Another Theresa May Faceplant as the Brexit Clock Ticks: Speaker Bercow Nixes Another Meaningful Vote in Current Session [Updated]

Just when you thought Brexit couldn’t possibly become more chaotic, those wily Brits manage to surprise.

Theresa May tripped yet another landmine. Thanks to her decision to repeatedly put off votes and decisions in the hope of still getting approval for her detested Withdrawal Act, May was already set to go to Brussel for Thursday and Friday meetings to get approval for a Brexit extension….with it looking pretty certain that her side would not only spring whatever idea they had on the EU27 at the very last minute, but would not have a very well thought out plan. The combination of pushing the EU27 to the wire and almost certainly not having any plausible strategy as to how to create consensus around a different sort of Brexit if her Meaningful Vote failed yet again was already making the upcoming EU Council meeting look at risk of going off the rails.

As UK and Ireland-based readers no doubt know full well, May’s plan to have another Meaningful Vote this week blew up in a way that called her and her Government’s basic competence into question. Commons Speaker John Bercow said that if the Government tried again to have a vote on its Withdrawal Act, he’d deem it to be impermissible in the current session of Parliament by virtue of the matter having already been considered. And he further indicated that the Withdrawal Act would need to change substantially for him to deem another vote to be in order.

We’ll get to more specific observations below, but the two big takeaways are:

1. On multiple levels, this blowup was a complete failure of planning by the Government. It was hardly a surprise that Bercow could nix a vote. Yet the Government failed to investigate the matter, pre-sound Bercow, and have contingency plans ready if the Speaker said no.

2. This opinion by Bercow isn’t (or didn’t have to be) the disaster it is portrayed as being. But the complete lack of imagination and preparation not only leaves May floundering, but has thrown a big monkey wrench into the planning the EU was no doubt trying to undertake. The spectacle of more floundering, plus having to consider even more options, can’t help but further sour the already poor dynamics between Brussels and London. And do not forget, even when the objective stakes are high, interpersonal factors matter and regularly determine outcomes (even though the principals will tell themselves otherwise).

More details below.

The Government was utterly unprepared for Bercow’s position on the planned vote. Both tweets courtesy Richard Smith:

And notice the next tweet in this thread:

The Government having the rug pulled out from under it by Bercow covered up the fact that May probably wasn’t having a meaningful vote anyhow. The press had been in its usual horserace drama, playing up the idea that May could flip the DUP to support her Withdrawal Act, and based on that, somehow get another 65 MPs to change their mind. The Irish press had been more skeptical about the DUP supporting May’s deal.

On Sunday, the Government started trying to lower expectations. On the Andrew Marr show, Phillip Hammond said the Government would not hold a vote this week if it didn’t have DUP and enough Tory support to secure passage. Right before Bercow nixed a vote, Robert Peston tweeted:

So despite all the rending of garments, May would be more or less where she is now, but with less egg on her face.

Not only was Bercow’s reaction not at all unreasonable, it’s also not as serious an impediment as the press and the Government’s ineptitude are making it seem. Richard North explained how not only was Bercow’s opposition to yet another vote likely, but there was precedent for proroguing Parliament, which is being depicted as a nuclear option. From his site:

I can’t think why the Speaker’s ruling yesterday on the resubmission of the Brexit motion should have come as a surprise…..

If it is truly the case that Downing Street was unaware of this restriction, and is currently in a state of shock, then it points further to a sense of pervasive incompetence in government….

As to the source of this information, it resides in Erskin May, but obtainable to mere mortals only on payment of £439.99 – although it is, of course, free to our rulers….

And there we can see that this is not a small, arcane point. A whole chapter is devoted to the rule under the title: “same question may not be twice offered”. There we find that:

It is a rule, in both houses, which is essential to the due performance of their duties, that no question or bill shall be offered that is substantially the same as one on which their judgment has already been expressed in the current session.

We also find details of where prorogations have been resorted to in order to circumvent this rule. One period in 1707 lasted a week but in 1721 it was over in a mere two days. In theory, though, there seems to be nothing to stop a prorogation being set for an hour or less, which could – in theory – keep Mrs May’s motion on track, ready to be voted on before the European Council later this week.

Nevertheless, at the time of writing, plans for today’s expected vote are in disarray, with the situation accurately described as “chaos”, even if we detach the constitutional aspect from it. The fact is that, since the government intended to offer the same “question”, it should have been prepared. It wasn’t.

Being prepared would have included not just preparing the groundwork for proroguing or other fallback moves, but also briefing the EU. The flailing about raises even more doubts about whether it’s possible for the UK to steer any path through Brexit. The fact that some top reporters are seeing Bercow as motivated by pique, even if fully warranted, is likely to be noted by EU leaders and factored into their thinking about what to do next.

The EU has one big reason to give an extension: Ireland. We have long had the view that the cost and disruption of a crash out has been greatly underestimated, if nothing else because the imposition of a hard border between the UK and EU is a trade barrier….even if the UK were to be in a customs union.

However, as much as cliff edge Brexit would be messy, businesses are increasingly unhappy with the uncertainty over if Brexit will happen, when that would be and what sort of Brexit will occur. It has hit the point where the press is reporting grumblings that more and more executives are saying protracted uncertainty will be very damaging. At a minimum, it will lead to a big reduction in investment, which by itself would slow growth further.

Moreover, even though it’s a safe bet that “no deal” plans aren’t ready for a March 29 departure, the fact that the EU plans to keep the status quo in place in key areas through as long as the year end would soften the impact of a crash out.

In other words, the English-language press is not registering the considerable ambivalence a lot of EU leaders. For instance, Macron does not seem to be posturing when he says, in effect, the UK better have a damned good reason for asking for an extension. The French government also seems not to think that avoiding a crash out is critical. The officialdom appears to think that while there would clearly be pain, there could also be medium and long term advantages. The mess of the Bercow intervention isn’t going to improve the already dark mood in Brussels.

The biggest reason for the extension is likely not to be the UK, which has done everything it could to alienate the EU27, but Ireland. As PlutoniumKun said by e-mail yesterday (before the Bercow train wreck):

Ireland is seriously unprepared for a no-deal – Dublin Port has put in place customs facilities for the Holyhead link but the new ferry links to the continent are not running yet so far as I know. I know some police and army people, I’ve not heard any suggestion from them of cancelled leave, etc., although no doubt there are secret contingencies. A full ‘soft’ mobilisation along the border would be essential. I think the Irish government has assumed all along there would be an extension if May could not get the deal through. The government will go into panic overdrive in Brussels to get at least a 3 month extension in the last week if they suspect the mood has turned. There will have been furious lobbying over the St. Patricks Weekend in all the key political capitals (including of course Washington, not that they have direct influence at this stage).

I agree with Vlade that it would look like bad faith if the EU was to take the option of an extension off the table at this stage. But I’ve been wondering if the soundings about a 21 month extension are intended to set the ground for conditions that they know London can never accept. My guess is that they’ll give May a choice – a very short extension (a few weeks) for another vote, or a 21 month extension with very strict conditions (including a new vote). They know of course that May will be incapable of getting any sort of consensus at home so both could well be refused by default.

Experts are all over the map as to what happens next. Politico’s morning European newsletter hews closely to conventional wisdom, arguing that the EU27 are likely to accept any rationale May gives for a longish extension, presumably her only option given that getting her deal voted through by May 29 looks even more implausible given Bercow….and the EU is not likely to give her an extension to try anyhow, and then have to give her a second one.

Robert Peston (who remember has much better EU official contacts than the overwhelming majority of UK reporter) had in a speech last Friday put no deal after a short extension as the most likely outcome. From Portfolio Adviser:

Peston said markets have been massively underestimating the risk of a no-deal Brexit simply because of the complexity of any scenarios that follows through Parliament, whether that is May’s deal, another deal, a delay, or another referendum.

“My central prognosis is that we will end up with a no-deal Brexit, not on 29 March but a month or two afterwards,” he said. “The reason I say that is because the challenge of getting everything aligned to prevent that from happening is very, very hard.”

Peston’s concerns are valid. There are too many things that have to happen for either of the ways out of a no deal to happen: a revocation of Article 50 or getting to a Withdrawal Agreement. As we’ve stressed repeatedly, any process that has a lot of steps to completion is highly failure prone if those steps are not assured of success. This is simple cumulative probability. Not only do we have many steps, but virtually none of them have odds of success as high as 90%.

