March 19, 2019
The rules of cricket - abridged
We could, of course, give you a detailed explanation of the archaic rules of the House of Commons. On second thoughts, we would probably do our readers a much greater service if we explained the rules of cricket - if only we knew them.
This leaves us with the dry observation that yesterday was an entertaining, but ultimately not important day in the Brexit process. If Theresa May manages to assemble a majority in favour of her deal, she will also have a majority to overrule Mr Speaker’s decision not to allow multiple votes on the same question. A diminished hardcore group of Tory MPs remains opposed. And the DUP is not yet on board. And, as the Times writes this morning, May can always escalate to the nuclear option of prorogation (don’t ask!).
In substance, we are today in the same place as we were yesterday. If this fails, the choices are relatively small: elections are possible, but the opinion polls are currently all over the place. Elections would be a high-risk option for the government, especially with May as leader. But they may become inevitable.
The current political dynamics does not favour a second referendum, as MPs are currently under the illusion that no-deal is off the table. Like May herself, the second referendum advocates are relying on the threat of no-deal without which there can be no majority for their preferred option. So, if there is no agreement by March 29, the most likely alternative is to open up the political declaration to include alternative Brexit outcomes like the Norway 2 option. This would not require a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. Contrary to what some people are saying, that process would not require a long extension - only a second referendum would. We believe the EU would grant a long extension if the UK agreed to a second referendum - which won’t happen by Thursday. We cannot rule out that EU leaders, or some at least, will demand a referendum in exchange for a decision to extend. But we think that a short extension - until June - is the easier option for everyone. At least it gets EU leaders beyond the European elections.
And no-deal is definitely not off the table. No-deal logically happens when the UK parliament refuses either to pass the withdrawal agreement or to revoke Brexit, and the EU refuses to extend. This will not happen on March 29. But it could happen at some later point - even after a long extension.
Most of the confusion about Brexit results from a persistent tendency to mix up outcomes - deal, no-deal Brexit, revocation - with procedures - delay, referendum, elections - as well as a failure to recognise that the decision is not only the UK’s to make.
We end with a correction: in yesterday’s edition we mistakenly referred to Lord Trimble as the former DUP leader. He was, of course, leader of the Ulster Unionists.