Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


No Deal remains imminent and likely

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

Picture Judy Goldhill

The Withdrawal Agreement remains an unmet EU expectation

A failure to understand the other side’s point of view has been more than a running Brexit theme: it’s infected every aspect of Britain’s relationship with what’s now the EU throughout the last seven decades. Unsurprising then that miscalculations and misunderstandings continue to be made. That the same problem affects the domestic dialogue of the deaf that represents the Leave-Remain debate is hardly a cause for consolation.

The cost of the failures resulting from that lack of empathy on both sides is profound and on both sides (EU and UK) results from an excess of introspection and a lack of imagination. Nor are those failures necessarily over and some of the worst may yet be to come.

You might think that the European Council was clear in its statement that any A50 extension beyond April 12 was conditional on passing the Withdrawal Agreement (in which case it would be to May 22), or on presenting a clear alternative way forward which implicitly is both credible and deliverable but that the Withdrawal Agreement is a sine qua non whatever else might be proposed or agreed. Apparently not.

This is important because without the Commons’ approval of the WA there can be no agreement and, quite possibly, no further extension: Britain would leave the European Union without a deal a week on Friday.

Since the start of the year, I’ve thought that when it came down to it, enough Labour MPs would come to the government’s rescue to see it over the line precisely because of the risk of No Deal. No longer. Labour remains remarkably united in opposition to the deal (which is commonly referred to as May’s Deal but which is just as much – probably much more, in fact – the EU’s deal). Without the DUP and without 20-30 ultras on her own benches, May cannot get her deal ratified without Labour support, official or otherwise.

Here again the bedevilment of introspection and distraction strikes. Parliament will spend Monday and possibly Wednesday of next week debating options for Phase 2 of Britain’s withdrawal; the nature of the future relationship post-transition. However, without an agreed exit to Phase 1, this is not just pointless but delusional. It’s not so much rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as heading back down to the Dining Room and arguing over whether to order venison or lamb.

When the EU talks of “the UK indicating a way forward”, it does not mean re-writing the Future Relationship (though it is open to that, within limits); it means that if the WA will remain unagreed beyond a further short extension, then either some extra-parliamentary political process that will lead to either the Agreement’s ratification, or an outright reversal of Brexit. Nothing else makes sense.

Some will argue that there is in fact an overlap; that the government could gain approval for its Withdrawal Agreement if it were to link it to either a permanent customs union post-transition, or a second referendum (details to be confirmed – don’t think these would be trivial), or both. In one sense that’s true but there’s a political problem here. While those two options did come closest to gaining the House’s support last week, they did so almost entirely off the back of the votes of opposition MPs. Tories were almost entirely opposed. Even if the government were to try to make the linkage, it’s difficult given May’s weak authority to believe that it could carry it through. The No Confidence vote in Dominic Grieve from his constituency association last night could well be indicative of a new and unwelcome front in the battle; one which makes the scope for compromise still harder.

Where does this leave us? Whatever the House decides next week – which may well be that it still doesn’t like any of the options unless artificially forced into supporting one through preferential voting, which isn’t really of much use – the fundamental question on the Withdrawal Agreement will remain unanswered. At some point reality will bite in an unpleasant way, possibly at the European Council meeting due on April 10. As Sabine Weyand noted yesterday, the Commission regards No Deal as a likely outcome, with what appears to be a large degree of acceptance. By contrast, to the extent that the Commons considers No Deal to be a risk, it’s a distant or conceptual one; this unreality is not helpful.

One scenario which I haven’t seen mentioned before but which I think we should now take seriously is the possibility of a post-Brexit ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. If Britain does sleepwalk into a No Deal Brexit, the awakening won’t be a happy one – not for Britain but also not for the EU and especially Ireland. And despite every attempt to kill it off, the Withdrawal Agreement would still be there, unloved but available (Bercow permitting, though he’d find it hard to stand in the way of the will of the House, should such a will exist). For want of anything better, it could probably still be agreed: Article 50 isn’t entirely unambiguous on the point but to me, the wording doesn’t suggest that the window for concluding the agreement closes when the departing state leaves. Indeed, it would be bizarre were such a bar to exist – and if one doesn’t exist, then why not use what’s already there?

Of course, implementing the Agreement would have huge domestic consequences. The DUP, who would accept Remain or No Deal but practically nothing in between, would probably withdraw support from the government, leading to a general election. The Conservatives would be split and led by a lame-duck leader. Labour would have finally, in some numbers anyway, backed the Tory Withdrawal Agreement, and would be split between Rejoiners (who might see the transition period as the last realistic option to get back in before divergence takes place), and those who accept the fact of Brexit and want to move on.

