Brexit Update: Bluff, Blame and Contingency

I’ve been pointing out for months to anyone who asked or cared to listen, that it would not be until the European Parliaments first session in March (this coming week) that Theresa May would face the decisive votes on her unloved Brexit deal. And so it has turned out.

While I am writing this update different pundits espouse different views of the likely outcome in the House of Commons. Again, as I have said before, nobody truly knows how this will end and anyone who tells you they do is lying. Im certainly not going to make any predictions most of the time thats a very good way to look very silly very quickly and especially right now.

It is now nearly six weeks since essentially the same deal, consisting of a precise 500+ page Withdrawal Agreement governing the immediate matters of the UKs intended exit and a vague 20-odd page Political Declaration, was voted down at Westminster by a record 230 vote majority. In that time very little has happened to merit writing an update. Theresa May immediately said she would not play for time then proceeded to play for nothing else. When she said her cricket hero was Geoffrey Boycott she gave away more than she imagined simply occupying the crease will do and playing for yourself rather than the team is the style, survival is everything and dont think twice about running out your partner.


Meanwhile the game of attempting to scare people at the prospect of a no dealexit has continued in the hope it will be more successful than it was in December or January. Of course the consequences of a no deal exit are entirely scary, as everyone from the National FarmersUnion through BMW to the NHS Confederation have pointed out. Or rather no dealwould be scary if it was anything other than a bluff its only purpose is to scare people into voting for any old bad deal. Those within the Conservative Party who have retained any sense of rationality understand all too well that a party which allowed a no deal exit to happen would almost certainly not be forgiven for doing so.

There also seems to have been some kind of realisation within the Labour leadership that to be seen to support Brexit in any form will cause significant and lasting damage to Labour’s support - not least because of the damage to jobs and livelihoods that any kind of Brexit will cause. The overwhelming evidence that the great majority of Labour supporters, including those in much quoted ‘Leave voting seats in the North’ would prefer the opportunity to think again has also hastened the shift toward through the logic of the policy agreed by last Autumn’s Party Conference.


So on both sides of the aisle of Westminster the knowledge that ‘no deal’ is a catastrophe and that any realisable deal either takes Britain off of the EU Customs Union and Single Market and inflicts economic damage or maintains a close relationship with both but relinquishes any say over either is now much more widely understood. Fundermentally, this is why there is no such thing as a good Brexit and why the preoccupation of Westminster politicians is in avoiding the blame. The Conservatives want to blame the EU - their default campaign manual position of the last 30 years, Labour wants to blame the Conservatives but the real problem of what sort of future the country faces still remains. The fact staring our politicians in the face is the best deal Britain could possibly have is the one it already has - the big influence of a big country, outside the Eurozone and the Schengen travel area, so with control of monetary and border policy yet with unlimited access to the single market, employment and civil rights protection and the big vote of a big country with big influence. The alternative, should 29th March turn sour, is the same status of Uzbeckistan.


This week (11-14 March) the European Parliament will approve a raft of legislation that everyone hopes will never be used. Even though the threat of a ‘no deal’ exit is understood by many as a bluff, the EU nonetheless is preparing for the worst.

The dire consequences of ‘no deal’; planes unable to fly, trains unable to run, lorries stuck in service areas and students thrown out of courses to name but a few, would be consequences of the UK leaving with no deal and thus no transition period under existing EU law. To make sure life, trade, travel, fishing and funding can continue for 2019 at least the Parliament plenary will approve emergency laws that will roll out in the event of ‘no deal’. I was rapporteur on one such set of rules concerning transport to and in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Of course it is to be expected that extreme Brexiteers would use this reality to say, “you see, we told you none of these things would happen” and while some might say letting people see the consequences in their full awfulness would be ‘fair enough’, responsible politicians cannot take such an approach. In any case, the EU must act to minimise the impact on its own citizens and businesses. Nonetheless, the harsh reality of customs checks and the resulting delays at the Channel ports will still hit the UK hard. NHS hospitals in Kent are making provision for clinical staff to stay on site because of anticipate travel disruption.


The deadlock at Westminster has produced much talk of an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period and/or a delay in the UK’s exit. What happens and why depends on the outcome of the votes at Westminster.

Any extension is a matter for the Member States and unanimity is required. Were Mrs May’s deal to be approved at Westminster then an extension of up to three months would be granted without question to allow ‘technicalities’ to be smoothly dealt with. In no deal is approved, however, the EU27 might justifiably ask why and to what end? It cannot just be to ask the same questions. Here, once again, nobody really knows how this will end - though at least three months is likely to be granted as it is in the EU27’s interests even if the result is another cliff edge at the beginning of July.

Longer extensions produce all sorts of complications. While nobody in the EU27 particularly wants the UK to leave there are many who now believe the process continuing is corrosive for the EU and would wish to get the worst over with - that said the only party threatening to shoot itself in the head if it doesn’t get its own way is the UK Government.

To be continued ...