Brexit: The Test of the Ultras?

Theresa May had the cheek to push the Brexit calendar back a full two weeks plus, on the “Are you kidding?” excuse that she could wrest concessions from the EU on the Irish backstop. The Europeans had said in as many ways that they could that there would be no more negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement and some MPs had actually been paying attention. Thus the initial expectation was that May’s report to Parliament on February 13 would be followed by a Valentine’s Day massacre. But Parliament continues to be all bark, no bite.

The Government will table an anodyne amendable motion that calls for Parliament to acknowledge that they know about May’s doomed-to-fail strategy and approve of her carrying on. One expected amendment by Labour, is to force the repeatedly-delayed “meaningful vote” on the Withdrawal Agreement to be held on February 27, a day after May is set to report back after her next chats with Brussels. 1

However, the more significant issue is that the Government’s motion seeks to acknowledges both of the two motions passed by Parliament last January. They were:

To require that the Northern Ireland backstop be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” while supporting the notion of leaving the EU with a deal and therefore supporting the Withdrawal Agreement subject to this change.

To reject the UK leaving the European Union “without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship

The second motion was the weakest form of the “prevent a no deal Brexit” motions and the only one to pass. Only the first, on the backstop, had Government support.

However, the Ultras have said they will not support tomorrow’s Government’s motion if it rules out a no-deal Brexit.

Mind you, since these are all non-binding motions, the real world impact is limited. It would simply be yet another on a long list of Theresa May embarrassments. But this could have more significance in the intermediate term that it would appear.

If May backs down and removes her “no deal” language, that would say she’s quite concerned about the support of the Ultras.

Similarly, if she keeps the language in, this will be a small but telling test of the will of the Ultras and their numbers. Any conservatives who claim to embrace a no deal Brexit as a possible (or even desirable) outcome but won’t even take a very low cost stand are poseurs. So this would give an initial reading on how many Conservatives are willing to stand up and be counted as ERG stalwarts. This vote would thus set a likely upper bound on the number who’d be willing to back legislative moves that would jam the controls and force a crashout.

Another noteworthy development: the People’s Vote campaign has lost steam. On Twitter, it disavowed a proposed amendment by Labour’s Geraint Davies for a second referendum, admitting they’d lose the vote until “every Brexit option has been exhausted.”

On a separate topic, Theresa May is clearly running down the clock, and the press has been reporting on how where preparation is visibly falling short, such as on securing trade deals in the place of ones that go “poof” as of Brexit. From Richard North:

We have often pointed out that UK trade relations via the EU are not managed entirely through registered Free Trade Agreements. We also rely on a network of trade-related agreements which are not registered with the WTO and therefore do not qualify as FTAs.

Nonetheless, these are vital to the conduct of our trade and, when I last counted, we were the beneficiaries of 881 bilateral treaties between the EU and third countries, together with 259 multilateral agreements.

Now, with a no-deal Brexit beginning to look a real possibility, we need to be looking hard at these agreements. Even if we stick just to the FTAs, it seems we have something of a problem. According to The Sun, it appears that we have something like 70 FTAs that need renegotiation to cope with a no-deal, with the government promising to conclude 40 of them by Brexit day.

As it turns out though, the likely number that will be concluded is a mere six. Four have already been agreed: Switzerland – signed on Monday – Chile, an Eastern and Southern African block, and the Faroe Islands. Two more, deals with Israel and the Palestinian Authority are “on track”.

The Government has taken steps to allow it to push through a great deal of Brexit-related legislation in haste, but the process isn’t fool proof. From the Institute for Government:

Parliament has a key role in preparing for a no deal Brexit. The Government needs to pass new legislation – both primary and secondary – to establish new policy regimes in key policy areas such as agriculture and fisheries after the UK leaves the EU. There are still six pieces of primary legislation, nearly 500 more statutory instruments, as well as international treaties for Parliament to scrutinise.

All that with just 30 scheduled sitting days in Parliament remaining before 29 March (from 8 February)….

While there is an eerie silence in the main chamber, Parliament is still grinding away on Brexit. In the committee corridors, work is being done to deal with other gaps which need to be addressed by exit day. For example, delegated legislation committees in the Commons have been meeting to pass Brexit statutory instruments (secondary legislation) – 13 were held this week.

In the Lords, peers have also been approving statutory instruments, and the EU Select Committee has begun to scrutinise around 20 international treaties that the Government has already signed. Ministers have said around 80 are needed by exit day and some – although not all – will need to be laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRAG) 21 sitting days ahead of ratification….

Normal legislative deadlines for a 29 March exit are approaching

Despite the extra days, the scale of the task still remains huge. Although around 400 statutory instruments have been tabled, only 119 have actually passed, so nearly 500 still need to enter into law. Roughly half of the total need to go through delegated legislation committees (under affirmative procedure), requiring ministerial time and willing MPs.