That, however, is several moves down the line. Before then, we have the small matter of seeing the wood out of the trees these next two weeks.

David Herdson


Where we are now summed up in two betting Tweets

Friday, March 29th, 2019

And on Betfair

Mike Smithson


Johnson edges back to favourite on the day that TMay’s future could be decided

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

On the face of it a lot could be decided today that will give us a clearer view of Britain’s and Theresa May’s political Futures. The two are clearly interlinked.

With even some of her most hostile opponents within the parliamentary party now supporting her deal the prime minister is facing her backbenchers this afternoon when it’s widely expected that she’ll be pressed strongly to give an indication of her exit date.

It has been her ambivalence over this since she lost the party its majority at the June 2017 General Election that has caused a lot of tensions. While the Tories have been happy to let her take on the battle of dealing with Europe there’s virtually nobody in  the party comfortable with her leading the Tories at the next general election. Memories of her GE2017 performance are still strong. She’s somebody who loses the party seats not gains them.

In December she was pressed to give a commitment before the confidence vote in her that she would go before the general election but that’s not enough. The party wants a date and if she gives a specific undertaking this afternoon that might help secure some of the extra support she requires to get her EU deal finally through.

How that fits in with today’s Commons events where MPs will be taking part in an indicative ballot on which of the various scenarios they’ll support is hard to say. One of the options that’s not there is Theresa May’s deal.

For the prime minister’s plan to succeed it probably requires none of the alternatives that are being voted on to actually secure majority support and that might be easier should she commit to her MPs  a firm and early exit date.

Meanwhile in the next CON leader betting the chart shows that Johnson is now back as favourite slightly edging in Michael Gove. I’m not too sure either of them will end up with the top job and the fact the favourite is only a 19% shot suggests that there is great uncertainty.

In another Betfair market it is an 88% chance that TMay will go this year.

Mike Smithson


The indicative votes are the right question at the wrong time

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

Unless a WA is agreed, they could all be pointless

Brexit means Brexit, Theresa May once said. Even at the time, the slogan was widely derided as meaningless and nebulous – though politically, there’s value in something that’s all things to all people. Indeed, Labour is engaging in an almost identical exercise at the moment, where almost nothing is ruled out but very little is explicitly ruled in: everything remains on the table, presumably in the hope that someone else will make the decision and so avoid Labour landing with any of the blame.

As an opposition, that might just about be a viable strategy, if a pretty craven one. The more fervent supporters of one outcome or another will be upset, especially those who want to Remain via a second referendum (which was briefly Labour’s official policy, though no longer, apparently), but the majority of the blame will be aimed at the government.

Which is fair enough. Governments are meant to develop and deliver policy, and “Brexit means Brexit” isn’t and never was a policy, any more than the ‘Leave’ instruction on the 2016 ballot paper was. By the time the government finally got round to fleshing out and pinning down the details – the Chequers away-day – the concept settled on was already unpopular and the PM was already set on her self-imposed tramlines.

In reality, the indicative votes now (probably) being scheduled for next week should have formed part of a national debate held shortly after the referendum result, which could have both informed policy development and produced deeper and wider ownership of that policy. At the latest, the discussions should have happened after the botched 2017 election, when the Tories lost their majority and it was clear that parliament was going to have a very major say in how Brexit developed.

Unfortunately, to have apparently contracted-out Brexit policy to parliament as a whole, at a time of her own maximum personal vulnerability would probably have been a provocation to her MPs too far. It’s the sort of thing that PMs in complete command of the situation can do. May was not in such a position in June 2017 (which is one reason, among many, that she should have been replaced at that point).

However, having missed that opportunity, the Commons is in danger of making the opposite mistake now. What would, two years ago, have been strategic thinking is now – with only three weeks to the next cliff edge – a dangerous distraction.

The reality is that there are only three meaningful short-term Brexit options at this stage: the Withdrawal Agreement as agreed, Revoke, and No Deal. Everything else is either process (e.g. referendums, changes of government, general elections etc), or else a matter for the Future Relationship. There is neither the time nor the political space to develop an alternative withdrawal framework. Nor is it necessary to do so.

What does need to be decided is whether Britain should leave at all, and if so, whether it should leave without a deal. Some will argue that this dismisses the idea of a second referendum. Indeed it does, and for good reason. We have spent 33 months since the last referendum going nowhere for lack of a majority view, never mind a consensus. Even if a referendum could produce a useful mandate – itself far from certain – simply agreeing the terms for a vote will be far harder and more contentious than is being given credit for; probably so hard as to make it doubtful as to whether it’s achievable under an A50 extension.

