Brexit choices narrow at peak crisis approaches, for the EU and Ireland too

As a riven cabinet meets in peak crisis mode, we might tentatively assume that Theresa May would prefer continuity to smash, such as a general election. For good reason , as  voting guru  Prof John Curtice reveals:

Holding a general election could simply make Britain’s Brexit impasse even more difficult to resolve. That is the clear implication of where the parties currently stand in the polls.

According to a projection based on the average of each company’s most recent poll, the Conservatives, with 300 seats, would once again be the largest party. However, they would be 26 seats short of an overall majority. Even if the two parties were to forge another deal, an agreement with the DUP could not take the party over the line.

Labour, with 263 seats, would be much further away from having a majority.  However, the party might be able to form a government if it could secure the support of 48 SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs, as well as 20 Liberal Democrat MPs and one Green. Between them the four parties would have a narrow overall majority of 14.

If the UK had not already left the EU by the time of an election, however, the minority parties’ price for any such deal would most likely be to hold a second Brexit referendum. Many Labour MPs are reluctant to back such a ballot – and if they were to rebel they could leave Mr Corbyn unable to fulfil his side of any such bargain.

Sticking to step by step even at this late stage, she may prefer to present her deal to the Commons one more time, perhaps combining it with a vote on all the options, including no deal. The Times reports:

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, will tell the cabinet today that the government has to make its own compromise proposal or admit that parliament has failed “and put it back to the people in a referendum” since the party and the country cannot afford an election.

Mr Hammond is understood to believe that any compromise would have to involve attaching a customs union to the withdrawal agreement, an option he is “not enthusiastic” about.

If these manoeuvres failed she would have face the ultimate choice: whether to go to the EU leaders next Wednesday and ask for another extension armed with a reason that would convince the leaders to grant it; or to admit that this negotiation is exhausted and either revert to the No Deal legal status quo, or call for a general election.  The EU would be bound to freeze the process for the period in which there is no functioning British government.

The Remain camp have only themselves to blame for failing to unite on an alternative. They are still agonising about calling another round of voting or moving legislation to prevent No Deal.

It’s now conventional wisdom that the two phases of the Brexit negotiation mandated by the EU, leave first then negotiate the new relationship later, blighted the chances of a clear outcome, as to be fair, Brexiteers like David Davis insisted they would from the start. Why? Because one government would have to commit to the legally binding withdrawal agreement , while a successor government could tear up the other part of the  package, the non binding political declaration, however the commons vote now, and go for  hard Brexit.  In the indicative voting process there was uncertainty about where their preferences would be placed – whether in a revised withdrawal agreement (  what would the EU accept – they would accept a customs Union but would  they agree to submit it to the chance of a second referendum?), or rely  on the political declaration and hope for the best. Objectors condemned the latter as blind Brexit.

Some like David Davis   keep hankering after the DUP  to support withdrawal  accompanied by the Matlthouse compromise asking for ” alternative arrangements”  to the backstop. As the Newsletter points out;

Had the DUP abstained, the Customs Union plan would have passed, while two other motions – Common Market 2.0 or a confirmatory referendum on any deal – would have passed if the DUP had switched sides.

If pro-EU ministers had been allowed a free vote or rebelled it would have passed too, as they outnumber the Brexiteers in the government. Ah, the What Ifs of history!

Davis complained that  Malthouse, although  the only motion passed by a Commons majority  was never put to the EU but should be viable now, because Vardakar envisages no immediate checks on the border itself  ( See Connelly report later).  From all that the EU has said about the backstop  this is a forlorn hope, although it will inevitably be reviewed under the political declaration.     

 The Daily Mail has published a leaked letter from the top civil servant and cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to cabinet members full of  warnings of the dire consequences of no Deal.

In the letter, the Cabinet Secretary says leaving the EU without a deal would hamper the police and security services and lead to the return of direct rule in Northern Ireland. ( that’s one good thing then).

Extracts from Sir Mark Sedwill's letter to ministers which warns of dire consequences including direct rule in Northern Ireland if Britain leaves with No Deal

Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government proposes:

Govt and Letwin organise the process tomorrow.. so put PM withdrawal agreement on the table (as well as No deal Brexit and instant Revocation…

then add options.. PM WA + CU; PM WA + CM 2.0; PM WA + CU + Confirmatory referendum vs Remain..; PM WA + CM 2.0 + Confirm referendum vs Remain; PM WA + CU + CR vs Remain and No deal… PM WA + CM 2.0 vs R and ND

and then force MPs to rank preferences…OR do exhaustive ballots – so at the end of the day there is a clear way forward.. Govt undertakes both to seek amendment to Political Declaration and add negotiating objectives to Withdrawal Agreement Backstop.

Too ingenious, even though the option of  No Deal would attract more hard Brexiteers to vote this time ?   I thought so. Still.. Anybody got any better ideas?

Meanwhile.. as RTE’s Tony Connelly reports..

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for talks on the latest Brexit developments… He will also host German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Dublin on Thursday… In last night’s statement there was no mention of how Ireland and the EU would reconcile the promise to uphold the integrity of the internal market and at the same time avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland…

there is no doubt EU leaders are now asking firmer questions, and seeking more concrete responses, as to how the border will be handled if the UK leaves without a deal on 12 April.

The Taoiseach will have an opportunity to provide two of Europe’s most prominent leaders with those answers today and on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Policy Manager for the Freight Transport Association has said fears of a no-deal Brexit are growing every day.

Seamus Leheny said every business body in Northern Ireland supports the Withdrawal Agreement because the backstop gives them a “safety net to fall back on”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said 70% of the freight from the Republic into the North were ingredients and components and the imposition of regulatory controls and tariffs on those goods would make them economically unviable.

He said that a contingency no-deal plan for many businesses would involve moving business to the Republic and many businesses have not yet made that move because of the uncertainty, and the cost involved.

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