The current likelihood of various Brexit outcomes

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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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87 thoughts on “The current likelihood of various Brexit outcomes”

  1. Hi David.

    You say of a second referendum that: “there is no compelling reason to believe there result will be different from the last one”

    But if the question is different, the answers are different, and the voting mechanism is different, it would be effectively impossible for the result to be the same.

    Certainly, there’s a risk of a multiple-choice AV plebiscite resulting in the hardest of Brexits rather than in revocation. That’s a frightening thought, although it could be mitigated by enfranchising 16 year olds and UK nationals overseas.

    But either of those outcomes wouldn’t be the same result as in 2016. And if the intermediate options were aligned to what the EU can actually offer – EEA/EFTA, or CETA with an Irish sea border – then the result would be meaningful, in precisely the way that the 2016 one wasn’t.

    There are other, better, arguments against it, outcome aside. A multiple-choice referendum would yield new, toxic, arguments about legitimacy. It wouldn’t heal political or social divides. The betrayal narratives on multiple losing sides would be strengthened. And the logistics of arranging such a thing and determining the official campaign status for each option would indeed be horrendous.

    But it remains the best option for the UK to escape disaster and allows the largest number of MPs to retain ideological purity by returning to campaigning mode rather than the horrors of real-life delivery, meaning that as long as Corbyn can be squared, it has a very good chance of getting through the House.

  2. One variable I’m curious about is the emergency legislation process. In Wales, for example, this can pass a bill within two weeks and has been used twice in the last five years.

    I presume that London’s version is more complex given the Lords, however it does not seem impossible for there to be a referendum bill before the deadline via this means.

  3. A possible new factor in the equation is a Labour conference at which the leadership finds it uncomfortable to continue resisting members’ anti-Brexit sentiment. This, combined with a continuing slide in public support for Brexit, could persuade the leadership to become more active (or active at all) in the Brexit debate, nationally and in parliament, with the consequence that some of the outcomes you describe (correctly, in my view) as currently unlikely, become more plausible.

    1. “A possible new factor in the equation is a Labour conference”

      I’m sorry to say that I think that the position of Labour and its leadership will continue to be largely irrelevant. Too much, mainly rot, has already been written about the position of the Labour leadership on Brexit, but even were the leadership publicly to adopt a well-defined line, it seems clear that Corbyn:
      a) will never be granted the solid support from the party’s own MPs he would require to apply leverage (and remember that he was under pressure from many MPs to publicly *oppose* Freedom of Movement in 2016);
      b) certainly cannot count on the votes of a rump of pro-Brexit Labour MPs.

      I certainly think that the Labour leadership has made serious strategic mistakes —e.g voting for ‘Article 50’, whipping for abstention on recent Lords amendments— but I’m not convinced that the hand dealt could have been played so much better as to make a difference. In any case, the time to build and seize control of effective cross-party influence to steer the whole process was the months following the vote, but the Party’s MPs were too busy trying to depose Corbyn to care.

      Nonetheless, when one hears Emily Thornberry saying, even at this critically late stage, that Labour believes that the EEA/Single Market would be wrong for the UK *but they would like to belong to something almost exactly the same* … well, two years ago this might have been an admirable and supportable ambition, but at this point the direction urgently needs to be practical and realisable, and such inchoate fantasies can really inspire only despair! :(

      That said, in the probably unlikely event of a complete meltdown in the Conservative Party leading to a fresh General Election before Brexit becomes effective, I can certainly see how Labour might well find itself compelled to campaign on the basis either of cancelling Brexit or of an ultra-soft EEA-style future relationship.
      Why? Because winning an election on the basis of a commitment to implement an impossible Brexit —and *any* Brexit so-far discussed would be unpopular with well over half of the electorate— would
      • amount to a fatally poisoned chalice;
      • inspire a gamut of betrayal myths to last generations (“That’s Not My Brexit!”), myths that *will* be exploited to the hilt by political opponents;
      • offer little or no opportunity to implement meaningful socialist policy as Brexit sucks all the oxygen out of government for the full Parliamentary term and longer;
      • lead to presiding over an economy in turmoil, massive uncertainty, stunted growth or even recession, and a still bitterly divided nation ripe with recriminations; it doesn’t really matter whose fault it really is — the image sticks.

      There’s no guarantee, of course, that Labour will have the collective foresight or coherence to reflect on these considerations, though.

