Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


Why Revoke is now very much on the table

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

May’s departure and a flight to the extremes aids stopping Brexit

A zombie government will bring a zombie Withdrawal Agreement back to parliament next month, and in true zombie style, it will get bashed and still not really die. Ever since the first Meaningful Vote in January, when the government lost by well over 200 votes, Theresa May has been locked in a political vice where she couldn’t countenance No Deal, couldn’t accept No Brexit but couldn’t deliver any Brexit deal either – yet one of those three outcomes must ultimately conclude this phase of the process.

First things first. As predicted, the Con-Lab Brexit talks had long since run their course and in the face of haemorrhaging support from the electorate, neither party was going to be willing to concede the necessary ground to enable a deal to be struck. The European Parliament elections next week will no doubt drive home this new reality much further, and the Peterborough by-election after that.

In truth, those conclusions – that the Tories should take a firmer line and that Labour should be more actively Remain – might well be wrong. Certainly, some voters are strongly exercised by Brexit but many are simply fed up with two divided parties who either can’t decide on what their policy is or can’t deliver it once they do decide. In the absence of competence, voters are looking for certainty and that’s unsurprisingly to be found at the extremes: No Deal , and Revoke.

Where Jeremy Corbyn was right was in stating that the government’s authority is draining by the day and that even if a deal had been done, it was highly unlikely to be one that the PM could carry her party on. Naturally, he didn’t say the same for himself but despite his stronger internal party position, he could well have done.

All this doesn’t necessarily mean that May will lose her Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill at the second reading. There are sound tactical grounds for letting it through at that stage, not least that the easiest way to deliver a confirmatory referendum is to attach one to that Bill’s enactment.

However, chances are that Labour will vote it down, as they’ve voted down the Withdrawal Agreement before. What then? Well, first there’ll be a Tory leadership contest and a change of prime minister in the summer: probably in early September, possibly in late July if the timetable can be shortened to that extent. Simultaneously, we’re very likely to see a parallel contest for the Lib Dem leadership. As a result, both parties’ policies will likely tilt towards their members’ views.

Following on, there’ll be the party conferences. For the Tories and Lib Dems, these will simply be echoes of their internal summer elections, albeit that they might force commitments or set policy.

More important will be Labour’s conference. Corbyn has so far stuck rigidly to the last conference composite which set as the party’s first priority to seek a general election – which has enabled him to avoid doing anything to set a clear Labour policy but has allowed Labour to frustrate the government in delivering anything either. That position cannot hold. With only a month to the current Brexit deadline, a general election would be of no use. The conference could try to endorse some kind of Cooper 2 procedure but Cooper 1 only worked because the EU was willing to play ball, because the PM felt obliged to ask for the extension anyway, and because the numbers added up in parliament. None of those can be guaranteed to fall into place a second time.

Instead, when faced with the very real possibility that the new Tory PM will make demands of Brussels that Brussels will not accept and that given that, a Cooper 2 might fail to deliver its objective even if it could be rammed through parliament against the government’s wishes, as Cooper 1 was, Labour might have to turn to the nuclear option of Revoke – the only means within the UK’s control of stopping (or pausing) Brexit. And of course, we know that the great majority of Labour members, MPs and voters believe that Brexit is a mistake. There has to be a good chance that a Revoke motion could carry against the leadership’s wishes.

Could Remainers in the Commons carry off the same trick it did before, grab control of the timetable and push a Bill through parliament? The advantage to this procedure – as opposed to trying to insert a referendum into the Implementation Bill – is that it’s simple. A Revocation Act might only need one meaningful clause whereas, for comparison, the 2015 Act that authorised the first referendum ran to well over a hundred sections, if you include those within the Schedules. Similarly, it’s far easier and quicker to implement.

But is there a majority for Revoke? In isolation, almost certainly not. The question, however, would be whether there’s a majority for Revoke when the near-assured alternative is No Deal. In that scenario, there might well be.

We could ask at that point what would happen after that but there we enter a whole new discussion deserving of its own article. As far as this one goes, I’ll simply note that the Betfair odds on Brexit not taking place before 2022 are 3.25, which is probably now a little generous (there are of course other routes to No Brexit before 2022 beyond the one laid out above).

As always, pushing for your own radical outcome both legitimises your opponents pushing for their own radical, opposite one – something they might well not have felt able to do without that legitimisation – and also makes them believe that there’s an imperative to push for it, to forestall the original initiative. When the stakes are so high, pressure so great and time so short, Revoke will undoubtedly move more and more into view as a very real possibility.

