Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


There will be no second referendum whether Labour backs it or not

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Indeed, Labour best hope is to push for one – but to fail

Brexit is not unlike Hurricane Florence. A huge amount of energy is being expended, mostly to destructive effect, dumping a load of output which is flooding out a great deal else, while not going anywhere fast.

And just as Florence attracts storm-chasers, Brexit attracts any number of other eccentrics, on all sides, either to participate in the main thing or to chase rainbows. One such rainbow is the fabled second referendum (I reject the phrase ‘People’s Vote’, which is nothing more than a euphemism for a referendum and we’ve already had one of those; it’s particularly dangerously misleading in the singular). Almost since Remain lost the first vote, some Referendum Deniers have been agitating for a second shot but with Labour possibly about to back that call, we should think carefully about what such a change in policy would mean, both in terms of likely success and on how it’d affect politics more generally.

On the question of success, the answer is that it’s very low. Ladbrokes are quoting 9/4 on another referendum before the end of 2019. I think that’s far too short: the odds should be about 8/1. Why? Because it’s extremely difficult for an opposition to force a government to do something it really doesn’t want to do.

A referendum can only happen if the government wants one. Each needs its own legislation to compel councils to run the polling stations, postal votes and so on. Perhaps in theory the government could run it centrally by post but such a ballot would suffer credibility issues, could be subject to boycotts, and the result lack legitimacy if the outcome was close, as seems likely for any Leave/Remain option. So voting would have to be done the normal way, which means an Act of Parliament – and that only happens if the government drafts and introduces the Bill, and makes time for it.

Before we get a Bill though, there needs to be some consensus on what the question to be put is (or questions are). Is it a re-run of Leave/Remain, is it Deal / No Deal (assuming there is a deal), or is it a three-way choice. If the full options of Remain / Deal / No Deal are on offer, is the vote by AV or are there two questions (and if the latter, what question is put first)? Without that consensus, any campaign would suffer from too much infighting and too many divisions to effectively apply pressure to the government.

Also, there would need to be some thought as to what happens after the vote. So far, the discussion has barely progressed beyond “Brexit is awful, we must have a second vote to get us out of it”, which does at least give an answer to the “what question” question – though not one to interest a government currently negotiating Brexit – but pays no attention to the practicalities of what happens next (admittedly, not a failing unique to them but that’s not an excuse).

However, first of all, that legislation. Let’s suppose that by November we have both a deal in place, legislation ready to go before parliament, and a government forced into introducing it – all of which are bold assumptions. The first referendum Bill took over six months to go through parliament in 2015. Even if a new Bill could be rammed through in just one month – a process which would undoubtedly leave malcontent in its wake and set up allegations of unfairness, a rigged playing field and bias – the time available for campaigns to organise and register, and then for the vote to be held would be mightily tight to the March 29 deadline. In reality, we’re well past the point where it could happen before Brexit Day.

But suppose it could, because that’s the basis on which the rainbow is being chased. Were it to ratify the deal the government came back from Brussels with, no great problem. The other two possibilities, unfortunately, are a problem. And going by the polling on the Chequers Plan, the outcome would be one of the other two options.

The elephant in the room that advocates of a second vote are ignoring is the chance that not only does Leave win again but it does so on a mandate of No Deal. While the polling has trended towards Remain over the last two years, it’s been slow and having bagged their win, Leavers have been less prominent in making the generic case to leave and keener to debate the details.

Four weeks of “which part of Out didn’t you get?” could swing the polls around (note that in a second referendum, the Conservatives would undoubtedly by on the Leave side, something which would add about £7m to that campaign’s spending limit). Certainly, when the three options were put in opinion polls, No Deal was far more popular than something based on Chequers. And as Mark Carney pointed out this week, such an outcome would be considerably sub-optimal.

On the other hand, there’s the chance of Remain winning. Mainly, presumably, on a basis of nothing better being on offer. It’s notable how despite the opportunities of the last three years and more, keen Remainers are still instinctively drawn to some form of Project Fear rather than promoting the benefits of working together in a Single Market with common rules, consumer protection, mutual recognition of standards (and driving licences) and so on: the opportunities that membership brings, in other words. A win on such terms would be grudging and would do nothing to end the debate.

