Brexit: Coming to a Head?

I’ll attempt to be brief, since events are very much in play, and there is still a great deal of noise relative to signal.

The overarching issue is that while some exciting skirmishes are underway, what matters is the configuration of forces on the battlefield. We’ll discuss the two big events of the day (so far) and then will turn to the overall state of play.

Today’s Excitement

Contempt of Parliament. As UK-based readers probably know all too well, the Speaker of the Commons approved a cross-party effort to launch contempt proceedings against the Government for its failure to release the full text of the legal advice it received on Brexit, per a motion unanimously approved in Parliament on November 13.

The DUP joined the petition to the Speaker of the Commons, so if all the parties supporting the proceedings have a full turnout and reject the Government’s effort to amend the motion (to refer it to the Committee of Privileges), the censure will pass. If the Government persists in not releasing the legal advice in full, Labour intends to seek sanctions of the ministers involved, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox (who did quite the imitation of King Lear in his presentation in Commons yesterday) and/or Cabinet Office minster David Liddington, which would most likely be suspension from Parliament. Our Richard Smith points out another option would be to lock them up in Big Ben (more formally, “commit to the clock tower of Westminster”).

If May were someone other than Theresa May, she would hand over a redacted version of the advice. More bad press for May and her government when she is just about certain to face a vote of no confidence next week is not a very bright move. She could try pleading that the redacted parts are ones that it is in the public interest to keep confidential from the EU.

Having this vote today also delays the start of the debate on the Withdrawal Act.

Senior ECJ adviser says he believes UK can withdraw Article 50 notice unilaterally. The key part of the press release from the CJEU, as the EU calls it (emphasis theirs):

In answer to the question from the Scottish court, the Advocate General proposes that the Court of Justice should, in its future judgment, declare that Article 50 TEU allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU, until such time as the withdrawal agreement is formally concluded, provided that the revocation has been decided upon in accordance with the Member State’s constitutional requirements, is formally notified to the European Council and does not involve an abusive practice….

However, that possibility of unilateral revocation is subject to certain conditions and limits. First, like the notification of the intention to withdraw, the unilateral revocation must be notified by a formal act to the European Council. Secondly, it must respect national constitutional requirements. If, as is the case in the UK, prior parliamentary authorisation is required for the notification of the intention to withdraw, it is logical that the revocation of that notification also requires parliamentary approval. There is also a temporal limit on the possibility of revocation, since revocation is possible only within the two-year period that begins when the intention to withdraw is notified. The principles of good faith and sincere cooperation must also be observed, in order to prevent abuse of the procedure laid down in Article 50 TEU.

As I’ve said before, I fail to understand the importance attributed to this case. Multiple influential EU country heads and politicians have said the EU would let the UK rescind Article 50 up to the very last minute. The EU has every reason to do so. It might be procedurally a fudge, as in they might have to provisionally accept the petition and tidy it up later….but they provisionally accepted the CETA treaty and started trading on that basis a year before it was formally good to go.

However, there appears to have been a bizarre taboo among MPs against mentioning backing out of Article 50 as an option, let alone advocating it. For instance, Kier Starmer has claimed he was devising a Parliamentary strategy to make a crash-out Brexit impossible, yet as far as I can tell, has never once mentioned Article 50. Earth to MPs: unless you revoke the Article 50 notice, a crash out happens no matter what else you do. So this ruing and the attendant press coverage will presumably disinhibit them.

Now having said that, reading between the lines of a Guardian article about the opinion (which is very likely to become official, since these determinations by the ECJ adviser are seldom reversed by the full court), it appears that the Government may have misled MPs as to the how the EU would respond to the UK seeking to back out of Brexit. So the perceived barriers may have been higher than they were.

But the actual barriers are still high. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Parliament would vote to reverse Brexit in the absence of a referendum that gave unambiguous approval of “Remain,” and it seems improbable that the EU would give the UK a long enough deferral of the Brexit date to accomplish that.

