By Stephen Fisher.
Various historical comparisons have been made in discussion of the Brexit process. Last year there was the suggestion that, just as the 2008 financial crisis bailout legislation passed Congress only at the second time of asking after a negative market reaction, so the Meaningful Vote might do so. Not only has Theresa May’s deal failed to pass so far, but there has not been any major market reaction to the three defeats.
Tonight’s statement by the prime minister suggesting cooperation with Labour means she might, as Jacob Rees-Mogg anticipated she might, follow the example of Robert Peel in splitting the Conservative party by pursuing a policy that relies largely on opposition support.
This post explores comparison with the Prohibition of alcohol in the USA. The 18thamendment of the US Constitution prohibited the, “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” It was approved by big margins in the House and the Senate in 1917, and eventually achieved ratification by the required three-quarters of the states in January 1919. What followed was a dismal story of increasing crime, institutional hypocrisy and disrespect for the law. Public support for prohibition dropped heavily by the early 1920s, and it was repealed in 1933.
Since starting to write this I’ve found that others have said that Brexit is another policy mistake like Prohibition that the public will want to row back from eventually. That might turn out to be true but it is not the analogy I wanted to draw. Regardless of whether you think Brexit is a mistake or not, comparison with Prohibition raises a number of intriguing parallels and questions to ask about the Brexit process.
Continue reading Is Brexit like banning booze?
by Stephen Fisher and Eilidh Macfarlane.
If the prime minister passes her Brexit deal it will be with the votes, or at least abstentions, of some Labour MPs. It is commonly accepted among commentators that even if she manages to persuade the DUP and more Conservative MPs, there will be some who never will. So she will need support, or at least co-operation in the form of abstention, from Labour MPs.
John Rentoul has compiled a list of those who might be willing. The list might not be perfect, but we use it as indicative of the kinds of Labour MP who might be won over. We refer to those on the list as the potential deal backers.
This group also matters because, as Stephen Bush said, not only are those 30 or so Labour MPs not currently enough to enable May’s deal to pass but their “existence makes it near impossible to see how a second referendum will happen.”
The purpose of this blog is not to try to predict whether, how many, or which Labour MPs will or won’t block a second referendum or help the prime minister pass her deal. It is to discuss some of the reasons why they might be tempted to back the deal in order to say something ex ante about what, if it does come to pass, will be heavily analysed ex post.
Continue reading Why might Labour MPs support Theresa May’s Brexit deal? Part 1 – the Inbetweeners
by Stephen Fisher.
In my previous analyses and predictions for the Brexit impasse I failed to give enough consideration to the possibility of MPs passing the Withdrawal Agreement without voting on the political declaration (both documents here). Assuming that the government does not collapse before the 10thApril, I now think that’s the most likely outcome. This is mainly because I suspect Theresa May would be willing to offer Jeremy Corbyn a general election in exchange for support for the Withdrawal Agreement, and that would be more attractive to her than the other options available.
The current political declaration and Labour’s demand for changes to the political declaration of 6thFebruary are both compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement. While the political declaration has been agreed with the EU, it is not legally binding. Given the EU principle of the indivisibility of the four freedoms and the problem of the border in Ireland, Labour’s demands would likely produce a future relationship close to the Norway+ model, which the EU have said they would be happy with.
If the Withdrawal Agreement is ever passed then there is inevitable uncertainty over the eventual future relationship whatever kind of political declaration, or none, is approved, not least because of a possible change of leadership in the UK during negotiations.
Since the Withdrawal Agreement is the only legally binding part of May’s deal it is the bit that matters most. Some would say it is the only bit that really matters. I think that would be broadly true for the EU27, but there are a lot of important politics involved in the political declaration for the UK. Since the nature of any political declaration passed along with the Withdrawal Agreement might really shape the future relationship, for political if not legal reasons, it does matter what is in the political declaration.
However, it is not necessary for the Commons to approve any political declaration for the UK and EU to agree and ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as an international treaty and so for the UK to leave the EU with a deal. Approval of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) alone is therefore an option.
What are the prospects of this?
Continue reading Trading a general election for the Withdrawal Agreement?
By Stephen Fisher.
On Wednesday MPs again voted against a no-deal Brexit, but it remains the legal default. On Thursday they voted by big majorities for requesting an extension to the Article 50 process and against another referendum. The latter vote saw the Labour leadership instruct their MPs to abstain, but 17 rebelled to vote against and 24 rebelled in favour. Even if all those who abstained had voted in favour, the motion still would have lost. This clearly isn’t a majority for another referendum, yet.
I’ve previously argued (see here, here and here) that the Brexit process is most likely heading towards another referendum. The core argument is that if MPs fail to to back her, Theresa May could try to deliver Brexit by taking her deal to the people. She believes in her deal. She has a decent argument for it. She has tried hard to get it through parliament. It has a fair chance of winning, especially if no-deal is off the ballot.
