Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


Timing is everything. A review of Theresa May’s speech

Thursday, January 19th, 2017


There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Whatever else you think of Brexit, we are being led by powerful currents taking us far from familiar shores. Whether we find safe harbour or end up washed up on the rocks is yet to be seen.

Theresa May has grasped this. After months of silence and having insisted that she would not give a running commentary, she has delivered a speech which offers as much clarity as anyone could have wished for about Britain’s negotiating strategy. Her government is to prioritise controlling immigration and as a result she is not going to attempt to keep Britain in the single market. In her words, the future relationship between Britain and the EU will be “Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out.”

Presented as a strategy, this is in reality an admission of defeat. Some Leaver ministers have spent the last six months skipping like Julie Andrews enumerating some of their favourite things about the EU that they intended Britain to continue to benefit from. The Prime Minister is obviously more securely tethered to reality and has recognised that the EU’s many statements that it would not allow Britain to cherry-pick are not bluffs. She has concluded that controlling immigration is a non-negotiable component of Brexit and is proceeding accordingly. Rather than spend months pursuing the impossible, she isn’t going to make the attempt. Instead, she’s going to cut her losses now.

While this is an admission of defeat, it is also politically sensible. The Prime Minister has called this “Clean Brexit” and a more precise turn of phrase would be “Cauterised Brexit”, burning off some tissue in order to seal the wound. This was for centuries standard medical practice after amputation and entirely applicable here.

The domestic reaction came in two stages. That night, the tabloids were ecstatic. And the next day, HSBC and UBS announced their plans to relocate jobs from London – an early illustration of how Cauterised Brexit may have major costs.

For the first time, the Prime Minister also offered some olive twigs to the rest of the EU. She proclaimed her belief that the vote was not a rejection of shared values or to do harm to the EU itself (she would do well to slap down publicly some of her more excitable backbenchers on this last point). She stated that other Europeans would still be welcome in this country.

Despite the clumsy attempts at veiled threats that Theresa May dropped about how Britain could act in a hostile manner if a deal wasn’t reached, the speech received a moderate reception in the chancelleries of Europe (less so in the European press). The sense of realism and the dialling down of the rhetoric has undoubtedly helped. While there is still an enormous amount of work still to be done even to realise the very restricted Brexit that Theresa May is imagining, the risk of a chaotic Brexit has receded quite a way as a result of this speech being delivered.

The whole effort, however, has been undermined by a major flaw that is potentially very damaging indeed. Quite simply, this speech was far too late. The timetable for Brexit is demanding and Theresa May had long ago committed herself to triggering Article 50 in the early part of 2017. There is nothing that she said this week that could not have been said at the Conservative party conference. It would certainly have been a far better conference speech than the one that she actually delivered. Three precious months have been lost.

And it’s not as though those three months have been valuably or even neutrally spent. In the meantime, the British government has been burning its remaining capital with other European nations, insulting them, belittling them and threatening them. The mood is icy.

Brexit was always going to be a brutally difficult course to navigate. But by her delay, Theresa May might well find that the flood tide has been missed. Shallows and miseries might well be impossible to avoid now.

Alastair Meeks


Theresa May’s big speech – a round up of reaction

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017


Team Corbyn makes a generous New Year gift to Tim Farron given that 68% of current LAB voters think it is wrong to leave

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Mike Smithson


The big BREXIT news – the resignation of Britain’s Ambassador to the EU only weeks before Article 50 due to be invoked

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017



A worrying Christmas present for TMay and the Brexiteers from Team Trump

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

The Trump administration planning to exploit BREXIT for the benefit of the US

Tomorrow’s Times front page


What’s missing this Christmas is any sign of peace and goodwill between LEAVE and REMAIN

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016


Alastair Meeks on “The Remains of the Day”

It’s coming up to six months since the referendum and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of peace or goodwill in the Christmas period between Remain and Leave.  Remain-supporting newspaper op-ed writers vituperate the behaviour of Leavers.   Leave-supporting newspaper op-ed writers screech at the perfidy of Remainers.  On Twitter, the Brexit debate has become egg-bound.

Nor is this confined to the empty vessels making the most noise.  Opinion polls consistently show that the public remains as split about the correctness of the original decision to Leave as it was six months ago.  YouGov recently released a survey in which they asked supporters of each campaign to detail the main reasons why people voted for the other side.  The results were unedifying.

