Because my cat is sick and probably dying, this won’t be much of a post.1 I have to take him to the vet in a few hours, which will be his third visit this week. Apologies.
Theresa May appeared to make a major change in course yesterday by starting the process of striking a cross-party deal with Labour on a softer Brexit. However, May also said she wanted to petition the EU to have an extension to May 22…..to approve her Withdrawal Agreement. As we’ll discuss shortly, it’s inconceivable that the EU would agree to that. Or as Richard Smith put it, “More cretinism from May”:
"This debate, this division cannot drag on much longer… It is doing damage to our politics" – UK PM Theresa May confirms she is seeking further "short" extension to departure from EUhttps://t.co/zEeFMMJz94 #Brexit pic.twitter.com/xtLA1CVwDk
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) April 2, 2019
For those of you who are not deep into Brexit details, May is giving a big raised middle finger to the EU with this proposal. The UK came as a petitioner to the EU seeking an extension, which the EU was in no way obligated to give. The EU rejected May’s request for an extension to June 30 and instead gave her two alternatives: if she got her Withdrawal Agreement approved by March 29, the Government could have an extension to May 22 to pass enabling legislation. If not, it had until April 12 to “indicate a way forward” with Brexit [that is acceptable the EU] and take the steps necessary to participate in the European Parliament elections.
May’s new bright idea was not on offer, and for good reason. Without belaboring the details, having the UK in the EU after April 12 risks having UK citizens claim the right to vote in European Parliament elections. Not acting accordingly has the potential to throw the legality of the new Parliament in question. Even if that risk is arguably remote, the consequences would be dire. An even more pressing reason is they don’t want to risk a “no deal” dominating the election:
Hasn't taken EU diplomats long to spot this whacking great bear trap. They're already telling us no way will they grant UK an extension to May 22 without it taking part in EP elections. To do so would create a legally unavoidable cliff edge the day before voters go to the polls. https://t.co/MAFwfcr8RH
— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) April 2, 2019
So an open question is whether this is May being dragging around her Withdrawal Agreement corpse because she’s incapable of coming up with another approach, or is this one of her idiot-savant displays, where she is steering the UK to a no deal Brexit if she can’t get her way with the Withdrawal Agreement, and trying to make Labour own that outcome too?
The rumors are that 14 of her 27 Cabinet ministers were opposed to her plan. Richard North provides more scuttlebutt:
She had, she said, just come from chairing seven hours of Cabinet meetings where, if we are to believe what we are told, acrimonious ministers were split between wanting a no-deal Brexit and opting for a customs union, with the no-dealers holding the majority.
Mind you, May’s statement came after a round of panic and confusion. May had her ministers surrender their phones during a seven hour session. The House entertained scheduling something called the Cooper-Letwin bill for Wednesday in place of the previously planned indicative votes. Most observers thought meant the UK was on a just-about certain path to crash-out….but then the indicative votes were back on! So Brexit-watchers were already overstimulated when the Prime Minister made her announcement of her seeming change in direction.
But my take is that May’s move is a variant of her standard “run the clock out” play, which hasn’t worked for her so far (save for keeping her in No. 10). If nothing else, talking to Labour creates more moving parts, more complexity, and therefore more opportunity for failure.
The reason for doubting any sincerity to May’s moves is not simply that that would be out of character. It’s that when the idea of a second referendum came up last fall, May was willing to consider it only as a way to have voters decide between her deal and no deal. She was not willing to entertain “Remain” as an option. Leaks in recent days have indicated that May prefers a crash out to no Brexit.
Thus there is every reason to think that May believes the widespread antipathy among MPs for a crash out gives her leverage to force approval for her deal. She likely believes that her failure to achieve that end is because MPs believe they can still get another sort of Brexit. She may also believe that the EU is more afraid of a no deal Brexit than it is.
So if May were to get her short extension to May 22, it would make a long extension possible and cut off pretty much all Brexit escape routes. The only risk she runs is that Parliament could work up the nerve to back revoking Article 50.
Recall that Richard North caught on to the significance of May saying that any Brexit deal required the approval of her Withdrawal Agreement. She’s making that a requirement of her talks with Labour. From the Financial Times:
Theresa May on Tuesday inflamed the Conservative civil war on Europe after she offered to work with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to end the Brexit impasse, opening the door to a softer exit deal that could include membership of a customs union with the EU.
After a cabinet meeting lasting more than seven hours, the UK prime minister made clear she was willing to face down Eurosceptic Tories, announcing she would seek a further delay to Britain’s exit from the EU as she tried to forge a new cross-party approach with the Labour leader on future ties with the EU.
But she added that any joint plan would have to endorse the 585-page exit treaty she has negotiated with the bloc.
Ian Dunt reads this the same way I do:
That is the May deal vs no-deal territory. The words about working with opposition and indicative votes are welcome, but look past that at the actions she is taking.
— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) April 2, 2019
More details from his post:
It all sounded so reasonable. A realistic timetable. Cross-party cooperation. It was like a whole new prime minister. But then came the dangerous part. She got to that bit in her statement where, if you were looking hard enough, you could see the tactical sleight of hand.
“The government would then bring forward the withdrawal agreement bill,” she said, referring to the domestic legislation enacting the deal with Brussels. “We would want to agree a timetable for this bill to ensure it is passed before the 22nd of May, so the UK need not take part in European parliamentary elections.”