  4. The prime minister is a Type 1 diabetic. No insulin is made in the UK, it is all imported. It has a certain ‘shelf life’.

    Might that problem act as a stimulus?

      1. Perhaps. They are running down stocks of bovine insulin as they cannot get the ‘raw product’. They still do porcine insulin; it’s not clear if they make this from scratch, or simply buy (the raw materials) in bulk and repackage.

    1. Without wanting to be overly PC, she is a woman with diabetes, not a ‘type 1d diabetic’: don’t define people in terms of their illness (I speak as the father of a teenager with type 1)

    2. This insulin business …

      If insulin is a key product for the UK, and we have to import it, then whether we are in or outside the EU we are reliant on other nations. If a couple of factories stopped producing at the same time (similar to the recent CO2 problems) then we would face a shortage. If supplies of insulin within the EU became unavailable but there were supplies form outside the EU, would the government a) arrange for insulin to be brought in from outside the EU under special licence or b) say sorry we cannot import this needed insulin because it hasn’t met EU standards even though people seem to be happily using it elsewhere?

      If we left and had no standards arrangement with the EU, same argument; we would just fly stuff in from wherever.

      A large section of the population regard this as just another exercise in scaremongering. A means of preventing the vote to leave the EU being implemented. Even if we left with No Deal and there was an actual shortage of insulin, that same large chunk would just consider the shortage to have been deliberately manufactured to force a reentry into the EU.

      If on the back of that there was a second referendum that lead to us going back in, that would still leave a very large chunk of people who would regard the whole exercise as a non-legitimate ruse by people who lost a referendum to overturn the result. I’d suggest that would leave UK politics in a very bad state for a generation.

  5. A great post. Well worth bookmarking this one to see how the options play out.

    A lesson from a career in financial markets. Everything is obvious in retrospect, nothing is obvious beforehand. The whole Brexit process a great example of that.

  6. Excellent writing- the fog begins to lift. In my opinion a deal will be done for a ‘soft’ Brexit otherwise the Irish Government would be in more of a panic and things seem realitivly calm on this side of the Irish Sea.

  7. If Article 50 were revoked, could it be the sole decision of the UK? Or would it have to be a request by the UK and subject to the agreement of the EU27?
    And if EU27 agreement would be required, as well as being satisfied on the good faith point, would they not also require further political commitments from the UK? Commit to joining Schengen and/or the Euro? An end to budget rebates?
    How on earth could the UK satisfy the EU27 on those points? Another referendum, but with a supermajority requirement this time?
    I’m not holding my breath.

    1. “If Article 50 were revoked, could it be the sole decision of the UK?”

      Unknown. Some say yes, I suspect not, as (based on my experience of interpreting EU regulations) when EU law wants something to be possible than it almost always tends to say so explicitly. In the end, only an ECJ decision can tell us.

      What I can tell you is that the EU 27 will almost certainly not accept a unilateral revocation without referring it to the ECJ (which makes the UK’s decision to invoke without asking the ECJ first about revocability even more stupid than it might already seem).

      Why not? Simply because they cannot allow such a momentous change in the course of events to be actuated on a basis which could subsequently be subject to legal challenge. Imagine the situation if the ‘Article 50’ process were aborted, mopping up works begun, and then six months later AfD (or whoever might have an interest in opening EU27 requiring treaty-level agreement to be reached) win an ECJ appeal that the notification cannot be revoked unilaterally.

      That said, whatever answer comes back from the ECJ, the EU27 can always *decide* to accept … but then we are in your alternative scenario.

      1. mmm. But wouldn’t it be delightful if it were the ERG who won an ECJ appeal against unilateral revocability?

  8. If the current parliamentary arithmetic stays the same (Tory minority govt with DUP support) there are two reasonably foreseeable outcomes:
    1. A “soft Brexit” negotiated starting from Norway/Switzerland/Chequers
    2. Crash out with no deal

    If the current parliamentary arithmetic changes (e.g. due to major party realignment or GE, possibly with a second referendum) there are two further reasonably foreseeable outcomes;
    3. A “hard Brexit” based on Canada with the customs border in the Irish Sea
    4. Revocation of A50.

    Are there any other reasonably foreseeable outcomes?

