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’s 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.

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’s 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.

Brexit minus three weeks (maybe)

A preview of key Brexit votes in the House of Commons from March 12-14, on a second referendum, Theresa May’s deal, a no-deal, and a Brexit extension. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On March 12, Theresa May will attempt to get her deal approved by the Commons for the first time since the crushing 432 to 202 defeat on January 15.  An amendment, now officially supported by Labour, would allow May’s deal to pass, conditional on a second referendum occurring with Remain and May’s deal as the options.  Although a second referendum is passionately supported by many MPs who want to Remain, the amendment is likely to lose by a substantial margin.  As commentator Stephen Bush wrote in the I, there are too many Labour MPs who will oppose a second referendum even with official Labour support.  Some Conservative MPs who favour a soft Brexit also oppose a second referendum.

The vote on May’s deal is likely to fail by a substantial margin, though not as badly as the first defeat.  The Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) had demanded changes to limit the contentious Northern Ireland “backstop” to secure their support.  However, negotiations between the European Union and UK appear to have broken down.  With no amendment to the backstop, May is likely to lose most of the 118 Conservative MPs who voted against the original deal, and the ten DUP MPs.  Only three Labour MPs backed May’s deal in January; more are expected to support the deal this time, but not enough to affect the result.

If May’s deal fails, the Commons will vote on whether Britain should leave without a deal on March 13.  Even if the Conservatives whip in favour of no-deal, this is very likely to be defeated.  If the Conservatives allow a free vote for their MPs, it will be interesting to see how many vote in favour of a no-deal Brexit.

If May’s deal and no-deal both fail, a vote on extending Brexit beyond the March 29 exit date will be held on March 14.  Given the concern among moderate Conservative MPs that forced May to offer this extension vote last week, this vote is likely to pass, even if the Conservatives whip against.

But even if the Commons approves a Brexit delay, it must also be approved unanimously by the 27 EU nations – and last week France and Spain said they would only approve an extension with conditions.  May would only ask for a short extension.  If it were granted, June 30 would be the new deadline for the Commons to pass a deal, as European elections will be held in late May.  Without UK participation in those elections, Britain will probably not be able to continue as an EU member after the new EU parliament begins its term on July 1.  A delay to Brexit is likely to result in another cliff edge in late June.

If a no-deal Brexit is to be avoided, one of two things must happen by March 29 or late June.  Either a large number of Conservative MPs must vote for either Jeremy Corbyn’s favoured customs union or a second referendum, or a large number of Labour MPs must vote for May’s deal.  Labour cannot hope to get its customs union through without Conservative support due to opposition from passionate second referendum advocates.  Large support from one party for the other party’s proposal would likely be damaging for that party.  A no-deal Brexit is likely to damage the Conservatives.  Labour is likely to win politically if there is a no-deal Brexit or a customs union with Conservative support, but lose if May’s deal gets through on Labour support.

Brexit minus one month (or not)

With just over four weeks until the official Brexit date on March 29, Theresa May promises an extension vote on March 14. Plus Labour’s tanking polls.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

On February 18, seven Labour MPs defected to form The Independent Group (TIG). In the next two days, another Labour MP and three Conservative MPs also defected. What unites the TIG MPs is their demand for a second Brexit referendum. In an attempt to prevent more defections, Jeremy Corbyn on February 25 announced that Labour would support a second referendum if Labour’s favoured “customs union” Brexit failed to pass the House of Commons.

In the past, major Conservative rebellions have come from the hard right European Research Group (ERG), who want a hard Brexit. As a result, Theresa May has tried to appease the ERG. But on February 26, faced with a rebellion from more moderate Conservatives who were going to vote for Labour backbencher Yvette Cooper’s amendment to delay Brexit, May promised a Commons vote to extend Brexit on March 14. This vote would be preceded by a vote on May’s revised deal (if any) on March 12, and a vote on whether the UK should exit without a deal on March 13. The first two votes are likely to fail. It is not yet clear how the Conservatives will whip their MPs on these votes.

In House of Commons votes on February 27, a Labour amendment that effectively proposed a customs union was defeated by 323 votes to 240, with abstentions from pro-second referendum parties and MPs. A Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) amendment to rule out a “no deal” Brexit at any time was defeated by 324 votes to 288. Cooper’s amendment to hold May to her promise was voted through with government support, but 20 ERG members voted against.

Even if parliament passes a delay on March 14, it still has to be approved unanimously by the 27 EU nations. Both France and Spain, which has its election on April 28, appear opposed to an extension without signs that a deal can be approved by the Commons.

Continue reading “Brexit minus one month (or not)”

Deal or no deal

It has been observed that discussion of Brexit, a matter kind-of-but-not-exactly within the ambit of this site, is taking up a disruptive amount of space on the main threads. Even if this isn’t truly the case at present, it seems to be that it will be soon enough at the rate things are going. So with that in mind, here is a thread dedicated to discussion of the mother country’s ongoing political crisis.

UK local elections deliver flat result

In the first major electoral test in the UK since Labour stormed back to cost the Conservatives their majority in June 2017, the major parties were tied. Guest post by Adrian Beaumont.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, whose work you may be familiar with from The Conversation. Adrian who will be dropping by from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally.

At the June 2017 UK general election, a dramatic late poll surge to Labour cost the Conservatives their Commons majority. Local government elections held on Thursday were the first major UK election since then. Every May, UK local government elections are held, but particular council wards are usually contested every four years. Thus, the wards up for election last Thursday were last contested in 2014.

This year, all 150 councils that held elections were in England; there were no local elections in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. About 40% of councillors up for election were in London. London’s boroughs held elections for all their seats, while most other councils held elections for one-third of their seats.

The most important result from the local elections is the national projected vote share. This is an estimate of vote share the various parties would have won if local elections were held all over the UK, as in a general election. In 2014, when these seats were last contested, Labour had a projected vote share of 31%, the Conservatives 29%, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) 17% and the Liberal Democrats 13%.

At the May 2017 local elections, the Conservatives thumped Labour 38% to 27% with 18% for the Liberal Democrats. These elections were held before Labour’s surge began. At the June 2017 general election, the Conservatives beat Labour by just 42.4% to 40.0% in popular votes.

This year, the BBC’s projected national vote share gives the Conservatives and Labour 35% each, with 16% for the Liberal Democrats. This represents a 1% two party swing to the Conservatives since 2014, but a 1% swing to Labour from the 2017 general election. Opposition parties have usually performed better in local elections than general elections, so this result is disappointing for Labour.

National polls currently have the Conservatives a few points ahead of Labour, so the local elections are consistent with that polling. The Liberal Democrats, who historically do better at local than general elections, have less than 10% in national polls, but won 16% in the local elections.

Labour won 2,310 councillors (up 59 since 2014), the Conservatives 1,330 (down 31), the Liberal Democrats 536 (up 75) and the Greens 39 (up eight). The biggest loser was UKIP, which won just three councillors (down 123). Most wards contested this year were in Labour-favouring areas.