Top 3 developments
- The Speaker of the House prevented a third meaningful vote from taking place this week.
- The Prime Minister formally requested an extension of Article 50 until June 30.
- The European Council President granted the UK and extension of Article 50 until either April 12 or May 22, subject to the outcome of the third meaningful vote next week.
Bercow sweet child of mine
The PM faced an unlikely roadblock to bring her deal back to the House of Commons for a third meaningful vote this week: the Speaker of the House, John Bercow. The Speaker noted that a Parliamentary convention from 1604 meant that a motion could not be brought back to the House in the same Parliamentary session if it had not changed in substance. Number 10 were completely blindsided by this announcement, and it was reported that a number of nuclear options were being considered to bypass the Speaker, including abruptly ending the current Parliamentary session early and starting a new one – an unprecedented move in UK politics.
The reason that the PM was keen to hold the vote this week was because the EU Council Summit begun yesterday. If the PM had secured a majority for her deal, it would have allowed her to ask the EU Council for a short extension (June 30) to allow the necessary legislation to be implemented to facilitate a smooth exit from the EU. However, May was eventually forced to withdraw plans to hold the vote this week, after coming to the conclusion that the nuclear options were not worth following through on. It is now expected that the meaningful vote will happen next week, with a motion being tabled on Monday.
Cogito, ERGo sum
The PM made a speech on Wednesday evening in which she tried to use voters’ anger on Brexit to influence MPs to vote for her Brexit deal. In the speech, she spoke to voters directly, saying “you the public have had enough”, and concluded by saying “you want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide.” The speech was an especially emotional rallying cry which revealed the PM’s frustration at the inability of Parliament to vote in favour of her Brexit deal. Unfortunately, MPs have not responded to the speech in the way that the Prime Minister had hoped, with the Chief Whip stating it was “appalling” and Graham Brady, the Chair of the 1922 Committee informing the PM that many Tory MPs want her to leave. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will support her motion next week without some notable concessions.
The speech can also be seen as a direct response to the European Research Group’s letter to the PM sent earlier this week, which laid out its demands to gain their support. The letter outlined that Brexit should not be delayed beyond 29th March, and that a unilateral exit clause, a legal end date or the Malthouse Compromise must be secured before they can support her deal. It is not hard to come to the conclusion that these demands are completely contradictory, as it would be a practical impossibility to successfully negotiate these changes and then bring them before Parliament without extending Article 50. Their position cements the argument that they are running down the clock in the hope that the UK will leave the EU next Friday without a deal. The PM’s evident frustration in her speech can therefore be attributed to the fact that she must negotiate with this unworkable position in order to get her deal through Parliament.
Cabinet gives PM a splitting headache
The Cabinet was split this week over whether the UK should request a short or long extension to Article 50. Some Cabinet Ministers, including the Chancellor, believed a long extension to Article 50 should be pursued because it would provide leverage to force Brexiteers to support the PM’s deal. Brexiteers view a long extension as unpalatable because it would open the door for a softer Brexit or a second referendum, would require the UK to hold European Parliamentary elections, and would betray the trust of voters who want the UK out of the EU now, regardless of the consequences.
This last point might explain why former Remainer Cabinet members such as Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt were so insistent that a short delay was essential. The Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary are both vying to be the next Prime Minister, and they both know that to achieve this they will inevitably have to persuade Conservative members that they did not stand in the way of Brexit. This can explain why they joined other Cabinet Brexiteers in highlighting that the UK should leave without a deal if the PM could not get her deal over the line by June 30th. Liam Fox, Chris Grayling and Andrea Leadsom also threatened to resign if the UK requested a long delay. The PM eventually sided with these Brexiteers, as during PMQs on Wednesday she ruled out a longer delay and requested a short delay in a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk.
‘Brexit Means Brexit’
Following the events of last week and the inability to hold another Meaningful Vote this week, the Prime Minister formally requested a short extension of Article 50 in a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk. In the letter, May highlighted the extremely complex and uncertain nature of the political climate in the UK, with the Withdrawal Agreement being defeated by a significant margin twice. This did not give the EU27 a sense of confidence in the current progress of delivering Brexit, which had been stated as a condition of the EU27 granting such an extension.
In an announcement to Parliament on Wednesday the Prime Minister highlighted that she was not prepared to delay Brexit after June 30. This has caused many to speculate that the chance of a no deal Brexit has risen significantly, despite being voted against by Parliament last week. If no deal is agreed upon next week and the EU27 reject a long extension then the default position of the Government will be to leave the EU on 12th April without a deal. Number 10 hope that the fear of leaving the EU without a deal would spur MPs to vote in favour of the deal next week. However, COBRA, the Cabinet emergency committee normally in charge of responding to terrorist attacks and riots, has now taken over no deal preparations. This appears to highlight the possibility that we have returned to the cliff-edge of a no-deal Brexit.
Panic at the Tesco
Although many people are concerned about a no-deal Brexit, it appeared that this week one man went slightly overboard. It was reported that a man from Worcestershire had drunkenly bought over £650 of emergency supplies to stockpile for a no-deal. His haul included 144 rolls of toilet paper and over 50 tins of food. It is now likely that the only people who will be affected by no-deal shortages will be people from Worcestershire looking for loo roll…
To Me, To EU
The EU27 have consistently stated that an extension to Article 50 would have to be linked to a “new political process” in the UK, offering a limited explanation over what this would actually entail. The official position, announced by Donald Tusk in a statement last night, has been to agree to extend UK’s departure date by two weeks until 12th April. This will be the cut-off point for the UK to decide whether or not it will participate in the EU Parliamentary elections. However, if a deal is agreed by Parliament next week then the extension will be moved until May 22, allowing both the UK and EU enough time to pass the necessary legislation.
If the vote is rejected by Parliament next week then the Prime Minister will have to decide whether to apply for a long extension of Article 50, involving participating in the EU elections, or leaving the EU without a deal. It appears that the EU27 would place more concessions on a long extension, such as a general election or a second referendum, which is unlikely to be accepted by the UK. It appears that the ever more likely option is a cliff-edge exit on 12th April.
Shut the Barnier door after the deal has bolted
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier’s message to EU nations this week could not have been clearer: “finalise all preparations for a no-deal scenario.” In a speech earlier this week, Barnier announced that the European Parliament and European Council had approved nearly all foreseen contingency measures, and that short-term visas were the only issue left to resolve. He advised other nations to ensure that they were ready for any scenario.
Although this was a bit of a last-minute warning to the EU27, the majority of countries have spent the last few months in full-blown preparation mode for no-deal. For example, France have already spent €50m on preparing French towns such as Dieppe and Normandy for the increased checks of goods and people that could be required, and the French Government recently reached an agreement for the Channel Tunnel to operate as normal for the first three months after a potential no-deal Brexit. Other countries have been following suit, and they will have surely heeded Barnier’s warning that no one should be complacent about a no-deal happening just because MPs have rejected it.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 21st-22nd March: EU Council Summit
- 25th March: Proposed date for Third Meaningful Vote
- 12th April: Cut off point for longer extension/UK leaves without a deal.
- 22nd May: UK leaves with an agreed deal.
- 31st December 2020: UK Planned exit from the transition agreement.
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