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Tick tock. Betting on the date of the UK’s exit from the EU

February 19th, 2018

Is it going to be March 29 next year?

Can you hear it? That is the sound of inevitability. Shambolic though the government’s preparations have been for Brexit, failing to explain its proposals to the public, the EU or even itself, the time to exit continues to approach. When the government gave notice under Article 50, a two year timetable was set in motion. That will expire at 11pm (GMT) on Friday 29 March 2019. Nothing the government has done or not done since then has altered that timetable.

Legally, there are only four ways in which that date and time could be altered. First, the government could withdraw its notification under Article 50. That may or may not be accepted as lawful in practice by the EU and other member states, though I expect it would if were done with a genuine change of heart.

Secondly, all parties could reach agreement before that date on choose a different date for the coming into force of the withdrawal agreement. That could be earlier or later. To do this, however, agreement would need to be reached before the two year deadline was up, or the two year deadline would kick in by default. The EU does not have much of a track record of concluding negotiations early, nor does this one look likely at present to be the exception to the rule.

Thirdly, the council and all member states could agree to extend the period. This would be far from straightforward to secure and if the extension were to go beyond a few weeks, this would mean that the UK would be entitled to continuing representation in the European Parliament, which the other member states emphatically would not accept. This therefore looks unlikely. Better to devote everyone’s energies to concluding the deal on time instead.

Fourthly, the government could change the time or the date in the UK. This is not without precedent – in 1752, eleven days were dropped from the calendar to move Britain from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (it is why the tax year ends on 5 April rather than 25 March, Lady Day). This isn’t the happiest of precedents, since it provoked riots at the time. In case you’re wondering, clocks are scheduled to go forward at 1am on 31 March 2019, so Britain will still be on GMT on 29 March.

Enough of legalities, what about practicality? Britain doesn’t look set to have a change of heart. While the public seems to be leaning, with the benefit of hindsight in the direction of thinking that leaving the EU is the wrong decision, there is no real impetus to rethink the whole idea – the change is largely being driven by non-voters at the referendum breaking firmly for Remain.

Most voters have stuck with their original decision. A fresh referendum looks firmly odds against, never mind actually a volte face. Leavers should be fretting about the long term implications of making no converts (their own voter base, being far older on average, will die off quite rapidly, potentially leaving a Remainer-skewed residue), but that’s a five to ten year crisis, not a problem for next year.

You can bet on whether Britain will leave the EU by 29/03/2019. It’s worth citing the rules in full:

“Will the United Kingdom officially leave the European Union before the 29/03/2019 – 23:59:59?

    For the purposes of this market leaving the EU is defined as the date when the treaties of the EU cease to apply to the UK. Examples of when this might occur include, but are not limited, to: the date specified in a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU; the end of the two year negotiating period (29/03/2019) as set out by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (or any extension to this time period); or the date of the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act.

If more than one of these events were to occur, this market will be settled on the first of these events to occur. In the case of the two year time period in Article 50 being extended, via a unanimous vote by all EU Member States, we will settle this market on the extended date. This market will settle when the UK leaves the EU even if parts of the UK (e.g. Scotland, Northern Ireland) leave the UK or receive special status within the EU.

In the event of any ambiguity over an announcement, Betfair may determine, using its reasonable discretion, how to settle the market based on all the information available to it at the relevant time. Betfair reserves the right to wait for further official announcements before the market is settled.

Betfair will not be responsible for suspending the market when an official announcement is made. However, Betfair will suspend the market as soon as it becomes aware of an official announcement. Betfair expressly reserves the right to suspend and/or void any and all bets on this market at any time in the event that Betfair is not satisfied (in its absolute discretion) with the certainty of the outcome.”

You will note that the end of the two year period (including any extensions) is one of the defined triggers and the market will be settled on the first event to occur.

So I cannot for the life of me understand why you can back “Yes” in this market (and the sister market on Brexit Date by quarter periods) at 6/4. To my eyes, this would probably be value at 1/4. I’ve backed this one heavily. Clearly others feel very differently. So, what am I missing?

Alastair Meeks