David Herdson


Trick or Treat? Reports that Brexit day moved to Halloween as the French surrender

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019



Not before 2022 or not at all now betting favourite for when Brexit happens

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

After another day of Brexit developments punters on the Betfair exchange now make 2022 or not all all the favourite as to when Brexit will happen. The chart shows the movements over the past months.

But, as can be seen, the second half of 2019 is close behind.

The actual rules of the market are:

“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.”

This is a very difficult market to assess but the apparent longer A50 delay that seems likely opens up so many risks and potential problems if Brexit is to take its course.

So much here is down to the parliamentary situation and it is noticeable how the ERG group of Tory MPs is getting noticeably smaller. Half a loaf is often better than the risk of none at all.

Mike Smithson


Divided they fall. Alastair Meeks on the European elections

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

The 2019 Euro elections – not a contest I thought was going to require a British perspective. Yet here we are, taking at least one more curtain call.

Last time Britain elected MEPs in the following numbers:


Labour 20

Conservatives 19

Green 3


Lib Dems 1

Plaid Cymru 1


Sinn Fein 1


UKIP tallied 26.6% of the vote to take first place on a turnout of just under 36%.

It should be noted that these MEPs have shifted allegiance quite a lot in the intervening period.  Currently Britain’s MEPs are comprised as follows:

Labour 19

Conservative 18

UKIP 7 (one of whom is not part of UKIP’s EU grouping)

Brexit 7

Greens 3


Lib Dems 1


Plaid Cymru 1


Sinn Fein 1


Independents 10 (in at least four different independent groupings)

Vacant 1

No one could accuse these MEPs of bovine party loyalty.This fragmentation of support has implications for the Euro election results this time round. This requires, I’m afraid, a bit of technical detail.

MEPs are elected by multi-member constituencies under what is called the D’Hondt method.  This is often, but incorrectly, described as proportional representation. It is really a repeat first past the post system for parties. So in the North East England constituency last time round Labour got two out of three seats on just 36.5% of the vote. Not, I suggest, very proportional.

How can this happen?  The answer lies in the wasted votes. Let’s take a real live current example.  On Monday a Welsh opinion poll gave the following finding for the Euro elections:

Labour: 30%
Conservative: 16%
Plaid Cymru: 15%
UKIP: 11%
Brexit Party: 10%
Change UK: 8%
Liberal Democrats: 6%
Greens: 5%
Others: 1%

There are four seats at stake in Wales.  Labour would get two, the Conservatives would get one and Plaid Cymru would get one. Although the “others” mount up to 39% of the vote share, more than any individual party, all this shrapnel would all go unrepresented. The three bigger parties would be dealing with a deck of just 61% of the vote between them. The D’Hondt method does not work very well in an increasingly-fragmented political scene.

Note, if either UKIP or the Brexit party can establish itself as the headbangers’ party of choice, they would comfortably get a seat – the votes are there if they are not divided. Similarly, if the Lib Dems and Change UK team up, they will be a gnat’s whisker away from getting a seat even if the polls don’t move.

The effect is most marked in small multi-member constituencies.  South East England has ten MEPs at stake so a party would only need a maximum of 9% to ensure representation and very possibly rather less: the Lib Dems got one last time on 8% of the vote.  

If the Welsh poll were replicated in South East England (yes, I know, but bear with me), Labour would get three or four seats, the Conservatives would get two seats, Plaid would get one or two seats, UKIP would get one seat, Brexit would get one seat and Change would get one seat.  This looks more proportional. Even so, if UKIP and Brexit united and Change and the Lib Dems united, each grouping would be in with a real shout of an extra seat if the mood moved in their respective directions, as each grouping might reasonably hope.

What this means is that all the small pro and anti-Brexit parties have a hard decision to make.  Do they stick to their principles and in all likelihood see their cause suffer in the seat count? Or do they seek to unite under a broad front with the aim of winning more seats but at the expense of purity of principle?  I expect for now they’ll choose purity over electoral success.

This election, of course, looks set to be all about Brexit which in turn implies that both pro and anti-Brexit parties will do better than polling currently suggests (and if there is a boycott, it is likely to be by annoyed Conservative Leavers rather than those who want to send a message through one of the militant pro-Leave parties).  

But if you’re thinking about the seat count, be aware that the maths favours bigger parties more than you would expect from a proportional system, particularly those that are stronger in the smaller constituencies.This gives Labour a small but significant advantage. Unless the smaller parties get their act together, they could easily overperform in the seat count.

Alastair Meeks


Cooper-Letwin, forcing Article 50 to be delayed, is enacted and adds to the constraints on TMay

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

The backbench bill that went through in three days

Overnight the Queen signed what’s become known as the Cooper-Letwin measures thus making it now the law that TMay cannot take the UK out of the EU without a deal. The terms of the extension have to be agreed with Brussels.

