Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


The numbers game. Alastair Meeks on the forthcoming Parliamentary votes on Brexit

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Picture credit: House of Commons twitter feed.

Pundits often refer to hardfought Parliamentary votes being a numbers game.  The phrase comes from the name given in the US to lotteries.  In a hung Parliament, that is more apposite than usual.

The current government does not enjoy the benefit of a Parliamentary majority and has some controversial measures to get through, particularly on Brexit.  So let’s take a look at some of the Parliamentary tribes that Mrs M will need to corral and contend with.  There are no membership cards as such, so MPs can and will flit between different groupings according to events and whim.

Conservative loyalists / quiet lifers

These will form the backbone of the government’s lobby fodder.  They are numerous, comprising the great bulk of the Parliamentary party.  They include not just the average Leaver MPs, but also those Conservative Remain MPs who now just want to get it over and done with.

Labour loyalists / quiet lifers

These will fall the opposition’s counterpart to the government’s lobby fodder.  They too are numerous.  There are those for whom Brexit is secondary.  And the thought of having the local Momentum branch singing Christmas carols and such like outside your constituency office ensures that quite a few Labour MPs will loyally follow whatever this week’s leadership position is.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are the one party fully united on what should come next on Brexit and who can be relied upon, more or less, to vote as a bloc.  But there are only 12 of them.

So far, so normal.  But these groups are some way from comprising an overall majority either way.  The Conservative loyalists probably outnumber the other two groups combined.  But there are other groupings who can alter the balance.

Labour leavers

Officially a select band (though they seem to have friends in high places in the party), the Labour leadership can rely on their support while it is taking a Brexit-friendly approach and they will share the leadership’s concerns about the manner of Brexit on immigration and workers’ rights. Jeremy Corbyn will be able to keep them in line whenever he is carrying out destructive opposition of the government’s Brexit plans but may struggle if he is leading the party in a positive pro-Remain direction on a given vote.

Article 50 refusniks

Besides, the Lib Dems and the SNP, 49 MPs voted against the triggering of Article 50: Ken Clarke, Caroline Lucas and 47 Labour MPs.  These MPs put their pro-EU sentiments ahead of party and can be expected to do so again.  Indeed, a heavily overlapping group of 50 Labour MPs did so again in the Queen’s Speech, voting for an amendment that said that Britain should stay in the Single Market.

These MPs can be expected to take a pro-Remain tack on critical votes, regardless of the party line.  Jeremy Corbyn will be able to keep them in line whenever he is carrying out destructive opposition of the government’s Brexit plans but may struggle if he is leading the party in a positive pro-Brexit direction on a given vote.


Leave campaigned under the slogan Take Back Control.  Ironically, since the referendum vote the Government has done its level best to bypass Parliament, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of the Article 50 decision and then forcing a bill through Parliament enabling it to do so unfettered.

Its preferred mode of Brexit is to do so by regulation, which is undoubtedly administratively convenient.  However, some Conservative MPs (not necessarily hostile to Brexit) see this as an undermining of Parliament’s role, and seek to keep Parliament in charge of law-making, not the Government.

The Government is going to need to offer sufficient reassurances to keep these MPs onside: this is a group that it can’t afford to lose.


Some Conservatives are strongly in favour of a deal being reached, seeing it as essential to Britain’s prosperity.  They are going to oppose any sabre rattling and any suggestion that Britain might walk away without a deal.

No dealers

On the other side of Noel Edmonds’ jumper stand the opposite grouping.  Not every MP is keen to make the compromises that an agreement with the EU would entail.  Offstage Nigel Farage is already moaning about betrayal and some of his kindred spirits who stayed in the Conservative party are no doubt weighing up their options.  They will oppose any deal that looks too watered down or too EU-friendly in their eyes.  Some Conservative MPs have made their entire career from obsessing about the EU.  They aren’t going to stop just yet.

Irish Questioners

The Conservatives paid good money to get the DUP’s support for this government.  The DUP have a specific interest in Brexit (which in general they support), since it threatens to cut directly through the island of Ireland.  Since most DUP supporters are in the north and east of Northern Ireland and rarely cross the border, the DUP is probably a bit less concerned about the possibility of a hard border than might be expected.  Nevertheless, they will need not to be seen to be enabling one, so the Government will need to be able to present something that the DUP can present as a success for Northern Ireland if it needs to secure their votes.

