Vlade’s addition to the lexicon:
1. to ask repeatedly for the contradictory and unachievable, allienating and/or offending all involved. As in ‘He’s trying to brexit, asking to keep the keys to her flat after divorce” or ‘Stop brexiting with your job search and get real.’
2. to be indecisive, to dither.
In all seriousness, I had planned to write a “Let’s try to make some sense of where we are” post, but this looks to be such a chaotic day, it might be more sensible to see where things shake out first. I therefore have not been as exhaustive as I would normally be in checking the news. But let me first throw out some big issues of puzzlement:
What is playing out as a “constitutional crisis” is the result of the failure of the leading parties to operate properly. When a Prime Minister is performing badly, either his own party or Parliament is supposed to turf him out. May was deemed to about to hand over the keys to No. 10 repeatedly, starting from right after her snap election fiasco. The deep splits in both major parties over Brexit, the horrible Tory pretenders, the fact that the Tories were even less willing than usual to risk a loss in a general election because Corbyn has kept May in place way way beyond her sell-by date. Parliament, awfully late in the game, is attempting to cashier May as far as Brexit is concerned while keeping her on as Prime Minister.
I’d have included a clip from the The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, where Tommy Lee Jones is carting a clearly very ripe corpse around all over Texas and Mexico, but I couldn’t find anything suitable on YouTube.
But is this “taking control over Brexit” a dangerous delusion? What Parliament is attempting to do looks an awful lot like trying to drive a car from the back seat with pulleys and rods…while the driver is still seated in his usual spot.
Parliament cannot address the EU Council. Only the head of state can. It is May who will convey any long extension request to the EU. And unless I am missing something, the only way Parliament can make her carry a message she does not want to convey is via legislation.
Now perhaps there is enough time for that…but it isn’t clear that anyone has quite worked this out. Indicative votes on Brexit options are set for today. Some options are expected to be winnowed out, with another round of indicative votes next week. If a winner emerges, is there a plan to draft legislation to bring May to heel? And what happens if Parliament can’t agree?
And that’s before remembering, as May warned, that Parliament could choose an option that the EU won’t accept. Anand Menon in the Guardian not only thinks that’s a risk:
MPs have been bickering about an inordinate number of Brexit options…But what, if anything, will these indicative votes solve?
Well, that depends. For one thing, they will need to be careful not to encourage those who insist on ordering stuff that’s not on the menu at all. Think the Brady amendment, mandating the prime minister to tootle off to Brussels and negotiate something the EU had already said was not on offer. If parliament spends its day of control voting on unicorns, then none of us will be any the wiser.
Equally, some options might not be as simply as a yes/no vote in parliament might make them seem. Take Norway. The notion that the EU would happily give us the same deal as they give to a group of small states with economies far different to our own strikes me as being for the birds….
And, of course, sequencing matters enormously. MPs sitting through a series of votes on possible Brexit outcomes might contradict themselves. They could, for example, decide to stay in the customs union and single market while voting against a plain old customs union…..
This has, of course, been attempted in the past, notably when it came to reform of the House of Lords. In 2003, the process ended up with all options being defeated. In 2007, MPs simply provided majorities for two fundamentally incompatible options – a chamber that was 80% elected and one that was 100% elected. We know what the (non)outcome of that was.
Now to the Brexit fun of the day:
Yet another effort to push May’d deal over the line is on. One of the big ERG spokesman, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is saying he is inclined to back May’s deal as preferable to the risk of no Brexit. The DUP appears to be holding firm. both as indicated by statements to the press yesterday (that they’d rather have a one year delay than May’s deal) and in the European Parliament today.
The BBC quotes an anonymous Ultra MP as saying that even with the defections of Rees-Mogg and other waverers, May still can’t get enough votes. This is confirmed by a post on Reaction, Tragic ERG moving too late to save May’s deal:
Another day in Brexitland, the parallel universe that is the Palace of Westminster, where dazed ministers, MPs and hacks like me spend largely futile hours on end wandering around asking each other what is happening….
