Brexit: All Eyes on Boris

Even though yesterday was an earthshaking day in UK politics, with the Supreme Court delivering a stunning rebuke to Boris Johnson and repudiating the Queen’s ultimate authority by nullifying the proroguing of Parliament, it’s not clear how much of a difference this development makes for the Brexit trajectory. Per Clive’s hot take:

Great! Now Parliament can get back into session again. I’m sure it can’t wait to leap back into action and put through a… umm… err… well, it can now… hmm… let me see… anyway, it will now doubt resolutely (…tumbleweed…)

Which was consistent with Politico’s view many hours later, via its morning European newsletter:

What’s next? Brexit-skeptical MPs can resume harrying the government with urgent questions to ministers. They can keep demanding answers about the progress of the Brexit talks and the government’s preparations for no deal. All that scrutiny will be launched from what MPs regard as the moral high ground from today onwards. They can, in short, increase political pressure.

But to what end? MPs have already managed to rush through legislation which they said would prevent Johnson from taking the U.K. out of the EU without a deal. So on the face of it, Johnson’s best option is still to strike an agreement with the EU that can win enough parliamentary support to allow the U.K. to leave on October 31.

One clear winner is Speaker John Bercow, who looked like the cat that swallowed the canary after the Supreme Court verdict was read out. Johnson has clearly lost, as his curtailing his UN visit to rush back to the UK attests. But has he been mortally wounded, or does he still have a path to his October 31 Brexit?

The Supreme Court decision is quite clear that the judges saw the length of the proroguation and the Government’s failure to ‘splain why it needed so much time as acting in bad faith and clearly intended to thwart Parliamentary oversight. The vacating of the prorogue does not preclude Johnson from attempting a shorter prorogue of say four or five days to come with a Queen’s Speech laying out his agenda. That might have even been useful as an attempt at face-saving had Johnson not kinda-sorta said Parliament was getting in his way.

The forces opposed to Johnson want an extension to Brexit and presumably hope to defenestrate him after October 31. Nigel Farage would hope to make great inroads with the Tories who supported Johnson for his commitment to delivering Brexit do or die. However, Labour’s Brexit waffles and its increasingly visible civil war means many of its MPs would still not vote for a general election. And the Brexit Party threat would mean that the Tories would have reason to use the 1922 Committee process to get rid of Johnson and try again to install a replacement that would stick. But Johnson would continue to be Prime Minister during the contest, and he couldn’t be stopped from running to keep his post if he didn’t want to leave. (Note I am not up on the fine points of 1922 Committee executions; my assumption is they’d have to repeat the process that took place with May, of having MPs vote on leadership candidates until they winnowed the field down to two to then have party members choose).

In other words, and I would very much like UK readers to correct me, but until Johnson’s popularity falls with his base, he may be harder to turf out than it appears even as he lurches from debacle to debacle.

On the one hand, a new Telegraph poll shows 50% of the respondents supporting the Supreme Court decision and only 29% backing Johnson, which is similar to the results of a YouGov poll (49%/30%). On the other, at least as of the morning editions, the right wing papers still seem to be in Johnson’s corner:

The Daily Mail, which moved away from being firmly pro-Brexit after a new editor came in recently, has a cover that seems pretty positive for Johnson, given the givens:

The Torygraph’s full page headline is a Johnson quote, “Let’s be in no doubt, there are a lot of people who want to frustrate Brexit.” The Financial Times and i focus on calls for Johnson to resign. The Metro instead focuses on Johnson’s defiance.

In reality, what happens in the next three and a half weeks is noise. Parliament will not approve of any Withdrawal Agreement, even if Johnson miraculously brought a new one back. Parliament will not vote for a general election. It is remotely possible that the Tories would start rattling 1922 Committee sabers, but Johnson just won a vote of party members with a high margin, and his personal approval rating with Tory voters is still high.

Johnson can take some interim steps, like sacking Dominic Cummings and Geoffrey Cox. From the Rob Wilson in Telegraph, in a sign that Johnson’s fans have not lost faith, are even calling for him to keep his too-clever-by-half adviser:

Following the Supreme Court judgement, it took approximately 30 seconds for the first politician to call for the Prime Minister’s resignation and then only a few minutes more for the knives to appear for his most senior Downing Street adviser, Dominic Cummings.

The pressure on both will be intense, and sadly but rather predictably, a small number of Tory MPs are briefing behind the scenes that Cummings must go.

Usually in politics calling for advisers to be sacked is a displacement activity for not being able to force out the real target. We all know the real target for these few disgruntled Tory MPs is the Prime Minister.

They realise, along with most MPs on both sides of the House of Commons, that Boris Johnson will probably win a general election against Jeremy Corbyn. Nothing from the Supreme Court changes that dynamic, indeed for Boris it merely adds to the list of establishment bodies trying to overturn the Referendum result and stop Brexit.

The Prime Minister, probably to the surprise of the metropolitan remainiacs, is likely to come out of this unnecessary and over-reaching decision by the Court much strengthened. His credentials as a champion of the people are reinforced, so in the circumstances those Tory MPs whispering in dark corners would be wise to remain away from the light as it could prove more fatal for their career.

Boris Johnson cannot and will not forsake Cummings because he knows that the normal rules of political engagement are gone, possibly forever. The Prime Minister needs the only adviser currently in Government who knows how to harness the chaos that exists thanks to Brexit and use it to their advantage.

RTE, an outlet you’d not expect to be on the same page as the Torygraph, came to broadly similar conclusions absent the Johnson fandom. PlutoniumKun quoted this section:

Whether through serendipity or strategy (probably the former) the prime minister has created a win-win situation that nobody seems to have noticed….