And that’s when the alarm bells started ringing. That is the bit that will define if this is a real attempt to turn the page on how she approaches Brexit or another cynical trap based on deception.
The European elections are a crucial moment in the Brexit process. The EU has been clear that if the UK does not take part in those elections, it cannot remain inside, because it would mean that the European parliament would potentially be illegally constituted. The danger was always that May would use this fact to pivot parliament into a place where it had to choose between her deal or no-deal.
This is way too late to be workable. Notice how May called for working up new indicative vote options in case the round tomorrow fails. May may figure her gambit doesn’t increase the odds of anything passing and could lower them, or lead the vote to be pushed back a day or two for Conservative-Labour canoodling. Any time loss at this juncture increases the odds of a crash out, which May clearly believes increases leverage for approving her deal. And even though the EU is no doubt unhappy with yet another display of May’s pig-headedness, if she were to manage to get her deal approved by next Wednesday or Thursday, the EU would grant an extension to May 22 for the UK to tidy things up legally.
To look at this another way, even if May actually had a Damascene conversion, she’s not capable of working with Labour. It would be difficult for even a more skilled PM given the very short runway and the lack of prior engagement. So her offer is a ruse whether by accident or design. From our vlade:
The latest from May is a bear trap for Corbyn IMO. May has shown in the last two years to be constitutionally incapable of compromise and not-agreement-capable. She had three years (more, because of the dumb triggering of A50) to do what she now says she wants to do in less than
So unless we find out that all that time she was really just looking for a dominant partner who tells here what to do, and found one in Corbyn, I can’t see how this can lead to anything.
Of course, the other option is that she’s just incredibly canny, and this is all just a part of a long term plan. Muahahahah.
Of course that is too late. And likely to fail. She has no record in success. That’s the biggest reason for failure. She simply does not know how to deliver anything else.
But it does throw Corbyn a difficult scenario. And Labour cannot walk away. For that they would be blamed. And they know it. And so too do the Cabinet. That’s why I think there have been no cabinet resignations.
Richard North more charitably sees May’s move as a last gamble to get her deal through; by implication, the rest is optics:
If this plan has any chance of working, it has to be done swiftly. Although the European Council is on the 10th – next Wednesday – when any decision will be made as to whether to extend the Article 50 period, the General Affairs Council is the day before. Since it is there that the preparatory work is done, at the UK end, whatever is to happen but be done and dusted by the end of business on Monday, in order to get the result to the General Affairs Council.
Presumably, when it comes to the offer to the Westminster parliament, Mrs May will want to stick to the existing text of the political declaration, expecting Mr Corbyn to gamble on parliament voting to include a specific reference to a customs union. Whatever is agreed will then have to be bundled into a final motion which allows the Withdrawal Agreement to be ratified, this time with the support of Labour – by Monday at the latest.
There are considerable odds of it getting as far as the vote though. Although Mr Corbyn has agreed to talks, he would walk out at any time – having stage-managed his departure to ensure that Mrs May takes her share of the blame. The temptation for him to do this will be strong, as he will be looking to an opportunity to pursue a general election. Coming to the prime minister’s rescue has never been on his agenda.
The Ultras were predictably outraged….
Just talked to two ERG MPs. Angry doesn’t quite cut it.
“This is serious stuff. She has fucked our party. She is fucking brexit. She is fucking the country.”
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) April 2, 2019
The DUP is not happy either:
The government’s life-or-death agreement with Northern Ireland’s DUP has never been under the strain it is tonight. Read pic.twitter.com/dhaWBIUBx8
— Robert Peston (@Peston) April 2, 2019
As Politico’s morning newsletter pointed out:
NO DEAL? The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has upgraded the risk of a no-deal Brexit to “very likely.” This assessment may have been based on the most recent round of votes on potential versions of Brexit in the House of Commons Monday. But it’s also a case of situational awareness: As of this morning, Brexit day is nine days away — and no deal is the default and only option that requires no action by the hamstrung British parliament.
The UK is clearly in time is of the essence mode if the goal is to avoid a crash out. Yet we remain in the dark as to what May’s true aims are.
1 My cat Gabriel had 2 episodes of incontinence in 48 hours. Trust me, when a cat pees to send a message, they pee a ton. This was not that.
I took him to the vet on Monday, the day after the second incident. He has a large mass on his bladder, so large that his bladder can barely hold anything, hence him leaking. His kidney readings are also poor but that may be due to the bladder backing up into the kidneys.
This came out of the blue, since aside from getting very fussy about his wet food (as in over time pretty much no longer eating it) he seemed fine. And now that he is on antibiotics and an anti-nausea drug (same stuff as people take OTC, it’s not strong), he’s chowing down food and seems perfectly normal. The vet was also disconcerted by how healthy he appears to be versus his actual condition.
Bladder cancer is very rare in cats, and the vets are trying to determine what the mass is. But Gabriel is 14. Even if the mass is not cancer, removing it may not improve his kidney function much. So even “good” news will present me with a difficult choice: do I put an old cat through surgery that may not benefit him much in terms of longevity? (It would improve the quality of his life once he recovered by getting his bladder back to normal which was also contributing to his acting like he was interested in eating but then turning away from food).