We use cookies to help improve and maintain our site. More information.
close

December 11, 2018

The Brexit process will go down to the wire - all the way into 2019

The ultimate outcome of Brexit is uncertain, but we are now back in the scenario we had previously expected: it will go down to the wire, all the way into next year and possibly right up to the March 29 deadline.

Theresa May pulled the parliamentary vote she would have lost, and is going back to Brussels to re-negotiate, just as we predicted yesterday. The EU said immediately - and rightly - that it will not re-open the withdrawal agreement itself. When pressed on this issue, May did not comment nor say she would reopen the agreement, so we are now looking at a Council declaration to clarify the agreement's provisions. This is what the European Council did to overcome Dutch opposition to the EU-Ukraine association agreement. It drafted a separate declaration saying that this agreement was not a precursor to future membership, and that it did not entail security guarantees or lead to financial assistance. A Council declaration is binding, but it is also true that in a legal case the ECJ would give precedence to the agreement over the clarification. It is one reason why this procedure might not be enough to swing a majority of MPs behind the withdrawal agreement. And this is why we think it will go down to the wire.

The UK government is seeking a binding declaration that the backstop period cannot be permanent. This does not equate to a right by the UK to end this period unilaterally, which would constitute an abrogation of the backstop. But the language would have to include some kind of process, as well as a definition of "finite" not necessarily in terms of years but in terms of procedures. For instance, if the UK and the EU were to agree a trade agreement in 2020, but this agreement is not ratified three years later, it would be reasonable to conclude that the EU is not delivering on a trade agreement. There would have to be clarification that the UK would, under such circumstances, be able to end the backstop period. We think it is going to be hard to nail this in a document, except in very broad terms. So the issue of re-opening the withdrawal agreement will probably come up, especially if the declaration is not enough to secure a majority - which we don’t think it will be.

Another reason why we expect this process to go down to the wire is that the parliament yesterday decided that the statement given by Theresa May supersedes the requirement under the first Grieve amendment to notify parliament by January 21. The government says it wants to stick to that commitment, but this deadline is now gone. This is why we would urge readers not to rely on a superficial knowledge of parliamentary procedure, and to extrapolate future events based on possibly misleading assumptions. Another example was the frantic discussion ahead of yesterday’s official delay on whether the parliament might actually be able to stop May pulling the vote. In the end nothing happened, except for comment by the Speaker of the Commons that the decision to pull the vote was regarded as discourteous. Never underestimate the powers of the British government to control the agenda of the House.

Is it possible to make predictions? Not really, but a negotiated deal still remains the most likely Brexit outcome as the illusion of choice evaporates in the final stretch. The EU will at one point have to foreclose on the second referendum option, by refusing a Brexit extension for the purpose of holding another referendum. At the moment the pro-EU crowd is split between support for a second referendum, support for alternative Brexit deal, and support for May’s deal. Those three groups will have to unite - and the EU will have to play its part to push for this.

Wolfgang Munchau writes: I am wondering whether readers have ever noted the tendency in Brexit discussions to resort to the passive voice: a no-deal will be stopped, or variants thereof. It is worth asking: who exactly stops it? In journalism school we were taught that the passive tense either hides a lack of knowledge or signals a wilful act to hide an unpleasant truth, or both.

So now let’s try to put this statement that a no-deal Brexit will be stopped into the active voice. First there will have to be a robust parliamentary majority to stop the default option of a no-deal Brexit. Robust does not mean big, but strong enough to carry through the entire process - not just passing a parliamentary motion. Parliament can stop a no-deal Brexit through the following procedure: it passes a vote of no-confidence in the government. It could then persuade Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour Party to unite on this procedure or, alternatively, it could use the provisions of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act to install a technical cross-party administration with the sole task to conduct the referendum. This new government would ask the European Council for a delay; the European Council would have to grant the delay unanimously; the government would introduce the legislation for the referendum and the necessary legal changes to the withdrawal act and the repeal act to extend the deadline; the referendum would be held, and the result implemented. Alternatively, it is conceivable that the robust parliamentary majority would try to drive this entire process from the backbenches and force a reluctant government, maybe with the help of the supreme court, to implement the policies against its will. Such a government would resign, or try to assemble a majority for new elections. The provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would kick in. Back to the above.