But what no one seems to have considered is that Boris is an explicitly populist politician. He will live to whiff-whaff another day. His whole approach to gaining the keys to No.10 has revolved around constantly responding to – and to some extent amplifying – the populist signal, not least over Brexit. In this context, a Supreme Court defeat risks simply playing into Johnson’s gameplan. It will not stop Brexit. But for Johnson and, especially for his shady apparatchiks, it will be yet another example of “them” (that is, the elite, the experts, the untouchables that wield power without responsibility) against “us” (the Great British public).

But as we pointed out, Parliament already made its play with the Benn Act, which requires the Prime Minister to request an extension to January 31 by Saturday October 19 if he has not secured a Withdrawal Agreement and gotten Parliamentary approval by then. Recall that the EU Council meetings are on October 16 and 17.

Although Johnson could try a gimmick like sending in a note asking for a Brexit and then try to negate the request via further commentary in the letter or sending in a second letter at the same time, the courts would likely see that sort of bad faith action as tantamount to not sending the request in at all. People like Gina Miller would anticipate moves like that (and Johnson’s team is so leaky that they might telegraph it) and would have a complaint ready that would only take some additional rush drafting to file. But even with a Monday October 21 filing, the time is awfully short for a case to go through lower courts and then be heard by the Supreme Court, since it would inevitably be appealed, in a mere two weeks. So Johnson may take a flier and bet that the courts won’t be able to move quickly enough. But this could work against him if he loses in the lower court and he can’t get the Supreme Court to stay its decision to hear the Government’s appeal.

And what does the EU Council do while this circus would be underway?

Readers may have brighter ideas, but Johnson’s best play might be to line up an EU member state or better yet at least four to veto an extension request. Given that EU members have to live with each other, single state could afford to impose Brexit on the rest of them and expect not to pay for that in some manner. But Johnson is widely mistrusted and even hated. What reason would state leaders have to help him? The most Johnson could hope to do is shore up the resolve of Macron and his allies who have had it with the “Waiting for Brexit” drama. But are there enough of them to stick together against the majority?

We have more questions than answers. But whether Johnson finds a way to live up to his promise to defy Parliament is the critical unknown.

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68 comments

  1. Clive

    Re: Will the Council offer an extension (answers on a postcard edition)

    One thing that must, you’d have thought, be in the minds of the EU Council members is, if they were to grant an extension and if, assuming some mechanism is followed through to cancel Brexit (either a referendum which would end up with most Leave’ers abstaining so would generate a Remain result, or, alternatively, just a straight rescinding of Article 50) then it is inevitable that in pretty short order, there’d be a General Election which might well return a Leave party back into government. Which, if it were a manifesto commitment, would have no compunction at all about triggering Article 50 again. Placing the UK and the EU27 right back in this whole sorry saga all over again.

    What Remain has singularly failed to do is cauterize the debate and swing popular opinion back to putting Leave into, as minimum, the upper 30-ish% range (with the lower 30’s being preferable, somewhat akin to the last referendum where Remain won, in 1975; sufficient to close Brexit off as a topic for a generation or so, convincingly). The Conservative Party is polling 30-32% or roundabout that figure, the Brexit Party is 12-14%, so this gives what you could summarise as “Hard Brexit” parties, which may form a formal coalition or some sort of informal pact, depending on how the politics goes in the next few months, a 40-45% share of a vote in a General Election. This is sufficient, under the UK’s First Past the Post electoral system, to give a majority in Parliament, possibly in the 20-40 seat range. Certainly enough to stick out a 2-year Article 50 period.

    If this didn’t happen, following a “cancel Brexit” outcome, in 2020, it could just as easily happen in 2021, 2022 or thereabouts. In other words, even if the UK Remain’ed, as far as the EU27 are concerned, the UK would still be in a state of perpetual Brexit. Or thinking (nay, obsessing) about it.

    Why, then bother with any extension? What good will it, long term, do for anyone, absent Remain being able to demonstrably have stuffed the Brexit genie back into its bottle?

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think the EU is well aware that if the UK stays, the nightmare will not end. Mind you, they also know that if and when Brexit happens, they’ll have years of fraught negotiations with a hostile former partner over trade deals, military issues, immigration, not to mention what happens if the UK breaks up. They don’t see any end to the problems – the only question is which option is the least-worst.

      The one change I think in the EU dynamic is that this will strengthen the hands of the ‘core’ EU supporters rather than ‘expansionists’. In other words, there will be moves to strengthen the traditional core EU even if this means jettisoning or at least pissing off the peripheral awkward squad such as Hungary and Poland.

      I’m not so sure about the election figures – you are right that around 45-45% of voters fall into the hard Brexit camp, but the problem for the Tories/BP is that a lot of these people are in safe northern Labour seats, but not enough to cause Labour to lose more than a handful. My guess is that the BP are still unlikely to win anything, and will always be more of a spoiler to the Tories than Labour. But Labour aren’t going to benefit – there are going to be a whole series of in play marginals that could go anywhere – most likely to the LD’s. Either way, you are looking at a pretty much permanent series of coalitions, among parties who have no experience or inclination for coalition politics. Not a healthy situation.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        I agree. You can no longer read the polls and translate, mechanically, this- or that- party’s supposed seat tally.

        For example, what will Labour Leave’ers do? A defection to the Brexit Party — outside an agreement or informal arrangement with the Conservatives — is probably only going to benefit the Liberal Democrats in a Lib/Lab marginal. But a defection from Labour to the Conservatives, in a Con/Lab marginal will probably tip that sort of seat. This is merely one of about half a dozen permutations.

        But the main thrust of my reasoning is, with 40+ percent, possibly 45 percent, of the electorate floating around looking for a Brexit outcome, sooner or later, maybe not in a year, maybe nor in two years, but entirely conceivably within five years or even less, they will coalesce around some party and some seat distribution which will secure a working majority.

        This “risk” will only be vitiated by Remain pushing Leave below 40 percent. Anything less than that conversion of opinion is simply too close to easily-achievable swings to fundamentally put the matter to bed, once and for all.