And of course, we don’t even know if Britain can revoke A50. An extension is possible – though even there, not necessarily an indefinite one – but an outright revocation, even with the agreement of all 27 other members is still something that the CJEU would need to agree. Further, current UK law probably doesn’t give the government the power to revoke A50: the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act only gave the PM the power to invoke the Article, not to withdraw it. Though presumably the legislation enabling the referendum could tidy that up.

The legalities are one thing: the politics another. Brexit has already been damaging to political discourse in the country, normalising extreme language and sharpening divisions (though it is both consequence and contributor there, and nor is it the only factor). Another referendum, whatever the outcome, would re-open all those divisions and pour acid into them. If one of the three options was excluded, one side would unquestionably call foul and claim, with justification, that they’d been denied their voice; on the other hand, if all three are there, Remain or No Deal would almost certainly win, probably not by very much. Either way, there’d be millions of mightily angry people and if it went for No Deal, there’d also be an economic crisis into the bargain. Either way, there’d probably be a new Prime Minister (though no new general election – the Tories and DUP would still hold a majority).

All of which begs the question as to why Labour are keen to go down that road.

The answer is that they’re not. I don’t think that many advocates share this analysis of how badly things would turn out. Labour would, of course, have their own divisions, as last time, but as they’d be nothing compared with the Tories. Perhaps that’s a price seen as worth paying. Of course, the foreknowledge of how torn apart the Tories would be is one reason, beyond the near-certainty of losing her agreement with the EU, that Theresa May will do everything possible to avoid another public vote.

But in truth, as mentioned earlier, there isn’t time without an extension to A50 to run a referendum, nor is there any easy parliamentary means for the opposition parties to force one on the government. It’s all very well Labour coming out in favour but while they sit on the opposition benches, they can’t do anything about it other than shout.

And just shouting is really what would suit Labour best in this case; appearing to be on the side of Remainers will win support – providing they never need to make good on it before the Brexit process is over.

David Herdson


The Daily Mail’s change of tone Brexit should help Mrs May sell her Brexit deal

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Welcome to this Bizarro world where in the eyes of the Daily Mail traitors are the hard Brexiteers.

The tweets atop this thread show some excerpts from various editions of the Daily Mail this week we can see the impact of Geordie Greig taking over the editor’s chair last week, it appears the Mail’s tone on Brexit has changed.

The Guardian observes

The initial editions of the Mail under Greig appear to suggest a more nuanced editorial line, where a soft Brexit is a price worth paying to keep Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, out of No 10. The shift is in line with what Daily Mail insiders told the Guardian last week.

So if one of the staunchest supporters of Brexit is softening their support that should help Theresa May sell to the country a Brexit deal that isn’t quite as Brexity as the ERG would wish. I suspect out the Sun and Telegraph only the Telegraph wouldn’t support a pragmatic Brexit. I’m not sure how the Daily Express now see themselves now they are aligned with the Mirror Group.

What a world we live in that the Daily Mail might be the best hope of a soft Brexit/BINO.



Some Brexit betting specials

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

As we get closer to Brexit day Paddy Power have some Brexit specials up.

The ERG have repeatedly shown themselves to be as impotent as eunuchs, so for all the talk of ousting Mrs May they simply don’t have the numbers so I think out of those bets Mrs May still being PM on the 1st of April 2019 is the best one.

I wouldn’t want to touch the 11/5 on another EU referendum before the 1st of April with someone else’s barge poll. I just cannot see it happening, the logistics of it make it near impossible. I don’t think there’s a majority in the House of Commons for passing the legislation to enable such a referendum for starters.

As for the UK applying to rejoin the EU by 2027 I’m not really keen on typing up my money for nearly a decade and for just 2/1.

If you think we’re on course for a withdrawal agreement by the respective parties you’ll want to take the 8/13, I’m a bit more cautious. Whilst everyone is focussing on Ireland, not enough has been discussed about Gibraltar and Spain.