The Withdrawal Agreement Votes

Can someone please explain to me what Kier Starmer, the Shadow Brexit minister, thinks he is up to with his silly pretense of amending the Withdrawal Agreement to prevent a no-deal Brexit? First, the critical steps to accomplishing what he claims he is trying to get done is to remove the provision in the original bill authorizing Brexit that hard-codes the Brexit date and time, and as discussed above, revoking the Article 50 notice.

But second, and more seriously, the whole premise is daft. If the bill were to pass, there would be no crash out. And if the bill fails, the amendments fail too.

What Starmer claims he is doing can be accomplished only via primary legislation. And I gather that in the UK, so-called “private bills,” as in ones not initiated by the Government, pretty much never get done.

So the only way to do what Starmer wants to do is get rid of May at a minimum, and better yet, get a new coalition in charge. You’d think Labour would have a better shot of doing that by saying that the only chance of preventing a crash out if her bill is voted down is to turf her out. Why not be saying that now, rather than wasting time with pointless theatrics?

What Happens When May’s Bill Is Voted Down?

The trivial answer to the question above is that things get chaotic, but let’s focus on thing that look reasonably likely. May does not have a Plan B. It’s not her style. The closest thing she has to that is the hope that Mr. Market will react so badly that Parliament will be willing to undertake a second vote after the Christmas holidays. The fact that markets are illiquid at year end means price action is likely to be more extreme than it would be at other times of year.

But May has to last until next year for that scenario to play out.

Labour has said it would introduce a motion of no confidence if May’s Brexit were voted down and there is every reason to take them at their word. Some Conservatives have already sent in letters calling for a Motion of No Confidence, and the DUP is likely to vote against May. DUP leader Arlene Foster has recently said the UK could get a better deal from the EU if it pushed for it, which contradicts May’s claims. It doesn’t matter whether Foster believe this or not; it legitimates the DUP voting to toss May over the side.

Hoever, the DUP does not want a General Election. It would almost certainly lose its powerful position as the key member in a coalition. Neither do the Tories. So if the Tories can rally around a new PM (Michael Gove?), the DUP would very likely join them. Recall that under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, the Government can forestall a general election if it can act quickly enough. From Parliament’s website:

If such a motion is agreed to, and a new government with the support of a majority of MPs cannot be formed within a period of 14 calendar days, Parliament is dissolved and an early General Election is triggered.

The fact that May might be turfed out right before Parliament goes out of session starting Friday December 21 means that minds in the Tory party are very likely focused on this question right now. And since a General Election will not have been called under any scenario by the time of the EU Council meeting on December 13-14, one wonder what they will have to say.

If the fate of the UK and EU weren’t going to be so strongly affected by how these power plays resolve, this would make for great theater. But too many people stand to be losers.

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  1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

    Looking at it from the perspective of pure negotiation, it seems that an ever larger issue now is Theresa May’s fundamental inflexibility, coupled with a necessary reshuffling of the deck as positions harden. As more realize this, the no confidence vote seems increasingly possible.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Interesting overview here:

      Does Theresa May know what she’s doing?

      Just as the Tories have struggled for two years to agree a Brexit strategy, they do not seem to have an obvious May replacement capable of binding the party and winning the confidence of the electorate.

      John Mann, a Labour pro-Brexit MP, said on Saturday’s BBC Radio 4 Week in Westminster programme: “One thing that surprises me, she and the people around her seem very bullish, more so that seems logical at the moment, which suggests to me they do have a Plan B….a real Plan B.

      “I’m not saying one that will get through, I don’t know because I don’t know what it is, they have not told me. But there is definitely a Plan B there. They could not possibly be as confident as they are now without a Plan B. There will be a second vote. This one is going to go down. There will be a second vote, if she survives.”

      Anna Soubry, the Conservative pro-Remain MP, was a guest on the programme too.

      She said: “I absolutely agree with you. You must be right. There must be a Plan B. Obviously there is because they know the maths, they know exactly where the numbers are on the Conservative back benches.

      “It could be that this Plan B is some tweaks to the political declaration…

      “There is a confidence about her which I think is really interesting. As I’ve looked at the Prime Minister, I’ve thought, does she know something that we don’t know? It also struck me that maybe she is saying to herself ‘I’ve given this my all, I’ve done my best and if they won’t have it, then I’ll go’.”