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        1. David

          We shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that all Conservative voters want out of the EU. Remember that the Tories are the party of the Establishment, and that, in spite of the changes in the composition of the Tory electorate that produced and were massively reinforced by Thatcher, the Establishment still has a lot of influence. Of course, core Tory voters will continue to vote Tory even if they disagree with Johnson over Europe for fear of Labour winning, but that core vote is nowhere near enough to guarantee victory. And except In the case of a genuine and tightly controlled electoral pact between the Tories and the BP, the latter are going to cannibalise the votes of the former. What we have, I think, is a type of Venn diagram, where “Want to stay/want to go” overlaps to different degrees with the Tories, the BP and the LDs. Educated professional Tory voters may well defect to the LDs, as they have done before. Diehard anti-EU voters may defect to the BP. The election would be decided by the scale of such defections, if any.

          Reply
          1. Clive

            Yes, this is why it’s so complicated. And not just for the Conservative voter. It’s not a given, for example, that all SNP voters are Remain. A fair few (but how many, exactly?) are undoubtedly of the view that it’s, erm, a little inconsistent to be railing against having to participate in one particular sort of union (the UK) but then happily, upon some potential independence, immediately to be falling into the warm embrace of another union (the EU).

            And in the west country, Liberal Democrat heartland, it’s similarly plausible to suppose the new hard-line Remain stance the party has just adopted might well just be a little bit il-liberal for some of their more traditional sandals-and-kaftan brigade to stomach. It’ll all come down to precise numbers in specific locations. Upon which, we can only, I think, speculate.

            I was going to throw in Aontú in NI, but that’s all really far too bizarre and niche, even by the wacky and wonderful standards of NI politics, to go into here. Non-UK readers must be despairing enough already, without adding that sort of nonsense into the mix, too.

            Reply
            1. Martin Davis

              Thanks for the Aontú reference. I had no idea. Though it would not be so strange if the die-hard DUPers had their analogue in the nationalist community.

              Reply
              1. PlutoniumKun

                Ah yes, Aontu. They are basically a conservative rural fringe republican group who broke away from Sinn Fein as they were angry with Idpol stuff from SF HQ. Its probably a uniquely Irish phonemenon – an economically progressive, nationalist and but socially deeply reactionary party. They flopped in the last election in the Republic and there is no evidence they’ll get anywhere in NI. NI folks are very pragmatic in their voting, they will always vote for whoever will stop the guy on ‘the other side’.

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            2. ChrisPacific

              It’s further complicated by FPP, under which votes for candidates that don’t win their electorate are meaningless, and vote splitting nearly always rounds down to zero. With more than two parties in the mix, it’s next to impossible to say what the results might be, except that geographically concentrated parties like SNP and DUP will have an advantage.

              I suspect if the Brexit and Conservative parties did some kind of a deal in a GE then we would see either the Brexit or Conservative candidate in most electorates mysteriously either withdraw or fail to mount much of a campaign, combined with an encouragement to supporters (either explicit or tacit) to vote for the other one. This will be roundly decried as corrupt and anti-democratic by Labour, who will meanwhile be busily engaged in doing the same thing anywhere their own vote looks likely to split.

              Reply
          2. PlutoniumKun

            Actually, thats been the biggest mystery to me – where did all those pragmatic establishment business minded Conservatives disappear to? They seem to have been completely submerged by the radicals.

            Reply
            1. FKorning

              It’s just regressing to the original model. shire conservatives, land owners, rentiers. urbanite industrialists and entrepreneurs being liberals.

              Reply
          3. ahimsa

            That is the in effect the whole problem:

            The referendum was a plebiscite exclusively on one issue where every vote counted regardless of party.

            Parliamentarians are elected on a party-basis using a first past the post system on manifestos not exclusively Brexit themed.

            Reply
      2. flora

        The one change I think in the EU dynamic is that this will strengthen the hands of the ‘core’ EU supporters rather than ‘expansionists’. In other words, there will be moves to strengthen the traditional core EU even if this means jettisoning or at least pissing off the peripheral awkward squad such as Hungary and Poland.

        an aside: my understanding is UK served as a triangulating buffer v Germany in the minds of some of the EU peripheral countries uncomfortable with the idea Germany could gain too much power. With UK, France, and Germany in the EU , France also served as a buffer between UK and Germany. With UK out of the EU, the dynamic within the EU will likely change in significant ways, imo. But this is a consideration for another day.

        Reply
        1. Detlef

          That I think is a bit too simplified.

          I do believe that some countries were wary of potential German power (military, foreign policy, economic) in the 1990s. That after all was one reason for the Euro.

          Now in the late 2010s? Military power? Ridiculous. Foreign policy? Germany prefers to hide behind other powers. Economic? Perhaps. But the UK was the main force in the EU for free market policies which might have strengthened German economic power in neighboring countries. So allying with the UK seems somewhat counterproductive?

          What Brexit undermines are two informal “alliances”. At least as reported in some newspapers.

          Very simplified:
          One, the UK, Germany, Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries against more state intervention as preferred by France and the Southern countries.
          And second, the UK, Denmark and the East-European countries against the core and against deeper integration of the EU.

          Mind you, that doesn´t mean that some countries aren´t hypocrites.
          Germany for example says it wants a deeper integrated EU but is wary of losing budget rights to it. How that is supposed to work I don´t know?
          Likewise Germany is wary of state intervention but happily pays 1.31% of GDP in 2018 as state aid. Higher than France. The UK in comparison 0.38%.
          (Which also shows that Corbyn doesn´t know what he´s talking about when he says that the EU doesn´t allow state aid.)

          Now Germany isn´t the only country with faults but as a German I´m more familiar with them.

          Reply
    2. vlade

      I agree, but the EU is also somewhat sensible to the “it’s your fault” thing.

