Brexit 5: Third Time Unlucky

Third time unlucky
Unless you’ve buried your head in sand, you’ll know that Theresa May could not keep the promise that Britain would be leaving the EU on 29th March. Following months and months of negotiations (both with the EU but, increasingly, within the UK itself), sweat, tears and a staggering number of resignations, the UK was supposed to regain control over its laws and borders tonight, opening up to a world of opportunities for the establishment of strong ties with trading partners other than its closest neighbours.

Instead, MPs spent the day in Parliament, being asked to vote on Brexit. Again.

To clarify, this was not your regular “meaningful vote” on May’s deal, rather a vote on a motion that would allow parliament to extend Britain’s leaving date from March 29th to May 22nd – and extension granted by the EU under the condition that the Withdrawal Agreement was approved this week. This vote leaves out the more divisive Political Declaration agreement, which sets out the broad terms of what the future relationship with the EU will look like.

As we have come to expect in past few months, the House of Commons defeated the motion by Theresa May’s government. Losing by 344 votes to 286, a majority of 58, this is the closest of the votes on the government’s deal, from a 230 defeat in the first vote and 149 in the second meaningful vote. Mrs May now has until April 12th to seek a longer extension to avoid a no-deal Brexit on that date. It is thought that she will do so at an emergency European Council summit on 10th April. Extending Article 50 past May 2019 would in theory require the UK to hold elections to the European Parliament. A nightmare scenario for Brexiteers, but one that may create considerable damage to the EU, too.

Still confused on what’s next? Politico has a chart.

Desperate times call for desperate measures
Following months of criticism over her handling of negotiations with the EU, to (unsuccessfully) persuade MPs within her party to vote for her deal, Theresa May announced this week that she would depart if it is accepted, handing over the next phase of delivering Brexit to her successor. Crucially, this entails the definition of what the future relationship with the EU would look like. Because Britain needs one, something we can all agree on.

Until recently, it would have been hard to imagine who would want her difficult (maybe impossible) job. But now that she can be blamed for the failure to lead Britain out of the EU on the agreed date – and following a triple rejection of her deal, suddenly there are plenty of contestants to choose from.

May is prepared to leave her job earlier than intended, triggering a leadership contest, and a replacement could be in place by the summer. The frontrunners? Boris Johnson (now supportive of May’s deal), Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves with predictions, as a general election may be around the corner.

Do MPs know what they want?
Showing little trust in the PM (justified by the repeated rejection of her unpopular deal) MPs have been working to identify a backup plan. On March 25th the House of Commons attempted to strip the Government of its control over the Brexit process after a historic Commons defeat by 27 votes.

Out of the dozens of proposals that were put forward by MPs, the Speaker John Bercow chose eight, which were subsequently all rejected by Parliament this week. Fear not, this round of votes was only indicative, and MPs will be allowed to think again over the weekend, being allowed to vote again on the proposals on Monday next week.

The options on the table?

• No deal
• Common market 2.0 (yes, that thing that ceased to exist in 1993)
• Remaining within the EEA and rejoining EFTA (respectively, the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association, the latter consisting of four European states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland)
• A “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal
• Customs union and alignment with single market
• Revocation of Article 50 to avoid a no deal
• A public vote to confirm any Brexit deal
• Preferential trade arrangements with the EU

Soft Brexit supporters were encouraged that there was almost a majority for a customs union, whilst the most votes were on a ‘People’s Vote’. However, all votes experienced high levels of abstention and with the UK due to leave the EU in two weeks, a majority for any option will require significant political chicanery from all parties.

Put it to the people?
A public vote would certainly please the thousands that marched through London on Saturday 24th March, calling for another Vote. Chancellor Philip Hammond said a second Brexit referendum “deserves to be considered”, while admitting it is still unclear whether there would be a majority in parliament for such an option.

Amongst the many who don’t agree with Hammond, surely some communications people within the Department for Exiting the EU, who in a tweet now removed after receiving significant backlash from all sides from breaking the civil service impartiality code, strongly argued against a people’s vote.

Should there be support for a vote, the question remains if there would be enough time for the implementation, with only a couple of weeks to go until the newly agreed Brexit day on 12th April.

To keep you busy until then, the EU has prepared a series of Brexit notices by sector that would apply in case of a no deal. Happy reading!

Consolation in twitter
For all the remainers, remoaners and let’s throw in there all those EU citizens living and working in the UK that have witnessed Brexit unfolding with no say in the process – President of the European Council has a tweet of hope for you.

In an appeal to the European Parliament, he calls MEPs to be open to a long extension, in the remote case the UK decided to rethink its strategy to support those citizens who have marched and signed a petition to revoke Article 50 (and which was signed by nearly 6 million people) and that may not feel represented by the UK Parliament.

And for all those who, happy or not with Brexit, are sick of the mess in the UK Parliament, the solution is coming directly from Japan. Marie Kondo, who has become popular for her system of simplifying and organizing your home by getting rid of physical items that do not bring joy into your life has now turned to the House of Commons. Who is left to spark joy?