  9. David’s article is, as usual, helpful but doesn’t, so I believe, cover the full spectrum of possibilities. I’ve been telling my foreign friends to exclude nothing. One major option not covered by David is a complete reconfiguration of the UK political scene: not impossible in the light of the ineptitude of both Tory and Labour and of the dawning understanding of the enormity of the problems withdrawal brings. And if that happens the issue of a referendum/decision by Parliament is of subordinate importance. Unlikely? Probably. To be excluded? No.

  10. You make no mention of the fact that if there isn’t a done deal by March next year, British MEPs will continue to sit in the European parliament for another term. Oh the irony.

    1. No, the issue with UK MEPs is not whether there is a deal or not, but whether the UK is in the EU or not. If the UK is out of the EU end of March 2019 (no prolongation, no transition), there won’t be UK MEPs elected in June 2019.

  11. Brexit still means Brexit but we are becoming far more aware of the implications. Unfortunately the simmering dislike that some felt for the EU has been distilled into a palpable hatred by cutting edge marketing reinforced by a majority of our traditional news sources. Logic, reason and the experience of various experts has been sacrificed on the altar of Brexit in a fervour that would embarrass a Grand Inquisitor. ‘For the greater good’ (Hot Fuzz anyone?) appears to be the mantra as we are encouraged to ignore all evidence that our actions will lead to a sustained period of self harm.
    Up to 50 years can mean 18 months but can also stretch to 600. The length of my life so far and more than I can reasonably expect to live. Perhaps we should take a little more time to be certain that this is a rational decision and not the will of external forces who wish us no good.

  12. The prediction markets at Betfair and Smarkets cover many of these contingencies. It would be interesting to know your view on whether they have the right probabilities.

  13. David

    I think your general stance is a bit passive. I think that rebel Tory MPs will derail Brexit at some point before the deadline. Re the referendum, no-one has explained to me how this could work (care to try?) This is because most referendums are binary, BUT a second Brexit one would have to be trinary: Deal, No-deal, or No-Brexit. Since this would split the Brexit vote, such a vote would be unfair and unacceptable (even to me, a strong Remainer). I would appreciate a response from you on this point

    1. It’s not as if multiple-choice ballots with AV are particularly outre: we have them in mayoral contests and no-one bats an eye.

      Even if the options were quaternary rather than ternary, AV would not split the Brexit vote, because if (say) the EFTA option comes last, the second-preference votes for CETA and WTO come into play.

      If this confuses people, we really are in trouble.

      1. “If this confuses people, we really are in trouble.”

        We’re in trouble!
        https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/23/brexit-broke-parliament-people-fix-election-dilemma

        Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government and ever present talking head on constitutional and Brexit-related issues(!), completely misunderstands the Condorcet Paradox and, on top of that, proposes a two-stage referendum which is practically guaranteed to violate the very issues of legitimacy which Condorcet Methods are designed to mitigate! It could hardly be worse.

        GAAH! Bloody “experts”!

    2. “Since this would split the Brexit vote, such a vote would be unfair and unacceptable (even to me, a strong Remainer).”

      As Silas points out, a ballot in which preferences can be expressed need NOT “split the Brexit vote,” no matter how many options are offered. In fact, it such a ballot would help mitigate one of the many fatal flaws in the previous referendum, namely that Brexit votes for mutually incompatible options could *not* be distinguished. For example (based on recent polls):
      • many of those who detest the EU and all its works and would prefer the hardest possible Brexit or ‘No Deal’ would nonetheless view an EEA-style Brexit as pointless, and would vote to Remain (and fight another day) were EEA-style “vassal state” status to be the chosen form of Brexit;
      • many eurosceptic voters who would like to see the beginnings of a detachment from the EU as political project (and I make no comment *here* as to whether this is a reasonable or even practicable ambition) would view the prospect of a hard Brexit sans integration with the Single Internal Market (or even ‘No Deal’) as insanely self-harming, and would therefore prefer to Remain if the Government insists on imposing “red lines” which make continuing a close economic partnership with the EU impossible.

      A vote where preferences can be expressed could (if well designed) allow such complications to be overcome and a compromise to be reached with demonstrable support from a consensus. *(1)*

      A vote without such capacity to express preferences risks the situation where the specific form of Brexit that is finally selected would lose *heavily* in any binary run-off with Remain or even with some other choice: this is because all the variants discussed to date are abstract chimerai, but it is impossible to implement Brexit without making specific concrete choices and accepting (all) their consequences. *(2)*

      This unhappy situation, incidentally, is where we find ourselves at present, and it was always clear and obvious —even before the referendum— that this would be the case. It is quite possible to imagine methods by which such a dramatic impasse might have been managed democratically or defused, but Mrs May has categorically eschewed all such possibilities (which, I’m afraid, was also foreseeable and foreseen as it is very much of a piece with her habitual modus operandi).

