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March 05, 2019

The most promising Brexit strategy we have heard yet

We noted Theresa May promising the UK parliament a say in the future relationship, but she did not give any specifics. Since the EU was always open to tweaking the political declaration on it, this could offer a way out of the impasse. The Guardian reports this morning that May is now indeed considering a separate vote on the future relationship - after the ratification of the withdrawal agreement. She hopes that this could persuade a sufficient number of Labour MPs to back the deal. 

As we wrote yesterday, the numbers for a Tory-only ratification are simply not there as more and more hardline Brexiters are saying they will vote against May's deal. She will probably be able to contain the rebellion, but not eliminate it altogether. She will need to pick up Labour MPs, and she will need to do more than just promise more spending on deprived regions.

The Guardian did the math as it stands today: May needs an additional 110 votes to get the deal through - from a pool of 115 Tory MPs and 40 Labour MPs in leave-voting seats. There are 7 pro-Remain Tory MPs who said they will vote against the deal without a referendum. This leaves a total of 148 MPs. If 10-20 Tory Brexiteers reject the deal, she will need to pick up some 20-30 or so Labour MPs to get it through. And it seems that the best way to get those Labour MPs lined up would be an open vote on the future relationship, including the option a customs union. There is no chance of the UK parliament aligning behind any option for so long as Brexit itself has not happened. But, once it has, the probability of agreement is large simply because the more extreme Brexit options - leave without a deal or re-run the referendum - will have been eliminated. This is why a two-stage ratification is much more likely to succeed than a once-and-for-all vote.

One of the reasons the hardline eurosceptics are becoming more confident once again is the sighting of yet another unicorn. This latest version came in the form of an article by the Brexit-supporting lawyer Martin Howe, who had the idea - too clever by half - of extending Art. 50 for 21 months. In other words, he wants to use an Art. 50 extension as a replacement for the deal's transition period. As a full member of the EU the UK's position is stronger, he argues, and the UK could then simply leave at the end of 2020 with no backstop.

There is much wrong with this argument, but it is sufficient to note that the EU won't let that happen. It is interesting that both the hard Remainers and the hard Brexiteers have in common that they consistently misread the EU's position.

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