Despite the high drama of the last two days, much less has changed on HMS Brexit than ought to have. For instance, even though the catastrophic defeat of May’s Withdrawal Agreement should have led the Prime Minister to get serious about a Plan B, it’s not evident that she’s unveil anything next Monday other than a reheated Plan A: go back to the EU for more concessions theater.
Update 6:50 AM: Normally updates to posts go at the end, but this is such a stunner I am putting it at the top and not restructuring the post due to the hour. May has brass balls. Despite her claim that she is not trying to run out the clock, her actions speak louder than words.
I knew something was afoot when May pressed Corbyn to lodge his no-confidence motion and immediately said if she survived it, she’d comply with Grieve’s non-binding motion and deliver an amendable Plan B on Monday, as opposed to taking the 21 days allowed in the Withdrawal Act.
Get a load of this (hat tip guurst):
Govt has also just bought itself another week's delay.
Leadsom confirms PM will table Plan B motion on Monday, meeting Grieve amendment requirement, but it won't be debated until Tues 29th – two clean months before Brexit Day.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) January 17, 2019
We’ll see what kind of spin she tries putting on this move. It looks like there will be more drama between now and Monday than I had anticipated.
Back to the original post:
May and Hammond are singing from different hymnals. Hammond has gotten out ahead of the Prime Minister and has bee slapped down before. Is this to be one of those times?
From May in Question Time Wednesday:
There are actually two ways of avoiding no deal. The first is to agree a deal, and the second would be to revoke article 50. That would mean staying in the European Union and failing to respect the result of the referendum, and that is something that this Government will not do.
From Hammond, per the Telegraph in Exclusive: Philip Hammond tells business chiefs MPs will stop no-deal Brexit:
Philip Hammond told business leaders that the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” within days and potentially lead to Article 50 “rescinded”, a leaked recording of a conference call reveals.
The Chancellor set out how a backbench Bill could effectively be used to stop any prospect of no deal. He suggested that ministers may even back the plan when asked for an “assurance” by the head of Tesco that the Government would not oppose the motion. He claimed next week’s Bill, which could force the Government to extend Article 50, was likely to win support and act as the “ultimate backstop” against a no-deal Brexit, as a “large majority in the Commons is opposed to no deal under any circumstances”.
A recording of the call, passed to The Daily Telegraph, recounts how the Chancellor, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, spent nearly an hour talking to the leaders of 330 leading firms. They included the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, Tesco and BP, all of whom warned against no deal.
So are Hammond and Clark free-lancing against May?
And even if this backbenchers’ bill passes, it does not stop a no-deal Brexit. As we’ve said before, and Clive hammered home again in comments yesterday, Parliament would have to pass secondary legislation amending the hard coding of the Brexit date in the Withdrawal Act or revoke it entirely, and send in an Article 50 revocation notice. Anything less is just faffing about.
Richard North went further down this rabbit hole than we have and similarly thinks this scheme is wanting:
Mrs May… is now required on Monday formally to present to the House an amendable motion that sets out the details of how her government plans to proceed with Brexit.
And it is at this point when, we are told, back-bench plotters aim to introduce a Bill which would force the Government to take the threat of a no-deal Brexit off the table within a matter of days.
The precise mechanism for this is unclear. One version has it that the plotters are seeking to give parliament the power to revoke the Article 50 notice. This could then be used as leverage, in the first instance to prevent the government going down the no-deal road.
While this is being put in place, the plan over the next few days is to work up a series of proposals “with senior parliamentarians in other parties” to put to Government as a basis for renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels – to which effect the government will be “forced” to ask for an extension to the Article 50 period….
These are the bare bones, as culled from a series of “exclusive” reports in the Telegraph….
Nevertheless, there are several reasons for questioning whether this is a realistic – or even practical stratagem. Not least, the right unilaterally to revoke an Article 50 notification, conferred by The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, in Articles 65, 67 and 68, as amplified by the ECJ, is one reserved for States.
Under normal circumstances, the instrument communicating the revocation to the other parties must be signed by the Head of State, Head of Government or Minister for Foreign Affairs. Parliament simply has no locus in this matter and any Act promulgated by Parliament could only be addressed to Government. Its writ does not extend beyond these shores, and it has no jurisdiction over the EU.
As to whether Parliament could then force Mrs May to revoke the Article 50 notification is moot. While it has been established that its approval is needed to invoke Article 50 in the first place – on the grounds that it affects citizens’ rights, no such proviso applies in reverse. Thus, the Government would be exercising Crown prerogative, over which Parliament has no direct control.
There is also the obvious lunacy of thining that the Withdrawal Agreement could be renegotiated. Brussels is getting to the end of its rope in coming up with diplomatic variants of “What about ‘no’ don’t you understand?”
And as Lambert pointed out, giving businesses the idea that they can drop no deal planning isn’t such a hot idea either.
The EU thinks the odds of no-deal have increased. From a Bloomberg story (hat tip vlade):
Over in Brussels and the European capitals, the sentiment was very different. May’s crushing loss sparked talk of the rising risk of a “no-deal” Brexit and a dogged refusal to renegotiate the agreement rejected by British lawmakers. One German asset manager, Stefan Kreuzkamp at Deutsche Bank’s DWS, said: “We have to acknowledge that the probability of a hard Brexit has increased. Even though the majority of British MPs claim that they want to avoid it.”
The EU isn’t going to deal with the UK unless it has its ducks in a row. I would take this snippet from this morning’s Politico newsletter with a bit of salt; anything from a single source is questionable, particularly given that Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, and Jean-Claude Juncker have not been shy about presenting the EU’s views. If this person is not speaking officially on behalf of the EU, why is he conveying messages? The fact that he treats “Norway” as an option when Norway has said it won’t allow the UK into the Efta also indicates more than a bit of shooting from the hip.