      IMO, the best solution from the EU would be to (ASAP) offer an extension (remember, A50 says the EU offers the extension, and the state approves!) till end of Nov on a condition that a GE is run. Now, the GE would have three possible outcomes:

      – Tory+BP govt = No deal over a quiet period, but critically not EU’s fault.
      – some sort of “Not (Tory + BP)” govt = referendum (+GE afterwards potentially)
      – hung parliament. No deal over a quiet period, but critically not EU’s fault.

      In two out of three cases it would be decided by Nov. In another one the extension would be at least 24 months, so long enough to be someone-elses-problem.

      It would also force Johnson’s hand – he’d either have to explicitly refuse the extension and admit he wanted the GE only to go for no-deal (because right now it’s impossible to run a GE before end of October already), or accept the extension and suffer the consequences. I believe he would refuse, and Labour and co would have their hand forced too – replace Johnson with a caretaker, or risk no-deal.

      Reply
      1. Ignacio

        Time for extensions is running out because the EU has to approve budgets for 2021 onwards by the end of the year. Now, the EU migth try to change the narrative from ‘it is not our fault’ to ‘it is Boris’ fault’ who plays in bad faith and doesn’t want negotiation. Supreme’s court decision gives some strenght to this narrative. This is not to say this is what is going to happen but It should be considered. The odds would also increase if Boris takes additional steps in the same vein as proroguing the Parliament before de make-or-break 16 Oct. summit.

        Reply
        1. Irrational

          In theory, the EU has to approve the 2021-2027 budget framework before the end of the year, in practice it will drag on into 2020, so I would not regard that as a constraint. Having said that, of course the discussion is simpler when it is clear that UK budget contributions stop at date X.

          Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I disagree. The EU has also gone to extreme lengths not to be seen meddling in UK politics. Demanding a GE when they OFFERED an extension is a non-starter. Even in response to a UK request it might be a bridge too far in terms of risking seen as muscling the UK.

        They might provide the laundry list of “if you do any of these things, we’ll consider a longer extension” IF the UK asks, like a second referendum thrown in, when the GE is the only thing they would realistically do. That would be completely in line with earlier messaging: “We need to see evidence something fundamental will change to give an extension.”

        Reply
        1. vlade

          Both the govt and the opposition want the GE – or at least publicly stated so. The opposition is saying “but not until you get the extension”. So the EU coming in and saying “We’ll give you extension till end of November for the GE you’re both clamoring for (especially, since as we understand it you can’t do a GE before November by now anyway)” can hardly be seen as meddling in the UK politics..

          At the same time they could say that except for this end-of-November extension they do not see any reason to give extension as any other extension seem to be unlikely to resolve the situation now.

          That does not interfere with Johnson do-or-die, leaves the door open for a GE extension (and possible renegotiation), and if not, gives the “we don’t want a no-deal but have no idea what we want” brigade another chance to reconsider the WA.

          Oh, and Johnson might even go with it, as a) he would not ask for the extension b) since it would be different than what Benn act says it would be up to the parliament to do so – which it presumably would + GE, so he could claim fairly-plausibly it wasn’t him who approved it either and butter his betrayal bread.

          Reply
    3. Anonymous 2

      Cox (UK Attorney General) has reportedly just confirmed in Parliament that the UK Government will comply with the Benn Act (i.e ask for an extension from the EU if no deal reached by the time of the EU Council). Presumably the plan is now to pressure Corbyn to agree to a November election.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        He said, when asked, whether he’d obey the law, that yes, he (or the government) would.

        But as the original post explores, where, precisely, does the law stand, in respect of the Benn Act? This is new legislation. Every month, the Supreme Court hands down judgements which confirms what the law means in practice or even, as the AG said just now, evolves the law.

        There is only 10 days between the stipulations of the Benn Act being anticipated to have its requirement performed and the time when a higher legal process will invalidate it, if it hasn’t been performed. This is awfully tight to get through all the legal challenges which would be necessary to get redress, should someone decide that the government’s performance of it hasn’t been completed satisfactorily.

        Reply
        1. David

          It’s now being reported that the government may actually be seriously considering the puerile idea of sending a second letter to the EU, asking them to disregard the first one. But this would be such a flagrant breach of the law (even worse than prorogation, which was not a narrowly legal issue) that the courts would strike it down instantly. In such circumstances, I’m not even sure that Cox could advise Johnson to go ahead without putting his personal position in danger.

          Reply
          1. vlade

            yes, but what would be the remedy? telling the EU to ignore it?
            Telling Johnson he cant stand as sn MP in the next election would be really the only threat he may be suspectible to

            Reply
            1. David

              I think Cox is sufficiently intelligent to understand this, and would have to advise against it. The court could order Johnson to formally withdraw the second letter for example.

              Reply
            2. David

              Cox is not stupid and would not put himself in the position of giving advice which was flagrantly illegal. If necessary the court could order Johnson to formally withdraw the second letter.

              Reply
              1. vlade

                The formal withdrawal of the letter would be pretty much irrelevant remedy IMO.

                The EU will do what it will do regardless of the UK govt or courts.

                The Boris would have “kept his word” to his voters.

                Being told to revoke it would only make him more popular in those circles that say “who’s running the country?”.

                Reply
          2. Detlef

            If this is true then apparently the British government even after three years still hasn´t grasped that continental Europeans can read and understand British media too. :)

            The easiest way to deal with the second letter is to simply ignore it. It got lost on its way. The pizza delivery service we tasked to deliver that letter to the EU Commission has apparently lost its way. The ferry is still somewhere in the Channel. We are truly sorry. And we´ll launch an immediate investigation chaired by Chris Grayling.

            Now joking aside I do believe the EU would answer the first letter by granting an extension? And then act all puzzled when receiving the second letter? Publish it and ask the UK for clarification.

            And then order popcorn and watch British TV.

            Reply
          3. anonymous

            that would be an epic crisis. what does it say of the crown’s seal of approval to idly stand by and allow such blatant cynicism and deceit?

            Reply
          4. Yves Smith Post author

            That was reported earlier too. This is so obviously silly that I wonder if it’s a smokescreen to cover the intended ploy.