There’s the potential for a Spaniard to be thrown into the works, ‘because Spain’s relationship with Gibraltar is so politically sensitive, Brexit negotiation guidelines dictate that Spain has to sign off the UK’s proposals before the EU does.’



Twisting on 17: the hardline Leavers’ great gamble

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Picture credit @DelMody on twitter

“Vote Leave, Take Back Control” was the slogan.  This conjured up a vision of a democratic army peacefully occupying Downing Street and resetting the priorities of government to be aligned with the needs of everyday people. 

The vision turned out to be a fata Morgana.  The referendum was won by Leave but poor people didn’t rise up and take what’s theirs.  Rather more surprisingly, rich Leavers didn’t rise up and take what’s theirs either.  Some prominent Conservative Leavers joined the government but were striking by their passivity, languidly drifting with the currents until they discovered that they were stranded on a reef far from their intended destination.  At this point, in time-honoured fashion, several rats left the ship of state.

It appears that the type of control that nearly all Leavers sought was not the control of an activist but a much more passive concept.  They envisaged their control being the control of a diner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, regally ordering from the menu and loftily sending back dishes that were not to their liking.  They had no intention of sweating in the kitchen.  The hard work could be done by others.

This approach has comprehensively failed.  It turns out that if you want a result that fully satisfies you, you need to get stuck in.  Even now, hardline Leave politicians have been unable to agree on something positive that they can put forward.  While Steve Baker MP has suggested that up to 80 MPs will oppose the Chequers plan, the idea of putting forward an ERG-approved Brexit proposal has been apparently shelved as the purists fell out among each other, amid suggestions that the draft included a slash-and-burn tax strategy and plans for an expeditionary force to defend the Falklands and a missile defence system.  The lack of focus is palpable.  In the meantime, the affiliated interest group, Economists For Free Trade, has put out a brief paper dealing with limited aspects that is long on assertion and short on detail.  Its reception has run the gamut from polite scepticism to rude scepticism.

As a result of this failure to come up with positive proposals, the hardliners have been left with nothing to do other than oppose the constructive plans of others.  They appear not to appreciate just how risky a strategy this is.

Chequers was always going to be embattled.  Remain supporters hate it because it effects Brexit.  The EU sees it as crossing its own red lines.  So if it was going to have any chance of public acceptance, it was going to need the full-throated approval of Leavers as the best that could be done in the circumstances.  They didn’t give it.  As a result, it is seen as a bad deal by an absolute majority of the public and by 3:1 of those who express a preference.

So now we can expect one of the following outcomes.  The ERG might succeed in defeating Chequers.  This would probably topple the Prime Minister, but that’s incidental.  At that point, all hell would break loose.  There might be an early election as the Conservative party dissolved into chaotic recriminations. 

Even if not, Parliament would not quietly accept a no deal Brexit.  It might be the end result, but there must be a substantial chance that the majority of MPs in Parliament who have never been convinced by Brexit get their act together to seek to extend the Article 50 period while an alternative resolution to the crisis was found.  Alternatively, they may secure a fresh referendum given the unexpected turn of events.  Everything would be up for grabs.

More likely, the ERG will not succeed in defeating any deal.  When it comes to the crunch, the government can probably rely on the support of enough of its own MPs combined with enough of the opposition MPs to secure support for an orderly Brexit, if that can be negotiated with the EU.  (Indeed, ERG members themselves may well when it comes to the crunch hold their nose and vote for it.) 

For presentational purposes – Theresa May needs her dignity – such a deal will probably be badged as a modified version of Chequers, whether or not that is true.  Having declared their strong opposition to Chequers and helped to ensure that plan has lost public support, the ERG would in all probability find themselves in those circumstances leaving the EU on terms that commanded no legitimacy.  With the final terms yet to start to be negotiated, the public would be in for an endless relitigation of the merits of the original decision. 

In these circumstances, Brexit would have failed to have become fully embedded.  It would be constantly on the political agenda, with a constant shrill clamour from articulate and alienated Remainers for a rethink, in turn stoking Leavers’ defensive paranoia.

