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.
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→
In recent weeks, there has been widespread discussion of the possibility of a new referendum later in the year to endorse or reject the terms negotiated by Mrs May and her government for British withdrawal from the European Union. A surprising potential supporter of a new referendum has been Nigel Farage. His intervention in the debate, together with the earnest assurances of the Prime Minister that no further European consultation will take place, have convinced many observers of the likelihood, perhaps even inevitability, of a further referendum in the autumn of this year. The case for such a referendum will be strong if Mrs May succeeds in reaching an accord with her EU partners on Brexit. It will be even stronger if she fails to reach any agreement at all. Continue reading The case for a new British referendum on the EU is becoming unstoppable→
Even during the European referendum last year it was clear that those who wished the UK to leave the European Union fell into two quite different camps, those who wanted Brexit to mark a decisive break in the economic and social life of the United Kingdom; and those who wanted Brexit to take place with minimal social and economic disruption. This division has become more pronounced in the months since the referendum and is at the heart of the current controversy over the Irish border. This particular controversy may be resolved in such a way as to permit movement towards the second phase of Brexit talks at the European Council on 14th December. The fundamental divisions within the pro-Brexit camp can however only become more obvious and more acute in this second phase of negotiations. The debate over the Irish border may well come to be seen in retrospect as simply a precursor of other even more intractable dilemmas thrown up by the self-contradictions of the whole Brexit project. Continue reading Ulster and Brexit: The shape of things to come→
David Davis has been criticized in some quarters for spending only two hours in Brussels this week negotiating with Michel Barnier before returning hurriedly to London. This criticism is misplaced. As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. Davis needs to exercise the closest possible control on all the negotiations relating to Brexit. Most of these negotiations are currently taking place in London, within the government of which Mr. Davis is a member. The EU’s negotiators have, as is well known, been able to impose on the negotiations in Brussels a “sequencing” of topics to be discussed. Similar “sequencing” applies to the London end of the negotiations. Mr. Davis needs to conclude his Brexit negotiations with his colleagues in London before he can rationally engage in Brexit negotiations with Mr. Barnier. These negotiations in London show little sign however of coming to any early conclusion. Continue reading No good choices for the British government in the Brexit negotiations→
In a controversial article last week the associate editor of the Financial Times Wolfgang Muenchau asserted that after the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty it was now inevitable that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. Those who had voted “remain” in last year’s referendum should renounce their anger at and resentment of the present government’s negotiating tactics. They could more usefully devote their energies to reappraising the unsuccessful arguments they had put forward in last year’s referendum. They could thus prepare themselves better for future debate about eventual British re-entry into the European Union. Wolfgang Muenchau is a respected and influential commentator, but on this occasion his arguments are unpersuasive. The fortnight since the triggering of Article 50 has shown with embarrassing clarity the frivolous and incoherent nature of the whole Brexit project. It is a strange conclusion to draw from these developments that the United Kingdom cannot in any circumstances abandon the self-damaging path on which the Conservative government, or more precisely a segment of this government’s supporters, have set themselves. Continue reading Pointless soft Brexit, suicidal hard Brexit→
Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority
By Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust
During the EU referendum of last year, there was much talk of the supposed estrangement between British voters and their political representatives. The narrow victory of the Brexit camp has since often been cited as proof of this estrangement, given that the overwhelming majority of Parliamentarians favoured remaining in the European Union. If there was indeed some gap of political preferences on the European issue between Parliamentarians and voters last year, this gap has now been replaced by another, more flagrant asymmetry. Voters wishing to leave the European Union may have been statistically underrepresented in Parliament in 2016, but those wishing to remain in the Union or to leave only on consensual terms are in 2017 deprived of any effective Parliamentary representation whatsoever. The Conservative government has met disturbingly little Parliamentary opposition in its chaotic course towards the most disruptive of Brexits. Almost without exception, Parliamentarians have allowed themselves to be cowed into submission by the novel and dangerous concept of the “popular will” supposedly manifested in the advisory referendum of 23rd June 2016. Continue reading Article 50 and the dictatorship of the “democratic” majority→
David Jones, the Minister for Brexit, assured the House of Commons this week that it would have the opportunity to vote on the treaty negotiated by Mrs. May’s government to bring about British withdrawal from the European Union. This assurance provoked mixed reactions. It helped to suppress a brewing Conservative revolt, but was widely criticized on the Opposition benches as giving no meaningful choice to the House of Commons, since the Minister had made clear that Brexit would anyway proceed, irrespective of the outcome of the Parliamentary vote. Both the welcome and the criticism for Mr. Jones were equally illuminating. Neither his supporters nor his critics seemed to recall that Parliament has the right to decide for itself whether it wishes to vote on the Brexit treaty and that it is up to Parliament to decide what the consequences of any such vote might be. Parliament does not need to be dependent upon more or less tasty morsels from the governmental table furnished by Mr. Davis. The willingness of many Parliamentarians to subsist on a constitutional diet determined by the government well reflects the indecent haste with which they have rejected (at least for the short term) the chance offered it by the Supreme Court to play an autonomous role in the UK’s proposed withdrawal from the European Union. Continue reading How long will Parliament ignore the 48% ?→
IRELAND FACES HEAVY COSTS FOR BRITAIN’S BREXIT FOLLY.
By John Palmer
In the complex and sometimes arcane debate about the British government’s Brexit crusade, little attention has been paid to the consequences it will have for our neighbouring island, Ireland. In government circles there appears to date to be only limited awareness of the future implications the UK’s departure from the EU could have on future Anglo-Irish relations. Continue reading Ireland faces heavy costs for Britain’s Brexit folly→
In this article our director Brendan Donnelly argues that the triggering of Article 50 will not be the end of the Brexit story. Mrs May is likely to face over the next two years growing obstacles in her path of extricating the UK from the European Union. There is a chance that these obstacles could be so numerous and so severe as to prevent Brexit from happening altogether.