A Day is a Long Time in Politics


Leavers are still (still!) banging on about Project Fear, but they’ve had their own Project Fear running ever since May triggered Article 50: that it was irrevocable, it’s too late to back out now, and even if somehow we could persuade the EU27 to let us revoke it that would mean losing the rebate, having to join Schengen, and whatever else.

Today we know that they were wrong, and the highest court in Europe says so.

The buzz on Remainer Twitter today is that this also destroys any prospect of renegotiating May’s deal: the EU27 couldn’t now conduct any renegotiation in good faith, as the UK has a get-out-of-jail free card at any point up until 29 March 2019. It also undermines our chances of getting an extension to Article 50.† Signing up to the deal will end with us being trapped in the backstop indefinitely unless somebody invents Magical Border Invisibility Dust. We don’t have time to hold a referendum before 29 March 2019. It’s revocation of Article 50 or No Deal.

Thanks to the Grieve amendment, the power is now in Parliament’s hands. Whatever May or her ministers say at this point is irrelevant. If the Commons doesn’t want Britain to face an indefinite loss of sovereignty (via the Withdrawal Agreement plus Backstop) or catastrophe (No Deal), it has to vote down her deal and instruct the government to revoke Article 50.

It’s conceivable... just... that it might all be over by Christmas. That Article 50 will be revoked in the next few days, and that we can enter 2019 knowing that we can put three years of being obsessed with the EU and Brexit behind us, and get on with addressing the many other problems that face us.

Which more plausibly means that we’re leaving with No Deal next March, and anyone with the means to do so has three months left to get the hell out of Dodge.


Ah, nuts.


†The argument I saw (and thought made some sense) was that the EU has less incentive to grant Article 50 extensions in a landscape where any country can revoke Article 50 unilaterally. They can say that if we don’t want the negotiated deal and the prospect of No Deal bothers us that much—and it should—then we should just revoke Article 50, and not make them have to seek unanimous support among the EU27 for granting an extension. The failure of British domestic politics to get us to a position where someone in authority actually sends a letter revoking Article 50 should be on us, not on them.

We could have gone through all of this parliamentary rigmarole and held a people’s vote in plenty of time if the government hadn’t deliberately/incompetently dragged its heels. If May succeeds in delaying the parliamentary vote until January,‡ she will have deliberately wasted even more time that everyone knows we need to prepare for another referendum, if there’s to be one. That puts us in a worse position to justify an extension, not a better one.

Still, less incentive doesn’t mean no incentive at all, and the prospect of No Deal is so unpleasant that it could lead the EU27 to grant an extension for a fresh referendum, if that’s the only way left to avoid No Deal. They wouldn’t have to, and shouldn’t have to, but out of decency they might.

‡One positive side of a delay could be giving longer for the UK in EU Challenge to play out. If MPs felt they could safely drop the “respect the will of the people” mantra because the referendum had been declared void, the path to revocation would be clear.


Telling insight into May’s psyche, written the month before she triggered Article 50.

May’s deal is anything but a soft Brexit.

“It honestly feels like we’re in the middle of a government cover-up.”

10 December 2018 · Politics

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