      Her one strong point as a politician is a single-mindeded determination to see through whatever task she has set herself (usually, the task being to keep her in her job). I think the strategy seems to be to accept a loss, and then push through the deal on the second try. She is gambling that nobody will want her poisoned chalice, so she will survive any attempted challenge. Brexiteers will fear that if they lose her they will find the Tory party lead by a sneaky little opportunist like Gove who will engineer an exit from A.50. Remainers fear they’ll end up with an idiot like Davis. The DUP are, whatever they say in public, terrified of a new election.

      1. ChristopherJ

        I must say, PK, that she appears to be the wrong person for the job. In every respect. Never seen her in a good moment.

        And what’s with the bad teeth? Am I the only one who thinks she looks like Thatcher?

        Re withdrawing, I think that would be the worst outcome for the Brits, tail between their legs forever. Muddle through they must.

        1. Darthbobber

          May is a good junior. She will doggedly pursue anything remitted to her. But she’s seemingly incapable of imagining any change to the task as initially understood by her. So lethal in her present position.

  2. NIx

    I think the importance of the ECJ opinion this morning is that it gives the lie to T. May’s “My deal or no deal” scenario (something that she has assiduously kept to, apart from one little slip the other day). The fact that the government did everything that they could to stop this going to the ECJ is very telling.

    Whether or not it is procedurally possible to revoke article 50, this opinion gives those remainer MPs who wish to vote down Theresa May’s version of brexit a way to absolve themselves of all blame for the no-deal-scenario-chaos, should that come about.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, you are misrepresenting what May said. When she presented the completed deal, she said, and she has repeated it: this deal, no deal, or no Brexit. Since completing the negotiations, she has consistently presented “no Brexit” as an option (admittedly couched as a threat).

      1. Mattski

        Have you considered introducing a thumbs up indicator for posts? Sometimes when a clarification like this is offered, rather than say something, it would just be nice to be able to indicate that it’s met the mark. Negativity should require explanation, but perhaps there is a place–sophomoric FB “likes” notwithstanding–for nods of approval?

        1. Bobby Gladd

          The content here — both the authors and the commentariat — are consistently the best. The comment template functionality, well…

  3. vlade

    On signifcance of the ruling:

    The EU said they would accept the UK back.

    They made only vague noises on the A50 extension. The ECJ ruling takes out the power of extension from the EU’s side.

    If they EU says “we won’t extend”, the UK can say “we’ll rescind A50 until we re-run the referendum/whatever. The EU elections? Whatever.” (note that this is a theoretical scenario for rational players, hence does not apply to Westminster)

    So it provides the UK with a lever that it didn’t have before – ability to mess up the EU internally. It gives the UK back the lever it lost when May foolishly invoked A50 w/o even a plan for a plan (again, I’m sure that the UK will throw that lever away, as it did before)

    It would lead to bad blood, but would the EU really prefer to run into a no-deal territory if say the referendum voted for May’s deal?

    On the no-confidence. We need to distinguish between an internal Tory no-confidence vote (which is what the letters are about) and a government-no confidence votes. Even Moggie said he would vote against a government no-confidence vote. It’s unusual, but not impossible, for the party leader not to be the PM (it’s a convention, not a law or anyting). It would likely lead to a change, but only when the Tories were sure they had the votes for a new government.
    Of course, if the change was say Moggie or Boris winning the leadership, I suspect enough Tory MPs would be willing to risk GE just to get rid of them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The UK public is not going to accept gaming like that. They are already fractured on Brexit. There is no consensus on anything. Each step you suggest, like rescinding A50, will be seen as potentially final because some parties will want it to be final and might be able to make it so. So I don’t agree at all that an A50 withdrawal could be presented as setting up a second Brexit vote. The people who voted Leave the first time would see it as an even bigger betrayal/deception than if the current fantasy of the EU giving a long enough extension were realized.

      1. vlade

        I’m not saying it would be a walk in the park. But will a no-deal Brexit be?