Richard North focused on how flabbergasted the EU is likely to be. And contrary to Politico (and mainstream thinking), he contends that the Bercow punch makes a long extension less likely:

With only ten days to go before the scheduled Brexit day, any idea of a roadmap has evaporated. The “colleagues” in Brussels can have no idea of Mrs May’s intentions because, most likely, she herself has no clue of what they are. As for us, we not only don’t know whether we are going to leave on time, we don’t even know what is planned over the next few days….

Confronted with an unprecedented situation where there are multiple variables and significant long-term consequences, 27 Member State governments have to consult internally to establish their own responses, and then they have to consult with each other and with the EU institutions before coming to a common position. At the best of times, this would be difficult to achieve but, given the circumstances, it is almost at the point of expecting too much.

Probably, the only play available to the “colleagues” is to give the UK a short-term extension, for the sole purpose of organising a third and final vote. For that, though, they will need Mrs May’s assurances that there is a procedural “fix”, which undoubtedly there is. The precedents for a prorogation are sound. Even the speaker agreed that resubmission after prorogation “is self-evidently valid”.

However, if prorogation takes us into an extension period, it would almost certainly create a make-or-break situation, where a negative vote would precipitate a no-deal Brexit – unless at the last minute Mrs May is prepared to revoke the Article 50 notification. An affirmative vote would take us into the transitional period.

From this perspective, it would seem that the long-extension option is off the table. Keeping to their current policy stance of refusing a long extension unless there is a “substantial justification”, the European Council might find it difficult to authorise anything other than a short period, in the absence of any certainty as to the Westminster parliament’s intentions – which now cannot be divined before the European Council.

One final possibility, though, might involve the Council deferring any decision and convening an emergency consultation on 29 March. That, literally, would leave it to the eleventh hour – one hour before midnight, Brussels time – maximising uncertainty and creating an intolerable situation.

North doesn’t state it as crisply as he might, but given May’s famed rigidity, she may hold fast to her Plan A of trying to bully Parliament into approving her deal.

Will the EU put itself through the brain damage of letting her try and having an emergency summit March 28 and 29, particularly if May fails to say much about what her Plan B might be? The UK press has stories saying she would seek either a nine month or a one year extension if she can’t get her deal approved. Neither is long enough for a second referendum and follow-up actions, and it’s hard to see any other way to shift the deep political divisions in the UK far enough to get at a new type of deal. Given Parliament just having rejected a second referendum, she can’t use that as a reason for delay, and it seems unlikely that she’s say she’d call for a new general election. EU leaders have said they won’t let May get away with offering no reason, as in no plan for how to achieve a different Withdrawal Agreement, but pray tell, what could she possibly say?

Or will the EU give her a few months, even though the business community won’t be happy, as the most they can justify given the UK’s utter confusion, as well as to give Ireland some badly needed prep time?

The silence of the Government on what to do next, plus the fact that Tusk is making the rounds to see if he can sell his longer extension idea, says everyone is still very much in the dark.

Update 6:15 AM: Vlade just sent this by e-mail, and it hit the wires less than an hour ago. Oddly the Reuters version that he is getting in the UK is not the same as the one I am getting in the US (we poor Yanks must need to be sheltered from the cold realities of Brexit) but I see similar quotes in the Independent’s and the Express’ version of the story:

Germany to U.K.: Please Deliver Clear Plans (9:20 a.m.)

German Europe Minister Michael Roth had a stern warning for Theresa May’s government as he arrived for a meeting to prepare for Thursday’s summit in Brussels.

“I don’t have any appetite for substance-less, very abstract discussions and negotiations on Brexit,” he said. “Please deliver, dear friends in London, please deliver.”

He added: “Time is running out and we’re really exhausted by these negotiations and I expect clear and precise proposals of the British government, why such an extension is necessary. It’s not just a game, it’s an extremely serious situation.”

Vlade added, and I concur:

These guys are diplomats and career politicians. For them to use the language they have in the last few months means they are beyond boiling – that they boiled over, and are tired of all this shit, and are doing it only out of sense of duty, but believe are on a death march.

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  1. vlade

    I do not believe the EU will provide May with a long extension w/o knowing what her plan B is, and whether it’s reasonably feasible.

    She might have got a reason for short extension – saying she needs to prorogue and even sorting that out will take a few days. You need the Queen or Charles to come in person, and while the cermony is mostly show, I’m not sure how much of it can be cut down and still be considered a valid session. And it takes time to organise, when we can see that May’s govt is unable to do a pissup in a brewery.

    But not sure she’d get that w/o at least DUP saying yea.

    What most of the press ignores right now is the key role of the EU, and the mixed signals it sends. The best thing would be if the EU came up with clear message what extension will get granted at what cost – it will come to that anyways. That said, I can see how the EU might be seeing it now that the UK might fall out all by itself, even failing to ask for any extension.

    Would you believe that Labour brought in as a serious idea calling no-confidence vote again? A lot of Brexiters could just abstain for Labour to win it, the government would be dead in the water, unable to ask for anything, May would be out – but Tories could still get a government in early April w/o any GE.

    Right now I’d say that keeping the UK pols in the Westminster increases the average IQ of the rest of the UK. But they still get to make decisions on all of the UK.

    They are like kids given a computer game to play with, ignoring the real people and real lives (and it holds for both Tories and Labour, they both live in their alternate realities, wanting a different outcome of the game but still divorced from reality).

    1. Redlife2017

      Vlade, I do agree. My lefty Labour friends were all thrilled with what Bercow did and how that threw the government into chaos. Now, to be fair I was certainly bemused by the government being even more ridiculously stupid then previously understood. But they didn’t take the next step which is thus: No Deal has NEVER been taken off the table. It’s frickin’ built INTO the table. If May can’t pass MV3/4 why would the EU give more than a month or two extension? And in what universe do these people think May will rescind Art. 50?

      We are in dark times. It’s only 09:38, but I really think I should have a G&T.

      I think back to the great Dr. Thompson in times like this. His most pithy quote: “Who does vote for these dishonest shitheads?”

      1. Clive

        I watched the debate yesterday and it was a sight to behold — a great wodge of Labour MPs trotting out their pet unicorns and everything was just as hipperty-hopperty as it ever was. What the Labour MPs (and the TIG’ers) kept asking the Minister was, what was May going to ask the EU Council for. The Minister said in various ways, it won’t be what May asks for. It’ll be what the EU27 tells her she can have.

        The opposition MPs were getting increasing frantic. They thought the U.K. government was stonewalling. There was an element of stonewalling, but it was much more that the Minister was trying to be diplomatic and tell the opposition MPs, we don’t get to ask for anything here. Or we can ask, but how it goes from there, no MP — government nor opposition — can do anything about.

        1. Redlife2017

          Yes, even Labour seems to, well, labour under the delusion that we have much say when we go cap-in-hand and beg for…yeah. What ARE we asking for, might be the EU27’s reply. Uh, dunno. Need some time, guv. It only takes one country to bring the house of cards down.

          I’m going to scream to the wilderness here but: Why oh why did the EU kick the can down the road in December 2017? I mean I know they thought May-bot was agreement capable and that moving to phase 2 (or whatever it was called) would make it easier to find a way ahead, but I have found that confronting uncomfortable issues head on is the only way to make sure they are dealt with. I’m not blaming the EU, but it does feel like they’ve been the parents who keep giving money to their junkie daughter, because she’ll really not use it for the drugs, really. And now we might get the “tough love” treatment to straighten us out.

          1. vlade

            Unfortunately, one large EU weakness is that they don’t do uncomfortable decisions (unless there’s no choice).

          2. Clive

            An oft-aksed question. I think the EU wanted to resolve the UK/Republic of Ireland border — it was one of the few things they were really keen to secure and didn’t want it left hanging around as a UK chip that the UK government would bargain with. So they tried to get it taken off the table and moved safely out of harm’s way. May agreed in the first round (the one needed to get “meaningful progress” signed off by Barnier) to the backstop, Arlene Foster kicked off over that so May agreed to something else almost-but-not-quite the same with her. The EU accepted this obvious fudge, presumably because it seemed to make the problem go away to their satisfaction. That was a mistake. For one thing, it showed the EU really wanted the matter settled, which gave their hand away as to the importance they placed on it. For another thing, they placed their trust in May, for which Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction to people doing the same in him is entirely appropriate.