The other half of the statutory instruments have been tabled under the negative procedure, used in non-controversial cases. MPs and peers have 40 days to vote to ‘annul’ them, and the Government by convention usually leaves at least 21 before bringing them into force to allow parliamentary scrutiny. If the UK wants these statutory instruments to be in place for 29 March, the latest sitting day they can be laid is need to be laid is 7 March.

But the Government has equipped itself with powers to get around those deadlines

Under the EU Withdrawal Act, in “urgent deficiencies cases” ministers can pass affirmative statutory instruments immediately. Both Houses would have 28 calendar days to approve an instrument passed in this way after they have entered into law (assuming Parliament sits as usual) otherwise it would cease to apply.

This could prove risky with a hostile Parliament: if they were voted down, it could lead to a legal gap further down the line. The Government could also choose to set aside the 40-day waiting period for negative statutory instruments if it felt that time was of the essence, but this would also likely annoy MPs already frustrated by how late in the day Brexit legislation is being passed.

Treaties, meanwhile, will need to be laid by 20 February to give Parliament its 21-day period. CRAG allows the Government to avoid the 21 sitting days in “exceptional cases”, but ministers have so far told select committees they will not use that power. A U-turn will further undermine the already strained trust between the Government and Parliament.

While time is running out between now and 29 March, there are ways that the Government can navigate a way through the immediate deadlines that it faces. The cost, however, could be an erosion of any remaining goodwill in Parliament.

Reading this is enough to induce a headache. And I am reminded of the saying attributed to Yogi Berra, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”


1 Here is a full list of the amendments tabled so far. The Speaker John Bercow will decide which will be considered. I hate relying on BrexitCentral for this:

From the Labour frontbench: To require the Government by 27th February to either put a deal to a vote in the Commons or table another amendable motion allowing Parliament to vote on how to proceed

From the Lib Dems: To extend the Article 50 period to allow for a second referendum with the option of remaining in the EU

From Tory MP Kenneth Clarke and others: To allow MPs to vote for their preferred Brexit outcome in a secret ballot where they would rank options in order of preference under the alternative vote system

From the SNP’s Angus MacNeil: Calling on the Government to revoke its Article 50 letter informing the EU of Britain’s intention to leave and therefore stop the Brexit process

From Tory MP Anna Soubry and others: Demanding that the Government publish its most recent official briefing on the implications of a no-deal Brexit for business and trade

From Tory MP Sarah Wollaston and others: To put a series of Brexit options to a Commons vote on 26th February, followed by a referendum in the event of MPs approving none of them or more than one of them
From Plaid Cyrmu: To seek an extension of the Article 50 period in order to hold a referendum

From Labour MP Geraint Davies and others: To seek an extension of the Article 50 period to allow time to strike a deal involving close alignment with the EU and then put it sot a referendum

From the SNP: To seek an extension to the Article 50 period of at least three months

From Labour MP Roger Godsiff: Calling for an extension of the Article 50 period to allow for a second referendum held under the alternative vote system with three options of leaving with a deal, leaving without a deal or remaining in the EU

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve been a bit out of touch with this for a couple of weeks (holiday, stolen laptop), but it does seem to me that remainers have given up in all but name. But I’m astonished to see that some commentators in the UK still seem to believe that the UK can simply ‘extend’ Article 50 if and when it wants. The number of myths floating around even at this stage is horrifying – and these are from people paid to understand how government works. One wonders how deeply this ignorance extends to the people making the votes. Its possible that many MP’s still genuinely believe that if May’s deal is not accepted, Brexit can be cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

    The sole May strategy now seems to be to grind everything to literally the very last possible minute, and assume that in a panic she will get the numbers she needs to approve the deal. This isn’t impossible – I think its possible that many Labour MP’s are in panic mode and could, at the very least, simply abstain, allowing for a majority. I wonder if the SNP are also feeling the pressure over this, a no-deal would be a catastrophe for many Scottish businesses. Corbyn seems to have dug into his strategy, but surely he knows this is very high risk – a Labour split over this seems to be rapidly becoming a probability, not a possibility. I think if a Labour split could attract the fig leaf of a few Tory rebels (making it look like a genuine new centrist force), then it will happen. I honestly believe that Brexit is significantly more likely to destroy the Labour Party than the Tories, and given the way the British electoral system works, this is a guarantor of a Tory majority for many years to come. What a horrifying thought.

    One little anecdote – I was in the Irish embassy in a southern European capital a couple of days ago – a number of very polite middle aged people with very refined southern English accents were plaintively asking if their Irish passports had arrived yet. The staff were politely telling then not to worry, they’d be here in time and would be notified in due course. The were clearly very used to this sort of request.

