Half A Loaf Withdrawal…

The EU withdrawal bill contained two elements: the withdrawal agreement itself and the political declaration on how EU-UK relations may be in the future. The position of the government, until this week, was that the two parts were indivisible and that parliament had to back both elements to ensure Brexit. That was then…

On Wednesday, Theresa May conditionally resigned as party leader and PM; typical of the lady, there was a hefty “red line” attached to her offer to step down and let a new leader steer the Brexit process forward, to wit that the House of Commons should approve the withdrawal agreement. Given that the opposition parties are not minded to do so; remainer Tory supporters who favour a fresh referendum and some of the Brexit- minded ERG have refused to back it unless their DUP allies do so (they won’t), it seems highly unlikely that the bill (or half of it) will pass when it is voted on today. This leaves May as a partly resigned, utterly ineffectual PM and party leader as the Brexit shambles rumbles on.

The withdrawal agreement had to be split from the political agreement in order for the legislation to get around the ban on a “third meaningful vote” on unaltered legislation which the Speaker of the Commons had ruled against. Questions are being raised about the legality of the decision to split it away from the declaration and many of its critics say that passing it would amount to a “blindfold Brexit” and could give an incoming Tory PM far too much control on the process. It is thought that the party is likely to elect a Brexiter MP from the right of the party as its new leader if/when May eventually goes.

In the event that the bill is defeated, it is unclear what the next steps will be. A further round of “indicative votes” will probably be held on Monday as MPs struggle to find options that the House might find a majority for. The two strongest contenders to emerge (defeated) from the first round were a comprehensive customs union and a promise that any agreed Brexit proposition must be endorsed by the public in a fresh referendum with remain as an option on the ballot. The idea of a “no deal” Brexit was heavily defeated in Wednesday’s voting, but absent another policy that the EU will accept or revocation of Article 50 notice, it remains the default position.

Today was the day that the UK was originally set to leave the EU. Currently, that date is deferred to 12/4/19. There is a suggestion in parliament that a failure to select a way forward could trigger a lengthy further extension (possibly March 2020) which would require that the UK holds elections to the European Parliament this spring.

Dr. Mike Campbell is a British scientist and freelance writer. Mike got his doctorate in Ghent, Belgium and has worked in Belgium, France, Monaco and Austria since leaving the UK. As a writer, he specialises in business, science, medicine and environmental subjects.