Those with other priorities

Not everyone is all that bothered about Brexit.  Some parties, notably the SNP, see it as just another tool for pursuing an entirely different agenda.  Their votes will be cast accordingly.  Usually that will be against the government, to cause maximum disruption.

All of which implies that the Government is going to struggle seriously to get Brexit through in the way that it wants.  It’s much easier to corral votes negatively than for a positive proposition, so in a hung Parliament, Governments always struggle with controversial initiatives.  They don’t come much more controversial than Brexit.  Meanwhile, as Mike Smithson noted earlier in the week, the House of Lords probably won’t feel constrained by the Salisbury Convention so the House of Commons may get multiple bites at multiple cherries.  We’re in for a wild ride.

Alastair Meeks


Don’t EU want me?

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

YouGov have released some pan-European polling when it comes to how some of our EU allies would view us remaining in the EU.

YouGov note

New YouGov Eurotrack data reveals that it is not just the British public that want the UK to leave the European Union; French people want Brexit, too.

A  plurality of people in France say they would rather that Britain left the EU than stayed in it (38% to 32%). Of the six EU nations surveyed, only in France and Britain did more people say they wanted Britain to leave than stay (in Britain those figures were 47% and 43% respectively).

By contrast, over six in ten (62%) Danes want Britain to stay in the EU, as do a majority of Swedes (56%) and Finns (51%), and approaching half (49%) of Germans. Support for Britain leaving rested at just 18-25% in these countries.

The Duke of Wellington observed ‘We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France’ so he would have been delighted with such polling, but one of the aspects of Brexit that is seldom discussed is would the EU want us to Remain (or Rejoin in the future.)

YouGov also what the reaction would be if the UK decided to the stay in the EU, apart from Gallic indifference, the countries polled would be mostly positive.

The UK is leaving the EU however this YouGov poll does indicate there might be support across the wider EU, and especially in Germany, to make the UK a final offer to Remain, which might change the situation in the UK, the Government and the wider Leave and Remain movements should be prepared for such a outcome. To quote The Human League, I think it’s much too late to find, you think you’ve changed your mind, you’d better change it back or we will both be sorry



If May cannot deliver a Brexit deal then Labour should call a vote of no confidence in her government

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Some Tories are floating the idea that Britain might leave Brexit talks with no deal in the end. That’s not good enough says Keiran Pedley. Labour must make clear that if it looks like the government cannot deliver a Brexit deal, then they will call a vote of no confidence.

As Westminster goes ‘back to school’ it is safe to say that Brexit talks are not going particularly well. A war of words has broken out between chief Brexit negotiator David Davis and his Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier. Barnier has claimed that ‘no decisive progress’ has been made in talks whilst team Davis has expressed exasperation at the apparent inflexibility of the EU. The sticking points appear to be the size of the Brexit divorce bill and at what point negotiations will start over a future trading relationship between the two sides. Such rhetoric may well be the ‘tit for tat’ that you would expect from these talks but the clock, as they say, is ticking.

Walking away?

Of most concern are the growing noises coming from the government and leading Brexit commentators that we might end up with no deal at all. At this stage, it is hard to say whether or not such noises are just bluster. If not, then these are worrying developments. It is quite the departure from the Brexit we were promised if a ‘great deal that is in Europe’s interests too’ gives way to no deal at all and the resulting negative consequences for Northern Ireland and the British economy. What ‘no deal’ would mean for Northern Ireland is anybody’s guess and the business community has been quite vocal about the economic shock that awaits if Britain faces a disorderly Brexit.

If Britain does walk away with no deal I expect voters to punish those in charge. It is often assumed that Theresa May would carry the court of public opinion should Brexit talks produce no deal. The idea being that the British public would side with their government versus the stubborn and unreasonable Europeans. Whilst I have no doubt that this would be true for some, I wouldn’t bet on it for the majority. Not anymore. Even if we assume that talk of economic shock is exaggerated, which I think is dubious, we should remember that Theresa May’s reputation has taken a battering since June. Policy is often seen through the prism of those enacting it and I suspect that whereas walking away would have been seen as a sign of strength 6 months ago, it would now be seen as the dictionary definition of incompetence – Black Wednesday on steroids.

Labour’s opportunity

The other major problem that the government faces now is that it is no longer the only show in town. Following the General Election in June, the government is extremely weak and the prospect of a Labour government extremely real. Labour has recently set out its own position on Britain’s membership of the single market during an extended transition period. Whilst this position may only be a slightly more deliverable version of the government’s for now, as Jonathon Portes points out on this week’s Polling Matters podcast, it could easily evolve further still. Regardless, Labour now occupies a new political reality where it can exert pressure on the government’s Brexit policy in a way that it could not before. Times have changed.

