If the UK Parliament were to pass the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the UK would leave the EU in an orderly fashion, but the future relationship would remain largely undecided. For once, I agree with Corbyn that this is “Blind Brexit”. I also think that hardline Brexiteers have a point that the backstop should not be seen as a remote possibility – it is the default – and if we have learned one thing from this 2-year debacle, it is that there are no alternative ideas on the Irish border that would work! The reason Rees-Mogg’s group has never come up with a suggestion for the Irish border is because a solution does not exist and without a solution we end up in the backstop.
How to achieve having the UK outside the customs union
It is not clear to me how much of the support for this option rests upon the delusion that the UK can achieve it by playing chicken with the EU, which ultimately would lead to a No Deal scenario. Although this would cause an economic crash, it would be possible to reconstruct the economy outside the EU framework achieving the political goal for the UK to have a separate identity from the EU. By this stage however, we cannot decide what the UK is comprised of e.g. does it include N Ireland? Scotland? England is separated and that is the goal.
How to achieve No Deal?
- Make it the default option – tick
- Sabotage any attempts to make a deal – tick (Special mention for Davis and Raab)
This is a clear minority view for both Parliament and the electorate but retains real power because it is the default option and the paralysis of the political opposition to implement a change in policy.
The vote for the Brady amendment last night is a victory for this group and it further continues their traditional path of making demands that are both impossible and vague. “Alternative arrangements” without any suggestion of what they might be is frankly genius if the goal is to not make any progress.
How to achieve Leave but have the UK inside the customs union
Vote for May’s deal, and default option thereafter is that UK is inside customs union (via backstop)
Given the intractability of the Irish border issue, the likely way out of the backstop is a negotiated permanent membership of the customs union. The details of the arrangement need to be decided and are politically contentious. If the soft Brexiteers can gain a mandate through public support, there is no reason we could not end up with a Norway like status.
This is the option that likely has a parliamentary majority. But this is also the route that was voted down by a record margin!
The way to make sense of this contradiction is that this deal has the misfortune to be advocated by a PM who is both deeply partisan and incompetent. She has turned Brexit in to a party-political battle designed to appease her right-wing ultras which makes support from Labour MPs very difficult. We also have a similarly narrow-minded opposition leader who would prefer the No Deal option anyway, especially if he can blame it on the Tories. The dynamics are dominated by the Tories only listening to their own members and Labour ignoring theirs.
How to achieve Remain?
I see no credible path to this. Irrespective of whether Remain would win the popular vote I cannot see how a parliamentary majority could be formed to call a referendum. Perhaps a combination of
- Labour adopt as party policy
- Labour win no-confidence vote and there is a General Election
- Labour win the election
- Get referendum legislation passed with Remain as an option
- Remain win the referendum
- Remain win the next referendum (this issue is not going away)
That is quite a long list of independently unlikely things.
The way forward
A recent precedent for how implacable face-offs can be resolved is to look at Trump vs Pelosi on the funding of the wall. The issue was not decided by power or logic. It came down to the opinion polls – once it became clear that Trump and the GOP were being blamed for the shutdown they found a way to end it.
For Brexit we do not yet have any movement in the polls. Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers are still fighting for their preferred outcome. Neither have any interest in compromise.
What we need is for the silent middle to form a view. The people who are just completely sick of Brexit and want to move on. Then the moderate MPs will follow them.