Large parts of the ERG die hard group of Tory MPs are moving towards May’s deal, but tragically (hilariously even, depending on your sense of humour) they may be doing so too late. In the time since they last had a chance to vote for Brexit, via May’s deal, the DUP’s opposition appears to have hardened. The coalition to get the deal over the line always rested on the ERG and the DUP folding simultaneously, and twenty or so Labour people feeling reassured enough to pass the deal. It looks as tall an order as ever.
A group of Ultras are arguing that May’s Brexit extension is illegal. I am puzzled as to why the Government didn’t tidy up the UK end of the extension by passing secondary legislation so as to change the exit date. From Huffington Post:
Senior Tory Eurosceptics have written to Theresa May claiming her accord with the EU to delay Brexit may be illegal.
Sir Bill Cash, Suella Braverman and others tell the prime minister that MPs and lawyers have “serious legal objections” about Brexit being pushed to beyond March 29.
It comes after May struck an agreement with EU leaders at a summit in Brussels last week to extend the UK’s membership until April 12 – or May 22 if she succeeds in passing her withdrawal agreement through parliament.
May’s administration sought the delay after MPs voted for a Commons motion to extend the process.
A statutory instrument (SI), a parliamentary device used to create laws, will be used to officially remove the March 29 date from Brexit legislation and is due to be debated by the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The Tory MPs claim May’s decision to seek parliament’s approval for the SI after the event “called into question the lawfulness of its actions and has (at minimum) created serious legal doubts about the legal situation surrounding the extension”.
The MPs’ letter also makes separate claims about the delay.
It states that May could have made unlawful use of the Royal Prerogative in agreeing to an extension which was “inconsistent with the intention of parliament”.
Legal precedent suggested the PM required an act of parliament to use the prerogative in this way, they said.
I am relying on Richard Smith here, since my Twitter results are picking up all the cheerleading by hard Brexit types, but he assures me that the legal eagles aren’t buying Cash’s argument.
MPs have proposed lots of motions. The Speaker will decide which to allow through for a debate and vote. These are the ones submitted for him to consider. Note that the Government has not provided any.
A) Constitutional and accountable government
Proposed by veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash with backing from senior ERG supporters, this objects to the overriding of Standing Orders to allow backbenchers to control the agenda as they are doing today and proposes that in future it would need two thirds of MPs to back any such venture.
B) No deal
Proposed by Conservative MP John Baron and colleagues, this proposes leaving the EU without a deal on 12th April.
C) Unilateral right of exit from backstop
Also proposed by John Baron, this backs leaving the EU on 22nd May with Theresa May’s deal amended to allow the UK to unilaterally exit the Northern Ireland backstop.
D) “Common Market 2.0”
Proposed by a cross-party group led by Conservative Nick Boles and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, this proposes UK membership of the European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area, allowing continued participation in the Single Market and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit, which would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.
E) Respect the referendum result
A cross-party proposal from 94 MPs including the Conservatives’ Will Quince, Labour-turned-Independent MP Frank Field and the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, this urges the House to “reaffirm its commitment to honour the result of the referendum that the UK should leave the European Union”.
F) Customs union (I)
Proposed by Stoke-on-Trent Central Labour MP Gareth Snell and a small clutch of his colleagues, this states that it should be the Government’s objective to implement a trade agreement including a customs union with the EU (and mirrors an amendment to the Trade Bill secured by Labour peers in the House of Lords).
G) Revoke Article 50 (I)
Proposed by the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, Tory MP Ken Clarke and a clutch of Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs, this calls on the Government to “urgently” bring forward any legislation needed to revoke Article 50 “in the event that the House fails to approve any withdrawal agreement four days before the end of the Article 50 period”.
H) EEA/EFTA without a customs union
Proposed by former minister George Eustice and a clutch of Tory colleagues, this plan involves remaining within the EEA and rejoining EFTA, but remaining outside a customs union with the EU.
I) Consent of devolved institutions
Proposed by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and his colleagues, this requires an agreement that the UK will not leave without a deal, and that no action for leaving the EU will be taken without a consent motion passed in both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
J) Customs union (II)
Proposed by Ken Clarke, Hilary Benn and others, this requires a commitment to negotiate a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU” in any Brexit deal.