This new political reality presents Labour with a golden opportunity that it dare not squander. Labour should be saying loud and clear that a good deal is possible – indeed it was promised by the Leave campaign – and if no deal is delivered then that would represent a profound failure in political leadership on the part of Theresa May and her government. A failure so deep and damaging to the country that it would warrant a vote of no confidence in the government. Put another way, if the Tories cannot do a deal with Europe, then Labour should be given the chance to do so.

Of course, some will argue ‘Why shouldn’t we walk away? Why should we just take any deal that is offered?’ I’m afraid this misses the point. A good deal with the E.U. should be deliverable and it was promised. In fact, you could argue that if it isn’t possible, if we are seriously suggesting that the only way Britain can leave the EU is to do so without a deal, then it would be justifiable to revisit the whole issue of leaving at all. Would the public, for example, have voted to leave if they had known it would mean the hardest of Brexits and all the economic and political damage that would cause the country?

No deal? No confidence

I wouldn’t go this far personally as I think we all know that a deal is there to be done. From my perspective, such a deal might involve a longer transition period than currently anticipated and membership of the EEA (similar to what Stephen Kinnock outlines here). Others will disagree. However, my point today is not what the deal should be but to make clear that a deal is possible. Therefore, if no deal is achieved then this will be a serious failure on the part of the government. Likely driven more by Tory division and a weak Prime Minister unable to face down her own party when compromise with Europe is needed than anything else. Labour should be saying this loud and clear.

Of course, we still have a long way to go in Brexit talks. It is entirely possible that the government delivers a great deal for Britain in the end. I hope that they do. We are all counting on them. However, for now, I think that Labour should make clear that ‘no deal’ is unacceptable and nip this idea in the bud that it is a viable option. Making this a confidence issue would be a good way for Labour to exert its new found influence. They could even set a time limit for acceptable progress on talks so as not to act too late. After all, if crashing out of the E.U. with no alternative arrangement in place, having told us it would be easy, does not warrant a vote of no-confidence in the government then I don’t know what does.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is the presenter of the PB / Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley. Listen to the latest Polling Matters podcast with Jonathan Portes below.


May’s comments on retirement are more about 2019 than 2022

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Her party will give her Brexit but not another election

Theresa May might be on the other side of the world but she can no doubt still hear the cacophony of silence from her cabinet colleagues in support of her comment stating her desire to lead the Conservatives into the next election. As so often, what is not said is more revealing than what is.

To be fair, the question of whether a leader intends to stand down within a specified timeframe is always a difficult one. Say yes and you make yourself a lame duck; say no and it not only looks like hubris and entitlement but can also focus opposition as MPs see both their personal and their party’s futures being damaged; dodge the question and you risk the worst of both worlds.

In this case, however, there was an additional factor in play: the speculation that she would stand down in 2019. That was something that she clearly, and rightly, wanted to squash. Not only would such an expectation undermine her own position in her party but it’d undermine her position in the EU negotiations, which must ultimately come to European Council level.

And Europe, as so often, holds the key to the party’s immediate future. Later this month, we will be one-quarter of the way through the Article 50 period. Talks are, unsurprisingly, making little progress with both sides struggling to understand the language the other is speaking (and often, not really trying). The clock is indeed ticking and a timescale already tight may now already be unachievable.

This kicks off two games, in addition to the one already underway in the talks. The first is about a deferral of Brexit Day. This is a touchy subject because the one really clear way to actually prevent Brexit at all is an indefinite deferral of the Day (or, at least, a deferral to such a distant point that it allows a treaty revision to permit the UK to stay in). Tories and the DUP will also be well aware that the longer a deferral, the closer the negotiations run to the next election and the greater the risk of Labour taking over and completing them. The EU will also be aware of this. Consequently, while the government might agree to a short extension of 12-18 months, it’s unlikely to request or accept anything longer.

The second, related game is about blame. Who gets it if talks should break down or run out of time. On that score, British media, politicians and public will inevitably revert to their default prejudices unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary. In essence, the default majority position will be that it’s unreasonable foreigner to blame unless the government has clearly screwed it up (there will of course be a sizable and no doubt vocal minority for whom a Tory government could do no right but this isn’t about them; it’s about those whose votes are up for grabs).

