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.
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.
In the confused discussion surrounding the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration negotiated by Mrs. May with the EU 27, two particular criticisms are frequently voiced. Mrs. May, we are told on all sides, has failed to respect the result of the EU referendum of June 2016; and her failure is at least partly due to having triggered prematurely the Article 50 notification without a strategy for the negotiations. Both criticisms are unjust. The Agreement and Declaration are the logical and predictable outcome of the deluded vote for Brexit cast by 37% of the electorate in 2016; and there was no better plan available to her in 2017 or later for implementing Brexit than the path she chose. Continue reading Blame Brexit, not Theresa May→
In the documents released this week by the British government and the EU there is a striking contrast between the detailed and specific nature of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the cursory, imprecise nature of the accompanying Political Declaration (PD.) The WA is a binding legal document, creating bankable rights and obligations. The Political Declaration is a purely aspirational text, pointing towards a range of long-term outcomes for the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, and expressing the pious hope that these outcomes will be as benevolent as possible for all concerned.
BREXIT: THE POLITICAL DECLARATION MUST BE VAGUE AND PRECISE AT THE SAME TIME
by Brendan Donnelly, Director, The Federal Trust
11th October 2018
The issues relating to the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit, and in particular the Irish “backstop,” have not yet been resolved. The major political and administrative challenges confronting the Brexit negotiators in this area are however relatively clear. Assuming that the major economic changes ushered in by Brexit do not take effect until 2021, how can it be ensured that these changes do not create after that date the need for a “hard border” on the island of Ireland that would jeopardise the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement? At the time of writing no answer has been found to this question that will satisfy the British government, the European Union and the Democratic Unionist Party. The terms of the problem needing solution are nevertheless well-established and elements of a possible compromise become daily more sharply defined. Continue reading BREXIT: The Political Declaration→
Over the past two years, the Conservative Party has been riven by the conflict between those who wanted the United Kingdom after Brexit to remain closely aligned with the European Union as a trading partner; and those who did not, or at least attached little or no importance to doing so. The Prime Minister’s desire to find a negotiating strategy reconciling these two widely different approaches led to the enduring stalemate and incoherence which the “Chequers” plan was designed to overcome. Unsurprisingly, this plan pleased neither side of the Conservative debate and attracted a final, unexpectedly categorical rejection from the EU at the Salzburg summit.Continue reading Brexit: Salzburg makes a People’s Vote more likely→
The Minister for Exiting the European Union, Dominic Raab, last week published a number of “notifications” on the possibility of the UK’s leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement (“no deal Brexit”). On the same day, wide publicity was given to a letter from Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), in which he criticised the Prime Minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations. Aspects of both episodes vividly illustrate the dysfunctionality of today’s Conservative Party. Taken together, they throw considerable doubt upon the capacity of the present Conservative government to conclude any Withdrawal Agreement with the EU before March 2019. Continue reading BREXIT:THE CONSERVATIVE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD→
The Conservative MP, Anna Soubry, stunned the Commons and the media earlier this week by asking rhetorically whether it is the Prime Minister or her fellow backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg who “runs the country” when it comes to Brexit. The events of the past ten days, and particularly the Prime Minister’s acceptance of four wrecking amendments to the Brexit Customs Bill on Monday, give a clear answer to Anna Soubry’s question. Mrs May does not and cannot set her own course in the Brexit negotiations. Jacob Rees-Mogg and those who think like him have a veto on all her European policies, a veto they are now every day more confident and determined in applying. This veto is guaranteed by the dominance of radical Euroscepticism within Mrs May’s Conservative Party, a dominance that Westminster-based commentators often overlook. Continue reading Mrs May has no choice but to obey Jacob Rees-Mogg→
The Irish strand of the current negotiations between the UK and the EU presents a rich case study in the delusions and dilemmas of Brexit. It is difficult to think of any other area of the negotiations which more neatly encapsulates the failure of the Brexit reality to correspond with the predictions and assumptions of the “leave” camp in 2016. Continue reading Brexit: Irish realism meets British wishful thinking→
The Conservative Cabinet has spent the past month in public controversy about the customs regime to be applied on the island of Ireland after Brexit. It is widely recognised that neither of the two favoured solutions canvassed within the Cabinet, a “customs partnership” and “maximum facilitation”, is acceptable to the European Union. Less widely understood has been the fact that this purely British debate ignores entirely the much more urgent Irish issue, namely the finding of an acceptable text for the “backstop” guarantee sought by the Irish government that intra-Irish trade (and broader social exchanges) will in all circumstances continue to flow freely after Brexit. Even full British participation in a Customs Union with the EU would not be sufficient to guarantee this freedom. The Irish government rightly points out that substantial elements of the European internal market would need to be retained in Northern Ireland as well, a reality for which the British government appears as yet wholly unprepared. Continue reading Brexit: A “meaningful” vote for MPs implies a “meaningful” vote for the people→