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April 03, 2018

Is the time for Brexit revocation running out?

Wolfgang Munchau and Timothy Garten-Ash tackled the same subject over the Easter weekend - is the time for Brexit revocation running out? Munchau argues that it is. Garten-Ash says that it might, but clings to the straw of one last strategic approach. In his FT column, Munchau cites four reasons why Brexit revocation is now very unlikely. The first is that there will be a deal by October because both sides want it. The second is that the opposition to Brexit is fragmented. The third is that the economy did not collapse. And the fourth is that the EU, too, wants to move on. Garton-Ash makes exactly the same points, and warns Remainers that the game may be over soon. Anti-Brexiters, he writes

"have 10 different plans and therefore none. If we don’t get our act together we will be defeated, amid a fog of confusion and deceit."

So what constitutes "getting the act together"? The strategy he advocates is to deal an embarrassing defeat to the government over a customs union amendment, possibly next month. This would be the amendment to the trade bill proposed by the Tory MP Anna Soubry, who is calling on the government to negotiate a customs union agreement with the EU. He says this is the only way to sow confusion and discord in the Brexiteers' camp. But then Garten-Ash goes on to defeat his own argument. He cites a discussion with a cabinet minister, off the record naturally, that even a defeat would be ok. Both Theresa May and Philip Hammond might actually prefer a customs union because it makes their lives a lot easier. We have heard the same: that the government would not resign if defeated on this amendment, but would simply plough on and include some of the customs union language in the political declaration that accompanies the withdrawal bill. The government would surely resign if the Commons were to unite and vote against the withdrawal bill itself. We think a defeat in October would also lead to new elections, but not to a second referendum. We see therefore no realistic pathway to a Brexit revocation. The strategy Garton-Ash proposes may even be counter-productive. If the Commons votes in favour of a customs union, it would make Brexit much less scary for a lot of the waverers.

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