Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


Happy anniversary. Brexit three years on from the referendum

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Year four in the Big Brexit house and the housemates are not getting any happier. The referendum vote saw off one Prime Minister immediately and a second is shortly to be evicted from Number 10 before Britain has left the EU. It’s entirely possible that Theresa May’s replacement might be ousted before Brexit is implemented too.

Before contemplating the fate of the next Conservative leader, let’s start by looking at how the country is shaping up now. It’s not looking good.

Opinion polling has to be taken with a pinch of salt at all times, but the polls have given a pretty consistent message for quite a long time that the country remains pretty evenly divided between those who think the decision to leave was correct and those who think the country is making a huge mistake.

The Remainers appear to have a small but steady lead (“right to leave” last had a majority with YouGov over a year ago), but it’s hardly a slam dunk: “wrong to leave” led in the most recent poll 47:41, which when you strip out don’t knows comes to 53:47. The original optimism that Brexit would be all over by Christmas has turned into trench warfare.

The closeness of public opinion has not led to increased empathy for the other side’s viewpoint. On the contrary, there is waning appetite for compromise. In the most recent YouGov poll on the government’s options, 37% would consider it an acceptable compromise or better for Britain to leave the EU with no deal.

45% would consider it an acceptable compromise or better for Britain to have a fresh referendum and vote to remain in the EU after all. Just 35%, however, would regard the negotiated deal as tolerable or better. Extreme outcomes poll better.

Yet 61% (according to a poll from Britain Thinks) agree that the only way to resolve Brexit is for all sides to compromise. No wonder 59% are fairly or very pessimistic about the Brexit outcome over the next year. 79% of Britons are reported as thinking that the country is on the wrong track.

For that compromise does not look like happening. 6 million people signed a Parliamentary petition to revoke the Article 50 notice – in effect, to overturn the referendum decision without so much as a ratifying vote. On the other side of the fence, the most recent YouGov poll on the subject disclosed that 30% think it would be acceptable to prorogue Parliament (effectively, suspend democracy) in order to prevent Parliament voting against no deal. Everyone wants compromise, but on their own terms.

What in practice is the country likely to get?  Whoever wins the Conservative leadership election (Boris Johnson, let’s cut to the chase) is going to have to try to put a government together with an ethereal majority. Indeed, it’s not absolutely certain that the winner will get to be Prime Minister: with Chris Davies recalled by his constituents and with the displeasure of a fair few irreconcilable Conservatives manifest, the winner might yet struggle to demonstrate that he will command the confidence of the House of Commons.

Assuming that challenge is passed, the next Conservative leader has already decided that the withdrawal agreement needs to be changed. Both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are committed to renegotiate. Jeremy Hunt is prepared to delay beyond 31 October 2019 to secure such a deal while Boris Johnson is presenting that as a hard deadline. Both affect to be prepared for no deal if necessary.

The Conservative leadership race is taking place in a bubble. The candidates know their audience. An absolute majority of Conservative members voted for the Brexit party at the European elections. According to a YouGov poll, more than half of them would accept the break-up of the union with Scotland, losing Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, significant economic damage and the destruction of the Conservative party itself so long as Brexit was achieved. Shilly-shallying is a vote-loser.

Outside that bubble, Parliament still has a substantial majority against no deal. Outside that bubble, the warnings about the effects of no deal are continuing to be made.  A Cabinet note warned that the country would not be ready for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October 2019.  The Healthcare Distribution Association warned the Brexit select committee that no deal Brexit on that date would lead to medicine shortages.  

The EU is currently in transition following the European Parliament elections so it is far from clear who any new Prime Minister would try to renegotiate with in the first place. There are shoals of legislation that would need to be passed before Brexit took effect. How this is to be achieved in a House that is out of the government’s control in the time available is at present obscure.

In short, the leadership candidates are both peddling a fantasy. Perhaps Boris Johnson is planning an early general election – from his viewpoint he might be as happy to lose it and be able to rail against Brexit’s betrayal than to win it and have to implement a programme that was either unworkable or would lead to severe disruption.

Meanwhile, the economy has started to falter. The Bank of England thinks that growth in the second quarter will be zero.  This partly reflects the unwinding of stockbuilding in the run-up to the phantom Brexit of 29 March 2019. Still, growth is at best anaemic and the political uncertainty is only increasing. Paralysis in decision-making is likely only to continue.