Instead, if the decision of the House is to remain, it needs to take that decision itself. Similarly, if it is to leave, then it either needs to pass the Withdrawal Agreement or decide to leave without a deal. The fact that the Commons doesn’t want to do any of these things is precisely the reason we’ve ended up where we are. Granted, it’s not a very good deal but it’s all there is and, in truth, given the parliamentary maths and the positions adopted by the EU, it’s probably close to all there could be. While it’s easy for MPs and others to blame May, and for May to blame MPs, the fact is that both have run down the clock. May has done so as a deliberate political tactic but the Commons has equally failed to support any practical alternative via an amendment.

The time for that prevarication is now past. The minimal extension means that No Deal by accident remains a very real possibility, for want of an alternative. Indeed, the fact that there has been an extension and there will be indicative votes is likely to rob parliament of the sense of urgency it very much should have.

Instead, assuming that the Commons does want to leave and doesn’t want No Deal, it should pass the Withdrawal Agreement, either with conditions attached as to the future relationship, or with the intent of holding a wide-ranging debate immediately after Exit on the strategy for Phase 2. For the Conservatives, that should also involve a leadership election (which admittedly also brings the risk of unicorn-hunting but less critically so than if the contest is before Brexit takes place).

Will it? I’m doubtful. Labour MPs, including the leadership, still seem primarily interested in avoiding contact with the process, whether out of fear of Remainers or Labour tribalists determined not to back any ‘Tory’ measure (even if it had been amended as Labour want). With enough ERG Ultras plus the DUP to bring the government’s support way below 320, that means there simply aren’t the votes there. Engaging in displacement activity doesn’t change that, and nor can the can be kicked again (or not much – the EU doesn’t lose anything from postponing again at April 12 but we’re talking weeks only).

To my mind, betting markets, parliamentarians and commentators alike are underrating the risk of No Deal. If it is to be stopped, it has to be stopped. At the moment, there aren’t enough people willing to do so.

David Herdson


Get ready for the no deal Blame Game

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

There’s little doubt that the Mail’s front page this morning correctly sums up the current position in relation to brexit with just 8 days to go. Given what the EU response was to Theresa May’s request for more time and her ongoing desire to get her deal approved then there must be an increasing chance that No Deal becomes what happens.

If what we have been led to believe a No Deal would entail that looks like a catastrophe which will impact on the lives of millions of people. Inevitably, if this indeed what happens, there’ll be a massive blame game.

Theresa May with her complete rigidity has continued to use everything to just to get her deal through and has not been ready to countenance any change or deviation. Corbyn’s not helped. Last night he refused to attend a meeting of party leaders to try to sort things out because Chukka was there. How petty but perfectly predictable. These events will be remembered.

It was always said that May’s plan to get her deal agreed was to take the nation to the cliff edge with agreement to her deal being the only option. Maybe that will work. She’s certainly not deviating from the plan

In all of this TMay has been hugely helped by the ERG’s move in December to no confidence her. She survived, of course, and at the same time got 12 months immunity from such a move being repeated.

No deal remains a 20% chance in the betting. That might increase during the day.

Mike Smithson


On a huge day of political betting a no deal Brexit on March 29th move from a 12% chance to 22% in fourteen hours

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

The other big market movement today

Mike Smithson


The betting chances of Commons agreeing deal before March 30th move up sharply to 43%

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

The main betting mover on another day of high drama on brexit has been on the when will the Commons pass a brexit vote market.

Before PMQs this was rated as a 26.8% chance and then with what Theresa May said and other indications this has now gone to 43%.

There seems to be increasing confidence that Theresa May’s long term strategy of getting her deal because the alternatives are worse through might just succeed.

It is quite extraordinary how Mrs May has been so unbelievably rigid in her approach right from last November when the discussions on the main deal ended in Brussels.

Mike Smithson


Not before 2022 now joint favourite with Q2 2019 for when Brexit happens

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

So much potentially could happen in the ten  days that remain between now and March 29th it is inevitable that there has been an enormous amount of movement on this Betfair  market on when Brexit will actually happen.

As can be seen Q2 2019 has dropped very sharply in the last few days partly in response to the difficulty Mrs May has had in getting support for her deal and partly due to the assertions yesterday by the Speaker.

Tonight the speculation is that the postponement that the government is planning seek could end up as 2 years which is far in excess anything that the hardline leavers wanted.

I find it very difficult to read the current politics and I’m sure that I am not alone. The likely failure to meet the March 29th deadline is almost certainly going to lead to Brexit being less likely to happen.

In all political betting it is wise to check the actual terms of the market and this is Betfair’s  definition on this one below.

“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.”

Mike Smithson