Director's Blog

European Elections in the UK: A Brexit turning-point?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

17th April 2019

It is easy to sympathise with last week’s reluctance of President Macron and other EU-27 leaders to endorse an extension of the Article 50 Brexit negotiations until the end of October 2019. There is a real chance that in six months the present bad-tempered and confused impasse in the House of Commons will still be in place. Brexit has created for the British political system a series of intractable dilemmas that will be no more attractive or easily resolved over the coming months than they are now.  The European Council of mid-October may be confronted with a very similar menu of Brexit options to those it considered last week.

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BREXIT AND PARLIAMENTARY ‘SOVEREIGNTY’

by Dr Andrew Blick

Senior Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

10th April 2019

Parliamentarians are seeking to exploit in the Brexit negotiations what they believe to be an incontrovertible, though normally only latent, power over the government. On Monday they passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill 2017-19, which received Royal Assent and became the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019. It was designed to force the government to seek an extension to Article 50, and to require parliamentary approval for the length of the delay requested by the government. The government was obliged by the Act, the day after it was passed, to table an amendable motion enabling the Commons to instruct it to seek an extension to a date of the Commons’ choosing. On Tuesday, the UK government obtained approval for its plan to seek an extension to 30 June. But is this legislation really the assertion of parliamentary authority it might seem to be? Continue reading BREXIT AND PARLIAMENTARY ‘SOVEREIGNTY’

Only a national government can prevent “no deal” Brexit

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

28th March 2019

At the time of writing it seems unlikely that the Withdrawal Agreement will be accepted by Parliament on 29th March, the day originally set for the UK to leave the EU. Parliament has decided that in these circumstances it will hold a further round of voting on 1st April, in the hope of arriving at a consensus on Brexit after the indecisive votes of 27th March. It is entirely possible that on 1st April a majority of the House of Commons will vote for permanent British membership of a Customs Union with the EU or for a further referendum. This will bring great political satisfaction to those MPs who since the beginning of the year have been arguing that Parliament should “take control” of the Brexit process.

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BREXIT: “No Deal” is still on the table

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

18th March 2019

UPDATE 25/03/19:
Last week the European Council gave the United Kingdom two further weeks to come up with a plan for avoiding a “no deal” Brexit. It is now up to Parliament to adopt such a plan and make the government adopt it too. If this government remains set on “no deal,” Parliament needs to replace it.


It is frequently claimed that the central flaw of the 2016 European referendum was its failure to clarify the nature of the Brexit for which Leave voters were voting. There is some truth in this analysis, but it does not precisely capture the inadequacy of the result as a basis for subsequent action. Many, probably most, Leave voters had a clear idea of what they thought they were voting for: maintenance of the economic benefits of EU membership, coupled with the disappearance of the legal and political obligations arising from that membership. The Leave campaign spent much time and effort presenting this seductive and dishonest prospectus to the electorate. Indeed, they would not have gained their narrow victory if they had spoken frankly of the unwelcome trade-offs that would inevitably accompany Brexit.

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Parliament: sovereign or supine?

by Dr Andrew Blick
Senior Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

8th March 2019

Parliament, it might be tempting to believe, can now seize control of the Brexit agenda. But a closer examination of the present political environment reveals a picture less flattering to the heart of representative democracy. The Commons will indeed be asked to vote on one or more propositions next week. First, does it accept whatever revamped exit deal the government may obtain from the EU? If not, second, does it want to leave without a deal? If not, then, third, does it want the government to seek an extension of Article 50? MPs may also vote on whether or not they want a second referendum.

