It is fair to say there have been many developments regarding Brexit since I wrote an article in October last year. History was made as the Government was found in contempt of Parliament. Theresa May postponed the ‘Meaningful Vote’ on her deal, realising she faced certain defeat. Conservative MPs failed to oust their leader. With the ‘Meaningful Vote’ looming and the Government’s inevitable defeat in sight, it is time to take all of the possible options that could occur in the event of voting down May’s deal, judge their likelihood, and to ask if the UK will actually leave the European Union at all.
Theresa May’s Deal: a pig raised for slaughter
The Prime Minister’s deal has been faced down venomously from within the Cabinet, the Conservative Party and the Parliamentary opposition since its very conception. This opposition is beginning to sway, with Geoffrey Clifton-Brown deciding to support the deal alongside three other Conservative backbenchers. There are also rumours that the Government is desperately reaching out to Labour representatives of heavy Leave constituencies, begging them to support the deal.
However, this makes little difference. Research by BBC Politics found, tweeted by Tom Newton Dunn on 10th January, that the deal would be voted down 433 to 206. Tusk and Junker responded to May the day before the vote with more reassurances and clarifications: a pointless repetition. Only with significant concessions would the deal have any hope of survival. The deal will be rejected, and then the possible alternatives come into play. So what are they?
One of the possibilities following the failure of May’s deal is another early General Election. Jeremy Corbyn has said every chance he has that Labour is ready to table a Vote of No Confidence in the Government at the earliest opportunity.
The problem with this scenario is that the numbers do not materialise. The DUP have stated they will oppose the deal but support the Government in a Confidence vote, and Alex Wickham recently tweeted that the Government has threatened any Conservative MP that votes to bring down May with withdrawal of the Whip and de-selection. Considering that any Tory who decided to vote against the Government would be voting to end their own career, it is highly unlikely that Corbyn’s move will play out.
Another alternative is of course a second referendum, or ‘People’s Vote.’ The campaign has been steadily growing in strength, and all English political parties in Parliamentary opposition have now made it their policy to have a second referendum between ‘No Deal’ or remaining in the EU (excluding Labour, who would rather a General Election, but have said they will support a ‘People’s Vote’ if they can’t get what they want).
This option is not really a possibility either. From when Nadine Dorries MP came down to Chipping Barnet to address a meeting of Conservative members, she stated to her Rt. Honourable friend Theresa Villiers and the audience that the Prime Minister’s European Advisers have been trying to persuade her to go for a second vote. This is the one option May has apparently insisted to them she cannot do, believing she would have failed in her task of delivering Brexit. Thus, it can be excepted that a second vote will not be called while May is in office.
There would also be grave consequences on the ground that hopefully will put MPs off going for a ‘People’s Vote.’ It is likely many of those who voted in 2016, including some who voted remain, would see that a second referendum as the Establishment’s attempt at getting the result they desire. This will lead only to a loss of faith in our representatives. Due to such a harmful long-term consequence, a second referendum cannot be allowed to happen.
It would appear that ‘No Deal’ is the most likely alternative path the UK can go down, for it is the legal default. The EU Withdrawal Act 2018, while repealing EU legislation from the Statute Book and preparing Britain for its departure, has made it law that the UK leaves the EU on the 29th March this year, with or without a deal.
Recent methods have been employed to try and make a ‘No Deal’ scenario much harder. Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill has made it harder for the Government to prepare for ‘No Deal’, despite it not effecting its outcome probability. John Bercow is being slandered for overturning centuries of convention by allowing Dominic Grieve to amend the Parliamentary timetable, meaning that the Government must now return with a ‘plan B’ in three days if May’s deal is defeated in the Commons. Although Jacob Rees-Mogg pointed out on Twitter that the amendment asks only for a statement, and fellow Conservative Maria Caulfield claimed that the amendment actually makes ‘No Deal’ more likely, the fact is that there is one alternative remaining that May would rather employ than walk away.
Extension of Article 50
The Prime Minister, despite her early assurances that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, is more likely to choose to extend Article 50 if her deal is rejected as opposed to walking away from the EU. Under the Grieve Amendment, it is the easiest ‘plan B’ she can bring back, and would face far less opposition.
To see this through, May would require two things: the amendment of the EU Withdrawal Act, and the consent of the remaining EU member states. To amend the Act, the Government would require only secondary legislation. So long then as there are certain conditions to delaying Brexit, it is unlikely there would be a significant rebellion from the Brexiteer element of the Conservative Party.
As for the other EU member states, they want to avoid a ‘No Deal’ scenario as much as possible. Gunther Oettinger, the EU’s finance chief, warned the bloc just after Christmas that without the UK’s £39 billion divorce bill, the remaining members will have to fork out millions to plug the gap, with Germany taking the biggest hit. It is then easy to predict that the EU would allow article 50 to be extended, possibly even returning to the negotiating table.
Will Brexit happen?
As a Brexiteer, I am starting to genuinely worry that Brexit will not happen. I’m sad to say I would not be surprised if Parliament somehow managed to prevent a ‘No Deal’ altogether, for this takes away a significant portion of the ability to carry out Brexit. As has been stated above, Brexit must happen. For a second, we must put aside all the problems with the referendum and both campaigns. People were asked to vote. They did so in the biggest democratic exercise in our history. Parliament must now carry out this order. If they do not, the remaining trust that exists in our very political system will be extinguished. There is no more severe consequence than this.
But if the last few years have shown anything, politicians are happy to do what is easy. Not what is right.