As the Brexit deadlines approach, everything becomes more chaotic although nothing has really happened in the last 2 ½ years. The possible end points are still the same but if anything, the divisions among the electorate and MPs are even more entrenched; more information about what Brexit means has not led many to change their view. As a result, the UK continues to obsess about sideshows, such as votes of No Confidence, refusing to engage in the reality of Brexit and preferring to expend energy of infighting. We have seen that there is no clear mandate that can be given by the electorate. So, what do the politicians want and what will they do?
What are the options?
- Remain – the path to Remain is simply to revoke Article 50. However, politicians may want the political cover of a referendum to be willing to do it.
The path to May’s Deal is for Parliament to vote for it.
- No Deal
The path for No Deal is for nothing to happen i.e it’s the default option.
Tactics for each of the supporting groups
If you want No Deal, how can you get there?
- It is the default option – you have the significant advantage that, without action from Parliament, your preferred outcome will occur. Given the lack of any progress so far, you may find it reasonable for this to continue for just 3 more months. David Davis and Dominic Raab did an excellent job of making no progress towards any sort of deal. Brexiteer ultras will continue to cause confusion, block any attempt at making a deal and declare all debate to be a betrayal of democracy.
- Oust the PM and replace with a “No Deal” PM – this would have been a sure-fire way to No Deal, but given that May won a no confidence vote and cannot be challenged again, you need to get her to resign (seems unlikely)
- There is another Referendum with No Deal one of the options – No Deal has a real chance of winning
No Deal would be overwhelming favourite, if it were not for the fact that the government and the vast majority of MPs are against it and only 25% of the electorate rate it as their preferred outcome! Which of course should rule it out but unfortunately does not.
If you want Remain
- A major shift in Parliament – this may require a general election in which Labour win on a Referendum or even a Remain ticket.
- Referendum – the question is of great importance, ideally ensure that it is only a vote between Remain and May’s Deal, but it is not clear that this is achievable. If no Deal is included, it is not clear that the EU would agree to delay Brexit.
If you want May’s Deal
- The non-extreme outcome – It is important to recognise that you cannot persuade many people to the merits of the deal, compared to their preference of No Deal or Remain, so the appeal of this option is rather negative e.g. for No Dealers, if No Deal is off the table and if they do not support May’s deal then Remain is possible and vice-versa for Remainers.
The appeal of this option to the pragmatists and risk mitigaters (i.e. make sure that their least preferred outcome is avoided) but remains unpopular to the extreme believers on each side. The tactics around this are rather interesting, given that Theresa May wants this outcome.
- Another possible route to the Deal is via No deal. Given my view on the potential catastrophe of a No Deal then it will not be the end of the story. 2018 was the year people called 999 because KFC ran out of chicken. What will they do when hospitals run out of medicine?
Which is most likely?
As the deadlines approach, I expect to see a lot of late stage drama which leads either to No Deal or May’s Deal. I believe that Remain is by far the least likely as it requires a few separate miracles. No Deal always stays on the cards as it is the default option.
For May’s Deal to prevail, I cannot see the English nationalist wing of the Conservatives making a compromise to secure Brexit- it is not in their political interest to compromise. They will do better with their supporters to be seen to have failed fighting to the end for No Deal than to have compromised.
This leaves the possibility that deal needs to attract cross-party support and gain the votes of Labour MPs. The recent move by Amber Rudd to coordinate a cross-party alliance to vote for some form of deal is an example:
Q: Why would Remainer Labour MPs vote for a Deal?
A: Rather than risk a No Deal Brexit and/or to avoid the wrath that comes with a referendum.
Problem: For the numbers this requires a large number of Labour MPs to vote for the Deal, against the wishes of their leader Corbyn and both their Brexiteer and Remainer constituents.
Q: Why would Brexiteer Labour MPs vote for a Deal?
A: The ultras may never agree to a compromise Brexit, but there are plenty of Brexit supporting Labour MPs who could. Remember that to the extent that Labour has a Brexit policy, it is to leave with a slightly softer version of May’s deal (permanent membership of the Customs Union rather than just as a backstop)
Problem: For the numbers this requires a large number of Labour MPs to vote for the Deal, against the wishes of their leader Corbyn and both their Brexiteer and Remainer constituents. (see above!)
How to make progress
What we see is that there will always be a clear majority against any of the options while there are so many of them. But if the number of options could be narrowed to two then we would see a majority, most likely for the Deal.
For example, if the choice were No Deal vs Deal then I am confident Deal wins. Also, if Deal vs Remain then I also think Deal wins.
If the choices cannot be narrowed to two, then perhaps we simply crash out without a deal.