        If the alternative is no-deal Brexit, and rescinding the A50 unilaterally is possible, who knows that the Parliament can and will do. For example, the no-no deal now become possible. It can pass a law that orders the Government to rescind A50 on March 27th if no deal is reached (and repealing EU withdrawal act in such a case too). Do I think it likely? No. But it’s now a possibility (assuming ECJ upholds this decision), where before it wasn’t (because before then it wasn’t in the UK’s parliament gift).

        I actually think it makes a no-deal more likely IMO, as most MPs will keep this as a get-out-of-jail-free card till last possible moment – by when it can be late because of some obstructions by Ultras.

        On the acceptance – there is a significant support for second referendum in the public (something like 60/40 discarding don’t knows). If the public is told an extension is needed, and the EU would not grant it, so that withdrawal (and reissuing, depending on the outcome – but the leave outcome would have to be unambiguous on this) is the only way, a minority certainly would object (at least part of those 40% who don’t want a second referendum).

        But a (variously large) minority will object to any outcome. As Clive says, no matter what will be the situation on March 30 2019, one can be certain that someone will work to change it.

        I don’t see how it could be made final by either party (by party I mean the UK and the EU). In the UK, it’s a foundation stone that no past Parliament can bind a future one. So that’s that.

        In the EU, change to A50 would require a new treaty, which has to pass unanimously. Which UK could torpedo.

        Personally, I’m extremely surprised ECJ issuing this ruling, as it destabilises the EU in a really bad way.

        Italy, Hungary or Poland can use it to really mess up the EU, if they wish. Not Brexit per se, but this ruling could be the end of the EU (as we know it at least).

        1. disillusionized

          First i agree that Brexit is essentially a Condorcet paradox for the UK, one part wants Ceta, one part wants EFTA, and one part wants remain.
          Second though, this is Not an ECJ ruling, it’s the issued opinion of the courts AG, not their ruling.

          1. Synoia

            The British would never accept they are subject to a French mechanism (Condorcet paradox) /s

            They would look for another solution. Blaming Russia looks like one of the alternatives solutions.

        2. Kat

          First, this is isn’t an ECJ ruling. It’s the Advocate General’s opionion. The office of the Advocate General is essentially the legal research arm of the ECJ, and their job is to provide an impartial and independent legal assessment (Article 252 TFEU). It is often more comprehensive than a ruling, and unlike rulings, may consider various hypothetical situations as well. Where the ECJ deviates from an Advocate General’s opinion, that is sometimes motivated by, let’s say, pragmatic concerns.

          Second, if you read the published opinion, it does look at the tactical use of revocation of a withdrawal notification; however, as the tactical use of withdrawal and revocation is constrained in various ways, the Advocate General believes the risk to be low (paragraphs 148-156).

          On a practical note, even an aborted Article 50 invocation is not cost-free for a member state. The UK lost EMA and EBA, for example, even disregarding the economic upset resulting from Brexit uncertainty.

    2. disillusionized

      If you read the opinion it clearly sets out a good faith requirement.
      and revoking, and then re-issuing it a couple of months later is bad faith.

      1. shtove

        Re-issuing would be bad faith, but that doesn’t have a bearing on the revoking. And the bad faith/abuse of process criterion doesn’t legally apply to issuing – I think the only criterion in Art.50 is that the notice be issued according to the state’s constitutional requirements.

    3. charles 2

      If they EU says “we won’t extend”, the UK can say “we’ll rescind A50 until we re-run the referendum/whatever. The EU elections? Whatever.” (note that this is a theoretical scenario for rational players, hence does not apply to Westminster)

      So it provides the UK with a lever that it didn’t have before – ability to mess up the EU internally. It gives the UK back the lever it lost when May foolishly invoked A50 w/o even a plan for a plan (again, I’m sure that the UK will throw that lever away, as it did before)

      The ability to mess up the EU internally doesn’t really square with “The principles of good faith and sincere cooperation must also be observed, in order to prevent abuse of the procedure laid down in Article 50 TEU.”