Against the odds, Leave won the referendum vote.  You would have thought, after such an unexpected success, that the main goal of Leave supporters would be to get that converted into Britain actually leaving the EU.  Even at the time you could hear Leave supporters muttering darkly how they doubted that would happen.  So you would have thought that done was better than perfect. 

It would have been very difficult, but not impossible, for Leave advocates to reach out to Remain supporters seeking to address their concerns and bind them into a new settlement.  This would have firmly entrenched Brexit.  No one tried.  Instead, Leavers went out of their way to alienate erstwhile Remain supporters and treat them as the enemy within.  Unsurprisingly, many Remainers have continued to put their energies into disrupting what they see a malign and mad endeavour.

Less ambitiously, it would have been possible for Leave advocates to come up with a realistic approach to Leaving that recognised some of the hard choices that needed to be made and to have fallen in behind the necessary compromises.  This at least could have bound the Leave coalition, if not Remain supporters, together behind a positive prospectus.  But it would have required effort.

Instead, the hardline Leavers find themselves with just over six months to go before Brexit bites opposing every constructive plan that has been put forward, with the public pessimistic about how Brexit is proceeding, hoping that they can come up with some kind of a vision from the negativity of a no deal Brexit. 

Even if successful in its short term aim of crashing any compromise, it looks likely to be highly disruptive and risks entrenching opposition to the Conservatives among many voters for many years to come, potentially contaminating the very idea of Brexit in the minds of a generation.  This looks like a colossal gamble at poor odds.  All of us look likely to suffer as a result.

Alastair Meeks


Why a united Ireland post Brexit is a real possibility

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Tory indifference towards the Union and opposition to Brexit in Northern Ireland makes a united Ireland a real possibility writes Keiran Pedley

I cannot have been the only person that was astonished at Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley’s recent admission that she knew nothing of the place before taking office. I am probably being naïve, but you would have thought that someone appointed to such an important role would at least possess a passing knowledge of its history and the political skill required for such a position. Some have commended Bradley’s honesty. Yet her appointment reflects an arrogance about Ireland that seems to permeate the Conservative Party in 2018. Aptly displayed by Boris Johnson’s constant bemoaning of the importance of the Irish border question in Brexit negotiations.

Perhaps it is not arrogance but indifference. Indeed, we see such indifference among the British public in general. On the question of Northern Ireland’s constitutional future, polling by Lord Ashcroft in June showed that voters accept the future of Northern Ireland is for the people there to decide and they do not mind which path they choose. This is hardly controversial. Perhaps more striking, however, is that when forced to choose themselves, 63% of Brits felt Brexit was more important than keeping the union together – a figure rising to 73% among Conservative voters. It would appear that when considering Britain’s post Brexit future, Northern Ireland barely features in the minds of many (English) voters.

Brexit and the Irish unity question

Such indifference comes at a sensitive time. Polling published by Deltapoll last week suggests that Brexit has the potential to shift views in Northern Ireland on the question of Irish unity. When presented with two scenarios, one where Britain remains in the EU and one where Britain leaves, public opinion in Northern Ireland shifts sharply in favour of a united Ireland once Britain leaves the EU. Those traditionally neutral on the constitutional question, primarily non-voters and Alliance voters, move from supporting the Union to supporting Irish reunification. Meanwhile, support for a united Ireland in the nationalist community significantly hardens post Brexit and it even grows among some unionists too.

Table 1: Attitudes to Irish unity in Northern Ireland

Source: Deltapoll. Deltapoll interviewed an online sample of 1,199 adults aged 18+ between 24-28th August 2018. Full tables here. Data in parenthesis unweighted n sizes. Data weighted to represent population of Northern Ireland by age, gender, social class, region and recalled 2017 / 2016 vote. Figures may not add to 100% due to rounding.

