As the Brexit clock continues to run down to the buzzer, we’ve entered a new phase – one where the PM’s only negotiating strategy is that of (headless) chicken. By allowing Parliament, which recognizes its moral obligation to prevent chaos, to flail hopelessly from one amendment to another, PM May hopes to run the clock down in the hope the EU will yield at the 11th hour. She forgets the EU invented extend and pretend, and won’t fall for her “amend and pretend”.
For most, the latest phase of the Brexit fiasco will have been unfathomable. But in reality, it’s quite simple, and the conclusions we draw from it are largely unchanged – while the probability of a second referendum has fallen slightly and the probability of no-deal chaos (NDC) has risen, the chance of a deal remains negligible.
Wot, we won one ?
Today’s newspapers will be rejoicing a couple of (pyrrhic) victories for PM May.
The speaker allowed all the six proposed amendments to be voted on, as follows;
• Corbyn – Requires PM to rule out no deal
• Blackford – notes that the SNP don’t like Brexit, calls for no deal to be ruled out and Article 50 extended
• Grieve – will suspend normal Parliamentary procedure on six dates in February and March allowing MPs to hijack Brexit
• Cooper – suspends normal Parliamentary procedure on 5th February to allow MPs to bring a Brexit-blocking Bill
• Reeves – calls on the PM to seek an extension to Article 50
• Spelman – Parliament rejects leaving without a deal
• Brady – calls for the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border
Only the Grieve, Cooper and Brady amendments would have mattered as they would impact Parliament’s order of business, but the others would have symbolic impact. Indeed, Spelman’s amendment saying Parliament rejects leaving without a deal passed – a nice symbolic reminder that Parliament is growing aware of its moral duty.
The Government saw off the Grieve amendment which tried to hijack Parliament through the crucial last month of negotiations and leave Parliament little choice but to revoke AR50 and move towards a second referendum. A decent review of his attempt is here.
Then they defeated the Cooper amendment which sought to allow Parliament to debate a brexit-blocking bill, allowing Parliament to seize the negotiations from the government.
Finally, the Brady amendment passed with a decent 16 MP majority, ensuring the PM must go back to EU to renegotiate the Irish backstop arrangement.
Today was the equivalent of a team at the bottom of the league winning three on the trot. Is this a new trend?
Amend and pretend (to be trying)
To our mind, this is far from a clear change in Brexit’s fortunes. Indeed, it has only increased the odds of a no deal chaotic result on March 29th.
There are three reasons why we believe this to be the actual result irrespective of the “pretense”.
PM May has cooked up a Withdrawal Agreement that has a number of significant flaws in it. Issues that make it impossible for many MPs from both sides, Leave and Remain, to accept it. The Irish Backstop fudge is only the most notable. To foster belief that this is the only issue has been quite a masterstroke by the PM.
Shall we play Fortnite?
Indeed, her other masterstroke has been to create a perpetual fortnightly vote on the path to Brexit. This is burning through the week’s rapidly. January was but a blur. February has only 28 days. The march towards March is becoming a gallop.
But “Project Fear” is still pumping out propaganda, to tenderize public opinion in case it’s necessary to pull the hand brake and prevent a “hard” Brexit chaos. Food shortages, toilet roll queues and of course martial law, have all been “considered” and the tanks are fueled up at the ready.
So what will the average Brit wake up to on Monday April 1st?
I don’t like Mondays
Well the odds are that this Monday, the first of the new Brexit era, will be just like any other Monday. The shops will open, the trains will run, and the lavatories will remain stocked with loo roll. Indeed, you may have to go to a government building, which until UK leaves has continued to fly both flags, to see any difference.
But that assumes the UK crashes out of the EU over that weekend, since we see very little chance of a deal actually being produced that allows those flags to be taken down in an orderly manner.
But what’s changed with May’s sudden run of success is that the UK has managed to find a cloak of solidarity which optically puts the ball back in the EU court.
All EUR fault
Now PM May will take the Parliament’s wishes back to EU for renegotiation. While the amendment simply states the backstop must be replaced with “alternative measures” it’s enough of a smoke screen to allow the PM to force the EU to respond. And respond they’ve already done, with negotiator Sabine Weyand preempting today’s vote by saying the EU will not renegotiate the deal which the UK negotiators can take credit for. Tusk and Macron reiterated that after the vote, but the “pretend” phase must be seen to be played out over the next two weeks, leaving May with nothing but acceptance that it’s all the fault of the EU.
Which leaves us with the endgame. We continue to see no deal in sight, and as such, adjust our core 75-25 distribution between a second referendum and the no deal chaos scenarios.
Until the Brady amendment had been backed by PM May yesterday, we had thought the odds of a second referendum were higher – 80%. But the fact that May was backing an amendment of her own deal showed us that she was adopting the “sacrifice” chess strategy and was clearly going to be able to run down the clock at least by another two weeks, taking the odds of NDC back up again.
But perversely Parliament grows ever more conscious of its moral obligation to prevent chaos, even if it takes longer that one day to appear. Therefore, we feel the increased likelihood of apparent eleventh-hour anxiety over NDC actually makes the prospect of a sudden suspension of the withdrawal agreement and a revocation of AR50 more likely. Obviously, such suspension of the democratically achieved Brexit vote necessitates a second vote.
While none of this can be described as democratic, the blame lies firmly elsewhere. As needs must, an already deeply divided country will at least be back on the road to recovery, albeit one with EU flags flying on several of London’s buildings.