      If Britons want a second referendum, they have to do it pronto or else accept that it is this parliament which will have a final say. Needless to say, that would be absolute delight to eurocrats to see once again a parliament overrule a referendum vote, after France, Denmark and Greece. This way, UK would prove itself as a worthy and genuine member of the club…

      This being said, they should be careful of what they wish for. Once eurosceptics get convinced that nobody can escape from the EU “jail”, they will focus on the other strategy, which is to burn the “jail” from the inside. With yellow vests in every vehicles not only in France, but also Italy, Spain, Belgium and others countries suffering from German budgetary straitjacket, there is a lot of combustible material !

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        “German budgetary straightjacket”

        Maybe they should just be more German. That’s what the Germans think.

        1. charles 2

          Germans think every country can have zero public deficit while sustaining economic activity through huge positive external balances. Try to imagine a EU with 6% to 7% current account surplus, do you think US and China will accept this ? It won’t happen.
          Germany European political economy is as delusional than Macron’s domestic political economy and suffers from the same flaws : it is divisive, produces a greater number of losers than winners, and will eventually break under popular revolt.

          1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

            “popular revolt”

            Given current surveillance technologies, doesn’t revolt seem sort of hopeless?

    4. fajensen

      So it provides the UK with a lever that it didn’t have before – ability to mess up the EU internally.

      It also reminds everyone once again, this at a critical time, that the threats, the tantrums, the disrespect for other people’s work, will never, ever, really stop unless the UK leaves the club, thoroughly stripped of any influence.

      I think that is counterproductive, the UK needs friends, allies and markets – just in case sparkly-unicorn Brexit turns out to be not so sparkling.

  4. Anonymous2

    FWIW I think Starmer is playing political games. It’s a silly game but I imagine he thinks enough people will be conned by it to justify it.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Starmer is clearly at odds with his putative boss Corbyn, and is angling for a second referendum without explicitly saying so and giving Corbyn an opportunity to fire him.

  5. Mattski

    Not to be too contrarian, but it IS great theater. Theater is great when the stakes are high.

    As someone who stands at some remove from the markets, JIT protocols and the extraordinary complexities of this thing, I do find myself disagreeing that the long-term consequences are necessarily awful, though the short-term is likely to be filled with both dislocation and pain.

    There remains an outside chance that the country that brought us capitalism now brings us the first wholesale experiment in adjusting to its collapse. I accept that the consequences might also be fascism or its like, or a tightening of the noose around neoliberal turnip that leaves blood quietly flowing everywhere. I do not want that (lest some accuser say so). But there is darkness everywhere we look. And this chaos could be an opportunity to begin making the lemonade.

    1. Lee

      And this chaos could be an opportunity to begin making the lemonade.

      The lemons might take a jaundiced view of this. Sorry, I just had to say that.

      And like you I am generally optimistic about manifestations of widespread dissatisfaction with elements of the neoliberal project.

    2. Tom

      I too find the drama riveting but there is not darkness everywhere we look.

      The financial elite usually profit from a crisis, whatever it may be. They command a professional staff, use professional services and elected pols, and all of whom have their cohort. This ruthless class should be able to profit whatever happens.

      This perspective helps explain how come the brexiers’ and, following the referendum, the tory government’s behavior has been so weird/incompetent. To them, it doesn’t matter so much how well it goes—they are going to be fine—and they are sufficiently detached from the real world that conscience and compassion doesn’t get dragged in.

      There is light. After the mess starts to stabilize, some will be more wealthy and/or powerful as a consequence of the changes.

      Are the stakes high? Net for the nation, objectively, sure. But subjectively for people like Boris Johnson or Gove, I don’t think so.

      1. Mattski

        You make so much sense that I fear you proved my point! But since I was, in a sense, arguing against my own logic, fair play to you. Recently, NC furnished a piece that showed how little the stock market actually contributes to the material good; I continue to nourish the fantasy that Wall Street and the City could readily be sawed right off their respective land masses and allowed to float away. . . with no one noticing.

  6. shtove

    I haven’t been following Starmer’s dance moves, but I am puzzled by “exit day”. This is set out in the Withdrawal Act 2018, and triggers the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 – that is its function. It is only given meaning in the interpretation section, which specifies 11pm 29 March 2019, but even that can be amended by executive order.

