A Brexit Quartet

The Festival of Brexit seems to come sooner and sooner every year. Here are some limericks to celebrate Boris Johnson’s latest proposal, which is sure to win support from the EU, MPs, Leavers and Remainers alike, and isn’t at all designed to fail so that he can blame everyone except himself.

Mrs May triggered Article 50, / And Johnson thought all would be nifty. / Now that crashing out beckons, / His government reckons / It does us all good to be thrifty.

The stoutest of Brexiters shout, / “The EU! What’s it done for us? Nowt! / Shove their deal! Screw debate! / We’ll be fine! We’ll be great, / Britain, whether or not we crash out.”

Boris Johnson has cobbled a deal / Together, so Leavers can feel / He gave it his best. / The EU aren’t impressed. / Time for Britain’s MPs to get real.

A government of national unity: / The Commons’ last-ditch opportunity / To end Brexit deadlock / And put in a headlock / A leader who acts with impunity.

2 October 2019 · Politics

A brief explanation for baffled future readers (don’t worry, we’re baffled too)...

Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the procedure for a country to exit the EU, specifying a two-year period for negotiating its withdrawal. The UK asked twice under Theresa May for this period to be extended, but current prime minister Boris Johnson, despite his earlier insistence that Britain would get “the best deal”, now maintains that he will not ask for any further extension whether or not a withdrawal agreement is reached. This threatens a “no deal” Brexit on 31 October 2019, which the government’s own analysis suggests will have a substantial negative impact on Britain’s economy and daily life.

The possibility of No Deal was roundly denied by prominent Leavers during the 2016 Referendum campaign, but as negotiations have failed to produce a deal acceptable to all of the pro-Brexit majority in the House of Commons as well as to the EU, No Deal is being increasingly normalised. A substantial minority of the population and even some government MPs now disbelieve the government’s analysis of its potential impact, and welcome the prospect of crashing out of the EU.

As the notification period under Article 50 counts down, Johnson is attempting to conclude his own agreement by 19 October 2019, after which the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (or “Benn Act”) would compel him to seek another extension. The proposals he has produced on 2 October 2019 seem doomed, if not designed, to fail, as they backtrack on previous UK commitments and breach various EU red lines. Johnson’s insistence that he will not request an extension of Article 50, despite the Benn Act, means that MPs must now consider alternative ways to avoid No Deal, such as installing a government of national unity to request an extension of Article 50 or revoking it altogether.

Added by Rory on 2 October 2019.

I wrote these for the OEDILF, where a workshopper questioned my note about the “pro-Brexit majority” in parliament, and added some Leaver talking points about the government’s No Deal analysis (Yellowhammer) being an out-of-date worse-case scenario produced by pro-Remain civil servants rather than the government. I replied:

Pro-Brexit includes everything from diehard Brexiter MPs to those who wish to leave to “respect the referendum”, and everything in between, including Corbyn with his dreams of a “jobs-first Brexit”. If the ERG had voted in favour of the withdrawal agreement with the rest of the government, the DUP and Labour Leavers like Kate Hoey, we would have left on 29 March. MPs who actively want to Remain are in the minority, which is why Parliament keeps extending Article 50 rather than voting to revoke it.

Hardline Brexiters want the public to think the House of Commons is pro-Remain, but it isn’t: the House of Commons is against leaving without a deal. If a deal that satisfies Brexiters and the EU proves impossible to achieve, then the Commons might swing back to being pro-Remain. But it isn’t there yet. I expect they would put it to another referendum rather than be forced to decide to remain themselves.

The civil service is an arm of government: it does as directed by the executive arm, which is why UK government websites are written as if Brexit is a foregone conclusion. Civil servants produced Yellowhammer as an internal report for the benefit of the executive—not for all MPs or even all backbenchers. The opposition didn’t get to see it until it was leaked.

Yellowhammer isn’t a “worse-case scenario”: as the leak showed, it’s a base scenario, i.e. what the government expects will happen in the event of No Deal. Michael Gove admitted in a parliamentary committee before it was released that the document contained the words “base scenario”, and the Scottish Government confirmed that the version they had been given said “base scenario”. The five-page precis Gove handed over to Parliament under duress instead said “HMG Reasonable Worse Case Planning Assumptions”, presumably to muddy the waters: the “worse case” after all, is No Deal, which makes these their reasonable planning assumptions for the worse case. But they’re not the worst possible case for what might happen after No Deal. The scenario outlined in the five-page document is quite conservative and there are many points that could end up a lot worse in reality. Many areas aren’t even mentioned—presumably these are covered in more detail in the much longer internal documents that former cabinet ministers have said that they saw earlier in the year.

The leaked document was dated at the beginning of August, so it wasn’t out of date. Just because the base scenario hasn’t changed since the start of the year doesn’t make it out of date. A version dated August 2019 will incorporate any updates since it was first drawn up.

Added by Rory on 6 October 2019.