K) Labour plan
Proposed by Jeremy Corbyn and colleagues, this backs Labour’s plan for a close economic relationship with the EU, including a comprehensive customs union with a UK say on future trade deals; close alignment with the single market; matching new EU rights and protections; participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and agreement on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant.
L) Revoke Article 50 (II)
Proposed by the SNP’s Joanna Cherry with backing from Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable and all 11 members of The Independent Group, this states that, if the Government’s deal is not passed, it would have to stage a vote on a no-deal Brexit two sitting days before the scheduled date of departure and that if MPs refuse to authorise No Deal, the Prime Minister would be required to halt Brexit by revoking Article 50.
M) Confirmatory public vote (a.k.a. second referendum)
Drawn up by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson but with ex-Foreign Secretary Dame Margaret Beckett as lead signatory, this requires a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by Parliament before its ratification.
N) Malthouse compromise Plan A
Proposed by former Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan with cross-party support from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Labour’s Kate Hoey, this calls for Theresa May’s deal to be implemented with the controversial “backstop” for the Irish border replaced by alternative arrangements.
O) Contingent preferential arrangements
Proposed by Marcus Fysh, Steve Baker and a clutch of ERG-supporting Tory MPs, this calls for the Government to seek to agree preferential trade arrangements with the EU, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement with the bloc.
P) Contingent reciprocal arrangements
Also proposed by Marcus Fysh and ERG colleagues, this calls for the Government to “at least reciprocate the arrangements put in place by the EU and or its Member states to manage the period following the UK’s departure from the EU”, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement.
Rumors suggest the EU is not planning to give the UK a “long extension” long enough to hold a referendum. It’s peculiar that there has been so little attention in the UK press, and apparently even less consideration given in the EU, as to the time required to hold a referendum under UK rules. Even though theoretically, the minimum time required is 147 days, given the importance of formulating a question well, and the deficient outcome last time despite a lot of wrangling, it’s hard to see it taking less than the tight schedule of 8 months sketched out by the LibDems, or the year it took last time. And then recall that that’s just for the referendum, not for what to do about it. The timetable needs to allow for a result other than “Remain”.
The EU has pencilled in April Fools’ Day 2020 as a leading option for Britain’s first day outside the bloc, should the UK government ask Brussels for a lengthy extension of article 50 in three weeks’ time, it can be revealed.
The date was to be offered at the leaders’ summit last week if Theresa May had followed through on her promise to request a short extension in the event of passing her Brexit deal, and a longer one should it be rejected again by the House of Commons.
Cynically, I have thought that the worst possible result for the EU would be if the UK were to ask for an extension to hold a second referendum, since that would maximize the amount of uncertainty. Even though Remain looks likely to win, look how the Tories looked certain to trounce Labour when May called her snap election. So is this less than one year limit intended to be a way to rescind the offer to allow the UK to hold a second referendum without saying so explicitly?
The 1922 Committee is trying to get May to quit. But quitting in three weeks is after the do-or-die date of April 12 (actually earlier, the EU has said no asking for an extension at the very last minute). From the Sun:
Tory grandees have told Theresa May to say she’ll quit within weeks when she addresses all Conservative MPs today.
Their shop steward Sir Graham Brady summoned the PM to a pivotal showdown of all Tory ministers and backbenchers at 5pm….
The Sun can also reveal that Sir Graham and the other five other senior officers of the 1922 committee’s executive – dubbed the Men in Grey Suits – met in secret late on Monday night in the Commons…
1922 Committee secretary Nigel Evans told The Sun last night: “I’m really pleased the Prime Minister is coming to address the ‘22.
“It would be really advisable if she set out a timetable for her departure in order that she can focus minds to get something agreeable over the line. It would then allow her to look at her legacy and say to the country ‘I delivered on Brexit’.”….
One Brexiteer who met the PM for a one-to-one meeting yesterday told her she had to announce her departure.
She replied: “Thank you for your candour.”
The MP said she “made clear” she will offer her resignation at the 1922 committee Thursday night – but only if she knows the deal will pass.
May still has some fight left in her. “Thank you for your candour” is classic.
So the UK continues to be in the midst of an overly dynamic situation. Hopefully some things will sort out today.