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.
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
• 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.
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 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 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→
Last week saw two potentially important developments in the continuing campaign against Brexit. There was a significant defeat for the government in the House of Lords on the subject of the Customs Union (CU); and a coalition of pro-European groups launched a campaign to bring about a “People’s Vote” on the terms of the EU withdrawal agreement negotiated by Mrs. May and her ministers. These can only be initial steps in a process over the coming six months whose outcome is unpredictable. The former trade minister, Lord Digby Jones, was sufficiently concerned to warn that “they will DESTROY Brexit” while anti-Brexit campaigners will certainly hope that this is one European issue on which he will turn out to be correct. Continue reading Brexit: Anything could happen in the next half year→
Last week was a difficult period for those inclined to argue that the Labour Party is or may become an effective political vehicle for opposition to Brexit. To the applause of John Redwood, Jeremy Corbyn dismissed Owen Smith from the Shadow Cabinet for suggesting that the Brexit terms negotiated by Mrs May might need to be submitted to a referendum; the Party’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer told the Guardian that he saw no realistic prospect of preventing Brexit from taking place in 2019; and the same Sir Keir truckled to the most vulgar forms of Eurosceptic nativism by urging that future British passports should be made by British producers, whatever the economic cost. The Labour Party seemed finally to be resolving its studied ambiguity in European policy by a more or less grudging acceptance of Brexit, with occasional attempts to outbid the Conservative government on its nationalist flank. Continue reading Labour’s Brexit Options: Starmer’s Step in the Right Direction→