            It has, with the benefit of hindsight, all gone downhill from there.

          3. David

            More generally, in politics it’s always easier to keep talks going than to stop them. Diplomats, in my experience, often confuse talking with achieving something, so “they’re still talking” is a sign of hope, even if the two sides have nothing to say. By contrast stopping the negotiations (in December 2017 for example) would have been difficult and controversial, and required someone to take responsibility for the consequences. But maybe the can that we’ve talked so often about can be kicked far enough down the road that someone else will eventually have to deal with it.

          4. Redlife2017

            With Vlade’s update I think I am correct. Ugh. Tough Love indeed…

            Dr Thompson would agree:
            “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

          5. PlutoniumKun

            I suspect a key part of their thinking was subsection (2) of Article 50 which seems to imply that they have to keep negotiating.

            A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. 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.

            I would guess they felt they needed to tick off ‘successful’ phases of negotiations in order to demonstrate that they were following A.50 precisely – presumably not to give the UK any legal grounds for challenge.

            But certainly at the time there was a lot of surprise in these quarters here in NC about their willingness to give ground and the time. With hindsight, I suspect most of the negotiators would think they should have stood their ground. Back then there was still the feeling that the UK had some sort of strategy.

            1. EoH

              I believe it was Churchill who coined the phrase about America and England being separated by their common language.

              There are good political reasons to negotiate up to and beyond the eleventh or twelfth hour. There is Ireland, and the obvious circumstance that in or out, Britain will remain a close geographical neighbor and trading partner.

              But if the inference that Britain and the EU must continue to negotiate comes from the use of “shall,” as in “shall notify” and “shall negotiate,” the argument may not be as persuasive as it seems.

              In the UK, “shall” refers to future action, “will” implies mandatory action or a determination to do something. American English reverses the usage.

              1. ahimsa

                I can’t speak to the American usage but I understood that in legal texts drafted in British English ‘shall’ in 3rd person indicates obligation.

                This is probably because of an old grammar rule. From Oxford English Dictionary: Shall Usage

                There is considerable confusion about when to use shall and will. The traditional rule in standard British English is that shall is used with first person pronouns (I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third persons (you, he, she, it, they), e.g. I shall be late; she will not be there. To express a strong determination to do something these positions are reversed, with will being used with the first person and shall with the second and third persons, e.g. I will not tolerate this; you shall go to school. In practice, however, shall and will are today used more or less interchangeably in statements (though not in questions). Given that the forms are frequently contracted (we’ll, she’ll, etc.) there is often no need to make a choice between shall and will, another factor no doubt instrumental in weakening the distinction. The interchangeable use of shall and will is now part of standard British and US English

              2. Sanxi

                Can’t speak for the U.K. bar but not so it the US regard the UCC. Anything vague in general is not allowed, will do now, and shall do as/when/if have to be very carefully drawn up. There is no per se assumption built in to either.

            2. David

              It’s even clearer in the French, where the standard present tense of legal documents is used, and creates a direct legal obligation on the participants.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for mentioning the Labour no confidence threat. Too many bad ideas floating around for me to manage to get them all into a post.

      1. shtove

        I was thrown by your repeated reference to the Withdrawal Act, since it’s an active piece of legislation, requiring no further approval. Have I misunderstood your shorthand?

        On the confidence motion, the real fun may come with Rees-Mogg voting one way, then the other 14 days later. He’s been taking notes.

      2. Epistrophy

        Yves, what no one seems to have noticed about this so-called ‘farce’ is that this could be part of a larger (Remain) strategy. Here are the questions that no one seems to be asking (or answering):

        Why did Bercow take this action AFTER PM May’s deal was put to Parliament? Should he not dutifully have brought this up BEFORE the votes of March 12 to 14 were taken?

        Think through the possibilities carefully, and there will be only one conclusion; this is part of a strategy to stop Brexit, and almost no one saw it coming. today published the following:

        The Solicitor General, Robert Buckland, said the decision would have “huge reverberations” for the Brexit process and said the Prime Minister could now ask the Queen to cut short the current Parliamentary session and start again. Mrs May had hoped Parliament would approve her Brexit deal before she attends a meeting of EU leaders on Thursday, allowing her to ask for a short extension to Article 50, but with her strategy in tatters she is now expected to request a much longer extension of up to two years.

        Yes, if there is yet another 2 year extension, you can be sure that there will be no Brexit. And this extension will not be agreed to by the EU without a promise of yet another referendum.

        1. IsabelPS

          My bet was with someone that thinks this is part of a plot. He thinks there will be a second referendum, or GE, but certainly not no-deal.

          1. shtove

            How does he put this bet together, when avoiding no-deal depends on avoiding all available 27 vetoes?

        2. Darthbobber

          Since at the time of meaningful vote 2, the government had not yet suggested meaningful vote 3, it’s hard to see why the speaker would have found it necessary to warn them of this. Particularly since its obvious and the information was easily accessible by any MP.

          Even in Roberts the repeated making of a motion that the body has already made a decision on falls into the category of frivolous and dilatory motions that the chair should not entertain.

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          I hate to tell you, but too many people are trying to attribute motives and planning to accident and incompetence. If there were an actual Remain scheme afoot, there would be a ton of messaging about revoking Article 50. There is none. There is no remaining without revoking A50.

          1. Epistrophy

            Yves, just quickly; having worked at high levels of a national government, reporting to and working with Ministers, Ministerial Councils, and their advisors, I can tell you from personal experience, this kind of stuff happens. It’s not an accident or incompetence. Ministers have advisors (and the advisors have advisors).

            Bercow cannot be excused; it should have been addressed at the time the strategy was proposed – long before the votes were cast. At the very least the danger of it being invoked should have been made abundantly clear. It wasn’t. So why?

            Anyway, today I was surprised to hear a radio advertisement directing people to a UK government website ( to explain what is going to happen on the 29th of March, when (if) Britain leaves the EU:


            While all the hullabaloo is happening in the Parliament, the operational levels of the UK government appear to have been working toward the eventuality that the UK does indeed leave on the 29th.

    3. fajensen

      They are like kids …. .

      Yes. If only they were nice, intelligent, kids ….

      What has become clear is that Brexit was/is a fantasy of the 5-year old mind: “The Will Of The People”, on it’s own, not hard work, no effort involved, no costs, and no thinking or planning at all (because any of those actions shows a disturbing, heretic almost, lack of faith in the greatness of Britain), is indeed all that it takes to get everything one might desire to have!

      If anyone thinks Brussels will “just” kick the can a long way down the road, then they forget that the EU has expressed that they have interests and objectives too.

      Everyone living in the EU clearly have a very minimal interest in a new EU parliament riddled with Farage-types, UKIP’ers and Worse, fully energised from a very generous injection of a potent mixture of stale piss and fresh vinegar; being peddled under the label of “The Betrayal of Brexit”!

      I think the odds are 80:20 on a crash out on the 29’th of March.

  2. Ataraxite

    If the EU wanted to play hardball, they could do two things at the Council meeting on Thursday: decline to offer an extension, and withdraw the offered Withdrawal Agreement on the very reasonable grounds that it’s been overwhelmingly rejected twice, and any further attempts to get it passed would only be under duress.

    This would leave Britain with a simple choice: revoke Article 50, or no deal. And, based on parliamentary majorities, as well as the internal politics of the cabinet, the odds are overwhelming that the UK would revoke.

    The other factor floating around is exactly how much the EU wants the UK to participate in the European Parliament elections – something I gather there is a certain amount of distaste for, as it would see quite a number of Faragist MPs elected, and also upsets the redistribution of seats to other countries which has already happened.

    Thursday is going to be interesting. Damned if I can predict what will happen.

    1. shtove

      the odds are overwhelming that the UK would revoke.

      As Rachel from Friends says, “that’s a risky little game”. My own view is that May can revoke without parliament’s permission, but that would be her bottle of whiskey & revolver moment. Plus she’d have to co-ordinate it with a repeal/amendment of the Withdrawal Act. Can’t see it happening. Only solution is a general election, with the European Council on board for an extension – otherwise parliament is useless. And before that the statutory instrument to alter the domestic exit day needs to pass parliament. Yikes!

