Brexit Chaos Intensifies
I suppose one must try to see the bright side of things for the British PM over the latest Brexit debacle. That would be that she turned the largest defeat in British parliamentary history into the fourth biggest ever defeat when she put her withdrawal deal to the Commons last night, progress of a sort. It is unsurprising that the deal was heavily voted down again last night because, to coin the phrase, “nothing has changed”. Despite having what she claimed were legally binding changes related to the contentious element of the backstop mechanism in the withdrawal agreement, her own Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, told parliament that the UK could still remain “trapped” in the backstop which was enough to persuade Brexit supporting MPs to join opposition ranks and vote it down, again.
With just 16 days to go until Brexit happens, things are in a mess. There is talk that May may have a third attempt to pass the bill, but that seems to be an unrealistic prospect. Today, MPs will vote on whether to allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal and it is expected that a hefty majority will vote against such an outcome. May was at pains to say that such an outcome would not preclude a “no deal” exit, but would stop it for now. Parliamentarians are able to amend the legislation, of course, so it will be critical to see what form of words is finally passed tonight.
Assuming that “no deal” is ruled out then a further vote is to be held tomorrow to call for an extension to the notice period under Article 50. Here we move into uncharted waters. As things stand, an extension requires the unanimous backing of the EU states and consequently, all the UK parliament can do is to make a request. EU states have been clear that any extension must be accompanied by substantive reasons although they have not spelled out exactly what is required. Plainly, a further referendum in the UK would gain the backing of the EU, but parliament has yet to endorse such a path.
The most likely scenario to a further vote would be along the lines of a proposed amendment (the Kyle amendment) which would provide tacit backing of May’s withdrawal deal, but on the proviso that it gained public backing in another vote where the choice given to the electorate is to accept May’s deal and leave the EU (on those terms) or to determine to remain an EU state. This amendment has yet to get off the ground, but it is surely a viable alternative.
The UK political world is highly volatile at the moment and nobody is making any firm predictions about how events will unfold. More, undoubtedly, tomorrow…