    1. vlade

      oh, Brexit can be stopped – all it takes A50 to be retracted, which is technically possible until midnight March 29th. But the important word there is ‘technically’.

      Practically, I doubt very much anyone has the guts to do it w/o some aircover, and the only relevant aircover is 2nd referendum, which is impossible w/o the EU granting a massive A50 extension.

      SNP may be willing to go no-deal, as they could blame Tories and Labour on it, and thus nudge Scotland closer to getting out.

      In case of no-deal, IMO Labour split is not even a probability, but pretty much given. As you say, it’s quite possible they would get a few Tory MPs, who feel like they are done with Tory party anyways (Boles, Grieve, Soubry…).

      Re your anecdote – I think the growth of Irish citizens in the last couple of years was astonishing, probably something like 5% (I saw 200k Irish passport applications from the UK alone in the last two years).

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Vlade.

        Just wait until the sham marriages start, or as we call them more elegantly, “mariages blancs” (white marriages).

        A few of us have considered. I asked someone about France, but was told it’s getting difficult. A former mayor of Tours is doing time after officiating over many, mainly for Chinese investors. His cover was blown by staff annoyed at his refusal to share a bigger percentage of the fee. Rural mayoral offices are scrutinised closely as most of the weddings took place there.

        It was suggested that I look at PK country.

        1. Fazal Majid

          French citizenship requires knowing how to speak French, unless you are an authorized refugee, in which case it is waived.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      Are the Ascendancy “coming home”?

      The Irish government should impose a test, including proficiency in Irish, on applicants, just like HMG.

      Also, just to wind things up a notch more, ask for Irish to replace English as Ireland’s preference for an EU official language.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I suspect many an Ascendency family is looking to revive the family seat, as did Lord Magan (who curiously enough sold it off last year, perhaps he’ll reconsider).

        One aspect of Brexit that has amused Irish people no end is the number of Belfast Unionists of the Anglican variety suddenly discovering their enthusiasm for their rights under the GFA. Their enthusiasm once extended to rugby internationals and no further.

        I do believe that the status of English will become somewhat questionable after Brexit – as only the UK had it as an ‘official’ language – both Ireland and Malta opting for Irish and Maltese for political reasons. Given that (so I’ve heard) Varadkar has only a few words of Irish, that could lead to some amusing moments in discussions).

        1. Donn

          Varadkar was certainly not raised with the language but (loathe as I might be personally to give him his due), he certainly has a greater command of Irish than the characterization of ‘a few words’ might suggest. Indeed, he’s demonstrated a personal attachment to Irish that many would find rather unusual in a Blueshirt. But these times seem to positively rejoice in the unexpected or anomalous. On a side note, it was hilarious to hear suggestions that Ireland might leave the European Union and rejoin the British Union. For all its many profound flaws, at least the EU has to date served as a stable framework for establishing our independence, not least by insisting we take our statehood (and indeed native language) seriously. Quite the contrast to the British union’s track record of dispossessions, repressions, colonizations, expulsions, starvations and linguistic devastation.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Thanks, I stand corrected about Varadkar (I’m not one to criticise as my Irish is mostly long forgotten).

      2. Lee

        Also, just to wind things up a notch more, ask for Irish to replace English as Ireland’s preference for an EU official language.

        This is rather far off point but I sometimes wonder how Brits with their various regional accents manage to understand one another.

        I am an American English speaker. I watch a lot of UK tv productions, and I am particularly fond of contemporary police procedurals set in rural areas. But I cannot watch these shows without subtitles. Watching Shetland, Vera, Hinterland, Happy Valley and similar fare, I can tell they are speaking English but their accents render their speech incomprehensible to me. In one recent episode there is dialogue in English between a Norwegian and a Shetland Islander. Only the Norwegian’s accented English was perfectly understandable without benefit of subtitles.

        1. Synoia


          you would have difficulty in understanding the rural dialect fom my birth city.

          IMHO the US does also have a set of dialects.

          1. ChrisPacific

            True in the rural South especially. You don’t even have to go all that far south – I’ve met people in Virginia that I could barely understand.

          2. Joe Well

            Theres a lot of accent-shaming in the US, so people tend to try to speak with the TV accent, especially with people from outside the region.

            British accents: one of the legacies of postwar socialism.

      3. Kurt Sperry

        I am curious what proportion of Irish citizens could pass a reasonably stringent proficiency test on their language today?

    3. Ataraxite

      Yes, this is a little-commented aspect of May’s Brexit “strategy” (if one may use such a word to describe this shambles) – she has engineered it to caused the maximum damage to the Labour party, by either forcing them to partially own Brexit if they face no other choice than her deal or no deal, or looking pathetically weak if they abstain on the most important decision Britain has taken in decades. In a cynical way, one might almost admire it.