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Parliament on the brink of Brexit: meaningful or meaningless?

by Dr Andrew Blick
Senior Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London; Senior Research Fellow at the Federal Trust

26th February 2019

It is an irony frequently remarked upon that the Brexit process, though embarked upon partly in the name of the sovereignty of Parliament, has seen this institution marginalised. Some of this exclusion from meaningful involvement in Brexit has been self-imposed. Parliament approved legislation, the European Union (Referendum) Act 2015, providing for an open-ended question to be put to the public which it subsequently accepted as producing a binding requirement, in some form, to leave the EU. It then provided the Prime Minister, through the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, with the statutory authority required to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, without attaching any conditions to the exercise of this power. Parliament has subsequently proved more effective at asserting that it should have power than actually exercising it. It has lately been willing to reject options it finds undesirable, most dramatically the deal secured by the UK government in negotiations with the EU. But even when expressing negative views, parliamentarians have voted in the same direction for different and opposing reasons. The imposition of a positive course of action – a function that is surely the essence of a ‘sovereign’ body – has not been attained.

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Parliamentary Control of Brexit is Easier Said Than Done

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

20th February 2019

A frequent criticism of the Prime Minister is that she prematurely triggered the Article 50 negotiations in March 2017 and did so without a realistic plan for their conduct. If she had waited longer and planned better, her critics contend, she could have negotiated a more acceptable Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration than the texts she is now having such difficulty steering through Parliament.  It is certainly true that Theresa May began the Brexit negotiations with no realistic plan. But no amount of delay and no amount of planning would have allowed her ever to achieve results acceptable to a majority of “Leave” voters and their Parliamentary sympathisers, let alone to the electorate or to Parliament as a whole. “No deal” was from the beginning the most likely outcome. The contradictory and unrealisable expectations reposed in “Brexit” could never lead to an outcome with which its partisans would be satisfied.

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Brexit: Will Parliament decide in February what it failed to decide in January?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

1st February 2019

Four conclusions emerge from the series of votes on Brexit in the House of Commons this week (29th January):

• First, this government is so paralysed by internal division that it is incapable of pursuing any coherent policy in the negotiations. As long as it is in office but not in power, the UK is therefore on track to leave the EU on 29th March 2019 with “no deal.”

• Second, there is a majority of MPs, probably a significant majority, who wish to avoid the UK’s leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement.

• Third, this majority is not yet willing or able to impose its will on a government that runs the risk of bringing this about.

• Fourth, tensions and divisions within the major parties will make it difficult, although far from impossible, for Parliament to impose its will on the government before the end-March deadline. The possibility of the UK’s leaving the EU in two months with “no deal” having been agreed remains as high as ever. Whether this anarchic event occurs will depend on the interaction between the above distinct and contradictory conclusions emerging from this week’s vote.

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Brexit: Can Parliament take control?

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

16th January 2019

 

A weakened Prime Minister

It is significant and appropriate that the Conservative MPs who voted on 15th January against the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union should have been drawn from opposing wings of her Party. While the majority of her internal opponents came from the European Research Group, some came from a very different part of the political spectrum, like Dominic Grieve and Justine Greening, who favour a new referendum with the option to remain in the EU. The 2016 referendum was largely a product of divisions within the Conservative Party and the conduct of the Brexit negotiations has been dominated by the internal manoeuvrings within the Party. The Prime Minister’s attempts to please everyone within her fractious Party during the Brexit negotiations have ended up pleasing very few Conservative MPs outside the ranks of her government, members of which are bound to support her in a public vote.

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Brexit: A national government or “no deal”

Brexit: A national government or “no deal”

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

18th December 2018

In a recent article for the New York Times, the distinguished historian of the Conservative Party, Professor Tim Bale, argued that the “will to power” of the Conservative Party would enable it in the long term to reconstruct its inner cohesion, currently compromised by the Brexit debate. Professor Bale’s argument is controversial but, even if accurate from a historical perspective, it is highly unlikely to be reflected in the functioning of the Party over the crucial next three months. Last Wednesday’s ballot of Conservative MPs was at best a Pyrrhic victory for the Prime Minister.  The 117 votes recorded against her probably if anything understated the degree of opposition to her proposed texts for the Withdrawal Agreement from the EU and its accompanying Political Declaration. It is clear she cannot possibly rely on her Parliamentary Party to steer these proposals through the House of Commons against the opposition of the Labour Party and others.

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