Brexit: The endgame (update)

Prediction is a mugs game, but, watching the Brexit trainwreck, I can’t resist. Over the fold, my predictions from mid-December. So far, everything has gone as I predicted, but I didn’t anticipate how badly May would be defeated, or how strongly Parliament would reassert itself.

I now think that the “No Deal” option will be off the table sooner rather than later. Either May will capitulate to Corbyn’s demand or Parliament will force the issue somehow.

That makes revocation of Article 50 the default option, so that a strategy of running down the clock makes no sense for Brexiteers of any kind. Still, I think May will keep stalling because that’s what she does.

Now, I suspect the approach of 29 March will work a bit differently. Rather than unilateral revocation, May and the Conservatives will want an extension, which requires the consent of the EU27. To get that, they’ll need to offer a prospect of finality. Since a general election is unlikely to appeal, a second vote is the last option standing.

The question is: what will be voted on? It’s clear that Remain (that is, unconditional revocation of Article 50) will have to be one of the options. On the other side, there’s May’s failed deal with the EU (possibly tweaked further in the interim) and No Deal. Given that the Brits don’t understand preferential voting, my guess is that one of these will be ruled out. From a procedural perspective, I think the fairest choice would be the clearest. On the one side, reverse the result of the last referendum. On the other side carry it through regardless of what the EU thinks.

To be clear, “No Deal” doesn’t really mean that. A literal no deal would see Britain reduced to food rationing in a matter of weeks, air travel cancelled immediately and so on. In reality, “No Deal” means a series of emergency deals, cobbled together in circumstances where the EU faces significant but manageable economic costs, while the UK faces catastrophe. My guess is this would imply, for example, that EU airlines would ensure that air travel continued, but that British airlines would get short shrift. Perhaps the British side could call in Donald Trump, master deal-maker, to help drive a better bargain.

Repost from December

On 29 March this year[1,2], if nothing else changes, the UK will leave the European Union under the terms of Article 50. Unsurprisingly, lots of scenarios are being scripted, but the one I see as most likely doesn’t seem to be among them.

I expect that nothing much will happen until about 28 March. May won’t get a deal that can pass through Parliament. If she allows a vote at all, it won’t be until late January and it won’t pass. At that point, or possibly before, Labor will try a motion of no-confidence which will also not pass. There will be a push for a second referendum, but that will be stymied by the fact that the current law requires a minimum of 12 weeks to hold such an exercise, and that will be too late. There may also be an attempt to get an extension of time for the Article 50 notice, but at least one of the EU27 will find a reason to block it.

May will keep stalling for time, as she has done since taking office, until the deadline approaches. At that point, the ports will start to clog up, as shippers try to move goods across the channel before the No Deal exit. There will be attempts to negotiate temporary “No Deal deals” to smooth the flow, but they won’t go anywhere. By March 28, or maybe a bit earlier, panic buying will empty supermarket shelves and stockpiles of medicine.

At that point, the prospect of NO Deal will become too terrifyingly real to contemplate and there will be only one option left. Britain unilaterally revokes its Article 50 declaration, and everyone agrees to forget the whole sorry business.

Feel free to point out plot holes, or suggest your own script.

fn1. Rather less momentously, I will turn 63.
fn2. It’s generally good to be cautious about revealing your birthdate online. But mine is on Wikipedia, so I guess there’s no harm in that.

30 thoughts on “Brexit: The endgame (update)

  1. Betfair odds on a second referendum being held -< 31/12/2019 are @ 3.0.

    This seems quite generous given that informed opinion seems to be swinging towards Brexit R v.2.

    Are there any constitutional, legislative or logistical barriers to another Brexit referendum in 2019? Or is it all the impenetrably tangled web of EU and UK politics?

    I need to know fast before the odds shorten.

  2. Are there any constitutional, legislative or logistical barriers to another Brexit referendum in 2019?

    A second referendum can’t be organised before March 29. Therefore Brexit Day would have to be postponed. This can only happen if the UK Government asks for postponement, which so far they have shown no inclination of doing, and each of the EU27 agrees. If you think that there is a 90% chance of each one agreeing individually, the likelihood of all 27 of them agreeing (assuming they decide independently) is just 6%. Everyone seems to assume that the rest of the EU would just love to have the UK back in the fold. I wouldn’t be so sure. If, somehow, Brexit get cancelled this time, there will be forces in the UK that will agitate for Brexit in the future. Like genital herpes, they will be impossible to get rid of. This will just destabilise the EU further. The Poms have been nothing but trouble in Europe, always complaining, always looking for, and often getting, special carve outs from the rules for themselves. A lot of European governments will be happy to see them gone.

    I’d be looking for better odds than 3.0.

  3. If Theresa May has one distinctive feature it’s her racism, if she has another it’s her incompetence, and if we go so far as her third it’s an incomprehensible stubbornness.

    They’re gonna crash out.

  4. “The Poms have been nothing but trouble in Europe, always complaining, always looking for, and often getting, special carve outs from the rules for themselves. A lot of European governments will be happy to see them gone.” – Smith

    Well, it looks like a Brexit should increase the net happiness of Britain and Europe! It’s a win-win. 🙂

  5. Well, it looks like a Brexit should increase the net happiness of Britain

    I listened to a clip from a UK radio program in which the host kept asking the (pro-Brexit) caller ‘How will Brexit make your life better?’ and the caller kept not answering that question.

    So that’s my question for you: how will Brexit improve the lives of people in the UK?

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