            My earlier suggestion of including in the request a long analysis of why this extension is a bridge to nowhere and the EU needs to recognize that would be a less flagrant way of doing the same thing. Could it be crafted in such a way as not to be deemed to be defying the law? This is over my pay grade but I doubt the ideologues Boris has around him are subtle enough to find a way to thread this needle, if there were a way to do that.

            Reply
          5. ChrisPacific

            RP: “But you’re conceding there’s a reasonable prospect you’re not going to get a deal.”

            BJ: “And under these circumstances, what I can say to you is that we will respect the law and we will come out on October the 31st”

            RP: “But those two statements, many would say are completely incompatible”

            BJ: “Well we will respect the law and we will come out on October 31st”

            One obvious explanation is that he is lying. I’m having trouble coming up with any others. I had thought he might make the request in a way that made it impossible for the EU to comply (for example, by stipulating that a 100m tall statue of himself in 24 carat gold be built in every EU capital as a condition) but it seems like Parliament has thought of that and helpfully drafted the exact form of the letter for him as part of the law.

            Reply
  2. PlutoniumKun

    Well, the situation is, as they say ‘overly dynamic’.

    My guess is that Bojo will read the morning newspapers and decide to double down on his populist strategy and engage in Parliamentary guerilla war to get no-deal over the line. He will continue to wind up the EU in the hope that they will withdraw any support for fudges that might help the Remainers. He may throw a sop to worried Tory centrists by issuing a half hearted apology to the Queen.

    I don’t think any EU country will veto an extension under pressure from the UK. The unwritten rule within the EU is that any country can use a veto, but it must expect some retaliation at a later date. In other words, every country only has so much political goodwill it can expend by blocking the majority no matter what the subject – its very much a last resort option. So the use of a veto is a precious weapon which any country should only use in its own interest. I don’t think that any country – including the Hungarians or Poles – would feel so attached to the Tories that they would use up any remaining political goodwill for no obvious benefit to themselves. Not forgetting of course, that most countries have citizens living in the UK who would not appreciate their home countries causing such a problem.

    However, its entirely possible that the French, along with the Spanish, might decide that enough is enough, just cut them off. If they signalled this, then it wouldn’t be a veto, the rest of the bloc would probably get behind it.

    But my guess is that the EU will keep to their current line – they will only adjust the backstop if they get a workable proposal (and clearly that won’t happen), and their only other option is an Irish Sea border alternative, which Bojo could possibly spin as a win for himself. But I doubt he could get it past Parliament unless he did some very unusual backroom deals with (for example) the SNP. I’ve been idly wondering if the Tories could approach the SNP with a deal that says ‘vote for a WA agreement with an Irish Sea backstop, and you get IndyRef2 within a year along with an informal agreement from the EU that you go to the front of the queue for rejoining the EU’. That would solve several problems for the Tories at one go. And lets face it, one clear defining characteristic of the hard core Brexiteers is that they are English, not British nationalists. Even in Wales (which voted for Brexit), recent studies show that it was overwhelmingly English retirees who swung the vote.

    The other issue is an extension – I think the EU would agree to one, but it would be limited and full of conditions, simply because they want to be seen as the reasonable ones and to have more time to prepare. There is no energy or appetite for anything else, unless they genuinely think an election could produce a more pro-EU government, which seems unlikely, they can read the polls like everyone else.

    The Labour Party – unbelievably – have chosen this time to crank up an internal civil war. I really do despair.

    All I can say is that for once, the party conference season will actually be must-watch TV.

    Reply
    1. Jim A.

      What if the EU offers a “Two weeks to get our shit together for a crash-out” extension? I guess that would have to go to parliament to get approved. Then what?

      Reply
    2. ChrisPacific

      If I was the EU I would be really cautious about offering even an informal agreement on preferential re-entry for a future independent Scotland, for the simple reason that it presents the same border issue that currently exists in Ireland. In fact it would be worse, since there would be no incentive for the UK to cooperate.

      They could perhaps offer it on condition that Scotland impose a hard border, but I’m not sure how appealing that idea would be to SNP.

      Reply
    3. FKorning

      «Even in Wales (which voted for Brexit), recent studies show that it was overwhelmingly English retirees who swung the vote.»

      fascinating. source?

      Reply
  3. Tom Stone

    What a show!
    It’s Government by drama queen.
    Which is all too familiar to me as a Californian.
    Will the US Presidential election of 2020 be a bigger shitshow or will Brexit take the cake?
    Perhaps Lambert could run a poll…

    Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    Just some general observations. By the Brexit countdown clock (http://daystobrexit.co.uk/) there are now only 36 days left until Brexit is supposed to come into effect. I am going to take a stab at this and say that there will be very little accomplished in this time period and that all the political maneuvering will count for little. Just re-arranging deck-chairs on the Titanic.
    One thing is for sure. When the history books come to be written about the whole Brexit saga in the years to come, the British media will come in for savage treatment. I watch the news daily and some of the stuff that I see published is so godawful that it is no wonder that there is so much ignorance about the effects of an actual Brexit in the UK. At this point I am beginning to think that this is by deliberate design for some other party’s benefit.

    Reply
    1. Pavel

      The media have indeed been horrendous, but even worse have been the MPs — on every side of the issue. Labour have been hopeless, the Tories thoroughly duplicitous, and the Lib Dems at their most hypocritical. And let’s not forget the ridiculous Change UK party or whatever they called themselves. Not to mention the odious carpetbagger Chukka Umunna… jesus wept.

      I am a firm supporter of Scottish independence and the quicker the Scots manage to escape the madness and corruption that is UK politics (enabled by the horrific UK media) the better IMO.