The reason I question this as being a bankable opinion, as opposed to indicative, is the comment on the second referendum. EU sources have previously said a general election would be grounds for delaying Brexit. I have yet to see anyone mention holding a second referendum as a reason, and I wonder if this speaker has looked into the lead times involved, particularly since he raises the European Parliament elections as an issue:
THE EU’S KEY POINTS: Here’s where the EU now stands, as per a diplomat who is well-placed to convey what Brussels is thinking and briefed a group of reporters Wednesday over dinner …
1) The Withdrawal Agreement won’t be touched. The U.K. will have the opportunity to agree to it and sign it “even on March 29,” the diplomat said. Perhaps once Britain is truly teetering on the brink of the abyss, MPs will see that the deal on the table is indeed “a very generous offer” that no other third country could ever get: at least two more painless years in the club (though sans representation in EU bodies), the diplomat added.
2) The UK will need to move its red lines if it wants a deal: It’s up to the U.K. to budge, the diplomat said. The view from Brussels is that the EU side, in the Political Declaration, respected what was left on the table after May took away, in speech after speech between Lancaster House, Florence, and Chequers, the options that the EU’s negotiator Michel Barnier had drawn up in his now-famous stairway to hell. “The [higher] the U.K. is ready to walk up the stairs of the Barnier ladder, the easier it will be,” the diplomat said. (Side note: The “Norway” option of membership in the European Economic Area might need a little longer to agree on than the Swiss, Ukrainian, or Turkish models, as its up to Norway et al to let the U.K. into their club.)
3) Delays won’t come cheap: The EU would need a very good reason to extend the Article 50 period — such as a general election or a second referendum, the diplomat said. Most importantly, “let’s not play with elections.” EU citizens have a right to vote, and even if there were an understanding that U.K. citizens wouldn’t take part in the May EU election, “Imagine you’re a Belgian citizen living in the U.K. … These are cases that end up in [the European Court of Justice] court. And you will win.”
4) May needs to get her act together: Leaders don’t want May to come back to Brussels until she has the backing of the Commons for whatever it is she asks for. “This time, we need a meaningful vote before we agree on anything,” the diplomat said, adding that it is common practise in other parts of the EU for leaders to be able to tell their colleagues first what they need — and second to be credible when they say they will obtain a majority in their parliaments for whatever that may be. May has failed to deliver on the latter at least two times in a row now, the diplomat said
This briefing indicates the EU won’t roll over to give the UK an extension. I do recall reading after the December EU summit that some EU leaders said privately that if the UK asking for an extension, they wouldn’t get an immediate response. And the EU may have its own denialism about the adequacy of its crash-out preparedness.
It may seem short-sighted for the EU to be showing Brexit fatigue, but in protracted negotiations, it’s hard to keep emotional issues from playing into the dynamics.
For what it is worth, The Times has a report that is totally at odds with Politico. I am mentioning it for the sake of completeness. The reason for my skepticism is that The Times has by far the worst record of all major UK papers in running hot-breathed stories about Brexit developments that proved to be complete hogwash. The specific reason for skepticism is EU sources have been consistent in saying that the UK needs to have a “settled view” of what it wants before asking for an extension, while this story is a radical departure in suggesting the EU would grant an extension in order for the UK to muddle around more. May’s defeat was no surprise, and this report also contradicts RTE yesterday indicating that the result was in many respects a relief because there was no prospect of May turning it around, and so the EU would be spared further petitioning to renegotiate the Withdrawal agreement.
European Union officials are examining plans to delay Brexit until 2020 after Germany and France indicated their willingness to extend withdrawal negotiations because of Britain’s political turmoil.
Diplomats and officials are preparing a longer than envisaged extension of the EU’s Article 50 exit procedure because the extent of Theresa May’s defeat in the House of Commons last night.
Previous planning had centred on a three-month delay to Brexit from March 29 until the end of June but now, according to multiple sources, EU officials are investigating legal routes to postpone Britain’s withdrawal until next year.
Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister, who is close to Angela Merkel, the chancellor, and to Martin Selmayr, the powerful German head of the EU’s civil service, said that Britain needed an extension to find a consensus on the way forward after the vote.“The European Union should allow for additional time in order to achieve a clear position by the British parliament and people,” he told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. “I would see this as a reasonable request.”
In fairness, the Guardian has a less muddled version of this story, saying that the EU would be willing to entertain long extension of Brexit if the Government and Labour were to agree on a different version of Brexit, which is consistent with the idea in Politico of choosing a different position on the “Barnier ladder”. But if anyone of them had read Cobrbyn’s op eds, they would understand he’s as deep in unicorn land as the Tories have been, and wants his own special deal that isn’t on Barnier’s menu.
New poll indicates UK voters do not want revocation or extension of Article 50. The survey, of over 2000 people by ComRes on behalf of the Daily Express, is a decent sample size and appears not to be an online poll. And it was taken before Tuesday’s vote, which is unlikely to have improved results:
Three-quarters of voters say the crisis-hit EU departure process has shown that the current generation of MPs are “not up to the job”, according to the data from polling firm ComRes. A root-and-branch overhaul of the country’s entire political system is wanted by a massive 72% of people quizzed in the survey. But despite the chaos embroiling Brexit, a majority of voters (53%) still want the result of the 2016 EU Leave vote to be honoured by ensuring the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc….
Less than a third of voters (31%) wanted Brexit cancelled or a second referendum on the UK’s relationship with the EU to be held.
The plot, such as it is, will advance a bit next Monday, but whether there will be any progress is very much in doubt.