43% of Leavers thought voters chose Remain because of fear and uncertainty – as much as every other reason cited put together.   A further 9% cited stupidity or ignorance or Remainers being misinformed.  Remainers were still less complimentary about Leavers.  43% thought that immigration was the main reason for a Leave vote.  A further 36% thought that one of racism or xenophobia, Leavers being misinformed, stupidity or ignorance or lack of knowledge was the main reason.

It seems that Leavers think that Remainers are cowardly cretins and Remainers think that Leavers are bigoted cretins.  A political chasm has opened up.

So how is Britain going bridge that chasm?  What will post-Brexit reconstruction look like?  Both sides need to think carefully about the terms on which they are prepared to coexist.  This is a challenge for both the referendum victors and the vanquished.  For now, let’s stick with the losers.

Leavers are exhorting Remainers to move on.  What Leavers really seem to mean by this is that Remainers should recant their views, but the surface suggestion is a fair one. What does moving on mean?

Remainers first have to accept the fact of the vote.  Britain voted to leave the EU and you can deplore that all you like but that’s democracy.  In any case, Humpty can’t be put back together again.  The Article 50 notice has yet to be served but Britain is leaving the EU.  Even if Britain tried to perform a volte face, the EU should not want to stay tied to such a flaky, demanding partner.

The vote needs to be honoured in spirit as well as the letter.  From that YouGov poll, Remainers clearly accept that the vote was won through Leave campaigning on immigration.  The ability to place restrictions on freedom of movement from the EU is therefore a democratic necessity, no matter how disgusting you might find the basis on which that was achieved.

Next Leavers tell Remainers that they should work with them to make the best of it.  This is where it gets difficult.  If you think that a decision was an appalling mistake but must be respected, what’s “the best of it”?

Just because something is difficult, however, does not mean that it should not be attempted.  Too many Remainers have self-indulgently evaded responsibility, defining themselves not by reference to a positive vision but negatively in opposition to all that they despise in Leavers.  The referendum vote was lost in large part because the establishment had taken for granted that the benefits of the liberal consensus of the last generation were obvious.  For the last six months it has continued to do so.  By doing this, the field has been left clear for the battiest Leavers to put forward the most autarkic, introverted and soft-boiled visions of post-Brexit Britain.

There is no requirement to work with Leavers on this, whatever Leavers might say, unless those Leavers are themselves demonstrably prepared to move on.  Out of the ashes, Remainers can argue for a Britain that may well be far inferior to the Britain that would have remained in the EU but that could at least be better than the ravings that Leavers have in store for the country. By honouring the form of Brexit, Remainers can continue to argue for constructive engagement with EU countries, the pooling of sovereignty and a recognition that most immigration is good for the country, holding the government to account.  If, of course, that is what they still believe in.  So what do Remainers now believe?

Alastair Meeks



POLL ALERT: Polling Matters / Opinium: Voters back ‘soft Brexit’ but reject second referendum – even if the economy worsens

Saturday, December 17th, 2016


The first poll commissioned by the ‘Polling Matters’ podcast, conducted by Opinium, shows little appetite for another referendum but we shouldn’t assume voters want a ‘hard Brexit’ either writes Keiran Pedley

Since the EU referendum result was announced last June, many have sought to explain on behalf of voters why they voted the way they did and therefore surmise what they want from any Brexit deal. To try and understand what is really going on we have commissioned our first poll with pollsters Opinium (and we are delighted to be working with them on this project).

What type of Brexit do voters want?

The poll focused on two subject areas. The first was to explore attitudes to a potential ‘hard’ or ‘soft Brexit’. We put two potential scenarios to respondents and asked them to choose between them. We deliberately did not use the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft Brexit’ in the survey to try and avoid any bias that may result in using them. Respondents just saw the descriptions below. The results suggest a ‘soft Brexit’ is preferred overall by 6 percentage points with the public divided (as we might expect) by how they voted in the referendum.

Table 1: ‘Hard’ versus ‘Soft Brexit’

  1. You may have heard different descriptions of what sort of deal the UK might receive when it leaves the EU. Assuming that Britain does leave the EU and these were the options available, which scenario would you prefer?


Before we go further we should acknowledge that this is a difficult exercise to undertake in a survey environment. We are not suggesting that Britain’s choice – insofar as it has one – is as binary as described above. Indeed, many Brexiteers will dispute the idea that there is an economic trade-off with a ‘hard Brexit’ at all. However, we still feel that this is a useful exercise. In presenting the choice as we have above we can start to understand what voter’s value most in any Brexit deal and therefore the prism through which they will see what is eventually agreed.