      I agree with your assessment that May’s deal will probably pass with much gnashing of teeth. The EU – amazingly – has lost control of the entire process, and it would be wise to take action to regain that control. Waiting for the morons in the UK parliament to agree on something is waiting for Godot. I am astonished that things have been allowed to run so late without the EU issuing ultimatums – they seem quite happy to not know whether they’ll have to handle a Deal or No Deal scenario with only a few days of notice in the worst case.

      1. fajensen

        they seem quite happy to not know whether they’ll have to handle a Deal or No Deal scenario with only a few days of notice in the worst case.

        The EU has already agreed. They don’t care what the UK does any more. Ultimatums will just lead to Daily Mail and The Swivel-Eyed Tribes screaming abuse while fuelling hopes that the EU are now panicking so if they only go further down the line towards crash-out Brexit, concessions will be made. That would be counterproductive.

        There are probably people on the EU-side who are, in private, astonished and surprised that the EU spends 2 years negotiating Brexit and then it turns out right at the end, no less, that the UK negotiating team actually had no mandate to negotiate …. There is nothing nice to be said about that, so the EU is keeping mum and spends the bureaucratic energy on dealing with the situation as it is:

        It is a surprise to me that The Markets does not yet seem to have priced in that the odds of crash-out is at least 50:50 and crash-out will be a bigger smash than 2008. But, what do I know!?

        1. vidimi

          i’m starting to withdraw my pounds. i think the currency is now dead in the water and don’t see an outcome that won’t result in a precipitous drop. once more people wake up to a no-deal brexit, it could lose 20%.

          1. Ahimsa

            My local Chamber of Commerce & Industry in south Germany (major auto parts industry) is currently advertising its Brexit-Roadshow thusly (my translation):

            .. The Withdrawal Agreement has however not been approved by the British parliament. A disorderly Brexit on 29th March is therefore increasingly likely.

            As a result it is important that you and your company urgently take action and make the necessary precautions.

            ..Representatives from the customs agency will provide information on the changes to be expected…

      2. Jeff

        Perhaps a caveat here. ‘EU’ is just a name. Behind that name are countries, and real people. Governments in France, Holland, Germany started actions for Brexit, and have accelerated to cope with the no-deal scenario. Proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
        One outsider here is Belgium, which should take action, but which has again lost its government. Something might fall over on that side.

        1. fajensen

          I think Belgium is kinda famous by now for not needing a government. In Denmark we see Belgium as a demonstration of the importance of having a competent civil service.

    4. Ape

      Isn’t it the case from these sequence of events that a big chunk of tories and labourites have more class loyalty than national loyalty? Only the neoliberal center has more of a british social identity than an upper/lower class identity. Or to put it otherwise, that many toris and laborites are more absorbed by their ideological conflict while the center is worried about relations with the rest of the world.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        The problem with class loyalty for Labour is that yes, many of them are working class and firmly wedded to Labour, but plenty of Labour MP’s and activists are various colours of centre-left and left wing middle class idealists with no real roots in the working class traditions in the Party. Its not just Blairites. This is one reason I think a Labour split is more likely that a Tory one. The Tories really will cling together right through Armageddon. Labour, I think, will not.

        1. Joe Well

          Of course the Conservative Party has unity. After all, they put the country through Brexit to crush UKIP and ensure that unity.

    5. PKMKII

      What do you think the possibility is of Brexit eliminating both Labour and Tories as the major parties of the UK? I can certainly see that Labour could end up in this position where they alienate the remainers and look opportunistic to everyone else. But I can’t imagine that the Tories are going to get a pass from the public from the fallout from Brexit. This is an outsider’s perspective, but I get the feeling we may see the third parties, or perhaps just entirely new ones, filling the void that Labour and the Tories leave.

      1. Joe Well

        I wonder if UK politics won’t regionalize further following the trend of SNP and PC. Could there be new parties for regions of England now? A Northern England party? Or an English version of SNP/PC?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think that’s quite a possibility.

          The problem with the UK first past the post electoral system is that it punishes parties with geographically widespread support. Its quite possible for a party to have the support of 25% of the public and not get a single seat – if that support is spread thinly through the country. But smaller parties can survive or thrive if they can focus on a region (as with the SNP and PC).

          The nightmare for Labour in particular is a split which makes them unelectable by splicing off the core working class vote from the more youth and urban oriented educated segment. But a split on regional grounds (such as London and ‘big city’ MP’s breaking off) might result in two moderately successful left wing parties.