On Saturday David Herdson argued here that this measure has “probably killed Brexit”.

With one more deadline, April 12th, now looming TMay is once again off on her travels trying secure an Article 50 extension which now looks set to go beyond the EU elections on May 23rd in which the UK are likely to participate in.

This, of itself, causes mayhem throughout the EU because the UK’s MEP seats had all been re-allocated and party selections in the 27 countries that remain had already taken place for seats that will no longer be available.

Everything goes back to the referendum itself and the lack of definition of what actually leave was going to mean. The polling at the time suggested that most voters thought that the UK would continue to be part of the customs union if not part of the EU itself. Even 42% of leave voters, polling showed, took this view.

What is clear is that decisions could be taken in the next 72 hours that could profoundly impact on life in the UK for generations and it is still unclear what will happen.

Mike Smithson


D’Hondt You Want MEPs? Who will win the most European Parliament seats in the United Kingdom?

Sunday, April 7th, 2019

This market by Ladbrokes is very intriguing, because as if seems likely, the UK takes part in the European elections there’s going to be quite a few betting opportunities.

I don’t think Labour or the Tories should be the favourite for this market, the latest poll from YouGov shows why the Tories and Labour aren’t really loved and led by unloved leaders.

This election will see politics in this country further polarised. I’m backing UKIP, Lib Dems, and Change UK in this market with varying stakes.

I think the 10% UKIP received in the Newport West by election on Thursday shows the resilience of the UKIP vote.

Just think about it. The disgraced Neil Hamilton who was the embodiment of Tory sleaze in the 1990s, polled nearly 9% for Gerard Batten’s party which many have condemned, including Nigel Farage, for having an anti-Muslim fixation. Compare that to the 2.5% UKIP polled in Newport West at the 2017 general election.

Nigel Farage’s name will only appear on the ballot in South Eastern Region of England so those who don’t follow the news like political anoraks might not realise Farage is no longer connected to UKIP after its transformation into the political wing of the English Defence League.

What makes this bet attractive is that it might take only 22% to win the European elections so the bar to win this election is quite low. UKIP won the 2014 elections with just over a quarter of the vote.

There are a few reasons this bet on UKIP might not win, especially as I (over)extrapolate from one by election.

A boycott by Leavers as suggested by former UKIP MEP Roger Helmer will harm UKIP’s chances of winning.

Although the way the Brexit reality is going the X in Brexit will end up in the Lib Dem or Change UK box and some enterprising agent will say that’s a clear preference for a revoking party.

The reason I’m backing Change UK and the Lib Dems are that they are the only ones fishing for the votes of the 48%. As I said upthread this election has the potential to polarise the country further. I’d expect the election to become a de facto referendum on reversing Brexit, which I think is one of the reasons Mrs May is insistent on the UK not partaking  in the European Elections.

We saw with the petition to revoke Article 50 and the rally in London for the People’s Vote (especially compared with Leave Means Leave march) that Remainers are more motivated than Leavers.

One of the great ironies of the Leave vote is that now the UK is home to one of the largest pro EU movements in Europe. That should help the Lib Dems or Change UK to win this election.


PS – Hopefully Change UK and the Lib Dems will come to a pact which sees only one of them stand, splitting the seats won’t help my bet.


Selling time. What passes for Theresa May’s strategy

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Picture credit: Sunil Prasannan

We spend all our lives buying and selling time. We sell our time to employers. We trade time for convenience when deciding where we live and what we are prepared to pay for that.

Oddly, we talk of buying time but we never talk of selling time, even though we do both. This is a gap in the English language. For the last few months that has been all that Theresa May has been doing.

After Theresa May lost the Conservatives’ overall majority in the unnecessary 2017 general election, it was apparent that she had lost authority. She successfully bought time in the election’s wake (which on this occasion was the wake of a funeral and not of a boat) by telling MPs that she would serve as long as they still wanted her.

She used that time to negotiate the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration with the EU. This was unveiled in November and it received the type of critical reaction that theatrical types politely call mixed. With the clock ticking down on the Article 50 timetable to 29 March 2019, Theresa May had limited amounts of time at her disposal and she had to decide how to spend it to secure an acceptable result to her.

She concluded that her deal would not pass in December, so she decided to spend a month over Christmas working on MPs’ hearts and minds. She did not get the value she sought for what she sold: Generals December and January were never going to help her when MPs were hearing on all sides how vehemently constituents and party members felt about the subject.  

She did, however, get a windfall bonus that was worth that month and then some: as a result of her decision dissident Conservative MPs obtained and lost a vote of no confidence in her, cementing her in place as party leader for another year.  

You can argue whether it was unwise for the dissidents to shoot their bolt then or whether it was unwise for Conservative MPs then to give her their backing (or both).