So three years on, the country is divided, opinions are getting more extreme and more entrenched, no one wants to make compromises and the leading candidates for Prime Minister are offering impossible prospectuses. Meanwhile, the economy falters. Happy Anniversary.

Alastair Meeks


Brecon & Radnorshire: the by-election that never was?

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

There’s a good chance it will be overtaken by a general election

The problem with being spoilt for excitement politically (apart from the complete wreckage of the party system, trust in politics and – who knows – maybe the country itself) is that there’s no time to sit back and appreciate what’s just gone before the next instalment arrives.

While that might be irritating for commentators, it has real practical effects too. The Brecon & Radnorshire recall petition has unseated Chris Davies and is due to lead to a by-election. However, it might well not, precisely because of the intensity of these crises.

When the Peterborough recall petition was successful, the writ for the by-election was moved almost immediately. That might well not happen in Brecon & Radnorshire. For the Tories, one good reason for delay is the simple fact that the Lib Dems are clear favourites to retake a seat they held up until 2015 and hold at Welsh Assembly level, and in so doing, reduce the Tories’ working majority with the not-entirely-reliable DUP to just 3.

Opinion polls suggest the Lib Dems are now polling around two-and-a-half to three times what they achieved at the 2017 general election, while the Tories are down by more than half. These are massive swings: more than enough by themselves to comfortably flip the seat, even before we take into account that by-election swings tend to be around 40% larger than the national polling at the time. Whether that rule-of-thumb still holds given the scale of movement and also the emergence of the Brexit Party is an open question but either way, Boris Johnson (assuming it is he) can expect to start his premiership with a loss, unless he can generate a sizeable honeymoon boost – or unless the election doesn’t happen at all.

There are more publicly-acceptable reasons to delay too though. Even if the writ were moved now, the by-election would be on July 25 or August 1. That’s well into the summer holidays and would potentially be a considerable inconvenience not only for voters but also for the local council running the election, which being in a massive constituency by area presumably has more polling stations than average. For context, the last time a by-election was held as far into the summer holidays as July 25 was back in 1997 (although the Norwich North and Glasgow East ones came very close in 2009 and 2008 respectively). The last by-election in August, outside of the unusual circumstances of Fermanagh & S Tyrone in 1981, was the Birmingham Ladywood one in 1977. Clearly, there’s a long-standing reluctance to schedule them then.

However, if parliament waits until the House returns on September 3 before moving the writ, the by-election wouldn’t be until at least early October, possibly later still.

That, of course, is running directly into the climax of the Brexit debates when Boris will be expected to deliver withdrawal by 31 October, with or without a deal (which means without), and a majority of MPs will be trying to stop him from doing so – a battle which will be played for very high stakes and could easily end up with a Vote of No Confidence and/or a general election, as well as another Article 50 extension or even outright revocation.

As such, there’s a meaningful chance that the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election will never take place – although if it doesn’t, it’ll be the least of our worries.

David Herdson


Boris and the illusion of unity

Friday, June 14th, 2019

“To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.” – Nigel Lawson

There was a time, not long ago although it seems a world away now, when the electoral pitch of the Conservative Party strongly featured its willingness to make difficult decisions, to address reality rather than pretend problems away. It was a pitch which won respect and therefore won elections. So how is the party doing with the two most urgent decisions facing it today: who to choose as leader, and what then to do about Brexit?

On the first the party seems to have made up its mind. Barring some major dislocation, Boris Johnson will be the next leader and PM. His campaign has been very professionally run, and (remarkably, given the views about him which fellow MPs and party members have expressed over the years), he is garnering support from almost all factions of this heavily divided party: Steve Baker and Therese Coffey, John Redwood and Damian Collins, IDS and Oliver Dowden, Bill Cash and James Brokenshire. He is getting an impressive level of support from MPs, and seems set to do even better amongst party members.

At first sight this broad support seems a good thing: all major parties are broad coalitions, and successful leaders like Thatcher, Blair and Cameron united their parties to lead them to victory. They did this by winning the internal political arguments and imposing a coherent vision on policy and positioning, drawing their parties in to support their platforms. In each case, even if individual MPs and party activists didn’t like parts of that positioning, they were prepared to unite around it.

Alas, in this case the apparent consensus in support of Boris across much of the party doesn’t reflect any such unity and acceptance. Boris hasn’t won any arguments. He hasn’t convinced the doubters that one course or the other has to be followed. In fact he hasn’t even attempted to do so, in the way that Rory Stewart or Dominic Raab have tried to do. Instead, his pitch is the diametric opposite of facing up to difficult choices. As he famously said, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”. That is how he is getting support from both have-ers and eaters.