The one thing that could demonstrate to the public more than anything that a breakdown or a bad deal was the government’s fault would be infighting either within the cabinet or within the wider parliamentary Conservative Party. It is perhaps in the awareness of this that despite indifferent polling and slow going in Brussels, there’s been a marked lack of sounding off, either from disgruntled backbenchers or from ‘friends’ of ministers. That’s not to say there hasn’t been anything of the sort but the level’s been far lower than might have been expected. After all, this is a story the media knows well, and knows who to go to for a juicy quote.

Can that discipline hold as negotiations get more intense? Can it stick to its red lines and compromise enough elsewhere to deliver a deal? That remains to be seen, though it’s extremely likely that there won’t be any big bust-up at this year’s Tory conference and quite possibly not next year’s either. Crunch time will come between October 2018 and March 2019 – which is why it was so essential for May to retain such authority as she has.

    That authority though was deeply damaged by the election and although she’s recovered somewhat since – not least because although she’s a rotten election campaigner, she’s a capable prime minister – she remains damaged goods.

Events may yet turn something up to give her a genuine second chance but as things stand, once the hard work of Brexit is done (and when it is done, it will be at best a tolerable deal, at worst an intolerable one and just possibly, no deal at all; what it won’t be is a triumph), she’ll have served her purpose.

The Tory Party is sentimental but what it doesn’t do (or only rarely, when its judgement is off), is allow sentiment to get in the way of winning. By 2020 or 2021 (depending on Brexit extensions), minds will be turning to the next election and to the next chapter for the UK. There may well be a Brexit-related economic downturn to navigate. That will be the time to hand over the reins, either voluntarily or in a forced election. Events could easily throw that expectation off course but for now, it should be our default assumption.

David Herdson


Aside from the EU how REMAIN and LEAVE voters differ on other issues

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Some newly released YouGov polling

Was Russia involved in last years US election?

Was Princess Diana ‘s death murder?

The child vaccine debate on whether it causes autism

The full list from YouGov Joe Twyman can be found here.

Mike Smithson


Towards a rational immigration policy

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Turkey has mandatory conscription for men between 20 and 41.  Gay men, however, are exempt.  According to the official commentary to the army’s health regulation, to be exempted from service, “documentary evidence must prove that the defects in sexual behaviour are obvious and would create problems when revealed in a military context.”  Many gay men have to endure pseudo-scientific tests designed to appraise both their homosexuality and the extent to which it might render them “unfit” for service.

Some are asked to produce photographs showing them as participants in anal intercourse. According to the military, and Turkish society at large, penetrating another man does not necessarily qualify as a homosexual act; only being penetrated is undisputedly homosexual. Hence the unwritten rule when it comes to such photos: “The man should be in the passive position, receiving from behind,” a psychiatrist explains, “and looking at the camera. Preferably while smiling…”

Britain is equally buggered when it comes to setting a sensible migration policy.  Like the Turkish military, it is trapped between two conflicting ambitions to be prescriptive (in Britain’s case, to reject the immigrants it doesn’t want and to secure the immigrants it does want).  The immigration debate in Britain suffers from a hopeless confusion of these two aims and a lack of understanding that the world has moved on in the last few years.

Here are just some of the points that routinely get missed.

Migrants are a ring species

International executive jobseekers don’t have much in common with the type of asylum seeker who has fled his homeland for fear of having his fingernails extracted by the secret police, but in between there are many shades of nuance, the one blending into the next.  The young gay man who wants to live and work in a country without police harassment isn’t exactly a refugee but he isn’t just an economic migrant either.

Migrants of all types have more agency than ever before

Migrants of all types are richer than before, so they will try to select a destination rather than just flop in the nearest place available.  Every country would like to be able to choose the profile of the immigrants that it accepts. Popular destinations, including Britain, risk finding that their immigrant profile is defined more by the migrants themselves.

There is no easy answer to this question.  Migrants are not going to stop wanting to come to popular rich countries, or trying.

We won’t be going back to 1972 border controls after leaving the EU

Migration patterns have changed out of all recognition since Britain joined the EEC.  The fond memories that some Leavers have of dancing across the continent with flowers in their hair unhindered by flinty border police will not be repeated, any more than their flower-decked hair will grow back.  In a world of mass migration, border controls for those outside the circle of trust are going to be steelier.