  3. IsabelPS

    I am lost. I know it’s the (sensible) house rules that I should do some serious looking in this site before asking, but, please, be charitable to a poor Portuguese sitting in her pijamas on the edge of Europe:

    What is the actual situation without this aborted third meaningful vote?

    I ask this because it is not possible that May did not know the vote would be turned down. She might have anounced it to cover for a failure she knew was certain. But what is the state of play at the moment? Exactly what she can tell the “colleagues” in the European Council?

    1. Clive

      You’re asking for a sensible description? Ha! The entire U.K. media is gibbering inanely, I watch and read relentlessly but only have a vague awareness of what’s afoot and even NC’s unabashed long-form format for posts has a limit of readers’ sanity.

      But in answer, as best I can, May will have to tell the Council her Deal is dead, unless the Council approve some sort of fairly significant change so that May can table another Meaningful Vote that satisfies Speaker Bercow’s newly-prominent requirement that it has to be noticeably different than what’s been put up before.

      There’s a lot of Remain approval for Bercow’s actions. But I think it is symptomatic of U.K. exceptionalism where the EU is concerned. Member State Heads of Government don’t get to show up at the Council and bang the table about what they want and the rest of the EU27 just sit there and cower. Bercow’s bellicose berating of the U.K. government, however justified, simply looks like the U.K. is even less Deal-capable than it looked before.

      1. IsabelPS

        I didn’t mean anything sensible, just factual!


        1) Parliament refused to ratify the WA that May signed with the EU;
        2) Parliament refused no-deal, but that is inconsequent;
        3) Parliament refused a second referendum (not that it would be materially possible, but at least that would be something that she could take to Brussels);
        4) Parliament refused withdrawal of article 50º.

        Am I right? In that case, as 4) is the only thing that she could really take to Brussels, no-deal it is.


        1. Ignacio

          Hi Isabel, I am a respectful neighbour from Spain. If you are confused, so do I, and as Clive wrote, those that have been paying close attention (and this blog is one of the bests examples of attentive brexit coverage, if not the best) are also confused. At this point it is worthless to ask such straigth questions and just have your popcorn available to witness whatever surprising outcome arrives. I think Yves post establishes clearly the alternatives currently available. I agree with Peston and others that the latest movements lead most probably to a short extension. I almost certainly rule out a long extension because there is no way May can offer any meaningful roadmap to brexit in 12 or 21 months or pledge to strict guidelines imposed by the EU (that migth in turn lead to a no confidence vote in the parliament).

          Although everybody in the EU is fed up with brexit, a short extension to give Ireland some extra time for preparations is quite reasonable. In the meantime there is always the posibility of May withdrawing Art 50 (looks remote) or a no confidence vote any time. I am pretty sure english commenters have repeated here many times what would happen in case a no confidence motion succeeds but I can’t recall what the conclussions were.

          1. IsabelPS

            I agree with you, Ignacio. A long extension, with what that entails re new EP, new Commission, etc, what for? It’s not that there is a certain point of arrival. I really don’t think that the EU can afford the uncertainty.

            1. ahimsa

              Robert Peston tweets after Barnier’s press statement:

              Barnier very sceptical of granting Brexit delay unless PM has clear plan for securing ratification from MPs for the Withdrawal Agreement. But he says if MPs signal “ambitious” proposals for the future relationship, then the political declaration (not WA) could be amended fast.

              .@MichelBarnier confirms that EU leaders will be asking of a delay “what is the purpose of it – what is it for?” And he adds that “a longer extension needs to be linked to something new, a new event, a new political process”. The implication is long delay would have to be…

              predicated on a referendum or maybe a general election

              Big message of @MichelBarnier is the EU is ready for no deal Brexit. Big message of @theresa_may is UK is not ready for no deal. So who has the power in these last minute talks between UK and EU?

              Enter the Maybot of clarity, “Let me be clear…” “Brexit means Brexit” “No deal is better than a bad deal”

              1. ahimsa

                First reply to Preston:

                UK: We want an extension
                EU: How long for?
                UK: For a period of time
                EU: But how long for? Long or short?
                UK: Long and or short
                EU: You can only have a long or short extension. Which do you want?
                U: Why do we have to choose?
                EU: Because you can’t have both
                UK: STOP BULLYING US!!!

      2. EoH

        I remain dumbfounded by Brits who back May and regard her as doing a good job, but who steadfastly think Britain should stay in the EU. I think the second is correct and orders of magnitude less costly; the first is a non-starter.

        Perhaps they’re all artists, “who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.” Or am I assuming too much about that functionality bit?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’ve heard lots of people (including lefties) say things like ‘Poor May, she is doing her best, but with all those horrible people around her there is nothing she can do’, or ‘I don’t like her politics but I really admire how she has stuck to her guns’.

          I think everyone has been slow to come to the obvious conclusion that she really is the problem and only a combination of luck and circumstance has allowed her get to her elevated position. She is not just out of her depth, her particular personality flaws makes her particularly disastrous for this role. History will not be kind.

          1. David

            The British (well the English anyway) are born on their knees and most of them stay there. They instinctively cling to authority figures in a time of crisis. But it’s true that May is a large part of the problem, in that she has neither the personal or the intellectual qualities for the job. The stubbornness which some see as a virtue is, in my view, more a lack of imagination. She reminds me of one of those irritating buskers you see who play three tunes because it’s all they know.

            1. Anonymous2

              I agree with everything above.

              And yet May was still, I think, the best candidate of those who ran (even if only for a few minutes) to succeed Cameron as Tory leader in 2016.

              A sobering thought.

            2. none

              Here’s a very critical article about May from Der Spiegel:



              “She is mean. She is rude. She is cruel. She is stupid. I have heard that from almost everyone who has dealt with her,” Parris says. He said he had never expected this much hatred, “and that is not a word I use lightly.”

              The worst thing, though, he says, is May’s inability to win over others to her position, to compromise and to lead. “It’s crazy,” says Parris. “That someone like her would end up in a job where the most important thing is to communicate, answer questions, make decisions. That is, I believe, more of a psychological than a political problem.”

      3. Sanxi

        Bercow’s bellicose, the act of simply informing, in a civil voice to a MP you is a berate? Further, no however it in, he was doing his job. Who ever said the EU wanted to do a deal?

        1. Clive

          Bellicose can refer to more than tone of voice. I don’t mind if a Speaker (or anyone else for that matter) says that some parts of the constitution can be varied and then, indeed, go on to vary them with in the remit they have to vary them. Nor do I mind if a Speaker holds historical constitutional conventions sacrosanct. But one, or the other, please. Otherwise, what’s cake for the goose is cake for the gander.

      4. Sanxi

        Bercow’s bellicose, we wasn’t bellicose in speech or attitude, asked and answered a MP properly put question.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I ask this because it is not possible that May did not know the vote would be turned down.

      It is possible! Every indication is that she and her advisors are completely incompetent and simply did not see this coming.

      My understanding is that the Speaker (Chair) of the House now has complete control of the process. He can insist on what is needed for a third vote and there seems little the government can do about it.

      The options seem to be:

      1. May comes to the House with something ‘new’. Most probably, an option agreed with the EU for a time extension if the deal is voted down.

      2. The sitting of the house is closed, and a new session is opened. This will take several days and means the Queen must come and open Parliament for a new sitting (I don’t know the precise steps needed). Apparently there are two precedents for this, both in the 18th Century.

      1. IsabelPS

        In my view, you are wrong: not even the Speaker has control of the process; the EU has full control now.

        I like Ataraxite suggestion that the EU could (should?) withdraw the WA. I don’t think they have the nerve to do it, but it would certainly clarify the waters. Which maybe business would appreciate.

        (But yes, why isn’t the pound crashing?)

        1. larry

          The Speaker has effective control now, in certain respects, of the Westminster process related to Brexit, not any control over the Brexit process as a whole. The EU does not have control of what takes place in Parliament.

          1. IsabelPS

            Yes, but the Westminster process, at this state of play, is like a “black box”. What goes inside, it seams to me, is irrelevant.