      Reply
  5. David

    When we were discussing Theresa May’s unexpected political longevity a year ago, several of us pointed out that she was still in power, not for any virtues she might have, but because all the possible successors were worse, and anyway there was no consensus on who that successor should be. The situation clarified subsequently around Johnson, but I think we are now essentially back in the same situation again. If not Boris who? And for what purpose? I doubt if there are many Tories who want the job of PM at the moment, and it’s in the best interests of the opposition parties to allow Johnson to clown his way through a bit longer. So whither (or even whether?) Boris, is not the main question.
    I said in a comment earlier that has since disappeared that Johnson will have no choice but to simply ask for an extension, because, after the SC decision this week, it’s clear that attempts to sabotage the Benn Act will be struck down instantly by the courts, and Cox really has no choice but to explain this to Johnson, and even threaten to resign unless his advice is taken. How the 27 would react is hard to say. I agree that none of them will be attracted by the idea of a veto to help the UK. In some countries, at least, that could open governments to legal challenges, and in any event a member state that did that would have to live with the consequences for ever. Not a very attractive prospect, and for what benefit? As I’ve said before, the 27 will be confronted with a choice of evils.On the one hand, all the disadvantages of an extension, on the other all the disadvantages of crash-out and years of acrimonious negotiation. The key, I think, will be how other states read the current political situation in the UK. If they see the Tories disintegrating and the possibility of a more sensible government emerging, then it makes sense to let time do its work. After all, the thought of trying to negotiate lots of highly-complex agreements quickly with this shower in government would send shivers up the spine of any diplomat.
    I’m not sure I would put too much faith in populism, if I were Johnson. There is no tradition of populism in British politics, and there are powerful forces against it. The Tory Party remains in essence what it always has been: the party of deference, the party of retired military and police officers, accountants, solicitors, local government officers, people with investments and property etc. etc. all of whom have a lot to lose if populism is let out of the box. Irrespective of their personal views, I think they will be very against any attempt to whip up populist sentiment against parliament and the courts .

    Reply
  6. vlade

    There is still one option available to Tories, which would IMO almost guarantee no-deal. That is that instead of trying another ‘let’s dissolve’ vote, the government would call a vote of no-confidence in itself. Then it would get fun – Labour could pretty much only abstain. LD, SNP etc would pretty much have to abstain too – they could not vote for the govt or against the govt.

    If Labour, LD, SNP, ex-Tories, TIG, PC and Green abstained, then Tories and DUP could abstain too, while offering some incentives to the “independent” (about five of them) to vote against government.

    That would be a fun vote – say five-nil no-confidence..

    Chances are that there would be some fudge to ask for the extension anyways, but Johnson would be in a much better position vis a vis Brexit Party.

    Reply
    1. David

      My reading of the Benn Act (and it’s law, not just a parliamentary resolution) is that, whilst it was intended to hobble Johnson, it in fact imposes a legal duty on whoever is the government of the day to ask for an extension. You can’t have a country without a government at all, and the convention is that, even during an election campaign, the outgoing government has to fulfil some inescapable functions (including, amusingly enough, attendance at EU summits). So such a tactic, which I agree is possible, might boomerang rather nastily.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        That’s why I wrote:
        “Chances are that there would be some fudge to ask for the extension anyways, but Johnson would be in a much better position vis a vis Brexit Party.”

        Under this case, only the shortest possible extension could be considered (end of Nov at most).
        The above would mean an extension, Johnson could claim he didn’t do it, and was sabotaged, which would likely prevent defections to BP. It would also give him a very clear message – vote for me and get the exit in November, if the traitors prevented the October one.

        IMO the most likely result of the election then would be either a hung parliament or a Tory minority govt (although it’s not much more than a gut feeling), hence saying “guaranteeing no-deal”, as under both cases it would be no deal. I cannot see the EU presenting the UK with an extension if the GE ends in a hung parliament. So strategically, Tories would not even have to win – they would just have to prevent remainers from winning.

        Reply
        1. David

          Yes, it’s just that I don’t think it would be a “fudge” – just the law taking its course. And the law would require whatever kind of government was in power to ask for, and accept, an extension until 31 January (although there’s a suggestion in the bill that other mutually agreed arrangements are not excluded). I agree that the politics of what followed would be complicated and the outcome is not obvious, but a hung parliament (I agree that’s a real possibility) would also create other opportunities for other people.

          Reply
      1. vlade

        no, that was a dissolution vote, which need absolute two thirds. no confidence vote is carried by simple majority of voting mps

        Reply
    2. ChrisPacific

      I think that would be a new level of absurdity even by Brexit standards. That may mitigate against it – I don’t think the British particularly enjoy being a laughing stock, and you can imagine what the international media would do with that one.

      Reply
  7. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves. While the rest of the media has been breathless about the supreme court decision (which, to be fair, is of pretty significant constitutional importance), readers of NC will have known that it is of little consequence to Brexit.

    It seems to me the next important date is going to be (roughly) the end of the first week of October, which is when the EU (as said by Varadkar today) needs to have any proposals from the British to replace the backstop, in order to have sufficient time to analyse them before the Council meeting. If we assume, on the basis that nothing has been proposed in the last 3 years, that the UK will have nothing to offer, the EU is going to have to, at around that point, stop helping the UK pretend that negotiations are continuing, and say outright that the only possible deal which could be agreed at the October European Council is the one that already exists (perhaps with a NI-only backstop).

    Presumably at that point, BoJo will ask for an extension under the Benn Act, or the parliament will be sufficiently scared by No Deal that they’ll manage to agree on a caretaker PM to do so. Then follows an election. What will be interesting will be which way Boris goes – will he come out as an outright No Dealer?

    After that, the obvious next important date is the EU Council on October 17. I agree with PlutoniumKun that any single country is very unlikely to use their veto, but I could see a bloc forming of France, Belgium, Spain and perhaps one or two others, in which case they might be willing to act. If Ireland were to consider blocking an extension – about which more shortly – then I see them as the lynchpin which could lead to a unanimous rejection of an extension.