As we digest these numbers, a word of caution. For reasons outlined in this week’s Polling Matters podcast, care is needed interpreting these figures. Sampling a representative population in Northern Ireland is difficult. This poll significantly weights raw data that skews male and Remain and undersamples younger people and non-voters (as online polls often do). The sample surveyed is likely to be very politically engaged, which has created problems for polling in the past and raises questions about the scale of the Brexit related shift in the headline figures.

More importantly, it is fair to say that Brexit would not be the only consideration for voters in the event of a real border poll. The future of the peace process and what a united Ireland would look like in practice would play a significant role too (as would other factors). So although this poll clearly shows that Brexit shifts opinion on a united Ireland in Northern Ireland, the scale of that shift and how a border poll plays out in practice is unclear.

Nevertheless, such unpredictability offers little comfort to unionists. The data cited above is not in isolation. Research by Lucid Talk for the BBC earlier this year showed a similar trend, with more than one in four in Northern Ireland claiming that they would at least consider abandoning support for the Union in favour of a united Ireland post Brexit. 

Therefore, whilst we cannot say for certain that Brexit will lead to a united Ireland, we can at the very least say that Brexit has the potential to shift opinion on the subject in a way that is virtually unimaginable under any other circumstances. This is before we introduce the potential of a ‘hard border’ with the Republic, which increases support for a united Ireland further still in Deltapoll’s data to some 56%.

Time to take a united Ireland seriously

This all makes you wonder how seriously unionism in Northern Ireland takes its current situation and the prospect of a united Ireland. The answer to that question ought to be ‘very’ and in fairness most probably is. In many respects, the DUP’s support for Brexit seems odd considering the Conservative Party’s apparent luke-warm commitment to Northern Ireland, alongside the fact that Northern Ireland voted Remain and appears somewhat warm to the idea of a united Ireland in the EU post Brexit. Of course, the DUP does not have to take its current situation lying down. One wonders, as Brexit negotiations reach a crucial phase this autumn, if the DUP is about to start flexing its political muscles as it continues to prop up May’s increasingly fragile government. 

In any case, it is time to take the prospect of a border poll and a united Ireland seriously. It may not happen overnight, but it is a realistic prospect in the medium term in a world where the Tories increasingly prioritise Brexit over the Union and Jeremy Corbyn edges closer to Number 10. Serious thought must now be given to what this all looks like in practice in the context of a fragile peace process and no functioning Assembly in Stormont. Talk of Labour splits and a Johnson challenge to May have made Northern Ireland something of an afterthought in Westminster circles this summer. One way or another I suspect all that is about to change. The Tory direction of travel on Brexit appears to be moving away from the most accommodating for Northern Ireland’s position in the UK – and that may spell trouble ahead.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley presents the weekly PB / Polling Matters podcast (link here) and tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley. You can listen to the most recent episode below.


Cat meet pigeons

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

Those hoping for a quiet Autumn on the politics front are set to be disappointed.

Just when you thought politics couldn’t get any more exciting several newspapers are reporting that

Theresa May last night declared war on Boris Johnson after allies said they had rumbled a plot by her Election guru to install the former Foreign Secretary as the next Prime Minister.

Senior figures at Tory HQ claim that Sir Lynton Crosby is behind plans to mount a nationwide campaign against Mrs May’s Chequers agreement on Brexit as the precursor to a Boris leadership challenge.

Australian-born Sir Lynton, who masterminded Mr Johnson’s London mayoral victory in 2008 and who remains a close friend, is said to be motivated by ‘revenge’ after No 10 blamed the strategist for last year’s botched General Election.

Mr Johnson denies plotting with Sir Lynton to derail Mrs May’s Brexit negotiations and seize Downing Street. But in a sharply worded shot across his bows last night, a senior Tory source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Boris hasn’t thought this through. His plan could result in us delaying leaving the EU, or even not leaving at all. If that happens, the party membership would never forgive him.’

When Boris Johnson and Sir Lynton Crosby work together it usually leads to success for Boris. But the political attractiveness of the 2018 Boris Johnson is much diminished from the political attractiveness of Boris Johnson of 2008 and 2012.

