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January 25, 2017

Good news for the British government

This was a true Solomonic ruling by the UK supreme court because it upholds an importance principle of British constitutional law while not going so far as to impede the underlying Brexit process itself. For the British government this was the second-best conceivable outcome - short of an outright victory. The ruling upholds the High Court's decision in November that the government must table Brexit legislation. But the justices have shied away from imposing three potentially serious obstacles: allowing the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, to veto Brexit would have been the most important one; they also did not impose a requirement that the UK parliament undo the 1972 European Communities Act as a prerequisite to triggering Article 50. This was proposed by Lady Hale, the court's deputy president, in a speech. And there was no reference to the European Court of Justice needing to clarify the meaning of "constitutional requirements" in Article 50, as some lawyers have argued (implausibly to us), or to clarify whether the Article 50 process is reversible once started and, if so, under what procedure. 

The ruling means that the government will now introduce legislation, which it had prepared in anticipation of it. The government will formally table it tomorrow. The Guardian quotes Brexit secretary David Davis as saying it "will be the most straight-forward bill possible", which suggests that it will be short. Government lawyers were still scrutinising the 97-page long judgement, but they are confident that they will be able to proceed without delay.

So, will it pass? Of course it will, but there will be attempts to introduce amendments, notably to stay in the single market which is not really a decision for the UK parliament to make. At most it can ask the government to adopt a negotiating stance to seek an arrangement of membership of the EEA - something the government said it would not do, and something the EU would no longer offer to the UK given the political developments since the Brexit referendum. So this is a bit of a phantom debate - not helped by the repeated idiotic demands by Jeremy Corbyn, who keeps on demanding "access to the single market" - a concept that does not exist. You are either member of it, or you are not. In the latter case, you can trade with the EU under a variety of possible arrangements.

It is important to cut through the noise - lots of "he said, she said" type of news reporting this morning - and to conclude that given the state of the Labour Party right now, there is no chance of an anti-Brexit majority in the House of Commons. The Labour Leadership has imposed a three-line whip on its MPs to vote in favour of Brexit, and only around 60 out of 229 Labour MPs said they would defy the whip. Some Labour MPs may even resign front bench positions. The Party will table some amendments, but we cannot see that these will have any chance of being adopted. If there were really a serious attempt by rebels on both sides of the House to force the government to seek EEA membership, this would risk triggering an election that could result in the decimation of the Labour party. The logic of both British politics and the Article 50 process under EU law is that parliamentary involvement is rather limited. We agree with the arguments of the three dissenting justices: under EU law, the Article 50 process is a matter of negotiation between the European Council and the UK government - this is not legislation that can be fine-tuned by any side. 

We also agree with the assessment by Peter Walker and Anushka Asthana in the Guardian that this ruling will have little effect, though they acknowledge that the end-March deadline now looks a little tight (but even a small delay of a month or two will not matter a great deal). The House of Lords may also try to influence the process but there is no way that the unelected Lords would vote no, or even hold up the process beyond what is necessary for them to do their job. They also make the point that MPs will have a final vote on the deal, but again this is not a very useful right because a rejection of the deal means Brexit without a deal, as we have also said. The possibility of Article 50 process being frustrated mid-way is a theoretical debate. Most contributions to this debate either fail to understands the intricacies of EU law, or of UK politics, or both. 

The only aspect of Brexit that is genuinely up for grabs is the length and nature of the interim agreement. We continue to argue that it will take at least three years, possibly up to five, and that the easiest option would be continued membership of the customs union, or a time-limited quick-and-dirty off-the-shelf trade deal, to be followed by a more comprehensive so-called "mixed agreement" later on. 

Among the commentary we saw yesterday there was a lot about whether the Supreme Court was right or wrong in its judgement. It is worth noting that there was anger on both sides. The reaction from Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, was one of unbridled fury. The only way to extricate Scotland from Brexit now is through outright independence, an option which Nicola Sturgeon still keeps open. She said yesterday that the ruling would make such a vote more probable.

Andrew Duff made an important point in a comment on how the EU sees the Brexit process. We agree with him that this is where we need to look, and that this is where the greatest danger lurks, not from the UK parliament. Theresa May's negotiating position may make sense from a UK position, but it is a very difficult one for the EU:

"In pitching for Britain's partial membership of the customs union, the prime minister may have been trying to simplify things for the sake of her riven government and party. But she has complicated matters enormously for the EU27. Full membership of the customs union would mean the tidy adoption of the EU's common commercial policy and external tariffs. A bespoke "completely new customs agreement", even becoming "an associate member of the Customs Union in some way", will force the 27 to open up for review their own internal pact, thereby exposing competing interests. The effect of Brexit is to throw up in the air the EU's own internal market settlement. Whereas the EU28 could act as a trading bloc when it negotiated a deal with Canada, the disintegration of the bloc and the reformation of the 27 to negotiate against the UK as a third country, formerly the EU's second largest economy, is a different matter altogether."

