Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


Then what?

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

When I was younger, I casually enjoyed those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. For those of you that were not nerdy male teenagers in the 1980s, these were books with non-linear structures where you were presented with a series of choices with page numbers.  You made your choice and you turned to the relevant page. The story unfolded accordingly. Similar books, loosely based on Dungeons & Dragons, required you to roll a die to choose your fate. You might find yourself having to fight a jaguar or to satisfy numerous buxom seductresses, all of whom were unaccountably keen to bed a spotty teenager. Your chances of a happy ending would depend on your aleatory abilities.

Boris Johnson, a man who would no doubt fancy his chances of satisfying numerous buxom seductresses, has been rolling the dice recently. Having endured just over a day of Parliamentary scrutiny, he has evidently had enough of the ordeal and has arranged for Parliament to be prorogued for five weeks in September and October on the pretext that his government is going to regroup to draw up policies for the Queen’s Speech. This pretext did not even convince his own Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, who was filmed explaining that it was an attempt to deal with the government’s lack of control of Parliament.  

Many Leavers have erupted in ecstasy at this suspension of democracy, taking an Augustinian view of the matter (“God give me Parliamentary sovereignty, but not yet!”). A Cabinet stuffed full of ministers who had campaigned against the idea of prorogation in the recent Conservative party leadership election has yet to see a resignation. So much for their integrity.

But those, not just Remain supporters, who are bothered about constitutional niceties are appalled. Court cases are being brought in Edinburgh, Belfast and London to challenge this decision. There is the distinct possibility that at least one of these cases might be successful: the Royal prerogative is at least in theory subject to judicial review and Ben Wallace’s indiscretion is not going to be helpful in persuading judges of the purity of the government’s intentions.  It’s one thing to make bold if autocratic swoops. It’s another thing entirely to see those bold and autocratic swoops struck down as unlawful. That picture of Boris Johnson suspended haplessly in mid-air would be everywhere.

Let’s assume that the government throws a four or higher and the courts let this pass. The next obstacle lies in a Parliament that has been assaulted but not immobilised. By its actions, roughly 30 more Conservative MPs have moved decisively into the anti-no deal camp and stand ready to act immediately. It was already probable that the government had a majority racked up against it. It is now certain.

The government’s success now rests on its opponents being too disorganised to stop it. This is possible. Time is tight for the constitutionalists but despite the considerable derision poured on them by Leave commentators, they appear to have used the summer break effectively, identifying a preferred way forward of seeking to legislate their way out of no deal (rather than defenestrate the Prime Minister and set up a wobbly government of their own).

With a Speaker who is so incandescent about the government’s actions that he could double up as a spotlight at Wembley, they can expect abundant assistance from the chair. The House of Lords seems to be on side as well. From here, it looks like the government needs to throw a six if it is not going to be defeated by Parliament.

There are rumours of Boris Johnson pulling other stunts – the declaring of bank holidays to eat up Parliamentary time, refusing to leave Downing Street if there is a vote of no confidence even if a clear successor is established with the intention of forcing a general election and even refusing to send to the Queen for her approval a bill that had been passed by both Houses of Parliament.  These suggestions are verging on the laughable – the courts would not stand for such transparent abuses and such rumours show weakness rather than strength.

But let’s assume that somehow Boris Johnson throws all those sixes and gets Brexit over the line (almost certainly on a no-deal basis because how is he going to get a deal approved with Parliament so decisively against him?). Then what?

A Britain that had Brexited in such a way would be hopelessly and irremediably riven.  The decision would be seen by what in all probability would be a clear majority as illegitimate and unconstitutional. A policy that no one had voted for would have been imposed by an unelected Prime Minister leading a government that was opposed in Parliament by a clear majority, and only because the Prime Minister had abandoned all democratic norms.

In such circumstances, you could easily envisage widespread civil unrest, the more so because there might well be tangible disruption as a result of the Brexit process itself.  And you cannot easily envisage the country ever coming back together to forge a new consensus. Boris Johnson would be a hero to his elderly support base but a hate figure for future generations. Scotland and Northern Ireland would both be eyeing the exit door from the United Kingdom in very short order. What was left would inevitably rejoin the EU at some point, with many no doubt resentful but out of options.

For supposedly-clever men, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are being remarkably dumb. They’ve spent ages looking at the mechanics and no time at all looking at the aim of the game that they are trying to play. 28 August 2019 was the day that the dream of Brexit died.  

Alastair Meeks


When we are over the line, Brexit happens, then what?