The party, in apparently going for Boris as leader, is simply postponing, yet again, the moment where it has to face up to reality. This is not unity, it is failure to choose. The choices which have to be made, very soon indeed or they’ll be made for us, are the same as and just as painful as those which the party, and parliament, have failed to make for six months. Postponing the decisions for a few more months won’t make them any easier, but will contribute to the inevitable decline in the fortunes of the Conservative Party, which seems determined to throw away all three of its main electoral strengths of pragmatism, business-friendly financial discipline, and facing up to difficult decisions.

Richard Nabavi

Richard Nabavi is a regular contributor to Political Betting and is currently a member of the Conservative Party.


Get ready for the Betrayals Ahead

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

As CON MPs prepare to vote a look at the bigger picture

There is a political divide in Britain. No, not that one. But one between those seeing Brexit as an end in itself and those for whom it is a means to an end. The former seems to comprise most of the Tory party. The candidates for leader seem to agree. “We must do Brexit” they cry. In some cases, one suspects it is said with all the sincerity of a certain type of English middle class woman on holiday in a favoured part of Europe mwah-mwah-ing the nice couple she’s met saying “Let’s do lunch!” while secretly hoping it never happens.

Brexit is seen as something which simply must be got over with so that they can move on to more familiar political territory. It’s Brexit as a painful toothache. The root canal surgery simply cannot be put off any longer. Once done life can go back to normal. You think I jest. Observe how little actual detail is being provided about how to do Brexit, let alone what happens after. It is almost as if it has to be done not because of the opportunities and improvements it will bring – and there will be some (though there is remarkably little discussion of these gains these days nor whether these will be outweighed by the opportunities lost) – but to avoid being beaten up by the Brexit Party. Brexit is a self-defence move for Tories worried about a grinning marauder opportunistically stealing their voters.

Well it may work. Still, once the Tory party has stopped treating its own survival as the country’s most important concern, it might question its comforting assumption that Leave voters will reward the Tories for doing Brexit, particularly if it’s a No Deal Brexit. Yes, I know: the polls and the Euro elections. Bear with me. How seductive a clean slate No Deal Brexit sounds: just up sticks, walk away, no backward glance, all eyes fixed on the shining horizon, the great adventures ahead. Who hasn’t sometimes dreamt of closing the door quietly on demanding families, in-laws, chores, bosses, bills, responsibilities, the endless cycle of obligations, of compromise, the feeling of being taken for granted? This sort of step can be taken, of course, if one is oblivious to those affected. Still, just do it already: that seems to be the message of the Euro elections. It is, alas, never as simple as that.

There are two issues with the No Deal Brexit now being presented as the only proper Brexit (three if one includes the idiotic belief that keeping No Deal on the table is a viable negotiating tactic when the status quo is not an option in the negotiations). First, it is not an end point but the start of a journey? Where next? What sort of architecture does Britain envisage for its relationship with the EU? Or is it simply a rehash of  Vicky’s “Very well. Alone” cartoon? What sort of economy does Britain want? Pointing at Australia or Singapore or Switzerland really isn’t an answer. What sort of role in the world, given the new chill between the US and China and Russia reverting to an unfriendlier bellicosity? And how to get from where we are now to there? Merely saying that “mojo” and “belief” and “charisma” are needed because poor Mrs May had none of these is insufficient. Personality without a plan makes for an amusing party guest not a leader.

Merely repeating WTO is not a plan. It’s not even a destination. What effect will WTO tariffs have on different sectors of Britain’s economy? On different parts of the country? What about rules of origin? Tax? Or services? Or medicines? Or security matters? Or the cross-border sharing of information, pretty much essential for any modern economy? Or peace in Northern Ireland: an issue which has rather more terminal consequences for its people than technical questions about tracking cattle over a porous border. Questions, questions everywhere. And ne’er an answer.