So what to make of these results? The obvious conclusion to draw is that the debate over Britain’s exact future relationship with the EU is not yet settled. One in four polled either offer ‘no preference’ or ‘don’t know’ whether they would prefer a ‘hard’ or ‘soft Brexit’ whilst 15% of Leave voters actually prefer a ‘soft Brexit’.

There is more than enough ammunition here to challenge those that claim it is obvious what Leave voters wanted from Brexit and therefore also challenge the nature of the mandate Theresa May has when negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Also, irrespective of how people voted last June, at the very least the Prime Minister would be wise to keep in mind that a large body of public opinion prioritises Britain’s economic future (and the future of Britain’s public services) over immigration or Britain’s withdrawal from certain EU institutions.

However, those that want Britain to maintain as close a relationship as possible with Europe shouldn’t get too excited. Delving into the numbers further complicates matters in that Theresa May’s base is largely in favour of a ‘hard Brexit’. Conservatives prefer a ‘hard Brexit’ by 13 points and those aged 65+ prefer one by 19 points. In contrast a ‘soft Brexit’ is preferred by Lib Dem voters (72%), Labour voters (58%), Scots (56%) and those aged 18-34 (52%).

Should there be a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership?

The second subject area our poll focused on was the concept of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. We asked respondents whether they thought there should be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU once the terms of withdrawal were known and also whether there should be one in the event that the British economy significantly worsens as a direct result of Brexit. The results will make sobering reading for Remainers. Surprisingly, a second referendum is roundly rejected in both circumstances. In fact, the results are identical.

Table 2: Attitudes to a second referendum

  1. Once we know what terms the government has negotiated, should there be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, where voters can choose between leaving under the terms negotiated or remaining in the EU after all? 
  1. If the British economy is shown to get significantly worse as a result of Britain leaving the EU do you think there should be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU?


In any case, right now public opinion is squarely against revisiting Britain’s membership of the EU in a referendum. Of course this could change in the future. If the economy does get worse then the reality of that could change minds.I must confess I was shocked by these results. Not so much the first as I expected a second referendum to be rejected there. Other polls have given similar numbers.

However, I did not expect such a strong rejection of a second referendum in the event that the economy significantly worsens. The scale of the rejection occurs because a significant proportion of the Remain vote (27% and 26% respectively) rejects a second referendum in each instance. Perhaps this is because these people simply consider the matter resolved by the first referendum in June or perhaps they were never that committed to Britain’s EU membership in the first place. We cannot say for certain. The idea of the Remain vote being soft in parts is rarely discussed but seems in evidence here.

Nevertheless, for now the message from the public seems to be that all sides should focus on the type of exit Britain should secure from the EU rather than whether Britain should exit at all. Theresa May’s challenge therefore will be to deliver an exit that satisfies the Brexiteers in her party without being seen to deliver significant harm to Britain’s economy and public services. Whether she can deliver will ultimately determine her legacy and how long she occupies Number 10. Time will tell.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is editor and presenter of the Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley.

You can listen to the latest Polling Matters ‘Review of 2016’ podcast episode below.

For more information on the above poll (and data tables) contact Keiran at or consult the Opinium website. Opinium interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults between Dec 13-16, 2016.


Article 50 can’t be invoked, surely, without the country knowing whether its revocable or not

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Latest Betfair Article 50 betting


Betting on the delay at 2/1 might be a good bet

The Laura Kuenssberg Tweet reporting that Brexit Sec, David Davis, saying that the government doesn’t know if Article 50 process can be stopped once it starts highlights an issue that’s been around for some time and featured a lot in the Supreme Court case – whether once the move has been made its ‘revocable’ or not.

This is such a massive step that the country needs to know one way or the other before pulling the trigger. It strikes me that if it is not revocable then it very much weakens the government’s negotiating position with Brussels and it would be politically foolhardy for Mrs May to institute such a move without knowing.

The problem, of course, is that to get clarity the matter would have to be referred to the European Court of Justice which could delay things considerably and would certainly make it much harder for TMay to achieve her deadline of March 31st 2017.

Trying to clarify this question is a key part of the crowd-funded court case that is being brought in Dublin by the London QC, Jolyon Maugham.

Mike Smithson