30th July 2018
Nobody knows what will happen with Brexit.
Nobody: no politician, no businessperson, no official, no pundit, no diplomat, no thinktanker, no citizen.
Nothing is so certain as to constitute knowledge.
One day, of course, when we know the outcome, there will be commentators who assert that what happened was inevitable all along. But, as of now, those commentators cannot predict what that outcome will be.
All we have are best guesses – assessments of probabilities and possibilities.
So how does it look today?
The most likely outcome is that the UK will indeed leave the EU on 29th March 2019.
This is because that will be what will happen by automatic operation of law, unless something deliberate is done to delay or stop it. Nothing more needs to be done. No further variables need to be posited. We all just watch the UK go on to the end of the conveyor belt.
Will that departure be with an exit deal?
This seems more likely than not, although this is far from certain.
As I have set out in another post, there are six reasons to believe a withdrawal agreement will be in place before next March. In summary these are: that the parties (the UK and EU27) want an agreement, that it is in the interests of the parties to have an agreement, that the parties are negotiating, that there is a text which is already 80% complete, that there is still sufficient (though decreasing) time for an agreement, and that the primary outstanding issue (the Irish backstop) is more about means than an end (in that both sides agree this is about a risk to be addressed, they just have different views on how to address the risk).
This analysis may be incorrect. But if the withdrawal agreement is done in time, it is difficult to see how the UK will not depart on 29th March 2019 – not least because the withdrawal agreement covers EU’s main points of concern.
(And if there is a withdrawal agreement, one further possibility is that the parties agree to vary the exit day from 29th March 2019 to, say, the end of the currently proposed transition period, 31st December 2020. This would have the merit of avoiding the need for elaborate transition arrangements. It would be sensible. And it probably will not happen, because the UK does not do Brexit sensibly, it does it stupidly.)
What if there is no withdrawal agreement?
Then, all other things being equal, then UK still goes on to the end of the conveyor belt and on to its post-Brexit future.
The parties could agree to extend the two-year negotiation period. This means the UK remains part of the EU for at least a while longer, for the exit agreement to be finalised.
But the two-year period is likely to be capable of extension only if negotiations are continuing and that an agreement is in sight. The period may not be capable of just being extended for any other reason.
Could there be another referendum?
Putting aside that referendums are (in my view) part of the problem and not the solution, and that there is no compelling reason to believe there result will be different from the last one, there is (as I have set out elsewhere) not enough time for all the necessary legislation to be passed and in place by next March.
There would have to be an extension of time.
The EU would probably agree to such an extension, as long as the withdrawal agreement was finalised.
But as it stands, no leading politician is in favour of a further referendum; the government and official opposition are against having one; and parliament is now away until September.
There could be a referendum, but there currently is no real prospect of one.
Could Brexit be cancelled?
It is now an accepted sign of madness to debate whether the Article 50 notification can be revoked or not.
The best that can be said is that nobody knows for certain but that it is highly likely to be revokable as long as it is done in good faith – and not just because the UK wants to re-start the clock to improve its negotiation position.
Is such a revocation likely?
As it stands, there is no indication that this is a serious possibility. There would need to be a profound political shift in the UK in the few months now left before the current date of Brexit.
Until recently I would have said this would be impossible. But recently the news that, if there is no withdrawal agreement, there may be food and medicine shortages, as well as other stark and unwelcome eventualities, there could perhaps be a path opening up to revocation.
Far more likely is that the possibility of such dreadful situations will put more pressure on the UK to agree a withdrawal deal which avoids calamities after March 2019.
But, as this post began, nobody knows for certain.
We are still in the eye of a political crisis, the outcome of which nobody knows.
All we have are probabilities and possibilities.
Brexit used to mean, in that glib phrase, Brexit.
We still do not know what Brexit will mean in practice.
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