And so to the the second more important issue. Those who voted for Brexit did not do so because they wanted something called Brexit, whether No Deal or otherwise. They wanted what they thought (or were promised) it would – or might – bring. If the vote for Brexit was, in part, a cry of pain by those who felt that the status quo did little or nothing for them, a complaint that its costs and benefits had not been fairly shared, if it was a demand that their voice be heard, their needs met, that policy should be made for that part of the country lying outside the M25, a wish to be insulated from some of the effects of globalisation, a desire to preserve the familiar even at the cost of not being completely a la mode – and it was, how will those voting for it feel if it delivers none of those things? Or if it makes matters worse? “We gave you Brexit. It’s made things worse for you. But, hey, vote for us anyway. And Corbyn – he’ll really mess things up, you know.” It’s not an obviously winning slogan, certainly not from a party now willing to contemplate shutting down Parliament to get its way. Do No Deal Tories really think they will hold onto the votes of those facing unemployment or the loss of businesses or finding themselves as ignored as before just because they’ve delivered a Brexit which, it turns out, provides no solutions to the problems that led to it? Do they even care – beyond some platitudes about the “left behind”?

Judging by the likely candidates’ policy proposals, they mostly seem to assume that a No Deal Brexit itself will have no consequences beyond maybe some customs disruption and a few traffic jams and that some reheated Thatcherism, complete with a handbagging of those obstinate Eurocrats, will do the trick. One even had a photo of her when launching their campaign. Imagine likely successors to Blair in 2007 touting photos of Harold Wilson (a PM who had left office 31 years earlier) to see how odd this looks. At a time of pressure on councils, on schools, on those facing the heartless rigidities of Universal Credit, on graduates facing an interest rate on their loans unobtainable to any saver other than those entrusting their money to fraudsters, tax cuts for those on salaries unimaginable to many in Bridgend or Sunderland or Port Talbot is, apparently, the solution. Money set aside to mitigate the effects of No Deal is to be spent on the haves, the have-nots presumably being expected to be grateful for having got Brexit.

No Deal Brexit may now indeed be inevitable, however unprepared the country is. It is being presented – now – as the only possible fulfilment of the referendum’s mandate. It is in reality the result of a failure of negotiation, a failure to realise that compromise is necessary, a failure to realise that how Brexit was implemented would send a strong signal to the rest of the world about how Britain would meet this challenge. Whatever blame can be attached to the EU for such a failure, it is Britain which, having failed its first test – leaving on reasonable, orderly terms – will need to strike new deals, work out a new strategy, persuade investors of its worth and reliability.

No Deal Brexit will have costs – as all such unilateral steps do. And those costs may not be borne fairly or by those most fervently advocating it, a point studiously ignored by those politicians pushing it the hardest. In their desire to get it off their backs, the Tories have forgotten what mischiefs Brexit was intended to remedy and seem oblivious to the fact that the world has changed from a time when tax cuts and labelling Labour as dangerous was all it took to win. They do not seem to know whether Brexit is a chance for Britain to retreat to a more comfortable, quasi-protectionist niche (see the rush to warn the US off the NHS), even at the cost of falling behind. Or is it a chance to become globally adventurous, opening itself up to all sorts of new markets, turning itself into a low tax, low regulation, low welfare state country. Perhaps their confusion is understandable: some Brexiteers want the former, others the latter. Yet others want all the benefits of globalisation and the EU with none of the obligations.  Some just want fewer foreigners.  Someone will end up disappointed.

The Tories are gambling that ticking Brexit off the To Do list will be enough and that voters will have short memories. It is an insouciant, not to say reckless, approach. Of course, the country will adapt. Eventually. But there will be costs. These may be significant. Who they fall on and who bears them will be the central question of British politics post-Brexit, whatever choices are made. What those choices should be is something the Tories seem remarkably unwilling or unable to address. In trying to deal with one charge of betrayal, the Tories are simply ensuring there will be many more betrayal narratives in the future.



It was exactly two years ago today that Brexit, if it happens, inexorably changed

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Video: The moment the 2017 exit poll was announced

When the history of Brexit is written I suspect the 8th of June 2017 will be seen as the most momentous day in Brexit history, even more so than June 23rd 2016.

The moment Mrs May lost David Cameron’s majority might be the seen as the moment the Brexit mandate was superseded by those opposed to a No Deal Brexit, indeed Labour’s manifesto was explicit in that, nor did it commit to an exit on the 29th of March 2019.

Without a majority Mrs May became reliant on the DUP who value the Union ahead of (a no deal) Brexit. The hardline, leave at any cost, Leavers may well regret not ousting Mrs May back in June 2017.

The irony is that had George Osborne remained an MP he might have been best placed to ensure her ousting in June 2017 (without becoming leader himself), something a Leaver told me recently, Brexiteers may regret cheering Osborne’s decision to stand down as an MP.