          But for the right, I think an England oriented populist right wing party could establish deep roots the smaller cities and towns outside the main urban areas, especially if they could find a Marine Le Pen type figure to lead them. A party like that could strip both Labour and Tories of many seats.

    6. ChrisPacific

      Unicorns seem to be very much alive and well. I had assumed the choices would eventually coalesce down to May’s deal or No Deal as time ran out, but nothing of the sort seems to be happening. There is still a large population that rejects both May’s deal and No Deal in favour of some as yet unspecified alternative. The March 29 date is not treated as a hard deadline but as an incovenient impediment to be brushed aside, either using agency-free passive voice (“the exit date will need to be moved”) or on the assumption that the EU would automatically agree to any proposal, since they don’t want No Deal any more than the UK does.

      As I said in yesterday’s links, I think this is the biggest risk to May’s brinkmanship approach. She can’t use the threat of No Deal to force agreement on her deal unless everyone believes it’s the only alternative. Right now most of them believe nothing of the kind, and look perfectly capable of sustaining that view right up until the last minute.

    7. Sanxi

      Sigh, hope your having a good day really, well Valentine’s in all. I’d ask, but I bet you’re spoken for. The U.K. by way of government not parliament can in fact revoke unilaterally invoke, a revoke of article 50, as established by the ECJ. Simple as that. The civil war – not necessarily a shooting war, will ensue if it is revoked. The E.U. by self statements has said in good faith they have offered the best deal possible, Teresa May or a dead person not-with-standing. The E.U. doesn’t need to vote on it. The E.U. would like nothing better than for the U.K. to remain. The only problem being the E.U. is toast, won’t have any meaningful purpose in ten years. Why? Several reasons, but let’s start with two: climate chaos, 2.No energy from carbon based fuels. 3. Oh, why not no money in even MMT terms.

      1. fajensen

        The E.U. doesn’t need to vote on it. The E.U. would like nothing better than for the U.K. to remain. The only problem being the E.U. is toast, won’t have any meaningful purpose in ten years.

        I disagree. First, I think that the EU very much prefers that the UK takes their internal conflict over EU outside of the shop so that they don’t thrash the furniture. Second, I think that the EU will now change rapidly in a much more federal direction and they will be quite hard about it, like: “The train is going now, you are on it or under it. What will it be?”

        If that direction causes the additional loss of a few of those troublesome countries “out east”; I think “the EU core” will not be too saddened about in the end.

        I base this on the totally non-reported signing of “The Treaty of Aachen”. I see this as France and Germany getting into the power vacuum left by the UK’s departure and working on this opportunity on putting their mark on the future EU. They are both federalists.

        “Nordstream 2” went ahead also, France did in fact not block it, as the Langley-sponsored media pundits had hoped. This is an open departure from the US sphere.

        On the environment, I believe that the only entity to take on the insectcopolypse and climate policies is currently the EU. National states are fragmented and useless in this. The only one who could, the US, has chosen to go down fighting valiantly to revert entropy to the (for some) happier times like the 50’ies under Donald Trump.

        And EU is projecting significant power already. Enough to become an adversary to the US already which Pompeo tells everyone all the time. I fell over an article where CISCO is calling for common standards for privacy, not out our their generous hearts but because they are being trapped between PRISM and GDPR and “CHINA” it is probably costly and risky to have several versions of compliance.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’d agree with you – while on the surface the EU is in something of a vacuum with Merkel and Macron both distracted and weak, under the surface I think the tone has gone from expansion to consolidation. The troublesome eastern countries have lost a valuable ally in the UK and I think they will find themselves increasingly marginalised. The rate at which the US (via the UK of course) is losing influence in Europe is unprecedented. I think that a financial crisis will if anything lead to greater centralisation within the EU and a much more ‘Europe’ oriented policy, for better or worse.

          1. mia

            The UK did not stand for or support the Eastern European countries, it’s absolutely wrong to believe something like that. This false impression is the result of the continuous British press propaganda, perpetrating blatant lies which are convenient, because English people tend to simply hear only what they want to hear, not the truth. I can give many examples which show that:
            – the press / public statements of the British rulers throughout time, in support of the Eastern European countries, differed completely from the actions taken simultaneously by the English rulers (government)
            – the English always had one single objective ref the countries which freed themselves from communism: to manoeuvre and used them against the rest of the EU, divide and impera…

        2. vlade

          The only thing I disagree with on the above is that Germany is federalist. German voters are not. German politicians (most of the current crop) are still suffering from “we don’t wan to be seen as bullies”, and are still letting French to run quite a bit of the show (arguably, even French voters aren’t federalists).

  2. SW94

    People’s vote losing steam- those of us who support it, see it as the least worst way out of this crisis, which will only gain steam if/when the WA clearly won’t pass. The PV is quite clearly not a good thing in its own right- it is a solution to a problem which it would be better not to have.

