BREXIT DECONSTRUCTED: There are three outcomes left... now pick one

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:31 01 March 2019

Prime Minister Theresa May updates MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

Prime Minister Theresa May updates MPs in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire.

If you have the misfortune to be paying close attention to Brexit - a sensible choice, even if not one likely to spark joy - this week has, on the surface of things, looked like an exciting one.

If you have the misfortune to be paying close attention to a Brexit – a sensible choice, even if not one likely to spark joy – this week has, on the surface of things, looked like an exciting one.

Jeremy Corbyn is backing a second referendum! I think; unless he’s only backing it if a deal gets voted through... Except if it’s Labour’s Brexit deal... But what would that mean if MPs didn’t back any deal? No vote and an automatic no-deal?

It’s okay anyway because Theresa May has backed an extension to Article 50. But not for two weeks. And only if her deal doesn’t get voted through... And if MPs vote down no-deal... Or something.

That was just some of the headline stances of the party leaders this week. If it looks like a confusing and incoherent mess, that’s because it is. If it also looks like two party leaders acting like scolded schoolchildren, half-heartedly and insincerely reading out a script they clearly don’t back, that’s because it’s that too. It’s also almost all total horseshit.

Just because, dear reader, almost every political faction in the UK is happy to talk horseshit to you doesn’t mean The New European should do the same. And so we won’t: here is exactly where we actually are on Brexit.

As we have said before, there are only three outcomes left for how the UK’s current stand-off ends: the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal, the UK’s parliament votes to revoke Article 50 and we remain in the EU on our current terms, or we leave under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May.

There are three outcomes. Pick one.

We can hold a general election or a second referendum, but either of those is nothing more than a route to one of the above three options. We can add various politics notes, ‘codicils’, or any other silly name we wish to the Withdrawal Agreement, but it’s still the current deal – which, incidentally, still leaves any possible future relationship with the EU (short of remaining a member) on the table.

We can also still extend Article 50 – if we can get the agreement of the 27 other EU member states – but this is again just an intermediary step to one of the three listed outcomes.

There are no other outcomes on the table. Really. No matter how many MPs launch fancy amendments with their names on them, or new intricate varieties of parliamentary procedure, or some new fancy committee that will look fantastic on their CV. It’s all pomp and nonsense.

There are three outcomes. Pick one

The current farce around maybe-but-not-quite supporting a second referendum or similar is all the more complicated because, as Politics.co.uk editor and Remainiacs podcast host Ian Dunt noted last week, if we do not participate in the EU elections on May 23-25 this year (and elect MEPs), it is vanishingly impossible that we can extend Article 50 beyond July 1, for various convoluted legal reasons.

For other convoluted legal reasons, it takes 21 weeks to arrange a referendum – which already takes us beyond July 1 – and 7-9 weeks to hold a general election, and close to that to hold an EU vote. That means if we don’t decide to hold EU elections by the end of March (and get EU approval, which we’d need), we can’t extend Article 50 beyond July 1 for any reason.

This bit of detail matters: anyone who actually wants a second referendum, or to prevent us facing the choice of May’s deal versus no-deal, should be campaigning hard – right now – to make us hold MEP elections. No-one is.

At this point, it’s barely worth wondering which MPs are stupid, which are self-interested, which are aware of the problems but keeping their heads down, and which are insincere, trying to look like they have one position on Brexit while holding another.

Thanks to a recklessly irresponsible Leave campaign aimed perfectly at a country which was at the end of its tether with its out-of-touch and incompetent political elite, the UK voted to leave the EU. Thanks to that continued incompetence, there is still nothing resembling even a basically competent strategy to deliver on the promises made during the campaign.

There is only finding some way to reverse the decision, against a very tight clock; voting through a dog’s mess of an exit deal to honour the vote and avoid disaster; or else allowing a calamity to hit the country and hoping someone else will take the blame.

There are three outcomes. Pick one.

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