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Cartoon from Marf

Dramatic changes which might or might not have been planned for

One of the (perhaps inevitable) side-effects of the focus on the day when Brexit is going to, finally, happen is a sense that this is a project that just needs getting over the line for it to be largely concluded. The government will have done what the voters ordered. Boris will have delivered. Hooray! We can all move on, cast our eyes westward and concentrate on the wonderful new FTA to be imposed by our new best friend in the White House. (More expensive medicines and GM food: how wonderful!) And we will be free! It will all be gloriously exciting and all those frightful Remoaners with their Project Fears and predictions of Armageddon will be proved wrong.
Of course, there is concern that maybe in the first few days there will be teething problems: some traffic in Kent, a bit of nervousness on the financial markets, confusion over haulier permits and one or two aggrieved sheep farmers in some hills far away. French fishermen may make a nuisance of themselves, barricading ports and the like, but then they always do. The Irish will be annoyed but aren’t they always. And that border will remain open as promised. What was all the fuss about? And in any case there is time for steps to be taken to prevent these little hiccoughs happening; money can always be used to sweeten any difficulties. It will be like Y2K or the introduction of the euro: beforehand there were countless predictions of disaster but in the end all went smoothly. Or so the government will be hoping and planning for. It will certainly do everything possible to ensure that the first few days following Brexit are not about stories of lorry drivers trapped for hours, medicines being turned away at the border, empty supermarket shelves and cancelled flights. Those assuming dreadful problems assailing a government holed up in its COBRA redoubt while the papers are full of tales of woe may find themselves disappointed. There will be enough smug “We told you so’s” from relieved Ministers to fill any number of Brexit special editions.

But even making this heroic assumption, the very fact of viewing Brexit like a Y2K shows a level of worrying self-delusion. Once the Y2K issues were resolved (and there was an immense amount of planning and hard work in the years – not months or weeks or even the 82 days prior – to ensure that nothing happened) life went on as before. That was the point of the contingency planning: to ensure that there would be no change. This is emphatically not the case with Brexit.

This is not something to be got over the line and then moved on from. Life will not continue as before. Indeed, that’s the whole point of Brexit. Overnight, Britain will go from being a member of the EU to being a Third Country as far as the EU is concerned for all purposes: legal, regulatory, financial, tax, trade, everything. And as for non-EU countries, it will go from a country benefiting from its membership of the EU to one outside all existing agreements (save for the very few which have been rolled over on exactly the same terms). It’s not at all clear that the full import of what this means has been widely understood let alone fully prepared for.

Most businesses, organisations, individuals will have to live and operate in a significantly different environment. If the EU’s tentacles reached into every aspect of British life – as Brexiteers claim and use as their justification for why Britain should leave – then it follows that the effects of removing those tentacles will be equally far-reaching, and in ways which cannot all be foreseen, let alone planned for or mitigated or avoided. The consequences of a No Deal departure will exist and be much more acute than they would otherwise have been: a more complicated tax regime for companies with operations in more than one European country, non-tariff barriers where there were none before, export tariffs for exporters, business affected by import tariffs (whether in increased costs or competition undercutting businesses here), a different immigration system, exclusion from legal and regulatory systems in a wide range of sectors, data sharing, security systems, very different customs arrangements, different laws, different travel, employment and secondment rules and so on. The effects of these changes will not occur on one day only: they will have an impact every single day from 1 November onwards. Planning for and managing them will have a cost, in many cases, a very significant one.  That planning and management will have to be done on the basis of not knowing what will replace the current arrangements. Even the limited agreements with the EU are short-term and entirely within their gift. And that is without the unknown unknowns.

Brexit is not a one-off event: it is a very significant change to the way Britain’s economy and society has operated for the last few decades. Doing so without any transitional agreement on the basis of, at the very best, three years’ and, more realistically, a few months’ planning is a quite extraordinary undertaking for any advanced Western country to take. The focus all seems to be on getting it over the line not on what happens afterwards, a conspicuously short-term approach even for a political class that can normally only think as far ahead as the next election. A No Deal Brexit is not a race to a finish line but the start of a marathon in an unknown country without a map.

There is no precedent for such a rupture, outside perhaps the shift to a wartime economy. Possibly the nearest was Czechoslovakia’s division in two in 1993. That was relatively peaceful – certainly by contrast with the bloodier break-ups following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia – and without too much dislocation. Why was this? Well, the two countries entered into mutual negotiations, agreed financial compensation, agreed to honour existing treaties, shared a currency for a bit and allowed free movement between their countries. And then they joined the EU. Oh, the irony!

Instead, Britain is relying on…..well, what exactly?



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.