    In fact there are small signs of the PV gaining some steam- Starmer and McDonnell both giving it some prominence, slapped down by Corbyn for whom it is clearly his worst nightmare. Corbyn though will soon have to choose- allowing no deal, explicitly supporting the Tory WA, or something else. Which way he jumps is what will determine how this plays out in my view. He controls the swing votes.

    The most interesting amendment today is the Clarke one on ranking preferences. Fingers crossed it gets selected- it has a reasonable spread of support on the printed order paper.

    1. vlade

      Oh, I think it’s quite likely this one gets selected (or Wollastons’s one, which is essentially the same but has the options spelled out), but the real question is, will it get approved?

      The only one I believe it likely to get the votes is Soubry’s on no-deal impact, and likely even that one will be only just.

      1. SW94

        The Wollaston one is hard wired for a PV, since I can’t see any of the other options getting a majority. The Clarke one has a PV as an emergent property. As ever it comes down to which way the Labour leadership whip their vote.

        Bercow might be attracted to the procedural novelty of Clarke!

    2. Avidremainer

      Does anyone believe that this gross and incompetent government will get the legislation right? When you combine arrogance and ignorance you get a heady brew that ends in catastrophe. Mrs May leads an administration that specialises in being talentless.
      A Foreign Secretary who states that all Libya has to do is clear the dead bodies from the beaches and turn themselves into Benidorm and everything will be well. And this only the most egregious of his comments. A DEXIEU Secretary who thought that bi-lateral trade deals with Germany and the rest of the EU member countries was the order of the day. His successor, who didn’t quite realise that the UK was an island topped off by his successor who knows nothing.
      We have a Northern Ireland Secretary who didn’t appreciate that people in Ulster vote on confessional lines, Dr Liam Fox who couldn’t tell his MRA from his FTA. A Home Office that is absolutely unfit for purpose. Then there is Mr Grayling. Nuff said? Plus we have the spectacle of the Prime Minister urging her followers to vote against her own deal. You couldn’t make it up.
      People think there will be a problem with UK legislation? Why should there be when it is obvious that this government could not organise a bunkup in a brothel.
      Please feel free to heap the blame for the above on Corbyn.

      1. Sanxi

        “incompetent government will get the legislation right? When you combine arrogance and ignorance”, Really, is that a statement of belief or an emotional rant, an utterance perhaps? Beliefs are based on reality not an opinion of reality, thus based in facts and theory. What scientific data, do you have to make a claim of arrogance or ignorance. None, I venture. Data, not opinions of opinions which surely you elude too. You are not, entitled to either your own facts or belief in them. Those credential, ethically can’t make either claim without personally examining those you claim are samesuch. You seem overwhelmed, please do clamn down.

        1. Avidremainer

          Sadly you ignore the facts as laid out in what was a reasonable piece. Which ” fact” did I get wrong?
          My point was that Mrs May and crew are not proto Blofelds or arch Machiavels but arrogant and incompetent nincompoops.
          For years the Tories were told that their Universal Credit policy was a prime mover in increasing poverty in the UK. This week the Tory in charge-Amber Rudd-admitted that expecting people to wait 5-6weeks for payments when they had been used to a weekly income was perhaps a step too far.
          Last night ( Thursday 14th) Andrew Neil, a respected former editor of the Sunday Times and chairman of the Spectator Group asked a former Tory Defence Secretary Michael Portillo and former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson whether or no Mrs May surrounded herself with incompetents to make her look better. Neither disagreed with his premiss.
          The UK is going to hell in a hand cart driven by very silly people.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          *sigh* The British government led by May has had plenty of time to demonstrate if it is competent or not. It has repeatedly proven itself tactically and strategically inept and completely out of its depth in almost everything it has touched, from Brexit to immigration, from defence strategy to reform of public services. Anyone within the government or wider public service who demonstrated too much competence or ethics has been driven out or sidelined. Hammond is probably the last minister with some shred of credibility, and that’s primarily because he is a one eyed man in a room full of blind men.

  3. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    An “Eastern and Southern African block”? COMESA or SADC? I can’t comment about COMESA, but people I know working on Mauritius’ Brexit working groups say the government and SADC’s priority is the EU, somewhat to the surprise of UK officialdom, some of whom appear surprised that European languages other than English are spoken in the region.

    I had to get a new ID card when in Mauritius soon after new year. The official processing the application reported an uptick in Brits and Australians of Mauritian origin getting their cards and / or certificates of citizenship in the hope, but not expectation, that France, the colonial power before the UK and neighbour (due to Ile de la Reunion nearby), may come to an agreement with its former colony, which could include a form of free movement. As the two countries have intensified their relationship this decade, that could well happen.