    Why might Ireland or anyone else refuse an extension? Because the next UK election is going to be a Christmas Present election: nobody has an idea what they’re going to get. It could be a Labour + SNP majority, a Tory + Brexit Party majority, a hung parliament. I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. A volatile electorate in combination with the archaic FPTP system could produce almost any outcome. Against this, we do have some certainty: we know the current parliament has a strong majority against No Deal. This is why I think the EU might refuse an extension, as it would produce conditions where the UK Parliament can look properly into the abyss, and having seen that, would almost certainly reconsider the existing withdrawal agreement they’ve rejected 3 times. After an election, that may no longer be the case.

    But the EU has been unwilling to play hardball so far, and – unlike their counterparts on the opposite side of the English channel – most EU politicians and civil servants have read a history book or two. If they “force” the UK to accept the Withdrawal Agreement, they’ll have an economically-damaged, nuclear-armed nation on their doorstep, with a broken body politic fuelled by powerfully amplified myths of betrayal and resentment. Everybody knows where that can lead.

    (A final thought: the worse case scenario for the EU is not No Deal. It’s the UK revoking their article 50 notification, and remaining as a full EU member while having a near majority of their public hate the very idea.)

    Reply
    1. Irrational

      Very clearly put.
      Of course, it already looks like the country described in the last three lines of your last non-bracketed paragraph except the economic damage, which will no doubt reinforce everything else.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      Its a good point – there is a lot of background work going on for an Irish Sea border as a ‘Plan B’ to offer Britain. But it wouldn’t get past Parliament as it is – but if the EU were to say ‘no more extensions’, then just maybe Johnson could get enough votes if he wanted it.

      Reply
  8. SlayTheSmaugs

    There’s no point in analysis, really.

    The ball is firmly in the EU’s court; it can decide to force the crash out or grant the extension. I plan to tune out until 10/19.

    After October 19, if there is no crash out, the ball is in Britain’s court: crash out or accept a united Ireland within the EU trade rules or a UK within EU trade rules, at least for years while the next stage agreement is sorted out.

    There seems to be, as of yet, no shift in the alternate reality fantasy that a lot of British appear to be in (the laughable non-papers on Ireland just the latest marker of that.) Until reality sets in, crash out is/remains inevitable. So the key thing to watch between now and January will be signs that reality is setting in.

    I wonder what the most obvious signs of reality setting in would be. E.g., can BoJo be in charge if Britain accepts that EU trade rules will govern the whole Irish island? What would be the clearest ‘tells’?

    Reply
  9. Mael Colium

    Of course the EU want to grant an extension in the hope that Brexit will fizzle out. They don’t want the UK , the second largest economy in the EU, to leave. They have played the game all along. By insisting on a non negotiable back stop, using the Irish border as a feeble excuse, they were never sincere in negotiations. Barnier has been quoted as saying from the outset that his objective was to delay Brexit as long as possible. The EU negotiators have never negotiated in good faith.

    I think this article has hit pretty close to the mark. All it needs is for Johnson to keep his hands off the negotiating wheel for a few more weeks to let it fall into a heap. He has popularity and hatred of the EU from the Brexiteers on his side. The remainer cooked up protests are fizzling as Corbyn keeps backtracking as those people are just getting fed up with the whole process, particularly when Labor has no hope in an election. Macron stated emphatically their will be no extension and will never eat humble pie, so the train lights are getting brighter. Bring it on!

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      RE: Of course the EU want to grant an extension in the hope that Brexit will fizzle out. They don’t want the UK , the second largest economy in the EU, to leave.

      I disagree. The reasons to grant an extension are three: to look fair, improve preparedness and get a WA approved. The first reason migth be the only one lasting these days. I believe that a fed up majority wants brexit ASAP. Nothing like the nightmarish never ending brexit that Clive envisions above as a possibility.

      Reply
  10. xkeyscored

    David commented that “Johnson will have no choice but to simply ask for an extension, because, after the SC decision this week, it’s clear that attempts to sabotage the Benn Act will be struck down instantly by the courts,” and others appear to share this view.
    1) I think Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Cummings et al. are pretty wily, resourceful and ruthless. There’s every chance they’re currently cooking up some alternative.
    2) The word instant has a very different meaning to lawyers than it does to coffee drinkers. They could sabotage or ignore the Act, crash out without a deal while the courts perform their version of an instant decision, and face the music afterwards. Stranger things have been known to happen.

    Reply
  11. TimOfEngland

    I’m just and “ordinary Joe” living here in the south of England and I have similar friends. In my/our opinion the 99% in the UK are 99% fed up with the entire brexit pantomime. I don’t think we care any longer which way it goes, WA, revoke or No deal – please just get it over with! We all realise that businesses both large and small are probably of the same opinion, if it’s no deal then we will cope if it’s anything else we’ll cope too just tell us which way it’s going to be.
    As for elections everyone here at NC that says “don’t know” is correct, none of us here know either. I don’t even know what I would vote myself currently but I lean towards conservatism.
    The last few weeks have just been crazy We are re-writing our unwritten constitution day by day. Old rules are being tossed aside in a dreadfully un-british display of infighting (and out fighting). This is why 99% need it to be over and the sooner the better.
    With Boris he is popular because he appears to be the only one trying to force something(anything!) to actually happen – as stated – just do one thing or the other and no more pointless voting against half a dozen options and then voting against the default option and making it “against the law” to obey the initial rules of article 50 – which they voted FOR in large numbers. It’s only my opinion but in a GE Boris will win hands down simply for the above reason, he is “Teflon” as we say sometimes until brexit is done.

    A small digression, to give what in my thinking is some context to UK attitude to the EU “on the ground” so to speak. 100% of people that I meet and talk with says “Europe” when talking about our European nieghbours. I tried to introduce “Mainland Europe” to try to indicate that we are actually part of the damn place but it never stuck. In the past we used to use “overseas” or “on the continent” again almost denying we are part of it.

    Most of the UK does think of itself as seperate from Europe I don’t know why but that is the way it is. Immigrants/refugees obviously think the same way – they don’t want to get to Europe they want to get here to the UK.

