May’s deal was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of the Deal’s burial was signed by the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, by France, Sweden, Spain and Belgium, by the Chairman of the European Research Group, and the chief mourner. Leo Varadkar signed it: and Leo Varadkar’s name was good upon Fine Gael, for anything he chose to put his hand to. May’s deal was as dead as a door-nail.
Theresa May’s deal is the EU’s deal.
Our three choices before 29th March 2019 are
- May’s deal, which is bad
- No-deal Brexit, which is catastrophic
- or Remain in the EU
Theresa May cancelled the Brexit vote in the Commons on Tuesday 11th December, ostensibly so that she could reach out to leaders in the EU and negotiate some changes to the deal to help it pass Parliament. Predictably, and very publicly, she failed. EU-27 is not going to offer Theresa May any changes on this withdrawal agreement, and especially not on the backstop. Juncker called the UK’s position “nebulous”: with just over three months to go til Brexit Day, the UK’s government and Parliament are still fighting over what the UK’s post-Brexit Day relationship with the EU ought to be.
As Hugo Rifkind wisely remarked, this is what happens when a Prime Minister decides to build a submarine out of cheese because 17 and a half million people said they wanted one.
Some Tories are arguing that this submarine is not made of proper cheese, other materials have also been used in its construction and never mind those tiresome experts who said a submarine has to have some metal and glass parts or it isn’t a working submarine, what the British People voted for was a cheese submarine and the government should just deliver it!
Some Tories are arguing that this submarine is a working submarine and fulfils Theresa May’s pledge to build a submarine made of cheese and we should just accept the cheese submarine as it is and get on with it.
Labour is arguing that it could have built a better cheese submarine.
When Caroline Lucas says that perhaps we should take this back to the people and find out if they really do want a cheese submarine now they can see how expensive and useless it is, she is accused of attacking democracy, because that vote on 23rd June 2016 has become the only democratic vote that really matters and the cheese submarine must be delivered or democracy will die.
The DUP want a better cheese submarine. One that simultaneously keeps the Good Friday Agreement intact, and doesn’t introduce any kind of customs barrier between Northern Ireland and the UK. Also, no infrastructure at the Northern Ireland / Republic of Ireland border. But they still want the cheese submarine. I’m sorry, I’m running out of amusing analogies.
Submariners are staring at the cheese submarine plans in vocal horror and threatening to quit the Royal Navy forever if anyone makes them serve aboard the submarine made of cheese.
There are many things we don’t know about what will happen between now and 29th March 2019.
But here are some of the things that are probably true.
The House of Commons agenda has been announced for this coming week and doesn’t include a Brexit debate: Parliament goes into recess on Thursday and doesn’t sit again til Monday 7th January. The government could of course declare an emergency and change these dates, but May is much more likely to spend the weeks trying to beg or buy or borrow enough votes to have her deal pass Parliament.
Theresa May’s said she’ll hold the last day of the debate and meaningful vote on Brexit on Monday 14th January. But, of course, she could just change her mind. The longer she puts off her deal’s inevitable defeat, the less choice the House of Commons has about what to do next.
Labour will continue to push for a General Election and the chance to negotiate a better deal. (The deadline by which the House of Commons could trigger a General Election and have the new Parliament sit before 29th March, is 30th January.)
The SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party, are all tolerably committed to rejecting May’s deal and the UK remaining in the EU, but don’t have the votes by themselves to succeed.
You can contact your MP and tell them you want to exit from Brexit.
The EU won’t amend or modify the deal, especially not the backstop, which is crucial to preserving the Good Friday Agreement.
Theresa May doesn’t have the votes to get this deal past the combined opposition of her own hard-Brexiter MPs and the DUP, Labour, and the rainbow of Remainers: SNP / LibDem / Plaid Cymru / Green.
Labour doesn’t have the votes to trigger a General Election, not so long as the Tories and DUP are united in preventing that at least.
The rainbow of Remainers don’t have the votes to revoke Article 50 and the UK remains in the EU.
While Theresa May has teased her own hard Brexiters with the idea that they must accept her deal or there will be no Brexit, there is no indication in the real world that she would willingly swallow down the last dregs of humiliation and admit that the defining event of her career as Prime Minister just isn’t going to happen after all and someone please offer her a peerage, thanks.
Nobody has the votes to force no-deal Brexit, but they don’t need to, because the UK crashes out of the EU in no deal Brexit (and catastrophe ensues) if no deal has been agreed to and Article 50 has not been revoked, by 11pm 29th March 2019.
While a second EU referendum is on the face of it the only way out of this gridlock that benefits only no-deal Brexiters, the minimum timeline for a referendum is about five months, which means that if May decides that she’s going to have a referendum after her deal is defeated on 14th January 2019, we might have the second referendum on Thursday 13th June 2019.
This is only possible if either the EU allows the UK an extension on Brexit Day til June – and therefore to elect MEPs to the EU Parliament on 23rd May – or else May musters the votes to revoke Article 50.
But if May revokes Article 50, the UK is a full member of the EU until or if Article 50 is invoked again – creating, in principle at least, another two year window before another Brexit Day. Is it possible for the UK to make itself look more stupid in its pursuit of the cheese submarine?
Because no matter how well a politician talks it up, nobody can build a submarine out of cheese.