And just consider the political dynamics of such a parliamentary putsch. Do we really think the ensuing referendum would be about Europe? Is this is fertile ground for those who want to make the case for Europe?

I can see why some of the ultra-Brexiters are relishing this prospect. My conclusion is that there may well be a parliamentary majority against a no-deal Brexit, but it will not be nearly robust enough to go all the way. In other words. the only thing that will stop a no-deal Brexit is a deal.

Show Comments Write a Comment

December 11, 2018

How a German transport strike drives home the consequences of under-investment

We would not normally take an interest in a rail strike. But in Germany, where one occurred happened yesterday, the impact is immediately dramatic because of years of underinvestment in infrastructure. The strike lasted for only four hours during yesterday morning’s rush hour, but produced one of the worst experiences of traffic chaos in recent memory. Commuter trains were severely delayed. National trains were cancelled. The train stations were unable to keep passengers informed. People tried to use their cars, but that resulted in the mother of all traffic jams. Its total length measured a total of 400km, unprecedented even by German standards. 

A union that represents rail workers said it was very happy about how big the impact of the strike was, considering the rather limited scale of the action. The experience might now encourage the rail operator to accept their pay demands.

FAZ notes that the strikes highlight the disastrous state of German transport infrastructure - the result of years of under-investment. All means of transport are affected by this, including airports. Another union is threatening further industrial action by air traffic controllers in the New Year. 

Show Comments Write a Comment

This is the public section of the Eurointelligence Professional Briefing, which focuses on the geopolitical aspects of our news coverage. It appears daily at 2pm CET. The full briefing, which appears at 9am CET, is only available to subscribers. Please click here for a free trial, and here for the Eurointelligence home page.

 

