislation would have to be tabled, debated, ammended etc to implement the details of the deal – which parliament would have no legal obligation to actually do – thus making no deal/hard brexit the default status. The Letwin ammendment stipulates that those pieces of new legislation would have to be in place as a legal prerequisite for the WE to pass.

  40. So if you look at it more cynically, the whole point of Boris recalling parliament on a Saturday to pass the WE, was not with any view to getting his deal in motion, but rather to remove all legal obstacles to an October 31 brexit – and he frankly doesn’t care if that happens with or without a deal – just as long as it happens.

    And from that perspective, the distrust in Boris to be bothered to make any progress towards implementing the deal – a distrust that embodied the Letwin ammendment – was very well justified

  41. The request is until Jan 31. The EU can give a shorter or longer extension. If that happens, either Boris accepts, or he refers it to the Commons.

    Opinium has the Tory lead down from 15 pts to 13 since last fortnight. Next Brexit article by tomorrow.

    Britain Elects @britainelects
    Westminster voting intention:

    CON: 37% (-1)
    LAB: 24% (+1)
    LDEM: 16% (+1)
    BREX: 12% (-)
    GRN: 4% (-)

    via @OpiniumResearch, 15 – 17 Oct
    Chgs. w/ 04 Oct

  42. So the amendment got up in a close vote. Had the DUP voted against the amendment, it would have been defeated by a vote of 316-312, so the DUP’s votes were cruicial in getting the amendment up.

    Interesting assessment Big A Adrian; and makes a lot of sense. I do wonder whether the DUP, who have been strong supporters of Brexit and who frankly would not be unhappy with no deal, considered the possibility that voting down the amendment could have still lead to no deal? I guess even if they did consider this, it was too big a risk for them. There is red hot anger in Northern Ireland Unionism about the deal Boris Johnson has done, and a lot of chatter that this anger could very quickly spiral out of control, so much so that the DUP probably had to make the call that they couldn’t be seen to take any action that made them appear the least bit on board.

    So where to now? If the EU grants a three month extension, I suspect there’ll probably be an election before this advances any further. In that scenario, the Conservatives appear in a strong position, but watch the Brexit Party. They are already positioning themselves to campaign on a platform of this deal not being Brexit, and of course they’ll have a great time campaigning that Boris Johnson did not deliver his promise to leave on October 31.

  43. The enabling legislation could conceivably take months. And i love the governments reaction to their defeat ‘we’ll just bring it back for another vote on monday’ lol

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