    Lastly I don’t normally say much here but I do read a lot and the view of brexit and the UK is frequently illuminating to say the least.Thanks NC.

    Reply
    1. Paul O

      It is not that big a majority who are fed up with the process – though there are many.

      My – likely minority – position is that the constitution is working fairly well and that parliament and the courts are doing their job and doing it fairly well.

      We may well need to decide this via the ballot box. Possibly with elections repeated until parliament can agree on a course of action.

      The EU could bring this to an end by rejecting and extension but I suspect we are not close to that yet.

      Unfortunately I don’t think the simple-ish approach of obtaining and extension and holding and election is one that the rather dysfunctional rump of what was once the Conservative party favor or trust – probably rightly so.

      Reply
      1. TimOfEngland

        @ Paul O: Yes I agree the ballot box will be needed possible both GE(s) and BrexitRef2. “99/99” Yeah, I exaggerated but once I thought of the line I used it. Extensions are seemingly pointless no one has a plan that can be agreed so in my mind we are looking at revoke or no deal.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous

      Thanks for that annecdote, but think that speaks more for your demographics than the English or British population at large. I can vouch for the opposite in West London. Everyone I know is appalled at the idea of leaving, and worried about snuffing their children’s futures.

      Reply
    3. Tom Bradford

      “if it’s no deal then we will cope if it’s anything else we’ll cope too”

      And here, of course, is the problem if a sizeable chunk of the population share this view.

      Will you cope if the NHS collapses through a shortage of EU nationals leaving, whether they legally need to or not, as is already happening? Will you cope with your mortgage payments if your employment vanishes along with the EU market? Will you cope with queues for ever more expensive, ever-diminishing EU-sourced goods in the shops? Will you cope when the value of the pound plummets doubling the price of petrol, diesel and related items?

      “She’ll be all right,” is a cheerful and very British response to all uncertainties, and that’s just chipper – until she isn’t.

      Reply
  12. Anonymous 2

    I see there is now talk of a possible vote of no confidence tomorrow. I think Johnson would hope (plan?) to lose this with a view to a November elections. Might he instruct Tory MPs to abstain or even vote against their own government? It would be little madder than recent events in the UK.

    Reply
  13. MichaelSF

    The Prime Minister needs the only adviser currently in Government who knows how to harness the chaos that exists thanks to Brexit and use it to their advantage.

    That sounds like someone has been brushing up on their disaster capitalism. I suspect there are plenty of advisers not currently “in Government” who also think they know how to use the current and future chaos to their advantage.

    Reply
  14. Susan the other`

    So doesn’t this supreme court decision prevent the Queen from being a passive monarch? She can grant permission for Boris or some future Boris to prorogue parliament for only 5 days, but in order to justify that edict she must appear before both houses and read them the official position for further action by the party in power. How amazing. The Supremes just cut through three centuries of BS. The Queen will, in future, need to have some very good advisors to protect her from the likes of a damaging special-interest coup.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think thats something people haven’t even begun to get their heads around yet – I think its implicit within the judgement that the Queen should not be as passive as before. Thats a pretty big deal.

      Reply
    2. Tom Bradford

      I was astonished at that part of the Judgment – effectively labelling the Queen’s action in Proroguing Parliament unlawful and to no effect. Proroguing was HER act. The Sovereign’s act. She might have been misled and improperly advised into doing it, but the Crown did it and I would have thought the Supreme Court would have decided it could do no more than advise the Crown that it had been misled and should recall Parliament.

      I am very pleased that the Judiciary stepped in to rein in an arrogant, dishonest Executive. I’m a little concerned that it took it upon itself to undo an act of the Crown.

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        “Proroguing was HER act.”
        I think the court’s decision was that parliament was not prorogued. It never happened. The queen did not need to recall parliament because it could ‘recall’ itself.
        Still, Betty’ll probably be a bit more wary of rubber stamping whatever’s put in front of her in future, as will her successor.

        Reply
      2. David

        I suspect there’s a lawyer-type distinction to make between the prorogation (which is a royal prerogative) and the advice given by Johnson. I don’t think it’s suggested that the Queen made a mistake or did something wrong in agreeing to what Johnson suggested, because that would have implied that she should played an active role. But it’s true that this horrible business is undermining the whole political system, including now the monarchy.

        Reply
        1. vlade

          “It is not suggested in these appeals that Her Majesty was other than obliged by constitutional convention to accept that advice. In the circumstances, we express no view on that matter. That situation does, however, place on the Prime Minister a constitutional responsibility, as the only person with power to do so, to have regard to all relevant interests, including the interests of Parliament.”

          I.e. says “We believe the Queen had to to it once asked, so it’s really the PMs responsibility’. Or put it differently – Queen is just the mouthpiece here, and if PM asks her to do something illegal, the fact that she does it, doesn’t legalise it.

          Which is interesting, as the lawmaking is using a different principle, i.e. once an Act is made into a law, it’s a law even if the process was somehow unlawful. I do wonder how exactly it works there tough, as IIRC it’s the government who submits things for Royal Assent which make things laws, but I guess you could argue that only things that the Parliament at some stage gave an unambiguous assent to can become a law in the first place.

          This is relevant here, as technically Benn Act likely impeded on prerogative, which normally requires the government to give an assent to first – but it didn’t. But now that it was submitted for, and received RA, it’s too late to complain about that.

          Reply
  15. robert dudek

    Why are so few people talking about the EU27’s role in this deadline? As if the mere asking for an extension guarantees one. They’ve said that short of a democratic event, they will not extend.

    So what is the likelihood of the EU saying: no extension, unless:

    (1) you call an election
    (2) you call a new referendum
    (3) you agree a deal and need a technical extension

    Or the UK can revoke A50 and the deadline disappears.

    IMO this is what the EU27 should do – the best way to finally end this farce.

    Reply

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