Recent News

  • February 28, 2017
  • Is Hamon losing the right wing of his party?
  • Something we just don’t understand
  • 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
  • May 31, 2019
  • Salvini’s frightening strength
  • The significance of Corbyn’s latest flipflop on the referendum
  • 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
  • November 09, 2017
  • From street protests to road closures
  • What Russia wants
  • January 31, 2017
  • Project fear against Italexit
  • On how not to frustrate Brexit
  • 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 07, 2019
  • Forget Tusk - the real action is elsewhere
  • On David Malpass and the Trump legacy
  • May 28, 2018
  • A no-confidence motion that could backfire
  • The political repercussions of a historic referendum in Ireland
  • Why the lack of an international role for the euro matters
  • September 15, 2017
  • Juncker dragged into the Catalan fray
  • What to say in Florence
  • How to fill the gap left by the British MEPs
  • 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
  • April 26, 2019
  • How Brexit has given rise to different perceptions of reality
  • The EP, not Madrid, will boost Spanish clout
  • How realistic is a Gaullist Europe?
  • September 17, 2018
  • About the new partnership between Russia and China
  • EU ponders Irish backstop protocol to help May
  • February 07, 2018
  • A short note on bitcoin
  • July 04, 2017
  • On the CDU’s programme
  • Macron defines his presidential style
  • Why do we criticise modern macro?
  • November 28, 2016
  • And now what Monsieur Fillion?
  • The inescapable logic of an interim agreement
  • On Germany's foreign policy post-Trump
  • How to lose against the populists
  • 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?
  • April 01, 2019
  • Meaningful IV
  • Caputová elected: a turning point for central Europe?
  • October 02, 2018
  • Whatever it takes - diesel version
  • Is Macron's European discourse too simplistic?
  • April 06, 2018
  • Schleswig Holstein collapses Spain's strategy against Catalan separatism
  • On the implausibility of conspiracy theories in the Skripal case
  • October 09, 2017
  • UK is starting to prepare for a no-deal Brexit
  • Why Germany will resist meaningful eurozone reform
  • April 12, 2017
  • Macro in a state of denial
  • Where Schulz is vulnerable
  • Schäuble’s three party tricks
  • October 17, 2016
  • Ceta is dead for now
  • L’après-Hollande, c'est Hollande
  • SPD against Russia sanctions
  • Nissan to join customs union and other fanciful tales
  • 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 17, 2019
  • A dangerous game for the EU
  • After Brexit, get ready for a German EU budget rebate
  • June 10, 2019
  • How to create Brexit facts
  • The new Alde is already in trouble
  • January 31, 2019
  • EU will play hardball until February 14, and stick to backstop beyond
  • French left and right moves ahead of EP elections
  • Tighten the belts as the economy prepares for landing
  • September 25, 2018
  • Be careful what you wish for - second referendum edition
  • May 21, 2018
  • Another snap election in the UK? Tories are preparing
  • Merkel and Putin - the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
  • January 15, 2018
  • Is the section on Europe for real?
  • Can Drahos upset Zeman?
  • September 11, 2017
  • Turkey issues travel warning for visitors to Germany
  • How nasty is the AfD?
  • May 08, 2017
  • A message of hope
  • Barnier's not so easily agreed Brexit principles
  • The rebirth of the paranoid conspiracy theory
  • 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 23, 2016
  • Sarkozy launches candidacy in a book
  • Rajoy plans to try again in October
  • Turkey recalls ambassador from Austria
  • 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 10, 2019
  • What if UK parliament rejects both elections and the second referendum?
  • Should Europeans really look forward to President Warren?
  • September 18, 2019
  • No doubt, this is a constitutional crisis
  • Macron's immigration bid
  • August 27, 2019
  • Remain’s narrowing pathway
  • Macron's diplomatic masterstroke
  • July 22, 2019
  • Will Johnson go for elections?
  • How will von der Leyen handle the east?
  • July 02, 2019
  • How not to choose
  • Why no-deal Brexit has emerged as a strong probability
  • June 13, 2019
  • On the large and rising risk of a no-deal Brexit
  • Unite and divide - Act II of Edouard Philippe
  • May 27, 2019
  • The rising chances of a no-deal Brexit
  • May 10, 2019
  • Target2 debate raises legitimate questions with unsatisfactory answers
  • No more German questions please
  • April 24, 2019
  • May's final and biggest gamble
  • Will the EP be Brexit's great parliamentary beneficiary?
  • Can Loiseau fight the far right given her past?
  • April 08, 2019
  • Welcome to the new Brexit grand coalition
  • Waiting for Macron's next move
  • March 25, 2019
  • An object lesson in realpolitik
  • On the probability of a no-deal Brexit
  • March 11, 2019
  • Ask what Europe can do for Germany - AKK's EU manifesto
  • February 25, 2019
  • Deal versus short delay
  • The astonishing weakness of Five Star
  • The real threat is from the left not the right
  • February 14, 2019
  • What will Jeremy Corbyn do?
  • Juppé, now a sage rather than Macron's man in the EP
  • February 04, 2019
  • Watch out for the resurgence in Tory unity
  • The gilets-jaunes' effect on the European elections
  • What did he possibly mean by that?
  • January 24, 2019
  • A gilets-jaunes list for the European elections?
  • Let's take "off-the-table" off the table
  • Why Italy's centrist parties gain no traction
  • January 16, 2019
  • And now think about this standoff from the perspective of the EU
  • What can the French learn from Brexit?
  • January 10, 2019
  • Another quiet day in the Commons
  • From Rome with love
  • January 04, 2019
  • Will the AfD become the Dexit party?
  • Romania's corruption problem in the spotlight of its EU presidency
  • December 21, 2018
  • Not just Brexit makes 2019 a year of EU uncertainty
  • Sentiment is fickle, especially about sentiment
  • Father Christmas - French edition
  • King suspends Michel's resignation
  • EP has objections to the withdrawal treaty
  • Let's break the law
  • December 17, 2018
  • A second referendum is no closer today than last Friday
  • Philippe expects 3.2% deficit next year
  • December 14, 2018
  • Running down the clock
  • Macron, Philippe - untouchable no more
  • EP blasts Commission over Babis
  • December 12, 2018
  • 48 letters
  • A sense of deja-vu