Some aspects of what I argued in the autumn were wrong, especially my predictions on the timing of key events, which I still cannot forecast. However, I still think some of the underlying ideas about the interests and incentives for the political parties and factions still hold. This post updates and revises the main arguments about the implications of those interests for the chances of different possible outcomes. While most commentators suggest that Theresa May is likely to get her deal passed at some stage, and I would admit that the chances of that have gone up, I still think it is more likely that there will be another referendum. If there is one, I think Remain would most likely win but it is far from a sure thing.
Continue reading Why another referendum is still the most likely outcome of the Brexit impasse
By Stephen Fisher.
Yesterday Theresa May won a vote of confidence in her leadership of the Conservative party, and she also promised to step down before the scheduled 2022 general election. Following the logic of my arguments here and here, both events increase the chances that she will eventually facilitate another referendum on Brexit. She now has more freedom for political manoeuvre and less of a future political career to lose from a U-turn.
In essence the core of my previous argument is that Theresa May should want to persuade the people to back her deal if parliament won’t because she believes it is the best thing for Britain. If not that, then she would at least prefer a referendum to a no-deal Brexit that she believes, “would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden.”
There is, I believe, a latent parliamentary majority for another referendum. Theresa May now has the power to facilitate its emergence without fear of a challenge to her leadership of the Conservative Party. She will want to avoid a party split or hardline Brexiteers voting no-confidence in their own government. That can be done if she earnestly tries to achieve reassurances from the EU on the backstop, tries to get approval for her deal in parliament, and then tries to get her deal approved by the people in a referendum. There is also the possibility of this ingenious mechanism suggested by Jolyon Maugham. (There may be others too, I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer.) My main point is that if the prime minister acts in good faith and calls a referendum as a last resort, it will be harder for her enemies to justify bringing her government down in response.
Is Theresa May completely safe?
Continue reading What now that Theresa May has won a confidence vote in her party leadership?
By Stephen Fisher, 11thDecember 2018.
Three weeks ago I wrote this piece about Theresa May’s predicament if she lost the “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal. That was supposed to take place today but it has now been deferred while the prime minister seeks further assurances from the EU on the Irish backstop. This piece assesses the current political situation, evaluates the some of the arguments I previously made and ultimately claims that, while there is a lot of uncertainty and various outcomes are possible, there is still a good case for expecting Theresa May to facilitate another referendum as the single most likely outcome, even though she has ruled one out and might not continue in post for much longer.
Most of this was written before tonight’s rumours that the required 48 letters for a Conservative leadership confidence vote have been sent. There is a discussion of the politics of the leadership, but most of my analysis is about what May could do while she is still in office, perhaps even if there is an ongoing leadership election. If she loses the confidence vote that would substantially increase the chances of a no-deal Brexit.
In brief, my argument has the same flavour as the previous one. Theresa May believes that enacting the Withdrawal Agreement is best course of action for the country. I suspect she also believes it would be the best thing for her party too. There is currently no Commons majority for it. That might well change change as a result of increasing fear of a no-deal Brexit, but it is more likely that it will not. If it does not, then I think she would rather facilitate another referendum than proceed with a no-deal Brexit. Either the prime minister would introduce a referendum bill, or she would use her power over the parliamentary agenda to enable others to do so. Given the opportunity and some leadership I think there would be a cross-party majority for another referendum (provided Remain was on the ballot).
Continue reading What now that Theresa May has deferred the meaningful vote?
By Stephen Fisher.
The collective intelligence of political journalists suggests that the House of Commons is likely to vote against the prime minister’s Brexit deal when it comes to a “meaningful vote” in December. Supposing this happens, what next?
The UK would, by legal default, be heading towards a no-deal Brexit. Although the government would have till mid-January to say how it intended to proceed, Mrs May would most likely want to move quickly, given the risk of a no-confidence vote from both inside and outside her party.
Waiting to see if a market crash sways MPs is unlikely to be an option. If the outcome of the parliamentary vote is as clear as many commentators suggest it will be, then the markets will have already priced it in. That is not to say that the markets will assume failure of the meaningful vote automatically means a no-deal Brexit, just that the markets are unlikely to move much if the outcome is as is widely anticipated.
Simply announcing that she will seek further concessions from Brussels would be unpersuasive. What makes her deal unpopular with the DUP and many of her backbenchers are structural features that were already much discussed. The EU are unlikely to be willing to make sufficient concessions, especially not on the current timescale. Substantial further negotiations would probably require an extension to the Article 50 process, which the EU have said would only be granted if there was a “fundamental change” in the political situation in the UK. (A referendum would be such a change.) What’s more, MPs are unlikely to think that the Theresa May would be the best person to achieve a better deal given they are unhappy with her previous efforts.
The prime minister has said that a no-deal Brexit would be “a bad outcome for the UK”, and also that she believes, with her “head and heart” and “every fibre of her body”, that the deal is, “in the best interests of our entire United Kingdom.” If this is really how she feels she should want to ask the people to back her deal in a referendum to force parliament’s hand. May has previously ruled out a referendum, but she also ruled out a general election in 2017 and called one anyway.
Continue reading In which Theresa May calls a referendum despite expecting to lose her job