    Although the island has no official language, as part of the surrender in December 1810, it was agreed that English would be the only language spoken in the National Assembly. English became the medium of instruction and for officialdom by default. This is no longer the case. French has had parity for some years.

    If the UK is desperate for a deal with Palestine, the Palestinians should insist on UK recognition of their sovereignty and name, not that authority nonsense.

      1. Ape

        Really? The only gain you get from exporting is a capacity to import. So why does the indirect gain outweigh the direct gain?

        1. vlade

          Say, for Faroe Islands the numbers are 260m in exports (to the UK) vs 16m in imports.
          So they don’t really care about the ability to import stuff from the UK, 260m gbp is >10% of their GDP. So clearly, they would want to roll.

  4. Clive

    I’ve been trying to check exactly how it works this morning (the parliamentary rules are well explained on the UK Parliament website, it isn’t inherently that complex, but a seemingly tiny variation can make all the difference and you can end up being totally wrong) and still can’t figure it out definitively, however…

    I think that if the government’s motion fails (i.e. the ERG MPs vote it down because, ostensibly, they object to the precise wording) then all amendments also fail.

    Thus this would have the effect of putting the kibosh on anything which the Speaker allows to be tabled and voted on. So there’s possibly an element of the UK government doing a “oh no, please don’t throw me in the Briar Patch” about not acquiescencing to the ERG’s request to fix the wording of the motion. If the ERG thought that badly about it, they could have tabled their own amendment(s).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, May and the ERG may be in cahoots up to a point…among other things, May wouldn’t have to run the clock out to the very last minute if the ERG looked like it had a shot at blocking “no no deal” measures. But I’d really like to see how many votes they can muster. If it’s only <50 on something with no stakes like this, they are revealed as paper tigers, since the numbers would almost certainly shrink if there were real consequences. But if it's more like 80, May could have a real problem when the crunch comes.

      1. ChrisPacific

        Reports I’m seeing after the fact are putting it at around 60. So somewhere in between the two.

    2. vlade

      Well, I’m not sure whether this works or not.

      As in, I _think_ (but as you say, small details are important here), that the voting is on amendments, and then on the amended motion. I assume that if there’s enough votes to pass an amendment (most of which leave only the first three words from the government motion), it indicates there’s enough votes to pass it as an amended motion. I think the government may withdraw it (but would it dare?).

      The trouble there is also that if say Clarke’s (for argument’s sake) amendment on options vote passes, it’d be pretty hard (but as we know with May, not impossible) to not do something like that, given it was ‘the revealed will of the Parliament’

      1. SW94

        Interestingly there wasn’t a formal vote on the amended motion last time as far as I can see, unless it went through on the nod at the end. Anyway I can’t see Labour voting against the motion, amended or unamended.

    3. David

      The problem is that in the Westminster system, the government rarely if ever loses a vote, and many of the debates and votes are therefore just theatrics. Normally (ie until a few years ago) the first speaker in the debate would be from the government side, moving the main motion. Then the opposition speaker would move an amendment. The debate would take place and in the votes at the end the government would win and the opposition would lose, and everybody would go home. Drama, such as it was, would be limited to the size of the government’s majority, and if a few MPs voted against or even abstained, that would be big news. A government that actually lost an important vote (even a non-binding one) would then be targeted in a confidence motion. (This was how the Labour government fell in 1979).
      But as we’ve seen, the normal rules of UK politics have been suspended, and, frankly, I’m not sure the parliamentary system as it is can actually cope with the current mess. Much of parliamentary procedure is by precedent, and under any remotely normal circumstances May would have resigned and the government would have lost a vote of confidence. I think that the UK parliamentary system may turn out to be yet another piece of Brexit collateral damage.
      As regards the votes tonight, I’m honestly not sure what happens if the government motion is rejected. Logically, the votes stop there, because MPs would be voting to amend a motion they had just rejected. On the other hand, my recollection is that the Speaker has flexibility to take the votes in any order he wants (I can’t find anything definitive about this on the official site, and this is a non-typical situation anyway) and clearly it would be much more sensible and logical to take the amendments first. I have a vague recollection that it’s normal to take amendments before substantive votes. Which doesn’t mean it will happen, of course.

      1. Clive

        That’s the bit that is flummoxing me as well, whether the initial un-amended motion must first get voted on (and if voted down that’s the end of that) or if the various amendments have to be voted on and then finally the motion, as amended (assuming some amendments get through), gets voted on.

        But I think, although this is what I’d like to verify but I suspect we’ll just have to wait and see, if a big chunk of the ERG MPs don’t support the government and don’t support any of the amendments then the only possibilities are that either only the un-amended motion survives (assuming the Speaker allows a vote on the un-amended motion and Labour support it) or else there ends up being an amended motion which has to fall because the amendments aren’t able to command a majority (the government will whip against anything containing any of the amendments and Labour won’t support the motion “as is”).