            1. larry

              It may or may not be irrelevant. It depends on what is actually done. May’s brain is a black box, but what takes place in Parliament is less so.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, I should have clarified – the Speaker has moved to take full control of the Parliamentary process in Westminster – essentially saying to the Government ‘you can’t just waltz in and out with whatever motion you want’. But that of course is only a limited part of the whole process. I don’t think anyone – including the EU is in any real sense in control any more.

        3. Mike

          …(But yes, why isn’t the pound crashing?)

          Not being a financier or currency speculator, my question would be this:

          If there are over-the-table bets increasing the pounds worth, might there be under-the-table bets hedging for post-brexit collapse, with much more money on the collapse, thus insuring a “profit” to the bettors?

          Many mysteries to this entire situation, but someone making a profit from this blow-up is not an undue consideration, yes?

      2. ChrisPacific

        The list of things that should have been impossible for May not to know but were nonetheless a surprise to her when they happened could fill a book by now.

        I have more or less given up on gaming out Brexit options based on common sense and rationality where the UK is concerned, since neither have proven to be a good predictor of events in practice.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Maybe at this point a flowchart would be handy to give out at Westminster. That way for example, to those who think of maybe having another Referendum would be a good idea, they could look at the chart and see the notation “Not enough time” when they follow that track and maybe try something different. Right now there are only ten more days until Brexit and the pressure in both the UK and EU is really going to ramp up. We should be ready for all sorts of crazy over the next few days. We ain’t seen anything yet
    Just an off-key comment here. Earlier for some reason, I remembered a painting that I had seen online a coupla years ago and which I grabbed a copy of at the time. It is one of those moralizing Victorian themed paintings by a guy called Robert B. Martineau and the 1862 painting is called “The Last Day in the Old Home”. You can see this painting at the following site-

    The notes bellow explain what is going on in the painting but I tell you, in reading Yves’s article, the image of this painting kept flashing before my eyes and refused to go away. Make of that what you will.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    This is yet another example showing where May and her team (if such a thing exists) aren’t doing even the most basic groundwork. The other was making such a big fuss about getting the AG (Cox) over to Brussels to provide assurances about the backstop without ensuring they knew what answer he’d give. This is basic Politics 101, yet is seems entirely beyond No.10.

    There are clear indications that the EU is now in full crash position for a no-deal. They have completely lost any shred of faith they had in May.

    Perhaps this is something those who work directly in the markets can answer – why on earth are the currency markets not in full blown panic over this? Do they still think the deal will be accepted?

    1. Clive

      It’s effectively a “this is nuts, where’s the crash?” question, to plagiarise FT’s redoubtable Alphaville blog.

      In answer to which, when faced with a situation where one expects a certain set of events to result in a particular market response, but the market fails to respond in the manner you deem appropriate, either the market is wrong — or you are. Timing does also come into this. Markets can, to coin another phrase, remain irrational long past the point where you can remain solvent, should one disagree with how the market is or isn’t pricing something and wish to take a contrary position.

        1. vlade

          Well, think about all those people long sterling now, if the hit comes in the next couple of days. [and I don’t mean people structurally long sterling like me/Clive/Redlife/ColSmithers by the nature of earning in sterling].

          Long sterling is now the idea of the day [just yesterday I saw someone saying it could go up to 1.35], so “safe” from career perspective.

          1. Redlife2017

            The way sterling is acting says to me that the boyz/girlz think this is going to be a revocation of Article 50.

            But there is also some context that the trader boyz/girlz are missing – the people they talk to and live / work with (certainly here in my big asset manager and at a conference I was at last month where the FCA spoke) are actually pretty comfortable about deal/ no-deal. They’ve gotten theirs – the MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding between the different country regulators as well as with ESMA). Being the short-termists that they are, they aren’t too worried that the MoUs are only from 1 year to 3 years (depending on the regulator). The City folk will still be making their money and have absolutely no relationship to the rest of the economy. They don’t see the homeless, they don’t realise that people are already killing themselves in desperation over the economy and austerity. They got theirs already.

            As you noted – it is “safe” to go long. In this situation it is career suicide to go against the tide. Until the tide goes out…

            I guess in summary – the markets are so disconnected to what is going on in the real world it wouldn’t surprise me if the £ didn’t really drop much in the event of a no deal. Just a slow-motion car crash over the next few years. But, heck, I could be really wrong. Everything is uncertain. And, indeed, the centre cannot hold…The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity (hat tip to W.B. Yeats).

    2. Candy

      why on earth are the currency markets not in full blown panic over this?

      Most of it is priced in. And also, it’s too risky to trade sterling because surprises are now occuring on a daily basis. No-one can predict where it is going so currency traders are understandably focusing on easier pairs.

      Also: while all the shenannigans have been going on in Parliament, the country has been quietly running itself.

      Today we had unemployment at a 44-year low, labour participation at an all time high, and wages growing by 3.6%. The public finances are the best they’ve been in 17 years. The economy is still growing – the monthly figures for Jan showed surprisingly strong growth. The bond markets are calm. Carney says the City and the banking system can take whatever is thrown at them (and crucially the EU’s no-deal plans are good for the City).

      So, for the pound to crash further, you need to compare it to something better. The dollar is clearly doing well thanks to the strength of the American economy. But the ECB has restarted QE as the eurozone economy is weakening. When you have a UK that is growing and a Germany that is stalling, it’s kind of hard to short the pound against the euro.

      The above benign economic conditions are what allows Parliament to happily play it’s games. There is nothing much at stake because the private sector and citizens have done all the work to make the economy function regardless. There is no sense of panic the way there was in 2008 with the banking meltdown.

      1. Nameful

        Most of it is priced in. And also, it’s too risky to trade sterling because surprises are now occuring on a daily basis.

        Were you going for sarcasm here? Since you can’t seriously argue that something is both too unpredictable to trade and priced in.

        Today we had unemployment at a 44-year low, labour participation at an all time high, and wages growing by 3.6%. The public finances are the best they’ve been in 17 years. The economy is still growing – the monthly figures for Jan showed surprisingly strong growth. The bond markets are calm. Carney says the City and the banking system can take whatever is thrown at them (and crucially the EU’s no-deal plans are good for the City).

        And the turkey was doing so well before Thanksgiving’s Eve …

        The question remains, if the pound is so risky, where are the risk hedges?

        1. Anonymous2

          As I recall it was only when Lehman blew up that the markets went really into a spin. Until that point there had been plenty of high grade anxiety but kept in check as long as there was still hope that problems might be worked through calmly.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Huh? You have a funny idea of what is “the markets”. Credit markets, which are not anywhere near as well covered as stocks, were seizing up from 2007. Credit markets are the lifeblood of commerce. Secondary trading in stocks is very profitable to the intermediaries but not at all important to an economy.

            There were three acute phases of the criss before Lehman, the first when the asset backed commercial paper market froze in July-Aug 2007. Second year end 2007, when the knock-on effect of the death of the ABCP market started blowing back to banks who had off-balance sheet vehicles funded by ABCP that weren’t so off balance sheet. That led to an unheard of 75 BP interest rate cut + the launch of the Fed’s first emergency lending vehicle.

            Then the collapse of Bear in March 2008 and the Fannie/Freddie wobbles that Paulson claimed he had fixed with his bazooka in July 2008.

            Everyone on March 2008 who had an operating brain cell knew that Lehman, Merrill and UBS were gonna blow. We said so and we were hardly alone.

            Every acute phase was worse a

    3. boz

      Thank you, Yves and the in-house SMEs.

      Re markets

      Memories are short.

      The markets betrayed left-liberal political bias in the way they failed to pick 1) the Brexit referendum vote 2) Trump election

      There is an underlying blind spot in my view that the EU will do a deal at the last minute (a view I heard one of the economists at my TBTF share).

      The daily fluctuations are nakedly headline driven (out of control sentiment algos trading on click bait headlines that emerge each day).

      You can bet that there are massive credit lines waiting to squash sterling – look at the transfer of wealth Soros enjoyed when the ERM crashed.

      I expect to see a major overshoot in either direction come a definitive announcement or 11pm 29 March.

      I also expect to see a subsequent decline as we survey the wreckage and realise there is another decade of negotiations ahead.

      There is much more to consider, but UK exceptionalism has generated a filter that is hard to shake. The EU has other problems to deal with as well, like Deutsche, gilets jaunes, Italy, Trump…

      Aptly enough, the first trading day after 29 March… April Fool’s Day.

