Joe Blackburn (@JoeBlackburn42)
Naked Politics Blogger
Despite being repeatedly told that we’d be leaving the European Union on the 29th of March, the Prime Minister had to find the political will first for an extension until the 12th of April, then a flexible extension that has so many conditions that it’s almost impossible to properly understand. However, a few things are becoming clear, and this article intends to explain the United Kingdom’s way forward as we go further into 2019.
1) May Tries to Push Her Deal Through Again
Since Theresa May in now unequivocally ruling out a “No Deal” Brexit situation, she is now attempting to find any way possible to make her Withdrawal Agreement palatable. The Prime Minister’s most recent step has been to kick off cross-party talks, to try and bring more Labour MPs into the fold with both parties potentially making compromises. If both sides were able to reach an agreeable compromise, then there would very easily be enough votes for the adjusted Withdrawal Agreement. With over 200 May loyalists likely to support it, plus the Labour Party having stayed relatively intact, any compromise that managed to please both parties has an easy majority in the Commons.
Nonetheless, finding this compromise has thus far proven to be impossible. David Liddington said that both sides had “well-known public positions”, implying that it would be nigh on impossible for either side to be flexible; whoever gives up the most ground is almost certain to be seen as betraying their parties and risks hemorrhaging parliamentary support and potentially voters. Going into local elections, this is a risk that neither side will want to take. Thanks to this, I don’t think that there is a majority for May’s deal, meaning that the process will stretch on into…
2) European Parliament Elections
Despite almost every Cabinet minister stating that the goal is to avoid European elections, the vote seems to be be more and more inevitable as time goes by. Parties are getting on an election standing, with Change UK and The Brexit Party being registered for the first election in their history and all the other established parties selecting their candidates. There is an expectation in Westminster that as much as the Cabinet doesn’t want European Elections, they are almost inevitable.
It’s completely understandable that the Conservative front bench is avoiding the vote, as they’re polling at a meagre 17% in terms of European Parliamentary elections, losing votes to both UKIP and the Brexit Party. As much as the Conservatives may not want the elections, they’re almost certain to happen if the government decides to commit to avoiding no deal, being a condition of the most recent extension. Although the vote is on track to be a humiliation for May, she has to choose between the humiliation of elections, or the embarrassment of being the PM that took the UK out of Europe without a deal.
3) A People’s Vote
Although it’s been repeatedly ruled out by the government, a second EU referendum was the most supported option in the indicative vote a couple of weeks ago. It may also be May’s only way of getting her Withdrawal Agreement through. The Labour Party have a clear policy of supporting a second referendum if all avenues fail, and although the Conservatives have repeatedly ruled out or opposed a second referendum it could be on the table.
From May’s perspective, her Withdrawal Agreement will not pass the Commons on its own. She’s tried three times, every attempt has been thoroughly defeated. To promise a Second Referendum means that it goes from impossible to plausible. The SNP, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Green Party and Plaid Cymru all support a second referendum under the right circumstances, so could vote for the Withdrawal Agreement if it was packaged with a People’s Vote. This would put May’s option on the ballot paper, and although it could risk Brexit not happening at all, it’s better than the non-existent chance of May’s Deal passing through the Commons.
4) Finally, No Deal
Ultimately, if all of these options fail, the legal default is still for the United Kingdom to leave the EU without a deal. Although this would have a huge economic impact, it would still be Britain leaving the European Union, and make at least a portion of the population happy. Although the government has tried to rule out No Deal, we have come incredibly close, and if we have no progress by the end of October, we’ll need to either fight for a further extension (which European leaders are increasingly opposing) or fall out of the EU without a deal.
Whilst I believe that the government does genuinely intend to avoid No Deal, it’s becoming increasingly likely. With the EU unwilling to further negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK is reaching a crossroads, where we must choose between leaving without a deal, or another vote on if we leave at all.