    So it’s not actually a hard coding of the time at which the UK leaves the EU. That is the function of Art.50(3). Strictly, Brexit could be called off and, in the absence of repeal or amendment of the 2018 Act, exit day could trigger the 1972 repeal and yet the UK remain a member of the EU. It just means the UK would have an internal constitutional mess on its hands.

    Now take a look at the white paper on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which provides for locking the transition (implementation) period into UK law. Although exit day will have repealed the 1972 Act, this bill proposes to save the effect of that Act while altering its provisions. The bill also proposes to amend the 2018 Act in technical ways without altering its purpose.

    The paper then provides something curious in para.75 – a statutory instrument process in the event there is no deal or agreement on exit day:
    “Whilst the Government has every confidence that the implementation period will be in place, it has a duty to continue to plan for all eventualities, including a ‘no deal’ scenario, until the agreement is in place. Therefore the UK Government and the devolved administrations must continue to make sensible contingency preparations. This is also happening in the EU. As such, Statutory Instruments (SIs) will continue to be laid to prepare the UK for its exit from the EU. While many of these may not be needed until the end of the implementation period, the Government’s aim is to ensure a functioning statute book for exit day in the unlikely event that no agreement is reached. In order to prepare for an agreement, it may be that provision is needed to defer, revoke or amend those SIs. This would likely be achieved through the Bill.”

    So exit day is purely for domestic purposes, and is flexible. And the government seems to spy some lacuna even if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passes. Maybe Starmer spies the same lacuna. I’m scratching my head.

    The PDF opened automatically in my browser, so no need to download – I’m looking at chapter 3 para.75 (and the process is now officially referred to as withdrawl!):

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is intriguing and thanks for discussing it at length.

      But the ECJ Advocate’s opinion says that the A50 revocation has to be in conformity with constitutional requirements. Doesn’t that necessitate Doing Something about that “exit date”? Admittedly, what would happen in the unlikely event the UK got there is the revocation would have gone through regardless (advocate opinion or not), but the Ultras might attempt a legal challenge, which would fail. But we might have more drama.

      1. shtove

        You’re welcome! I imagine this Brexit contraption as the ancient Greek antikythera mechanism, with Rees Mogg applying his subtle mind to figure out just how it can deliver no-deal.

  7. Mirdif

    The ruling for the withdrawal of the Article 50 notice is yet to come. Nevertheless, this statement by the adviser is more likely to make more Tory MPs vote for May’s deal because taking the notice back is equivalent to no Brexit and the Tories have a manifesto promise to deliver Brexit.

    Voting for May’s deal means they can show that they have delivered Brexit and then get back to shouting at the opposition parties that they couldn’t have delivered it or wouldn’t have delivered it.

  8. MichaelSF

    If May were someone other than Theresa May, she would hand over a redacted version of the advice.

    When I first heard of the demand for the documents a response typical of CIA/FBI/State etc US responses to FOIA requests is what I imagined she’d do: a 100 page document with everything but 3 words blacked out.

  9. Anonymous2

    Parliament is now reported to have voted to take control of Brexit in the event that it votes against May’s deal. This feels to be completely unprecedented in modern times – shades of 1640/41 with Parliament usurping the executive?

    1. Clive

      No. Parliament won’t “take control of Brexit”. The amendment passed gives Parliament the ability to proffer non legally binding “guidance”. The U.K. government is, apparently, according to the commentary by an “expert” I listened to earlier, expected to follow this because of “it being the express wish indicated by Parliament”.

      International reporting is much more accurate, albeit still needing careful parsing by the reader. From

      While any successful amendments would not bind the government to comply with them, they would be politically hard to ignore, and could dictate May’s next steps.

      As Lambert would say, “could” is doing an awful lot of work in that sentence.

      Given that Parliament will be hopelessly split about what gets a majority vote — or else some cross-party cakeist stitch-up is arranged that ends up wanting some pony or other (like EEA/EFTA membership) — this has all the rigidity of a ripe mango.

      Don’t trust U.K. based reporting of events. I heard so much provable rubbish today, it’d fill a book.

