Day 1214 of the Brexit process – where do we stand today?

Posted on: 21 October 2019 by Dr Andrew Roe-Crines in 2019 posts

The Palace of Westminster
Photo by Georg from Pexels

Following what was billed as 'Super Saturday', Dr Andrew Roe-Crines summarises another dramatic day in Parliament and lays out the current situation in the Brexit process.

Super Saturday was meant to be the end of the long road to passing a Brexit deal in the House of Commons. The deal – which is the second negotiated between the European Union and the UK – would have put us on course to depart from the EU on October 31st. After our departure, a series of other negotiations would take place to establish trade relations and the extent to which we would remain close to the EU.

However, two main stumbling blocks prevented this from happening. Firstly, the Letwin Amendment required the withdrawal Bill to be passed by Parliament first. This would mean all the necessary legislation required to implement Brexit must first be approved by the Commons ahead of the government’s deal being passed. This would be a lengthy process and likely delay Brexit further. Secondly, the DUP remained unhappy by the proposed deal, which they argue would create a division between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Put simply, they felt it kept Northern Ireland too closely aligned to the EU and therefore Ireland. This is despite David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists supporting the deal. Consequently, the deal between the UK and the EU was not passed on Saturday.

As the so called Surrender (Benn) Act has now come into force, the Prime Minister was forced to request an extension. This has now been done. However it is by no means clear if this will be granted. We will find out in due course if the EU is receptive to offer yet another extension. If it is granted, then this puts the PM into a difficult political position given he has promised not to request an extension and that the UK will be leaving on the 31st regardless. If this does not happen, then one of the key arguments of his leadership campaign would not have been fulfilled – to ‘deliver Brexit, unite the country, defeat Corbyn.’ It is important to remember, however that alongside the unsigned letter he sent to the EU, the PM has made it clear that it is not the Executive asking for the extension, rather it is Parliament. This is significant because it is the government that would be negotiating the terms of an extension, which Boris Johnson has indicated he will not do.

So, where do we stand today? At the time of writing the government is set to bring the legislation back to Parliament. It is unlikely the Commons will be receptive, and therefore it is unlikely progress will be made. What is clear is the growing sense of ‘Brexit fatigue’ in the country and in the EU. It is likely, therefore, that any amendment passed advocating a second referendum will be seen as an extension of an already long road that is losing the interest of many in the country. It is now 1,214 days since the UK voted to leave the EU. However, in the immediate terms if the Commons ultimately rejects the EU’s deal with the UK (again) and an extension does not occur then the UK will leave the EU on the 31st without a deal.

At this point there are simply too many uncertainties to make any kind of informed prediction except to say it is very unlikely the EU will want to begin fresh negotiations with the UK on any third deal. Consequently, it appears we have reached a moment of truth which Theresa May summed up on Saturday – when we voted to trigger Article 50, which put us on the road to Brexit, did the Commons mean it? If not, then they have wasted a great deal of time, money, and political capital on promising something they had no intention of delivering. That would likely have a very high political cost which would make the expenses crisis look like a walk in the park.

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