Yes, what is happening? Unbelievably, for a country that is leaving the EU in 20 days we still don’t know how we’re leaving. But next week is a critical week. I’ll give you a run-down of some certainties, of which there are very few. The thing is I haven’t been writing here as much as I could, because I cannot believe what I see and hear of our government (totally split, with no majority in the House and tethered to a near psychotic leader who come what may (ha) is telling us we’re leaving on 29th of this month) And then again nor can I comprehend the shenanigans in Parliament, which is all sound and fury, yet seems to extract nothing, nada, zilch from this incompetent government who cannot bring us to a coherent understanding of how we’re leaving.
I can see I’m going round in circles here, which just about sums up the situation. So let’s look at some dates.
Week of March 4th
Geoffrey Cox, our esteemed (but see below) attorney-general returned from Brussels after failing to get any changes whatsoever in the ‘backstop’ which is what MPs said was their sticking point. Well, that’s not a surprise as the EU has repeatedly said that it will not change the Withdrawal Agreement and especially that ‘backstop’. Pause here for a moment, as I note that the media never truly explains the word. If you remember it means that if by 2020 we have failed to invent the technology to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland the UK stays in the Customs Union, which then means we cannot make any of these amazing trade deals we were promised we could have. And it is when we can leave said Customs Union that is the truly tricky thing. So this Cox, came to Parliament, and remember he has a peculiarly odd and very deep voice, which probably works well in court, but to normal people…… And here in the Mother of Parliaments apparently he told a couple of jokes about the backstop being Cox’s codpiece.
It’s not that I think he’s a right Widow Twankey type, but Brexit, reduced to this? And, if I start saying, you couldn’t make this up, I’ll never stop, so I won’t.
And Stop Press: yesterday (8th) Barnier, in a series of tweets, suggested that the UK could go back to the original offer of Northern Ireland being solely in the Customs Union while the rest of the UK remains outside it. That means the border would be in the middle of the Irish Sea and Northern Ireland would be that much nearer to unification with Ireland. Can’t see that being accepted.
This is the meaningful vote on Mrs May’s deal. A legal obligation under the UK’s 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Act. And I hear that Labour is asking for its two backbenchers to ‘withdraw’ their amendment which aimed to pass the deal on condition that there was a second referendum, so that there is a ‘clean’ vote on the deal.
The deal is unlikely to pass. The critical thing here is by how many votes. If the deal is defeated with less than 50 votes Mrs May will try again.
This is the day when Parliament will vote on whether we leave with no-deal. And apparently there are still people out there that think this means we stay in the EU! Apart from the ERG, who want to make trade deals immediately (and there’s whole lot to say here about our vulnerability, which I won’t go into now, but note that trade deals take decades) and people who do not know any better, leaving the EU with no-deal is thought to be a very bad thing indeed.
It is likely that Parliament votes against a no-deal.
Parliament will vote on whether there is a delay to our leaving. Apparently Mrs May wants this delay to be short, no longer than June, mainly because if it is any longer we would have to participate in the elections to the EU parliament. Of course it is for the EU to decide whether we do delay, as we can unilaterally revoke Article 50 but we cannot delay without permission from the EU. The key thing here is why, and for what reason is there a delay. I would say if the delay is dictated by Mrs May then delay is meaningless as she cannot negotiate anything different to the Withdrawal Agreement. If the delay is for a second referendum or a very soft and different exit than yes, there is a reason for a delay. To continue until June on her terms would just result in another couple of months of dithering.
It is possible that Parliament votes for a delay for the simple reason there is a shed load of legislation to be passed. But equally, it may not vote for delay. Or, if they vote for delay the EU may not agree to it. There are some useful diagrams out there to look at, as the possibilities are many. Equally there are many and varied serious consequences coming from this vote. Let’s see: no to Mrs May’s deal, no to a no-deal, and then no delay? That’s a bit of a muddle. Therefore a vote for delay is probable, but not certain, and then again nothing is certain, because the EU has to agree it. As you can see I’m going round in circles – again!
The EU Summit. This is where any deal that comes out of the above will be agreed or otherwise.
If the House approves a deal to leave the government will put forward the European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill. This will/would be a hugely important and historic piece of legislation
But ratification will need to be approved by the EU parliament in a plenary vote. EU member states must also give their final approval in a ministerial meeting.
Talk about last minute
Two things: This morning on the news I watched the founder of a small business near to tears because no one knows what is going to happen or how we leave. With just-in-time delivery of parts and products the norm how can a business be run in this uncertainty? And the Tories are the government of business? Incredible.
And second, I see that the blame game has begun with Ministers and Mrs May saying it’s up to you, EU, to help us out. The arrogance!
Anyway, let’s see what happens next week.
Penny Kocher, 9 March 2019
See also Financial Times: Brexit Timeline: key dates in UK’s divorce from EU