08 April 2019

By the end of the week, we could either be out of the EU with no deal – or on a slow track to reconsidering whether we really want to Brexit at all. Jill Rutter sets out what lies ahead.

Labour: deal or no deal?

No meetings are said to be in the diary, but there may be further exchanges between the Government and Labour over reaching a Brexit compromise. On substance, the two sides are close. If the Prime Minister was really telling Labour that her deal implied a permanent customs union, then she will only be finally admitting what has been clear all along. But while that final admission is toxic for many in the Conservative Party (only 36 Tory MPs voted for Ken Clarke’s amendment on a customs union last Monday), the decision on whether the deal is good enough to avoid the need for a People’s Vote/second referendum/confirmatory vote is a party splitter for Labour. It may just be easier to say that the deal is no good.

Indicative votes 3 or binding votes 1?

With Hilary Benn’s amendment on indicative votes failing on the Speaker’s casting vote, MPs are reliant on the Government to give them another go deciding the fate of Brexit –  barring the Speaker allowing MPs to find some other way of controlling the order paper. If the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn fail to agree a deal, her second option was for both sides to settle on a process and options for MPs to choose from – but with both parties agreeing to be bound by the outcome. It is possible there may be a process of elimination rounds, alternative votes or a “supplementary vote” system of the sort used to elect mayors. These could, in theory, happen as early as tomorrow.

Meaningful vote 4?

With or without Labour support, the Prime Minister may to try to get her deal over the line with another go at a meaningful vote this week. She still needs to find a way to persuade the Speaker to let her table the motion and get around his prohibition on bringing back the same deal time and again. A deal with Labour and a rapid tweak to the Political Declaration could achieve that – but that would need superfast footwork by the EU. But Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has hinted at another route – bringing forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill for second reading. The big question is whether the Prime Minister’s flirtation with Labour has frightened enough of her 34 hold outs from last time to follow the Whip – or whether more will follow Richard Drax MP and recant.

Plan or no plan?

Whatever happens, the Prime Minister has a date with destiny at 6:00pm Brussels time on Wednesday: EU leaders will gather for yet another EU Brexit summit to hear Theresa May set out her plan to resolve Brexit. The Prime Minister has already given them half a plan – to ask for the extension, to 30 June, which they explicitly rejected in March – while Yvette Cooper's bill, which is designed to force the Prime Minister to follow Parliament's request for a Brexit delay, should have passed through Parliament by tomorrow. The Prime Minister has also referred to her talks with Corbyn, but unless those have made real progress then that might not impress the EU much. However, she also appeared to accept their condition of a longer extension: UK preparation for EU elections.

Extend or not?

EU leaders have spent the last week in ferocious shuttle diplomacy with the Irish. The EU’s insistence on the backstop is designed to make sure that the UK cannot throw Ireland under a bus by leaving without guarantees on a hard border. But the insistence on the backstop means that, by Saturday, if the UK leaves without a deal, then the EU may be facing the very problem it has spent the last two years trying to avoid. The Taoiseach is the prime advocate of a long extension, while Donald Tusk has proposed a flexible extension. However, the French President is talking tougher. EU leaders might well impose their own timetable on the UK again, and Parliamentary hostility to no deal means the Prime Minister will find it very hard to resist. But it is just possible that the EU will decide that a short sharp shock is what the Brits need to come to their senses, and that the risk of a non-cooperative UK – of the sort threatened by Jacob Rees-Mogg – makes only the briefest of preparation extensions a sensible offer.

Revoke or not revoke?

If the Prime Minister fails to land any extension on Wednesday, MPs will have to confront the choice of no deal or no Brexit. If MPs still hate her deal, and still want to take no deal off the table, they need to look at the UK’s unilateral option of revoking. The ECJ was clear (though less clear on how this would be enforced) that the UK can only revoke to stay, not to regather its strength and try to leave with better terms. At the last round of indicative votes, revocation attracted 191 votes – of which only 121 were Labour votes. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (who abstained) has made it clear that Labour would do anything to avoid a no deal Brexit, but unless MPs find some way of mandating time for this then there would be no requirement on the Government to give them the option next Thursday or Friday.

Brexit or not Brexit?

The only thing it is safe to say is that things should be clearer by 11:01pm on Friday 12 April.

Comments

Always follow the very enlightening interviews, articles, papers on Brexit from IfG as they are neutral and thorough and provide the necessary minimum for Brexit understanding. Do not have time to peel the political interviews that are economical with thruth.

I was interested in your remark (above) that the WA "implied a permanent customs union then she will only be finally admitting what has been clear all along". I am not clear exactly where in the WA you might be referring to, but the clear intention, stated both in the WA and PD, is to establish a comprehensive UK FTA, based on single market and other existing EU FTA's (of which there are well over 40). I have written to the Times and my Tory MP, suggesting that once the UK's FTA is agreed, hopefully by December 2020, there will be no need for a EU style customs union - and furthermore the NI backstop problem will also be solved. Has this point been clearly made to Mrs May and Mr Corbyn? Mr Corbyn's "red line" can then be agreed forthwith - with the proviso that once the UK's FTA is completed it will supersede the EU customs union, which will not then need to be "permanent". I have also pointed out to the Times that the "4 freedoms" can easily be agreed, with certain conditions, as can any problem with the UK requiring to arrange its non-EU trade deals.

I would be grateful for your views - it seems at the moment that mountains are being made out of molehills.

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