      1. Gary Gray

        I am going to pick on this post for good measure:
        1.”referendum” was definitely a nail biter. There was no “left-liberal” bias. Cut the dialectical crap boz. Nobody knew what was going to happen and it was a 50/50 election. You could see “fear” long before the vote.
        2.The “Trump election” was a surprise at the end only because of Clinton’s October surge. Both candidates were disliked which, but Trump was considered before the debates, to have just about as good of chance as Clinton. Then came Comey and his “letters” which took a 50-45 split in the electorate and made it 48-46. Notice a fairly small move, but noticeable in that it cost Clinton 4 states she was never supposed to win impressively in. My point? The real betters had it at 60/40 and 40 isn’t bad odds. The market then played its wave game and acted like they could care less afterwards.

        This is far bigger boz. This is liquidation of debt positions. Donald Trump has done nothing to change the structure of the US economy. Its the same ole thing. This will liquidate positions and force bank write downs. Credit markets will slow further, in a time when corporate debt has peaked and probably is coming down into the next down cycle. Bad bad timing.

        Nationalism simply is the “old globalism”. It was a international banking unit before the modern liberalized financial markets of the market state. Sadly, Anarchists and even Leninists understand Traditional school people like Renee Guenon better than the so called nationalists. Liquidating the market state would destroy European and US “wealth”. It could eventually fracture the bourgeois state aka “Nationalism”. Bankers can’t go back. They aren’t positioned for “nation state” anymore and the liquidation of markets will be deadly.

      2. Gary Gray

        In 10 days, the default will have begun. I think from a business cycle pov, it is the final slam of the door. I see it ending at the end of 2019 anyways, alway have since 2013 when the 2nd wave of this cycle began.

        Banking write downs coming will be fun.

        1. boz

          Hi Gary

          Thanks for the comments. I agree that the banks face major impairment spike risk in 2019 & 2020.

          As a UK observer of the US elections, it certainly felt to me that the reaction of the markets mirrored the fright/horror shown in most establishment media reports thereafter.

          It was a similar case when the referendum result came in.

          Regarding the business cycle: I think it has already started for two reasons: 1) the indicators lag 2) GDP is packed with non value activities as Michael Hudson has argued, and at the rates we are seeing, real GDP is probably negative.

          Apologies, a third reason: all the exporting UK businesses should have by now executed their contingency plans (typically find a partner or open up an office in EU27). Look for the economic activity to be steadily siphoned off to the EU27 entities and/or reduce as they are outmanoeuvred by better established local players.

          I dread what is going to happen to NI businesses. The tariffs proposals will screw them totally and the hard border will rip up the social fabric.

          It is like watching a car crash in slow motion.

          Maybe that is why Mr Market has not panicked yet.

  6. b

    Re: Bercow’s statement

    What everyone seems to have missed that Bercow had already announced that he would hold to the rule during last week’s Brexit session in Parliament.

    It came quite at the end of the session. Rees-Moog made a point of order and asked Bercow if the not-same-deal-twice rule would apply. Bercow responded positively.

    I remember that because it seemed quite significant to me. But May’s government seemed to have missed the point. Thus Bercow repeated it yesterday. It was neither surprising not extraordinary.

  7. Winston Smith

    To prorogue parliament is a bit of a song and dance-and can buy some breathing room as Mr Harper skillfully if opportunistically demonstrated to Canadian in 2008. Not clear what it achieves for a govt in such disarray as UK’s except a stay of execution

  8. AEL

    EU are can kickers. That is what they do best. Here they are offered the ability to give Brexit a kick *way* down the road. I can not believe that they won’t smack it as hard as they are able in the hopes that the fundamental politics will have changed in the intervening time.

      1. AEL

        I respectfully disagree. A crash out will only swap one shit show for another. Whereas a good solid kick means that the status quo remains and things go quiet for a year or two.

        1. Anders K

          But they won’t get things quiet – kicking this can means having to undo the representational seat reallocation in order to allow Farage and ilk back into the EP; this is unavoidable and means that there will be – once more – people in the EP with the stated goal of throwing as much grit into the machinery as possible.

          Had there been no downside, I could agree with you, but with both business starting to grumble and the image of a Farage stomping on the EU flag, forever (or at least until he retires), the appetite for continued UK membership (not to mention the Return of the Brexit sequel coming on the horizon) is going to be rather limited.

          There’s also the problem that a long extension will not reduce the amount of sound and fury from the UK Parliament or for UK-EU negotiations. That has not been a good experience so far – except for the EU side being favorably compared to their UK counterparts, admittedly.

  9. David

    I yield to no-one etc. etc. in my disgust for the amateurism and incompetence of this government. I’m just glad I don’t work for them these days.
    But one of the reasons for the incompetence is that there is no underlying agreement within the cabinet on what to do, which means that it’s impossible to have any agreement on how to do it. As has been pointed out, the possibility that the Speaker would make these comments wasn’t a secret. But there were probably four or five different positions in the cabinet about whether it was desirable, who was going g to profit, how they should react etc. This made any kind of contingency planning for the announcement effectively impossible, and will probably make any coherent response very difficult as well.
    However, the UK is not the only player, and there are two things which Inherent Political Probability suggests have been happening. I can’t prove either but I’m reasonably sure of both.
    The first is that Brussels and the EU 27 don’t just read the newspapers. Their Embassies will be in hourly contact with the main players, and they will be coordinating their understandings and positions as far as possible. It’s been clear for a week that May would have to demand either a short or a long extension, and it’s been clear since the weekend, at least, that a long extension was more probable. The government effectively said that it might withdraw MV3 even before Bercow’s announcement. Given that an extension has been talked about for ages, some contingency planning will have been done.
    Second, the 27 don’t trust the UK to produce any coherent proposals, not just because of incompetence, but because it will be impossible to get an agreed position within the cabinet to enable them to be drafted. But Brussels isn’t just going to sit there, twiddling its thumbs. It’s likely that there’s already work going on on a “joint” document to be signed this week, which will commit the UK to a number of things which, as far as possible, don’t require more legislation and are expressed in pretty general terms. The EU will also throw in a few political commitments of its own. The document will be politically but not legally binding, and May will have little choice but to sign. I imagine that, if there’s time, the EU will give the UK a bit of notice of what’s in it. The EU is not going to rely on the UK to do this, and it has shown, ever since the start of the negotiations, that it is quicker and more organised than the UK, and good at taking the initiative.
    I don’t claim any of this will inevitably happen, just that it would be a logical way forward.

    1. Ignacio

      Hello David and thank you for your insigths. I just don’t see a long extension as desirable or even as possible and I cannot think of any political binding decission that prevents something like, for instance, a no confidence vote or another outcome that is completely out of EU control. The press in spanish is discounting a short extension. My opinion is that May is unable to offer the EU any political certainty that justifies a long extension.

      1. David

        It’s because I don’t think May can offer anything (and the EU knows this) that I suspect they themselves will make her an offer she can’t refuse. For the EU, the choice between a long and a short extension is not a technical one, but a political choice based on what they think will happen in each case. I don’t think they would worry at all if May lost a vote of confidence, and indeed I’ve been saying for some time that they would be very happy to see her go. As long as the UK is locked into a process, even a change of government is fine, and to that extent a long extension, which provides the time and space for political realignment in the UK, would be attractive. As I say, I’m not arguing that this is inevitable, just that it has a degree of logic.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I wonder though if May is in any position to accept a long extension. This will be fought tooth and nail by the Brexiteers and even Labour may be very worried about it (the last thing they would want is to find agreeing an exit dropping on their lap if they were to win an election in the next 18 months or so). If I’m not mistaken she would have to move for the Withdrawal Act to be amended if she is to agree to this – I can’t see her getting a majority for this.

          1. Rob S

            I don’t think an extension requires amendment of the Withdrawal Act. S.20(4) of that Act permits a minister to change the exit date by regulation if the exit date is different from the date on which the EU treaties cease to have effect in accordance with Article 50(3) of the Treaty.

            And Article 50(3) provides that the date on which the treaties cease to have effect can be extended by unanimous agreement.

