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Wot's happnin' in Brexit

Our former prime minister David Cameron caved to increasing pressure from the political right to put our membership of the EU to a public vote. In a vote that saw an overwhelming turnout we voted to leave by a 4% margin. Cameron ollied out and his successor Theresa May signed article 50. Article 50 is a legally binding letter of resignation saying "We're giving two years notice and then leaving the EU". The end of those two years is March 29th 2019, but this date no longer applies for reasons I'll mention later.

Because part of our involvement in the EU is the complex package of trade deals and customs arrangements that allows free movement of EU citizens and goods between our borders, businesses and EU citizens who live here want to know exactly what's going down. Our companies want to know if they're going to be allowed to ship to and from this country. People who started to make their lives here from EU countries want to know if they'll be allowed to live here. UK people making their lives in the EU want to know if they'll be allowed to live there. This is just the tip of the iceberg on uncertainties people have.

In the 80s and 90s violent conflict in Northern Ireland between people who want Northern Ireland to rejoin the Republic of Ireland and people who want it to stay in the UK was ended on an agreement that the land border between the UK and Ireland would remain open. Ireland is an EU nation. The EU wouldn't want an open border with the UK if we weren't following their customs and Northern Ireland needs us to honour that old peace treaty that says we need an open border. This is potentially a catch 22.

May's Deal

Theresa May made a deal that the EU agreed to and she just needs to put it through our parliament. Parliament have blocked it twice and she's up for round three. That deal, if put through, means we leave the EU parliament which makes up the rules that the EU can impose on us. We'd still have to follow their rules. This is on a "temporary" arrangement while we sort out "real" brexit with the EU over two years. In this "transitional period" we'd uphold the customs and the border arrangement so that Northern Ireland doesn't have to worry about its land border with Europe. Politicians in Northern Ireland aren't happy with this because there's no clarity on what happens after those two years. I personally suspect that this "temporary" arrangement is just going to become not too far from "fuck it, we'll leave it there".

The speaker of the house, who has a great deal of control over which discussions are held in parliament to begin with, issued a statement relating to a 400 year old document detailing parliamentary procedure and the precedent of how these procedures have been used since. In short he said that he will not host further votes on the exact same motion that has been voted on before. He said there'd need to be "significant changes" to any motion in order to hear it again. The implication is that he'll make it difficult for Theresa May to repeatedly keep coming back with her deal as she has already done so twice.

Until the EU council met on the 21st we were in a situation where if don't pass anything in parliament by the 29th then we'd leave the EU with no deal. With no deal the EU nations have to deal with us normally. In a no deal scenario they'd be imposing tariffs, border checks, visas and the likes as though we were any other nation in the world. After Theresa May's deal had failed twice, parliament held a non binding vote to say "we don't want a no deal brexit under any circumstances" and another vote which told Theresa May to go to the EU council and ask for an extension on our leave date.

The EU council

The EU council is a group of EU leaders including our Prime Minister who'd need to unanimously approve changes to article 50 including extensions on the leave date. They met with Theresa May after she had been sent to them by our parliament. The result of that conversation was this:

If our parliament agrees Theresa May's deal then we don't have to leave the EU until May 22nd.

If parliament does not agree to Theresa May's deal then we have until April 12th to declare our intentions to the EU council. They said in their statement that if we take this second option then anything could be on the table including negotiating a new deal or an even longer extension.

The Political Arena

Parliament is the arena and you need to know who the players are and what their strategy is:

The Lords don't get to vote on this situation for reasons, so anything here only needs to pass the house of commons.

The Conservatives are the largest party, but they don't form a majority in the commons. They've partnered with the DUP to make up the numbers and form a government. There's a problem here because the DUP are a Northern Ireland based political party for Northern Ireland things. If that wasn't bad enough for them, there are people inside of the Conservative party who actually want to leave the UK without a deal. This is partly for financial self interest and partly because it's the most likely situation to let us keep immigrants out of the country in the future.

The next largest party are the Labour party, who ran the most recent election on a manifesto of a permanent deal that's actually softer than May's deal. They want us to guarantee that we keep to the customs union permanently and right away. The thing is that such a deal would need to be negotiated again with the EU. Mainline Conservatives reject this because we could theoretically negotiate Labour's plans during the transitional period under Theresa May's deal. The fringe Conservatives reject this because it's even less likely to result in them buying the country for cheap and booting out immigrants, but that's a quiet thing they can't say out loud. Labour has also said that any deal made should be put to another public vote where the options are Deal vs Don't Leave the EU at all.

After that is the Scottish Nationalist Party which is a Scottish party for Scottish things. During the referendum Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe, so they need to be seen to be foiling every effort to leave the EU at every stage. They also want the aforementioned public vote.

Potential Moves In Parliament

Theresa May is desperately trying to get people to back her deal while spoilers in her own party are trying to run down the clock and make us leave with no deal. Because a future vote on her deal would now be a vote on her deal and an extension this is likely a "significant change" that'd allow her deal to be heard in parliament once more. Her deal has failed twice, and I'm sure you know how much of a failure the leader of the nation looks when they're trying to ram something through the legislature over and over.

The Speaker of the house is likely to only allow Theresa May's deal one more hearing. Because Theresa May is incredibly unpopular and because the EU has signalled that it will put all options on the table if her deal fails again, there's a possibility of her leaving or being ejected should her deal fail for a third time. We could then state to the EU that our intention is to have more time to hold a general election and whether they give us more time on brexit for this is up to them.

Labour needs to be seen to be honouring its manifesto promise for that different deal, but also wants to honour its pledge to hold a public vote. The SNP also wants this vote. Holding a public vote, however, would need a long extension and that puts this process in the hands of the EU council. The EU council seem to indicate that a long extension is possible if May's deal fails again, but we can't be sure of exactly what the EU council would permit.

One final thing that could happen is parliament can cancel article 50 outright without any EU nation's approval and just stay in the EU as it is. The thing about this is that the EU has written article 50 in such a way that if you revoke it you can't just immediately re submit it. I don't know the specific way the lawyers have made this difficult. The other thing about this is that we held a public vote whose result was to leave. The right wingers will be up in arms if parliament did this and that'd put the conservatives back at square one.

Potential Outcomes

No Deal - Maybe May's deal fails and we use all our extra time and make no progress in deciding what we want to put to the EU council. In spite of the vote to not have No Deal under any circumstance, No Deal is the legal default position if the clock runs out.

Revoke Article 50 - Maybe May's deal fails and we use all our extra time but make no progress in deciding what we want to put to the EU council, but in the final moments we decide we don't want no deal and just put the brakes on brexit altogether. This is unlikely but it's still there.

May's Deal - Maybe Theresa May bribes the DUP into joining her scheme and gets her party in shape. Maybe Theresa May gets people on board with her scheme to resign if the vote passes. It seems unlikely now that the option of collaborating with the EU is open. There's a very narrow chance that you can amend May's Deal so that if it passes there'll be a second public vote on it in the 8 weeks it offers us, but the key words there are "very narrow".

A Second Vote - There's a lot of members in the house supporting a second vote. Let's be honest here: while there are some well intentioned sounding arguments you can make for this, it's really just a way to try and cancel brexit. The deals on the table don't appeal to the political right, some young liberal people who weren't of voting age in 2016 now are, and a lot of people in the country felt like they didn't realise how bad brexit could be. If there is a vote it probably will be for remain, except that I said that last time.

A General Election - If Theresa May's deal fails there's a few ways government could trigger a general election and request that the EU postpone brexit while we hold it. If they allow it then our … [more]
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