        I’m not sure whether the opposition is supporting any of the amendments. That’s a big tell if not. And even if they are, but like what happened with the Cooper amendment previously where the Labour leadership deliberately spent the whole day dicking around about whether they would, or wouldn’t, support it, by the time they said they would be supporting it, it was too late for the whips to get all the votes lined up. Winding down the clock being, apparently, a cross-party ploy.

        1. David

          The more I think about it the more it seems logical that amendments are taken first because otherwise either the main motion falls and they are irrelevant or the main motion succeeds and they are irrelevant. I think this may also be a situation where all of the motions fail but that has no practical impact.

        2. Clive

          Ah, while I was typing this, BBC put up this guide

          It’s still not obvious how this will go, procedurally.

          Labour’s front bench have an amendment which they will, presumably, whip for. But the Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to that amendment so, presumably, won’t support Labour’s front bench amendment as written. I do hope everyone is keeping up with me here. Suffice to say, it’s all about as clear as mud.

        3. vlade

          If an amendment passes, the main motion can pass – that really depends on how was the amendment passed (i.e. how many, if any, people will whips be able to get out of bars for example).

          If neither Tories nor Labour whip for an amendment, then it has about zero chance of passing.

          But if Labour votes for it (fully) + a few rebel Tories + SNP/LD etc.. (basically all but DUP/main Tory), it can pass. Then of course Tory whips would be after the rebels and try to persuade them to back off. TBH, I don’t think the current Tory rebels (Grieve/Soubry etc.) would go for it though, as the promises to them were broken too many times, and clearly May plays more to ERG than them.

  5. John A

    Liam Fox was on breakfast TV this morning still blithly talking about May being able to successfully renegotiate the terms with the EU.

  6. flora

    As an aside:
    I’m watching all this from the US with some apprehension for the UK. So much looks eerily familiar to the stealth political plays in the US and the money behind them. Stealth, mis-direction, and bald faced lies are used ruthlessly in US stealth political campaigns.

    From Monbiot’s latest:

    Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”

    So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. ”

  7. Andrew Thomas

    Thank you, Yves. Your post was exhausting to read; I can’t imagine what it took to write. I have learned more about this topic from you and the splendid commentaries on this site than I could learn about anything else anywhere else. If there is any commonality between the US and UK political trashpits, I think it comes down to the lamentable insight of the firm that did so much to deliver both Trump and Brexit. Politics is no longer about making arguments, based upon facts and logic, and the power of persuasion. It is about finding out how people “feel”, consciously or not, and then manipulating those feelings so as to get them to vote for you. Governance, however, takes place in the world of fact, not feeling. The people who are in charge because of how they make people feel simply cannot govern. They don’t know how, and, if they bother to learn and start trying, they are risking their careers, because any form of rational governance will not make anybody “feel” good about them. So you get unicorns in the UK, and the imbecilic spectacles on offer daily over here. Just a thought.

    1. larry

      An interesting and thought-provoking distinction. Somehow, I ‘feel’ that the two attributes should be integrable, but perhaps not by the kind of people who want control and power.

    2. Bob Anderson

      Well, they both were heavily encouraged by anti-American globalist plutocrats in eastern europe and the middle east. Your missing that point. That said, I think the EU is toast in a few years and it won’t be like the “Brexitites” hope will go anyway. The liquidation of the single market is going to be painful no matter what. That is Corbie’s real long goal nobody gets on this board. If the “EU”, US and China are in all a major recession by the early 20’s, that will hurt all forms of neoliberals.

      We got a corporate debt bubble burst in the US. A RE bust globally.

  8. lozza262

    I am just wondering with all the free trade agreements that the UK has and the opaque arbitrage courts that may be in there, like in the Trans Pacific Partnership and such. Will it be possible for a company like Ford or Airbus to sue the British government over lost profits due to Brexit, especially in a no deal kind of way?
    This could have serious implications as there are many businesses that could sue over this.

    1. Anonymous2

      This was raised on the comments board on Richard North’s site a few months ago. One of the commentators claimed that officials were looking into the question.

      1. vlade

        I had thought of this. The irony of that would be that the EU is in the process of banning the abitration clauses, saying that any grievances should use normal EU law.

  9. John D.

    So May’s strategy all along has been to simply stall and delay, and when everything goes to hell – as we all fear is going to happen – she’ll just turn around and screech that Europe’s to blame. Or Labor. Or some combination thereof. Maybe she’ll throw the Russians in for good measure? One can’t help but wonder if even Thatcher would have been this irresponsible…

Comments are closed.