The problem of losers’ consent inherent in the UK drive to Brexit

Perhaps the fundamental problem about Brexit is that of consent, and that arguably almost half the voting population do not consent to it. A major underlying weakness of the Brexit strategy being pursued, almost to destruction, by PM May was highlighted today just as Parliament gets close to voting on, and it is being assumed at present, reject her deal with the EU. That is that the government took a very close 2016 referendum result, one that was advisory, as the cue to commence Britain’s exit from the EU. May was delivering a speech today about her deal, and as now is common practice issued an advanced briefing in which she compared tomorrow’s vote with that in 1997 over the Welsh referendum. Losers’ consent There’s a nice set of Twitter comments by the Welsh academic Richard Wyn Jones about May’s … Read more

Parliament makes a stand for democracy

Over the last two days there have been two important votes in Parliament on Brexit that have potentially reasserted the power of Parliament in relation to the executive. As the Brexit endgame is being played out, the issue of Britain’s independence, real or nominal, has become wrapped up with the nature and extent of democracy in the UK. These issues take us to the very heart of representative government in Britain. The immediate question has been how to try to stop PM May pushing the UK closer to the Brexit deadline in order to force MP’s to agree to the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) she has negotiated with the EU. May lacks a natural majority and is nevertheless bound by previous votes in 2017 to obtain Parliamentary agreement. This has posed a major headache for a government accustomed to being able … Read more

The Brexit conflict still remains in deadlock with the clock ticking down

The political deadlock in the UK at Westminster as we reach Christmas seems as solid as ever, with no apparent solution about Brexit on the table except Mrs May’s negotiated deal with the EU, a crash-and-burn no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. It is therefore a good time to assess where we are in relation to this all-consuming Brexit conflict, while other urgent, important or necessary domestic initiatives are on hold. So where do we go from here? May’s Withdrawal Agreement The major achievement, if we can call it that, of May’s premiership so far has been to negotiate with the EU a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) on the terms of Brexit, namely citizen rights, a settlement of outstanding debts (£39bn), the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic and a transition arrangement to last till Dec 2020, with a … Read more

Brexit has led to a power struggle between Parliament and the Executive

What is essentially a power struggle between Parliament and the executive over Brexit has moved centre stage. Yesterday the government was defeated on the motion to hold the UK Government in contempt of Parliament, over its refusal to fully publish its legal advice on the deal. This in itself was a rare but very significant shift in the balance of power between the two arms of government in Britain’s unwritten constitution. The debate is now focused until 11 December 2018 on the approval or rejection of May’s deal with the EU, and the crisis will now move further up the scale. The crisis has become fundamental Rejection of the deal could mean that Parliament will have to take control to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The conflict has become fundamental, as well as existential, and has all the hallmarks of a … Read more

The Parliamentary vote on Brexit risks a constitutional crisis and instability

“Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”. Whichever way the crisis over Brexit this winter may go, there may be no real winners and a whole lot of anger. Not surprisingly, many people in Britain are very fearful of what may occur. The crisis in the UK over Brexit is moving inexorably towards its climax, a potential constitutional crisis. On 11th December, after a 5-day debate, the House of Commons will vote on whether to agree Prime Minister May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration which she has just painstakingly negotiated with the European Union (EU). All the signs are that it will be rejected by a sizeable margin, thus plunging Britain into an even bigger crisis in which the outcome is at present very unclear. What, people ask, might happen? The Parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement As … Read more

The political deadlock in Parliament continues

The turmoil that is Brexit continues but still with no clear way forward emerging. In effect there is political deadlock in Parliament and no political option has a clear majority. This division and confusion is replicated amongst journalists, who offer various solutions but no consensus, and the public, as can be seen in confusing opinion polls. Negotiations with the EU resume tomorrow on a proposal that most people already are sceptical can secure agreement with the EU or with Parliament. Meanwhile the deadline of 29 March 2016 for Brexit gets ever closer. Attention is already turning to what happens next. What will unlock this deadlock? High drama in Parliament The vote yesterday on the Trade Bill report stage was high drama. Theresa May had earlier caved into the hard Brexit ERG Tory faction and allowed their wrecking amendment that customs … Read more

A response to identity politics needs to unite not divide

A characteristic of today’s western political divides has been the rise of identity politics, who you are politically and who and what you identify with*. In particular this has seen the growth of political tribalism that is different from traditional party politics and even cuts across it. Such people are often angry and hostile towards traditional cosmopolitan liberalism and seek to take back control, as with “America First”, exit from the EU or Islamaphobia. Many observers have been baffled by these movements, seeing them as irrational, foolish and impractical, and have been bereft of effective responses other than trying to deny them their victory. Instead the response has been to abuse and denounce them, which has simply fuelled the anger and caused them to double-down behind their cause. In the case of Trump and Brexiters, this would relate to white, … Read more

To leave or not to leave the EU, that is the question

“To be, or not to be: that is the question”, said Hamlet in Shakespeare’s celebrated play, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” The chemical-weapon poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK city of Salisbury comes neatly near to the year-point, 29 March 2019, when the UK is to leave the EU, and also to the anticipated re-election of Putin as Russian president. The two dates are not unconnected, Britain beset by a near-paralysis over Brexit and weakened internationally, and Putin’s need to shore up his flagging vote. It thus provides us with a useful litmus test of the viability of Brexit, given that calls for another referendum are growing. Foreign policy weakness exploited by the … Read more

How the Brexit end-game negotiations cruelly exposes the UK’s weaknesses

As the UK cabinet finally and very belatedly gets round to talking about the crucial Brexit end-game, nine months after triggering Article 50, yet more data has emerged today to confirm what many of Gove’s dreaded experts have been saying for a long time, that the economic impact of Brexit on the UK is far worse than that for the other EU states, and thus Britain is in a very weak bargaining position. Thus one of the central planks of the Brexiteer case for Leave has been fatally undermined. It is therefore no surprise that the UK is currently conceding to the EU demands during the Brexit negotiations. To do otherwise would wreck the economy, and thus it shows how the extremists can very probably no longer carry the day in the cabinet or Parliament. The UK has very probably … Read more

At last the Brexit revolution is stymied

At last the Brexit revolution is stymied. More and more one can envisage that the “soft” Brexit option will occur and also the previously unthinkable “no Brexit” option has just got stronger. Yesterday evening, the UK Parliament voted through an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill compelling the government to obtain its consent before Brexit, thus preventing a “no deal” departure as demanded by the diehard Brexiteers. As argued before in this blog, there is a Remain majority in Parliament, constrained by its fear of being seen as undemocratic, and now it will be emboldened by its victory. They will be emboldened too by the growing signs that May can’t in practical terms carry Brexit through without causing unacceptably great damage to the UK’s economy. May has already agreed to a divorce deal that will cost well in excess of … Read more

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