January 07, 2019
What to look out for in the Brexit debates
This is going to be an obviously important month for Brexit - but so far there has been no material change from the position we were in before Christmas. Theresa May has not yet obtained the political clarification she was seeking from the EU. As of now she will lose the vote scheduled for next week, but we would not rule out another postponement - or a second vote.
In the meantime, expect to see a lot of political manoeuvres. Over the weekend, a cross-party group of 200 MPs have proposed an amendment to the finance bill, to stop the UK Treasury from making tax changes without the consent of parliament in the case of a no-deal Brexit. This amendment cannot stop a no-deal Brexit because the no-deal Brexit is legally the default position. But its purpose is to turn a three-way choice between deal, no deal and revoke (through a second referendum) into a two-way choice between deal and remain, by making no-deal Brexit politically poisonous. In that sense it is a clever political move, but the 200-or-so MPs are not a uniform group. While they oppose a no-deal Brexit, some like Yvette Cooper of the Labour Party prefer a second referendum, while others like Nicky Morgan the Conservative chairwoman of the Commons' Treasury Select Committee wants to rally Conservative support for the deal.
We noted a comment by Will Hutton who writes that the consensus in parliament was that May would go for a no-deal in case of a defeat, and that she would ask for a three-month extension to prepare for it. We noted a lot of commentators making the point that this would contravene the EU's own position, but we think that the EU itself would have an interest in preventing chaos at the border, especially at the inner Irish border. We would agree with Hutton that this is the most probable of the no-deal outcomes. Where we disagree with him is on the assertion that a change of position by Jeremy Corbyn would be decisive. Even a parliamentary majority in favour of a second referendum - which we think is possible at some point - would in itself not change the position unless it were accompanied by a change of government, or a change in the views of the current government on the issue of a second referendum. We see no majority for a successful vote of no-confidence, and we don't think that May can seriously endorse a second referendum without destroying her own party.
We were stunned to hear Labour's Barry Gardiner proclaiming that, if Labour won a snap election, they would renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and obtain a veto over EU trade deals. This is obvious nonsense, but it contains a deeper message: Labour is going to sit on the fence all the way through.