As Clive warned yesterday, “Don’t trust U.K. based reporting of events. I heard so much provable rubbish today, it’d fill a book.”
We’ll try to be relatively sparing, since the big events that will provide more information come next week: the Withdrawal Act vote (the margin of loss will be critical), the presumed motion of no confidence, and what the EU Council says about Brexit at its December 13-14 meeting.
The UK morning papers are awash with reports of May’s defeats. For one stop shopping, see ‘Humiliation on a historic scale’: what the papers say about first day of Brexit debate Guardian. Recall that this was the same story line after Salzburg and May is still standing.
The vote against the Government on the contempt proceedings showed that the Government still commands a lot of loyalty. The tally was 311 to 293. Stand4Brexit had 51 signers the last I checked. Although I didn’t review a roll call, the total suggests that defections by ERG types were minimal, despite the fact their organ, BrexitCentral, has been working overtime to foment opposition to May’s deal. Update: confirmation from today’s BrexitCentral newsletter: ‘The motion was passed by 311 votes to 293 as [Tory MPs] Bone and Hollobone again voted with the Opposition and a clutch of Conservative eurosceptics abstained, creating that majority of 18.”
In other words, the expected vote against the Withdrawal Act bill next week may not be by as large a margin as the press and punditocracy anticipates.
The motion by Dominic Grieve that is being widely reported as giving Parliament a say on what May does next in the event of her deal being voted down has no legal force. Some of the more florid misrepresentations say is that the Grieve motion enables Parliament to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Help me.
While this gambit does show that Parliament is trying to flex its muscles, the legislature is still a long way from being able to do much. From 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 https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-vote-factbox/factbox-britains-big-brexit-vote-what-happens-in-parliament-idUKKBN1O31UY
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.
And he added later:
Yes, the amendment was to House Standing Order procedures. It allows a non-neutral vote on the motion. This means that the motion can have a “guidance” or, more likely, various competing guidance attached.
The only change (in law) was to the parliamentary procedures — and then only for this motion.
A motion isn’t legislation. You’ll (or rather, the UK government)’ll need legislation to alter legislation (such as the 2018 EU (Withdrawal) Bill with its nuisance hard-coded date) or legislation to Do Something (like rescind A50).
As vlade says, it’ll all depend on how much May and the government actually pay attention to anything that gets voted up. While all the media are getting very excited, it is – legally – meaningless.
Put it another way, it’s pretty bad when you folks like Stand4Brexit are more accurate than the BBC:
Despite what the screaming headlines would have you believe, the Grieve amendment IS NOT legally binding.
No.10 are spinning that it's a disaster for Brexit in order to push that it’s May’s deal or a 2nd ref!
— #StandUp4Brexit (@StandUp4Brexit) December 4, 2018
And for those who’d prefer another source:
Dominic Grieve’s amendment is non binding. It’s been confirmed from lots of sources, even from man himself! This motion does not affect primary legislation which is EU Withdrawal bill. That says if there is no WA then we leave without Deal in Mar ‘19! Sigh. #Brexit @PeterWard09 https://t.co/zgwKg5Jxdr
— UxbEconomist07 (@UxbEconomist07) December 5, 2018
As vlade points out, this ploy may still have political impact; the tweet above confirms that by pointing to how May is trying to use it to serve her ends.
The press and pols continue to overreact to the opinion of the ECJ advocate that the UK can unilaterally withdraw from Article 50. As indicated, the idea of revoking the Article 50 notice has been a weird political taboo topic until this ruling. There have also been far too many comments of the sort that “May said the only choice was between her deal and no deal.” As we have been saying for weeks, following May’s remarks immediately after she completed the draft Withdrawal agreement, May had a rare bout of truthfulness. She said the options were her deal, no deal, or no Brexit. And she’s repeated that formula since then. So as much as I am not a May fan, it is false to say she claimed the UK could not back out of Brexit.
May may survive next week. Even though her bill will be shellacked, the margin of loss on the contempt vote is a reminder that the Tories will be loath to oppose her if there isn’t a viable leader in the wings. And the reason May is still standing is that there hasn’t been one since she became PM. The Tories do not want Corbyn in, and the DUP does not want to sacrifice its temporary power player role. So the DUP and Tories will vote against May only if they are pretty certain they can quickly install a new PM and avoid a general election.
Cakeism is very much alive. From a new story in The Times, Brexit: Leavers want renegotiation on backstop:
Cabinet Brexiteers are set to press Theresa May to return to Brussels next week to try to negotiate a unilateral exit mechanism from the Northern Ireland insurance policy, something that has already been rebuffed by the EU.
Some, including Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have been telling friends that they are likely to ask Mrs May to attempt once again to negotiate such an exit mechanism, using the scale of the expected parliamentary defeat as a mandate to reopen talks.
I imagine there are times when Michel Barnier would like to abandon his profession mien, grab his current UK interlocutor by the lapels, and tell him, “What about ‘no’ don’t you understand?”
The problem is that Article 50 appears to obligate the EU to sit down with the UK again, even if the EU has no intention of giving any ground:
In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
One can argue that since the agreement has not been cinched, the “Union shall negotiate” bit means EU has to sit down to talks even if it has nothing new to say. So the MPs who fantasize that they can cut a better deal may take false hope if the EU agrees to meet yet again.
Polls show marked opposition to second referendum and extending Brexit. It should come as no surprise that mass voting preferences are also exhibiting signs of cakeism. On the one hand, a new Times/You Gov polls shows the highest proportion ever agreeing that it was the “wrong vote” to leave, versus the “right vote” by 49% to 38%.
But another poll shows that voters are also opposed to any of the touted paths to get out of Brexit, naming a second referendum and/or an extension. This poll also shows less decisive support for the idea of staying in the EU:
New polling on #Brexit. British adults…
Oppose May's deal by 42-26
Oppose No Deal by 41-34
Oppose remaining in EU by 45-44
Oppose 2nd referendum by 50-40
Oppose extending date when UK leaves EU by 46-34
Support renegotiating with EU if May deal fails by 45-25
ComRes Dec 4 pic.twitter.com/Qx3qHd2rXT
— Matthew Goodwin (@GoodwinMJ) December 4, 2018
At best, this means that many regard the vote as a mistake, but they are also of the “the people have spoken” school of thought.
As much as we’ll see more theatrics in the coming days, like the publication of the Government’s legal advice at 11:30 AM today, the big scenes are scheduled for next week. Stay tuned.