            So if the EU27 agree with the UK government to extend, then the Withdrawal Act permits ministers to change the exit date from 29 March 2019 to whichever date is agreed.

            1. shtove

              We’ve already had an NC official inquiry into the regulation to change the statutory exit day, and Clive assures us it needs to pass a parliament vote.

            2. Clive

              No. Legislation is needed to change legislation. The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specified that the previous treaties joining the European Communities in 1972 are repealed. This means the U.K. leaves the EU on withdrawal day, set in the Act as 29th March.

              Changing that is not withing the power of the Executive. Only Parliament.

              This is just about the only thing both sides agree on.

              Confirmed in Hansard yesterday (as on many other occasions)

              As soon as possible, following agreement at the EU level, we will bring forward the necessary domestic legislation to amend the definition of “exit day”. That legislation will take the form of a statutory instrument. If agreement is reached at the European Council, the statutory instrument will be laid in Parliament next week. It will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure ​and will need to be approved by each House. I hope that this reassures honourable and right honourable Members about the procedure that will be followed this week and next”.

              1. Rob S

                Yes, but what is discussed there is legislation by statutory instrument (i.e. regulation), not by amendment of the Act. The Minister there is saying that the regulation will have to be positively affirmed by both Houses of Parliament, but that is different from Parliament amending the Act.

                Admittedly, it’s not quite as simple as ministers changing the date without needing approval, which I rather implied with loose language – any regulation is subject to some form of approval by Parliament.

                1. Clive

                  I’m sorry but I don’t follow your legal argument. SI’s are not some vaguely defined “regulation”. They are secondary legislation.

                  Parliament is (or might be, it’ll need to pass its votes first) amending an Act. Amending an Act of Parliament requires legislation, be it primary or secondary. Secondary legislation only requires a vote in the Commons and the Lords, not all stages of the legislative process like primary legislation does. But it is not within a Minister’s power to vary legislation just by saying “I’ve decided” at the Despatch Box.

                  1. Rob S

                    I don’t think we are disagreeing.

                    “Regulation” is the term in the Act for the SI you are describing: “the Minister may by regulations amend…”. It is a form of legislation, but it is drafted by the executive and only put before the House for yes/no approval.

                    1. Rob S

                      By the way, to amend the exit date is not to amend the Act. The Act provides for amending the exit date by regulations (i.e. SI); to amend the Act requires another Act.

                2. PlutoniumKun

                  My understanding is that a SI must be placed before Parliament where there are varying procedures whereby it can be passed or rejected (but never amended). I don’t believe that short of Henry VIII powers its possible for the executive to bypass Parliament.

                  So, in short, my understanding is that Parliament must approve a time extension, that can’t be avoided.

                  Given the number of no-deal enthusiasts among the Ultra’s, I think this basically means No.10 needs votes from the other side to get an extension passed. I’m sure some will cross over to stop a no-deal, the question is how many.

                  1. Sanxi

                    Ah very well and good, but the EU must either offer it – an extension or agree to it, then it gets to the issue of a vote and what kind is in play. And yes a vote is necessary.

                  2. David

                    Separation of powers. The government takes the decision, but if there are implications for legislation (as here) then the laws or SIs involved (but not the decision itself) need parliamentary approval.

        2. vlade

          The problem is that there is no certainty around any political re-alignement in the UK. They can ditch May, but have no idea who they would land with, and why now it may look that anyone would be an improvement, I’m not so sure.

          GE looks now for Tory majority, and while dumping DUP would be good, it’s a question how they would interpret the mandate – that may well include no-deal.
          Labour victory is IMO right now unlikely, althoug they might be able to do a deal with SNP/LD/PC/Greens sort of.

          Even a referendum is unclear – you get polls going whichever way.

          If the EU wants surety, then no-deal is the only scenario that can grant that.

          1. David

            You can ask what use the EU might expect to make of a short or a long delay. In the case of a short delay, the assumption was that MV3 (or 4 or 5) would pass, and the UK would then need a bit of time to tidy up the details. But, even without Bercow’s intervention, it’s by no means clear this will happen. The risk is of a short extension which achieves nothing, other than creating more chaos and an eventual crash-out in a few months time. It’s this, rather than some ideal scenario, against which the long delay has to be compared. It could be judged that the latter provides some hope, rather than none.
            I don’t think that any agreement made next week would be procedurally that difficult. In any event, there has to be legislation to extend the 29 March date, so it would just mean putting, say, 30 December or some time next year in the text rather than, say, 31 July. Only hardline Brexiters would oppose that, as we saw last week. The alternative would be a no-confidence vote, which wouldn’t necessarily pass and, even if it did, would probably be OK for the EU as long as the date was on paper and signed by the PM of the day.
            The problem with a crash-out for the EU is that it wouldn’t actually provide certainty. Not only would there be enormous amounts of work needed to unscramble the mess, but negotiations on a future relationship would have to start, even as groups in the UK were launching initiatives to rejoin. For the EU, as for the UK, Brexit is rapidly becoming a nightmare from which, like Stephen Daedalus, you can never awake.

            1. vlade

              True – but here’s where we need to (IMO) start taking in human nature. This is hard and strenuous negotiation, and the UK was, again IMO, dealing from a marginal bad-faith position (cf Cox). Or if not bad faith, then definitely good faith, at best classed as “deluded faith”.

              That may make the hardest of negotiators throw in their towel and just walk away IMO. So we can see moves that will be irrational and should not really happen…

            2. Ignacio

              Another problem associated with a long extension would be the need to accomodate UK in the europarliament and given the rise of nationalistic euroskeptics, current leadership may imagine what the hell of a parliament filled with those and a bunch of crazied brexiteers.

          2. Redlife2017

            New polls are suggesting Labour is now ahead.

            But I would like to give the following heath warning before looking at the info below: I am not saying that Labour will win. But that the polls are so all over the place that there really is no point in looking at them. Labour up, Labour down. CON up, CON down. Voting intentions are all over the map as people are just as upset and undecided as the Parliament is.

            Survation for the Daily Mail on Friday:
            CON: 35% (-5)
            LAB: 39% (+3)
            LD: 10% (NC)
            SNP: 3% (+1)
            Others: 12% (+1)

            ComRes for the Telegraph today:
            CON: 34% (-2)
            LAB: 35% (+1)
            LD: 8% (NC)
            TIG: 7% (-1)
            UKIP: 6% (NC)
            SNP: 3% (NC)
            Green: 3% (NC)
            Others: 4% (+2)

        3. ChrisPacific

          Yes, that makes sense if you are in the EU’s shoes. May really has nothing to offer. Based on the various scenarios that have been tabled, this theoretically means that she should ask for a long extension, but I think it’s more likely that she will ask for a short to medium extension with no clear purpose other than more unicorn parades – i.e., the exact thing that the EU have said they will not accept. So it would be smart of them to get out ahead of that and have a counteroffer ready. It does them no harm to have a deal ready in which they write the terms as they see fit, just so that the UK can have an alternative once they are finally staring down the barrel of No Deal, whenever that happens. If it needs to be significantly different from the previous WA to meet Bercow’s condition, well, that’s not too hard. Nobody said the changes have to be favourable to the UK. They can throw in some cosmetic changes to make it appear balanced if they want.

          As Yves says, the one point of real leverage the UK has in all of this is that they have a hostage (Ireland).

      2. IsabelPS

        I finally got to an idea of what will happen (to the point that I just made a bet, on a diner in my favourite restaurant in Lisbon). Added by Peston:

        “My central prognosis is that we will end up with a no-deal Brexit, not on 29 March but a month or two afterwards,” he said. “The reason I say that is because the challenge of getting everything aligned to prevent that from happening is very, very hard.”

        This is not politics anymore, it is like a hard science as physics: the “conditions” are A, the result will be B.


        1. Nameful

          This is not politics anymore, it is like a hard science as physics: the “conditions” are A, the result will be B.

          well, even in hard sciences what you have about the outcome is probabilities, especially when you’re looking at a single event. It’s just that some outcomes an be significantly more probable than others, so on a macroscopic scale they look like a certainty.