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  • ... and no support for France on Syria either
  • A French sermon
  • Why the euro endures
  • April 19, 2017
  • Shadows of money
  • Breppe Grillo vs Eurointelligence
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • January 29, 2019
  • What comes after plan B fails? Plan C, of course. C for cliff-edge
  • Gilets jaunes, how to structure a movement in free flow?
  • European Court of Auditors criticises Juncker’s investment fund
  • February 26, 2018
  • Angela Merkel's cabinet
  • March 27, 2017
  • Governing formation troubles - Northern Ireland edition
  • Did Trump present Merkel with a bill for Nato?
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • September 30, 2019
  • A pyrrhic victory for Kurz
  • Will there really be UK elections?
  • November 19, 2018
  • May’s pushback is kicking in
  • January 08, 2018
  • Getting real on Brexit
  • Macron in China
  • March 01, 2017
  • The threat of Frexit
  • Fear and loathing of a referendum in Spain
  • How to get around Theresa May’s little ECJ issue
  • Solve the problem
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • June 11, 2019
  • Politics and the new sense of urgency
  • Ten little monkeys jumping up and down - down mostly
  • August 28, 2018
  • Urban politics and national crisis - the Irish case
  • How anti-semitism became one of the main issues in British politics
  • November 13, 2017
  • A pro-European list: Wauquiez' nightmare
  • Catalan separatism isn't going away
  • Why oh why does Germany behave the way it does?
  • Why the four freedoms matter
  • February 02, 2017
  • Will it come to the use of force in Catalonia?
  • The day Brexit became irreversible
  • Can Trump and May succeed?
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • February 13, 2019
  • What to make of the man in the pub - and other tales
  • Macron loses more early advisers - or cuts them loose
  • June 01, 2018
  • Will France and Germany stick together in their response to US trade tariffs?
  • From a eurozone budget to a slush fund
  • September 18, 2017
  • Why Germany cannot lead Europe, let alone the free world
  • Will Macron help to build up Mélenchon?
  • Boris' Coup
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • May 09, 2019
  • The EU's impossible dilemma
  • The horsetrading starts in Sibiu
  • May to bring withdrawal bill to Commons week after next
  • September 27, 2018
  • Two ways out of the Brexit impasse
  • February 16, 2018
  • How big will the euro budget be?
  • July 10, 2017
  • EU in self-destruction mode
  • The EU's fault lines
  • Fake News and Fake views
  • November 30, 2016
  • Is Russia behind a massive cyber attack in Germany?
  • Will Fillon move to the centre?
  • The Dutch left field is getting crowded
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • October 18, 2019
  • The horrifying implications of Merkel’s 5G decision
  • April 17, 2019
  • Why it is far from clear that the grand coalition will survive the year
  • Macron's chance and challenge
  • Eurozone firms' surprising response to sagging profits
  • The result of Spain's elections, a riddle wrapped in mystery
  • The MMT debate is coming to Europe - and Germany
  • Greek parliament seeks German war reparations
  • October 15, 2018
  • Black Brexit smoke
  • Bettel can relax and stay in office
  • Solving the crime vs solving the problem
  • April 16, 2018
  • Italy's and Germany's pained response to the Syria attacks
  • On the end of the eurozone's economic honeymoon
  • Why Bulgaria should stay out of the euro
  • Where shall we meet after Brexit?
  • October 16, 2017
  • What‘s the deep meaning of the elections in Lower Saxony?
  • Can Brexit be revoked?
  • Macron's grand narrative
  • April 19, 2017
  • Shadows of money
  • Breppe Grillo vs Eurointelligence
  • October 20, 2016
  • No games please, we are Europeans
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • July 16, 2019
  • What next, after EU sanctions Turkey?
  • What to make of Johnson’s four-point Brexit plan
  • Galileo fails, and nobody notices
  • March 04, 2019
  • Macron's two-month sprint
  • May's numbers are not there yet
  • Greening QE
  • On the "hope" of a rate raise
  • October 22, 2018
  • A week of intense political tension in the UK
  • Poland's local elections reveal deeply-split country
  • June 11, 2018
  • The end of the G7 - good riddance
  • Macron needs allies for his European agenda
  • Who is going to be the next director-general of the Italian treasury?
  • January 29, 2018
  • Where is the opposition in France?
  • Scenarios and risks for Syriza over Macedonia
  • September 21, 2017
  • Time to get serious about Brexit
  • Would the FDP claim the job of finance minister?
  • The return of the ultra-right to German politics
  • May 15, 2017
  • SPD and CDU disagree on how to respond to Macron
  • Was Rajoy blackmailed?
  • The rise of the re-leavers
  • January 05, 2017
  • French Socialist primaries - old wine in new bottles
  • Le Pen's hard ecu
  • Will Tusk get a second mandate?
  • Themes of 2017
  • August 30, 2016