Industry needs immigrants

To read the tabloids, you would think that the stout men and women of Britain were being ousted from jobs by nefarious foreigners.  Yet employment is at an all time high, unemployment is at a 40 year low and job vacancies are at an all time high.  Even if you believe that some of these jobs can and should be automated (disclosure: I do), immediately removing migrants would be highly disruptive.  Fruit needs picking.  Tables need waiting.  Robbie the Robot isn’t going to come to our rescue tomorrow.  Since there just aren’t the British workers available to do the work in the meantime, Robbie the Romanian will have to do for a while.

Like it or not, Britain is likely to need large numbers of immigrants for the next few years.  If it doesn’t, that means that Britain will have suffered a crash.  So even the most unwelcoming of Leavers should be prepared to see immigrants for many years to come.

Some consequential problems of immigration can be dealt with differently (eg by putting more money into necessary infrastructure)

There are frequent complaints that migrants put strains on local infrastructure, whether the NHS or education system or housing.  Nigel Farage blamed his late arrival at a UKIP conference on an immigrant-fuelled traffic jam.  Some of these complaints are clearly overstated: most of the costs of the NHS are expended on the elderly who are disproportionately unlikely to be migrants.  Others clearly have some validity.  If large numbers of migrants move into an area, housing is likely to become scarcer.

This can be tackled by reducing the number of migrants.  Alternatively, it can be tackled by improving the infrastructure – building more homes, for example.  There are always options.

A tightly-controlled immigration policy implies very centralised economic planning

Post-Brexit Britain will have control of its immigration policy.  During the referendum campaign, Leave were touting an Australian points-style system, by which the government would set the criteria for admission.  (Since Australia has a much higher rate of immigration than Britain, this might be slightly puzzling to the naive.)  Oddly, this is advocated most strongly by free-marketeers who normally regard with scorn the idea that the government is best placed to judge industry’s needs.

Yet the logical consequence of following such an approach is to let the government decide how many workers in each industry are needed.  In some online industries, the industry is barely defined and the fluidity of categories is a feature not a bug.  I guess that means that Britain is opting out of such sectors from now on.

The official statistics are pretty rubbish

We found out this last week that previous estimates of overstaying students were wrong, with the updated number just 4% of the previous estimate.  The ONS is very defensive of its numbers.  As with other nets of two very large numbers, the immigration statistics are likely to be out by quite some way.  We don’t really know which way though.  That doesn’t help us in drawing up sensible policies.

Leaving the EU will not really make solving these problems any easier

Many migrants to Britain come from the EU.  Many come from outside the EU.  Britain has already got more or less full control over migration from outside the EU.  It doesn’t seem to be able to use it.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that migration policy is going to be just as messy and controversial after Britain leaves the EU as before.

Alastair Meeks


Once again Britain is split down the middle on Brexit while YouGov has the Tories within one point

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

The last YouGov voting intention poll a month ago had with CON 3% behind so changes all within the margin of error.

The regular Brexit tracker from the firm sees those saying it was wrong with a 2% lead. Last month those saying it was right were 2% ahead. Again this is all margin of error stuff and there is no indication of any BrexRegrets.

UPDATE ICM also sees narrowing of gap

Mike Smithson


It is a mistake to assume that LAB leave voters feel as strongly about Brexit as CON ones

Monday, August 28th, 2017

If it comes to the crunch LAB leavers see jobs as more important

With Labour apparently shifting its position on Brexit a notch or two there’s been a lot of interest about what Labour voters think particularly those who supported Leave at the referendum.

There is not that much polling about where we can see specifically how LAB Leavers view an issue compared with CON ones and those of other parties. One of surveys that had this split and is publicly available is from YouGov last month and is featured in the chart. Those who had voted for Leave were asked if they or one of their family losing their was a price worth paying for leaving the EU.

As can be seen by 47% to 31% CON leave voters told the pollster that this was a price worth paying. LAB voters, meanwhile, split 52% to 23% that it was not a price worth paying. This was the precise question wording:-

“Regardless of whether you think such an occurrence is likely, would you consider Brexit causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of the European Union?”

The CON voter figure is quite striking. That getting on for half feel so strongly about leaving the EU that they are prepared to countenance they or members of their family losing their jobs says a lot about their strength of feeling.

All this is important because in the weeks ahead TMay’s government is going to face the huge challenge of getting the “Great” Repeal Act through the Commons and the Lords and will require very skilled party management. Labour appears to be preparing the ground for a tough parliamentary battle.

Mike Smithson