  10. The Rev Kev

    In the past I have seen how in vital international negotiations that the delegates would vote to literally stop the clock. Maybe they yanked the batteries out but a big clock in that hall would then stop giving the negotiators more time to finish. In all seriousness is stopping the calendar an actual plausible tactic in the days leading up to Brexit if more time was needed?

    1. Fazal Majid

      Going back from the Gregorian to the Julian calendar, thus saving 13 days?

      Far more sensible than most other Brexit-related proposals.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Essentially no, as there is no mood within the EU to do this and clock stopping can only work if there is a consensus to do it. There are a number of immovable dates – most obviously the May 2019 European Parliament elections plus budgetary cycles which greatly limits the EU’s ability to manoeuvre even if they wanted to. There is no way they would allow a new influx of UK MEP’s when the country is on the way out, and there is also no way they will allow the UK to interfere in budget matters (which they are still allowed to do when they are still technically a member).

  11. flora


    Parliament finds May government in contempt for withholding terms of Brexit

    The British government received a historic rebuke from lawmakers on Tuesday over its Brexit plans – an inauspicious sign for Prime Minister Theresa May as she opened an epic debate in Parliament that will decide the fate of her divorce deal with the European Union.

    Legislators in the House of Commons found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to publish in full the advice it had received from the country’s top law officer about the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU.

    The reprimand, by 311 votes to 293, marks the first time a British government has been found in contempt of Parliament.

    I’m interested what UK commenters here will have to say tomorrow about this turn of events. Surprising? Not surprising? Will it have a large effect or not so much?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      As Clive has pointed out elsewhere, its important not to attach too much importance to these Parliamentary motions. They are humiliations for the government, but in real legal terms, they mean little. Despite all the guff talked about Parliamentary sovereignty, the Executive (i.e. the Prime Minister) really has all the power in the UK system, and motions of this type don’t change this. It is only by changing the law (i.e. getting Bills passed) that parliament can enforce its will, and time is running out for them to do this, even if it really wanted to (and its not clear that it does).

  12. Ataraxite

    I think we’re actually about to have a few days of calm in the Brexit brouhaha, now that the final parliamentary debate on the Withdrawal Agreement has commenced, and all the second-rate intellects in the House of Commons make their all-important non-contributions to the public debate.

    As another commenter pointed out, there are two types of no-confidence votes being talked about, and we should not confuse them. There is a potential no-confidence in Theresa May, made by the Tory MPs alone, and triggered by 48 letters being received by the Chairman of the 1922 committee. If passed, this would simply remove Theresa May as leader of the Conservatives, and Prime Minister. The other no-confidence vote is one made on the floor of the House of Commons against the government itself. This can be triggered at any time, but Labour is suggesting that it’ll happen the day after the meaningful vote is lost, and if carried, would result in the start of a 14-day period during which May would have to try to find some other coalition that would pass a vote of confidence, and failing that, an election happens under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.

    I also see a problem with the Advocate-General’s advice presaging the ECJ ruling on Article 50. He is right in saying that a revocation can be made, provided it’s done before the 2 years, and in accordance with that countries constitutional requirements. The problem is with the good faith clause: yes, of course any revocation must be made in good faith – but who decides that? If the ECJ follows the A-G’s opinion, then if there is any doubt (confected or real) as to whether a revocation is made in good faith, then it’ll be the ECJ who will be called in to decide that – a decidedly political decision that most courts would not wish to invite on themselves. So I could see them deciding that political decisions need to be made by a political mechanism, of which the most obvious ones to hand are either a unanimous or qualified majority vote of the European Council.

    But all in all, I think we’re in for a quiet few days, and then things are going to get very interesting, very quickly.

  13. RBHoughton

    The Commons is infested with lawyers – it is after all a legislative chamber although a lot of that is done elsewhere – they are absolutely infatuated with their own procedures and precedents.

    You are right about Private Bills. Every obstacle is placed before the courageous man seeking to add commonsense to the management of the population. Do MPs feel aggrieved when citizens make proposals they had not thought of first? It is the obstacle course placed before private bills that prevents UK having community banking.

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