  • Brexit facts on the ground
  • Burkinis and Republican primaries
  • The SPD and TTIP
  • April 25, 2016
  • The death of the Grand Coalition
  • Insurrection against TTIP
  • Juppé to benefit from Macron hype
  • On optimal currency areas
  • Why the Artic region could be the next geopolitical troublespot
  • From a currency to a people
  • September 09, 2019
  • Chances of no-deal are rising and rising
  • Resist the beginnings
  • July 29, 2019
  • No-deal Brexit is no longer just a scenario
  • No German warships to the Strait of Hormuz
  • June 18, 2019
  • Retaliation threats over drilling
  • May 07, 2019
  • … while Macron’s European troubles have already begun, and might get even worse
  • Don't discount a Brexit deal
  • Is Tsipras too complacent?
  • Costa - the fiscally responsible Socialist
  • March 28, 2019
  • Fidesz exposes EPP to barrage of provocations
  • How Berlin has turned the ghost of Aachen into a poltergeist
  • February 18, 2019
  • How the splits on the left and the right will affect Brexit
  • January 10, 2019
  • Another quiet day in the Commons
  • From Rome with love
  • December 04, 2018
  • Brexit Revoked - the scenarios
  • In search for a bold response to the gilets jaunes
  • October 29, 2018
  • Why the EEA is no longer a Brexit option
  • Behold the rising superpower: post-catholic Ireland’s European miracle
  • September 25, 2018
  • Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition
  • August 20, 2018
  • ... and a subtle shift in EU policies towards both Russia and Turkey
  • Nothing to celebrate about the end of the bailout programme
  • Support for Brexit holding up
  • July 05, 2018
  • Does the German compromise work? Legally? Politically?
  • What to make of Salvini's relations with Russia?
  • June 04, 2018
  • German discourse out of control
  • Wait for European disunity on US tariffs
  • May 03, 2018
  • Finland's take on universal income
  • The lessons from Weimar
  • April 03, 2018
  • Is the time for Brexit revocation running out?
  • March 05, 2018
  • One rock, two vetos, three governments
  • Rutte weighs in
  • February 05, 2018
  • How big is Germany's external surplus, really?
  • Macron's first election test
  • Coeure's endorsement of a fiscal union
  • January 08, 2018
  • Getting real on Brexit
  • Macron in China
  • December 11, 2017
  • A new era for the French right
  • Growing scepticism of a grand coalition
  • November 17, 2017
  • Germany's climate change hypocrisy
  • Canada minus the plus
  • October 25, 2017
  • How to think about a Brexit baseline scenario
  • Like the right, the left, too, is divided over Europe
  • October 02, 2017
  • Catalonia recalls EU and eurozone instability
  • French trade unions increase pressure over labour reforms
  • Watch out for a political accident in the UK
  • Municipal elections boost Portugal's Socialists
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • August 21, 2017
  • Soft, getting softer
  • Tsipras' chances of a boost
  • On the fallacy of a middle-ground option for the eurozone
  • August 02, 2017
  • On the importance of a Brexit transition
  • To kill a referendum, starve it
  • How to spot a moron?
  • July 14, 2017
  • We are entering the technical phase of Brexit
  • Don’t be too complacent about the EU
  • June 26, 2017
  • Brexit - the central case and the tail-risk
  • The German fear of Macron
  • June 08, 2017
  • Day 0
  • Macron and his overly enthusiastic minions
  • May 23, 2017
  • When events intrude
  • On Italy's obsession with voting systems
  • May 08, 2017
  • A message of hope
  • Barnier's not so easily agreed Brexit principles
  • The rebirth of the paranoid conspiracy theory
  • April 23, 2017
  • The demise of the AfD has accelerated dramatically
  • On how France will need to confront Germany
  • April 10, 2017
  • Nein, nein, nein, und nein
  • Sounds like a bad Brexit story, but ain’t
  • On how not to exit the euro
  • March 27, 2017
  • Governing formation troubles - Northern Ireland edition
  • Did Trump present Merkel with a bill for Nato?
  • March 17, 2017
  • Le Pen fishes for Sarkozy voters
  • Catalonia is nothing like Scotland... Oh, wait!
  • Sinn’s Europe
  • March 08, 2017
  • The depressing truth behind the new multi-speed Europe
  • February 28, 2017
  • Is Hamon losing the right wing of his party?
  • Something we just don’t understand
  • Solve the problem
  • February 20, 2017
  • SPD ahead of CDU/CSU
  • Fillon bounces back
  • The Brexit timetable
  • February 13, 2017
  • What decides the French elections: cult or programme?
  • Sense and nonsense on globalisation
  • Towards the next European crisis
  • February 07, 2017
  • Insurrection in Romania
  • On how to confront Trump
  • February 03, 2017
  • The Schulz effect is getting huge
  • The post-Brexit boom goes on and on and on
  • A correction on Catalonia
  • January 30, 2017
  • On the illusion of choice
  • January 27, 2017
  • The Brexit Bill in full
  • Fillon says he would withdraw if charged
  • January 26, 2017
  • PenelopeGate
  • Hamon on course to win nomination
  • Meet the (probable) next US ambassador to the EU