Whatever, she got a freedom of manoeuvre in the short term that she did not previously have.  In order to secure this, she made another big sale of her personal time, this time promising publicly that she would not fight the next election.

She did not use her time well. Theresa May stuck rigidly to one path: the one that she had agreed with the EU. There have been murmurings in the papers that the EU is deeply unhappy with the way in which Britain has approached agreeing the withdrawal agreement.  

Hardline Leavers and unreconciled Remainers alike have grounds to object (as has anyone with a passing interest in good or even adequate governance) but the EU has not. The one thing that Theresa May has unflinchingly sought to do is secure the agreement that she had negotiated with them.

It has, however, been obvious for months that objective was unattainable. It should have been jettisoned much sooner. Instead, the Prime Minister sold the rest of January and all of February on manoeuvres to steamroller her deal through. It didn’t work. Anyone who could count, as LBJ would have advised her, would have seen it wouldn’t work.

She was aided by a supine Parliament, that accepted her airy and loosely-framed commitments rather than take control of the process sooner. As always, however, tactics without strategy is the longest way to defeat. She was defeated again in the second meaningful vote. She then threatened Parliament with the cliff edge of 29 March if it did not pass her deal.

This gambit was thwarted by the EU offering her more time, to at least 12 April, that she could not afford to seem not to take. She then sought to sell more of her personal time by promising her own MPs to resign if they passed the withdrawal agreement. This bargain was turned down.

Now, in extra time, Theresa May is down to trading remaining minutes, this time by seeking finally to involve the leader of the Labour party in what should always have been a national decision. If a deal is to be struck with him it will need to be struck by Monday if there are not to be more indicative votes.

The price of this bargain – for just six days – is huge. She has probably definitively lost a cohort of hard Leave backbenchers, many of whom appear to be seriously weighing voting against her in any Parliamentary vote of no confidence. Her party is splintering on both sides and if the Conservative party were to lose even three more MPs, it would no longer have a working majority with the DUP. Far more than three on each side of the party are very close to the end of the road with the party.

So what next? The Prime Minister is bereft of a strategy. This has been clear for some weeks. Perhaps some form of deal will be reached with Labour. Since the leader of the Opposition has no obvious reason to help the Prime Minister out, a failure to agree must be the likeliest outcome. If a deal is reached, it will inevitably involve something that will be called a customs union and very possibly some form of referendum (not to include this would devastate Labour’s own supporter base).  

Either of those would be too bitter a pill for most Conservatives to swallow. Both together look like a lethal cocktail for both the Conservatives and Theresa May. So for this reason too, an agreement looks less likely than a failure to agree.

In that case, there will be more indicative votes on Monday. The residual party discipline of the Conservatives can then be assumed to have definitively evaporated. This will not make finding a way forward that commands a majority of the Commons easier since the bulk of the Parliamentary Conservative party now dresses to No Deal.

Theresa May can be counted upon not to take any step that will shorten her tenure as Prime Minister but she can be counted upon to take any step, including the burning of her own future, to extend her present. To that end, it would suit her better to look overborne by events than actively to have taken any step to bring about either a deal that her party would not stomach or actively to have taken any step to effect no deal.

So I expect there to be no breakthrough deal brokered by the party leaders, for indicative votes next Monday to take place, for the government to give no steer and, probably, for the institutional gridlock in the House of Commons to continue. By this point, the Conservative party may well have lost control of Parliament through further defections.

After that, who knows?  Can anyone even try to see further ahead than that?

Alastair Meeks


The pressure mounts on TMay with a divided cabinet and 11 days to go

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Chris Grayling ready to put his job on the line

So another day when all the focus is on Westminster and Mrs. May’s cabinet as they pitch in with their own positions to try to influence this massive decision for the future of the UK.

TMay is already in a weakened position with much less control of the Westminster agenda following the procedural defeat which put so much extra power in the hands of MPs

This is how Sam Coates in the Times is reporting it:

“Theresa May was warned last night that she faced resignations and a split in the Conservative Party if she agrees to pursue a “soft” Brexit this week.

Ministers including Chris Grayling and Penny Mordaunt have made it clear they would consider resigning if the prime minister bows to the will of the Commons, should it vote for a customs union with the EU tonight…

..Several ministers are preparing to confront her at cabinet tomorrow to warn her against pursuing a softer Brexit and a number of Downing Street staff, including Stephen Parkinson, a special adviser to Mrs May, would oppose a customs union.”

Surely parliament should be sovereign here on an issue so important which cuts the major parties. Grayling and Mordaunt are in danger of overplaying their hands if they think that TMay can do other than bow to the will of the Commons.

Mike Smithson