          An amusing analogy would be that UK is currently, courtesy of May’s bumbling, in a superposition of Deal and No-Deal states, and the actual state selection will happen once we observe the actual Brexit event (which may or may not happen on the 29th)

    2. IsabelPS

      “As has been pointed out, the possibility that the Speaker would make these comments wasn’t a secret. But there were probably four or five different positions in the cabinet about whether it was desirable, who was going g to profit, how they should react etc. This made any kind of contingency planning for the announcement effectively impossible, and will probably make any coherent response very difficult as well.”

      THAT makes sense.

    3. Ptb

      If this is the case – EU taking charge – it’s a positive development. UK govt and House obviously paralyzed with all parties within seeking to avoid blame above all else.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      I have to differ with you on the assumption that the UK and EU are communicating.

      The Government ought to be sounding positions with the EU but I can guarantee it isn’t. First, May is up to her eyeballs with her domestic mess. Second, she made it clear what she would do with the EU was contingent on her now dead MV3. She doesn’t multitask well if at all. Third, the press leaks like crazy over any talks or trial balloons and there have been few and inconsistent leaks re what a longer extension looks like, and that says to me Mays’ team is still arguing internally. Fourth, the statements today from the German minister, Macron, and Barnier all signal strongly they have seen nada in the way of expected prep.

    5. fajensen

      The EU will also throw in a few political commitments of its own. The document will be politically but not legally binding, and May will have little choice but to sign.

      And then the British parliament will reject that as it is ‘not legally binding’! Checkmate!!

  10. The Rev Kev

    It might be that come this November, that Guy Fawkes will no longer be seen as a historical character to ritualistically burn on a bonfire but become instead a recognized hero for his attempt. One University of York history professor labelled him as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”.

  11. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    A small & likely insignificant note on the border where the M1 motorway crosses the border.

    I have of late been journeying to Dublin & back from the North & have noticed that the borderline on this stretch of road is basically in the middle of nowhere, with no access except from the dual carriageway & it’s hard shoulder which continues into the North.

    I suspect things could get very interesting at that point & others. Fortunately, I know of another route but that is a snake of a road, which confusingly over a fairly short distance travels in & out of each state through heavily wooded & hilly country – I think at least four times.

    It used to be called Bandit County.

  12. Kat

    The problem with proroguing Parliament is that this would begin a new session of Parliament, which would have to begin with a Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s program, which the government would have to put to a vote and win. And according to the news, the government is not sure whether they can win such a vote.

    Parliament could in theory always suspend or modify its standing orders to vote on a motion again, and that would be the easiest solution in normal times. In fact, something similar almost happened last week, when an amendment to allow Parliament to seize control of the time table from the government failed by the thinnest of margins, 312-314. The problem here is that the government is a minority government pretending to command a majority in the Commons, without that actually being the case. A majority government could brush procedural challenges aside with ease. But May has been using parliamentary procedure herself (in particular, the government’s control of the time table) to manipulate the legislative process in the absence of having a majority, and now she is being hoisted by her own petard.

  13. Sanxi

    A couple of things. As it was and remains the EU’s position as reflected in the WA that borders and and the backstop are its ‘red lines’ (a term I despise), am I to believe that now in the end, that they the EU, would allow a no deal Brexit to happen simply because they, are what, annoyed at the British? Maybe very annoyed? So, that in doing so they allow to happen: the creation of borders and all that which they put so much effort into not happening. And worse backstab the Irish? I think not. Professional shrinks aren’t allowed to speculate as to someone’s state of mind unless they have actually met them. Good ethics. No one on this site knows what the state of kind of any of the EU 27 leaders are even when they themselves state it. Beware of this type of reasoning.

    The EU project is firmly dedicated to the notion that once a member, always a member. Much like the East Coast Mob in its’ heyday. (And our very own Union.) And if you try to leave they will “pull you back in.” Given that, the EU can simply give the U.K. say a 40 year extension (ok a couple of years) to ‘figure things out or something”, but why not have some fun and try to get PM May to give up some of her set-in-stone conditions? (The upcoming elections are irrelevant, or if anything a benefit to the EU.) Maybe she will maybe she won’t. Can’t hurt to try. It’s not in the Interest of the EU of offering a short extension to the U.K. and I doubt they will unless the existing WA is moved and passed.

    A couple of points of order. While proroguing sounds like an awful lot of fun, it’s the will of the house that matters. If government has enough votes to pass the WA, then it will have enough votes to pass a motion to bring up the WA for another vote, thus demonstrating the will of the house that on least this piece of business, redundant or not it wishes to vote again. Though I now doubt that government has the votes. I think this moot.

    In theory, using Richard North’s logic, a long extension could be put to good use, enabling something like Flexcit, or not as Pete North’s view is going long term would put an end to all civil politics in the U.K.

    It’s not particularly smart to try to predict the behavior of someone who sadly does stupid things, as PM May does. There is one behavior that is consistent and that is protecting her party. Doing some game theory gaming here (sorry but it’s what I’m trained in) her best action would be doing nothing. Doing nothing would result in a no deal Brexit. This also fits with Yves calculated precent of probability and the general idea that it takes a lot of organized energy to keep a complex system going. This is not turning out well for anyone no matter what they think. If they think it is they need to rethink it.

    1. Sanxi

      Ah, and here we are at this time the EU strong arming the U.K. into a long term extension but wanting a pretty good reason to do so. Or not, even a lousy reason to do so. Remember this about the RoI, if the want a border, the deal will be a long term extension as the RoI can veto anything the EU wants down the road.

  14. lampoon

    As I peer at the Brexit commotion from afar, I wonder if what happens over the next 10 days, regardless whether it is a hard Brexit, the PM’s deal, or an extension, will encourage the formation of a re-unified, all-EU Ireland and an independent non-EU Scotland? I don’t know what the legal path might be for either of these happening or if there is sufficient political leadership or public support to make them happen even if there is a path, but never let a good crisis go to waste.
    As for motivation, I assume a united all-EU Ireland would resolve the hard border problem (at least for everyone but the unionists). Scotland might decide that since leaving the EU is going to require renegotiating lots of relationships with basically the whole world anyway, it might as well go independent and negotiate those relationships itself in its own interest, rather than be harnessed to England with the current Westminster crowd holding the reins. I note that recently the SNP has embraced anti-austerity and now supports a post-independence Scottish currency with its own central bank, as opposed to keeping the pound. Scotland might do well as an independent nation with its own currency.
    Does Brexit, whatever its ultimate form, make either a united Ireland or an independent Scotland more likely?

  15. ljones

    I’m not an expert at any of this but is the following a possible scenario?

    The brexiteers in may’s party – leaving aside the DUP for a moment eventually decide to vote for may’s dreadful ‘deal’. But it is not through any sense of loyalty or beause they now argree with that ‘deal’.

    But once the dirty deal is done chaos still reigns as the brexiteers decide to try to get rid of may. The reason why? If they can get rid of her and install one of their own – random example – BoJo – the shredder machine can be switched on and the ‘deal’ killed and then attempt a full crash-out brexit.

    is that a possibility?


  16. c_heale

    I think the real problem is that Teresa May doesn’t do any long term thinking. The motivation of her whole Brexit strategy has been to keep the Conservative and Unionist party together. So she hasn’t reached out to anyone (the Labour party, the EU) and due to the Eurosceptics, and the DUP she adopted an extremely negative negotiating stance. Then she agreed the backstop to keep the Eurosceptics on board, and almost immediately started opposing it when elements in her party didn’t like it (extreme short term thinking). Finally she passed a bill with a specific Brexit date, thinking she could bounce the UK parliament into agreeing whatever she could negotiate with the threat of a no-deal. That has now backfired with the loss of the two votes on her withdrawal bill and the (quite rightful) intervention of the speaker. Now there is no time left to put her withdrawal bill forward (hoist by her own petard). The EU are sick of her since she has negotiated only thinking about party unity. She has taken no account of the negative effects of her Brexit policies since they aren’t important to her. The same thing happened at the home office. Short term thinking leading to disastrous long term consequences.

  17. flora

    Thankyou, Yves and NC, for these posts. Thankyou to the UK, Republic, and EU commentators for astute, careful, and knowledgeable comments.

    I’ve nothing to add, except to note my grief (understatement) at watching this unfold; the fractured UK govt’s factions’ madness of misplaced trust in multiple, differing , external powers to bring their faction home at the expense of the whole is not something I ever expected to see in the UK. Maybe this is the logical absurdity of neoliberalism.

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