For two years we ended up with a Prime Minister, despite her public pronouncements, refused to take the country out of the EU without a deal. Once Brexit stopped being inevitable then there was always a risk it might not happen, I wonder if the ERG will eventually realise that.

It has allowed the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems to outflank the Tories to the point where  we are now talking about the next general election could be an extinction level event for the Tories.



If the betting markets have this right Peterborough could have its third MP in two years all from different parties

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

Brexit party leaflet Peterborough

The Westminster by-election in Peterborough has become an intriguing contest with three and perhaps four possibilities of which party will be the winner.

It was CON until June 2017 when it became a shock LAB gain with the winner losing her seat in May after the first successful use of the new recall procedure.

Now LAB is batting to hold on against Farage’s new Brexit party which came out top in the Euros there on May 23rd.

Although everybody describes it as a Leave seat just under 40% still voted remain in the referendum in July 2016 and, of course, there has been demographic change since.

A big question is over the turnout tomorrow. Will the voters of Peterborough be less inclined to go to the polling stations once again for their second election in a fortnight? If there is a low turnout who will benefit?.

Labour has not been helped by the suggestions of anti-semitism against their candidate and Corbyn’s ambivalence on Brexit.  The Lib Dems are currently riding the crest of a wave  following their successes in the locals at the start of May and in the Euros where they came ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives nationally.

The Brexit Party tactic, as seen in the leaflet at the top, has been to try to split the LAB vote by peeling away some of the remain support to the Lib Dems. When that leaflet cover  was published on Twitter people were suggesting that this was actually a Lib Dem rather than a Brexit party publication

The best bet I can see is the 11/4 currently on offer at Ladbrokes on the LDs  getting 20%-30%. I’m not as confident as I was about the LDs winning London in the Euros a couple of weeks ago – a bet which I know many PBers profited from. Peterborough  is a big ask but the odds make it a value bet.

Mike Smithson



The three post Euros polls have had three different parties in the lead

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019


Corbyn, May and the death of British compromise

Friday, May 31st, 2019

We like to think of ourselves as a temperamentally moderate country, eager to split any difference, respect other viewpoints, find the middle ground. But the sobering lesson from the European election is that – on this issue, at least, we really are not.

There are basically three options open to us.

  1. We can opt for a hard Brexit. That got 34.0% of the vote (Brexit+UKIP).
  2. We can opt to stay in the EU after all. That got 34.9% of the vote (LibDem+Green+ChUK).
  3. Or we can try for a soft Brexit. There were actually two varieties of soft Brexit on offer – Mrs May’s deal and Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal (customs union, regulatory alignment, environment and worker guarantees). Between them they got 22.6%.

Moreover, it’s worse than that. Like most people in politics, I know lots of supporters of both sides. The people who voted Labour or Conservative weren’t, in general, actively supporting compromise. They were voting out of party loyalty or because they felt they wanted to use their vote on other issues.

Conversely, while I know both Remainers and Leavers who say they accept that any Government should aim for a soft Brexit compromise to bring the country together, virtually none of them even considered voting for one. Intellectually, they approve of the concept of national reconciliation. But their gut feeling is hard and tribal: they want to win.

Yes, to win. To Remain without ambiguity (via a new referendum in which supporters expect to triumph), or to Leave without a deal.

Unfashionably, I think that both May and Corbyn have been quite brave, and in keeping with what we say we want in national leaders. They put their reputations on the line to try to find a middle ground that people would grudgingly accept as a way forward. May has paid the ultimate political price; Corbyn is damaged. Many will feel satisfied about that. But we should be clear what we’re collectively doing. We’ve voted for a showdown in which one side or the other utterly defeats the other. If there is another referendum with three options – Remain, hard Brexit or a compromise, there is no real doubt that the compromise will lose.

The Conservatives are being forced into a Hard Leave stance, and I have little doubt that Labour will be forced into a hard Remain position. Ultimately one or the other will prevail.

That is how civil conflict starts. By identifying with one extreme or the other and rejecting the middle ground, even when the country is completely divided. I don’t believe that we will end up fighting each other in the streets: in the end, few people care that strongly about Europe to be willing to go to war.

But, as a lifelong supporter of the European Union, I do have a question for my friends who voted for militantly Remain or dogmatically Leave parties. Yes, I get why you wanted to pitch in for one side or the other. But in the cold light of day, are we sure we want a Government that ignores half the population?

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010