Re-evaluating expectations from Brexit

2 Feb 2018

Theresa May is a "dead woman walking". Not my words (even though I agree with them), but the words of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne just a few days after the General Election last year, in which Theresa May lost her Parliamentary majority. It has resulted in a huge amount of drift and division in Parliament, which according to Theresa May in her statement after the Queen dissolved Parliament, will mean that "Britain simply will not get the right Brexit deal".

 

I voted Leave in the EU referendum knowing that the EU would have the upper hand in the negotiations. I voted Leave knowing that it would have a detrimental impact on our economy. I didn't vote Leave to allow the Conservatives to have the kind of free reign that they want to have. I didn't vote Leave to see Britain falter and screw up the negotiations. The Government has utterly ruined any good will that we had left. 

 

Which is exactly why I'm re-evaluating my expectations from Brexit. That does not mean to say that I regret my vote, and that if there was another referendum, that I'd vote remain. On the contrary, I categorically don't regret my vote, and I don't think there should be another referendum on the EU membership issue. I am just rethinking what I want us to get out of Brexit, and what I think the next steps could be.

 

The first thing to point out is that in a blog post before I stated my voting intention (and that has now gone due to me upgrading my website), I correctly said that a Leave vote would inevitably result in a General Election. 349 days after the referendum, Britain went to the polls. 

 

Now, in view of the fragility of the PM, I'm ready to suggest what I think is going to happen in the next 13-14 months before we officially leave the EU on 29th March 2019.

 

I think that another election is inevitable. There are a handful of possible triggers for that, which I'll go through briefly:

  1. The PM faces an internal no confidence vote from her backbench MPs, and loses that vote. This could very easily stall the Brexit negotiations and destabilise the entire Government. At that point, any no confidence vote in Parliament would be likely to succeed.

  2. The PM fails to negotiate a transition period deal by May 2018, resulting in a "no deal" scenario increasing in terms of likelihood. Again, this would be the perfect time for a no confidence vote in Parliament.

  3. The PM fails to agree the terms of a new deal by December 2018. Again, a no confidence vote would end up happening I think.

  4. The PM agrees the terms of a new deal by December 2018 (much later than the EU want it to be agreed by, the deadline for which is October), but it fails to be ratified, either at home or in any one of the EU Parliaments.Again, no confidence vote... you get the picture!

 

I think that for all the rhetoric from Ministers that "no deal is better than a bad deal", they're just bluffing. I think they know what "no deal" means, and I also don't think that Parliament would accept that as a resolution.

 

So at that point it comes down to this for the PM's future: Brexit with a deal, or another General Election.

 

Without wanting to sound overly confident, I think that if the PM screws up so badly that another General Election is called, I can't see how the Tories can win that election, let alone maintain their position as the largest party in terms of Parliamentary arithmetic. 

 

So the obvious question would then be, who would win, and what would actually happen to Brexit? In any one of those cases laid out above, the negotiations would have been halted, we would probably have less than 12 months left on the Article 50 clock left, and the financial markets would probably be in utter turmoil.

 

The incoming Government (which, let's face it, would probably be a Labour Government or a Labour-led coalition) would have a couple of options at their disposal...

 

They could plausibly ask the EU to extend the Article 50 process (my uneducated suggestion would be by 18 months), which would enable them to replace the existing negotiating guidelines with fresh ones that would be based upon public consensus, and then negotiate from there. 

 

Or, and this is undoubtedly the more controversial suggestion, they could withdraw from the Article 50 process, and go back to the country and ask, not the same question again, but some kind of question that would enable people to state an opinion on the type of Brexit that they want. Single Market membership, Customs Union membership, Free Trade deal etc could all be on the ballot paper. This vote could be sold in terms of "in light of the mess of the Tories' first attempt at negotiations, do you still want the same type of Brexit?". 

 

I have no personal preference over which one I'd rather that they chose in these circumstances. That may change as time goes on though.

 

I have to say that in light of the General Election last year, I'm a bit meh about Brexit now. It could be cancelled and I wouldn't really be that bothered because of what has happened. Practically speaking, there are more important things that we need our Government to be getting on with.

 

What I will say though is that if Labour do end up getting in to Government, they must take one of two possible courses of action. Either they must negotiate our exit from the EU, or they must negotiate a radically different relationship within the EU from what it was like before.

 

The reason for this is that for so many people across the country, the Brexit vote was an opportunity to kick the establishment in the teeth. If we are to stay in, then staying in must mean that those concerns about the status quo are explicitly answered and resolved. There can be no return to the status quo, whatever happens.

 

Whether it is possible to stay in but have a radically different relationship from what was before, I have no idea. However I do think that a Labour Government would have a far better chance of negotiating that than the Conservatives would.

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