Although if this Crosby campaign is as successful as the Tory general election campaign of 2017 I’m fully expecting the UK to Remain in the EU whilst signing up to the Euro and Schengen within weeks.



The Brexit Irish issue: Moggsy’s plan slammed by Ex-British Army officer who served there

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

The CON MP ” fundamentally misunderstands” Ireland’s history

There are several interesting elements of The Moggster’s latest contribution to the Brexit debate. First, he has shown that he understands that the land border in Northern Ireland is a critical issue in the Brexit negotiations. Secondly, he has shown, by harking back to the Troubles with such breezy insouciance, that he fundamentally misunderstands the history of the island of Ireland. And thirdly, in telling us that no checks on the border would leave the UK “in as bad a situation as we are already in”, he has shown that he believes that the existing system of travel between the UK and Ireland is awful, which is an extraordinary comment for a British politician to make.

At present, provisions of the Common Travel Area (CTA) allow an EU citizen to fly to Dublin, cross the land border into Northern Ireland and from there cross to the UK mainland with only a small chance of any passport checks. And this worries Jacob Rees-Mogg who calls it “a great loophole in the way people can get into the UK”.

The CTA, dating back nearly a century, and only formally enshrined in 2011, facilitates freedom of movement for British and Irish citizens between the UK, Ireland, and the Crown Dependences (Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man). While not legally binding, its various iterations have established a commitment to a joint approach on visa issues including towards third countries. Having withstood various challenges to its provisions, the CTA was and, following the more recent Anglo-Irish and Belfast Agreements, remains now an integral component of the peace process. Amongst other provisions, it removes the need for the type of border infrastructure in Northern Ireland, the absence of which, everyone with the exception it seems of Rees-Mogg, appreciates, is such an important element of modern life in Ireland.

So does the CTA mean there are no border controls between Ireland and the UK? Yes and no. If you travel to Ireland by air or sea as a UK citizen, you will be asked to produce identity documents when you get there. This need not be a passport, given CTA-mandated freedom of movement, but a document confirming eligibility to gain entry to the country. A passport, for example (there is in fact a choice of documents). The UK, meanwhile, carries out random checks on those arriving from Ireland in much the same way as they do for travellers coming off the Eurostar at St. Pancras.

The land border crossing, however, is a different matter. There are currently no controls on any of the many land border crossing points between the two countries Ireland and the UK. Rees-Mogg, in his speech, advocated the reintroduction of some kind of system in order, as he put it, to “keep an eye” on those using the land border. Quite what he believes this measure will be, short of a hard border yet sufficient to “have people inspected” goodness only knows. What the reintroduction of any kind of border infrastructure would have has been well-rehearsed on PB, not to say the subject of the odd thread header.

But more telling than his evident ignorance of or disregard for recent Irish history, is what his speech tells us about how he views British sovereignty. Never mind Brexit and trade deals, Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to think that the CTA, the system agreed between the UK and Ireland Governments nearly a hundred years ago which has been an integral part of the peace process since its inception, was and is a sovereignty concession too far.

A guest slot by Topping




New polling analysis finds that enthusiasm for Brexit amongst working class voters is fading

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Ammunition for those pressing for a change in LAB’s stance?

The data in this chart above has been extrapolated by the political scientist, Prof Matt Goodwin and shows a pretty clear picture about the view on Brexit amongst the C2DEs – working class voters.

It was this group, of course, that turned most strikingly against staying in the EU during the referendum campaign so any change here could have some political significance.

I congratulate Matt on picking up the trend which is something that I haven’t observed even though I follow the YouGov Brexit tracker very closely. This comes as Labour prepares for its conference next month when there is a big effort likely to take place to commit the party to backing a second referendum.

Maybe the easing off of support for Brexit is down to increasing worries about jobs and general economic security as we get nearer to the day. Those who’ve been able to afford overseas holidays this year will know that their pounds are worth a fair bit less than a few months ago and are down by quite some magnitude on what it was prior to the June 2016 referendum.

Whatever as we get closer to the day polling like this is going to be given much greater scrutiny.

Mike Smithson