      This is why, in countries with experience of employing referendums as a regular element of democratic government, it is the almost universal practice —often mandatory by constitutional law— that the choices offered in referendums should be to confirm, dismiss, or to abrogate concrete legal provisions which have already passed subject to the normal scrutiny by the legislature. Even where such practice is not mandatory, it would be regarded as extreme political incompetence to promote a referendum where significant aspects of one or other outcome are left undetermined, not merely because this would be undemocratic and risk confusion among voters, but also because it would undermine the very popular legitimacy which was sought in the first place by calling the referendum (“That’s Not My Brexit!”). There is absolutely nothing democratic about an exercise where a plebiscite is held, the meaning of whose outcome is subsequently to be decided elsewhere by a political cabal and, indeed, such lax referendums have historically been the hallmark of the worst regimes in history.

      *Note (1): I am not actually arguing in favour of another referendum here (I’m unconvinced that a referendum would resolve the current problem, particularly given current constraints of competence in government, time, public understanding, recent political history and disposition), but merely observing how the mechanics should work if such a course were to be chosen.

      *Note (2): The Condorcet Paradox is a risk that will certainly be invoked here, but one which is unlikely to arise in practice and whose effects can be managed democratically — a red herring, in other words.

      In general, the UK’s political classes prefer to avoid allowing the voting public to express detailed or nuanced preferences at all costs, as such democratic exercises would make it far more difficult to constrain the electorate to accept the narrow range of political options they wish to allow. Hence the persistence of the FPTP voting system which almost never delivers a government which could survive a binary referendum —”Are you satisfied with the government which has been elected?”— even on the day after a General Election!

    3. Peter
      I noticed your comment on my post about a three way referendum question. The options might be 1. Remain 2. Accept negotiated deal (should it exist and be easy to explain in simple English with implications – a big ask). 3. No deal with similar implications in plain English, difficult but not impossible, however longer term implications and consequences would be argued over as infinitum.
      When I write it like that I realise it is essentially a non starter. The top two votes have a run off with second preference votes of the lowest scoring option distributed. At this point the voters for the second and third ranked options all cry foul.

  14. “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.”

    Interesting statement! In fact nobody can predict ANYTHING in the future with any certainty. What we can say however, is that the EU is becoming ever more authoritarian and controlling (and Germanic), we need to be out of it before it collapses under the weight of its own hubris!

    1. “In fact nobody can predict ANYTHING in the future with any certainty.”

      I predict there will always be at least one person replying to a post with something in block capitals.

  15. Commenting from France, as a Europhile.
    There is one factor you don’t mention (often) in the issue of prolonging EU membership, it’s the EU Parliament elections. It’s very important for continental europhiles to ensure that the UK can not vote in the next EU Parl elections: the UK has decided to Brexit, it’s very important for us that you can’t have anymore a formal political say in EU orientation, ie no UK MEPs and no UK Commissioner, because the UK will be a third country. This doesn’t preclude discussing, like Norway or Switzerland do. I suspect this is why article 50 was triggered in March 2017, for ensuring this.
    Any prolongation would have to take this into account and what I have read (observer status for UK MEPs) wasn’t very convincing.

  16. Your posts are essential reading for Brexit obsessives.

    So little debate really exists in the media, drowned out by the BBC’s stance of so called balance which in reality seems more like avoidance of debate.

    Of course you are right to say that whatever the outcome we cannot predict it now but many will say it was inevitable anyway. But it is also pretty clear that the complexity of the issues which get more complex rather than less with the passage of time will not suddenly disappear.

    People who voted to leave were not stupid but were sometimes even often mislead and as Damian Collins’s committee reports, this is not just messing with data but seriously influencing the outcome.

    Referendums are no way to resolve this complex issue but as there is no majority for any one option, it may be the only solution. I accept the points about time but it is only at the last minute that agreements are agreed. With a will and some planning (not something we have demonstrated so far) is there a quick and dirty way of devising a three question referendum as suggested by Justine Greening and others?

    The heroes are the many experts that twitter has thrown up as well and the humourists who try to keep us smiling through this period of exceptional uncertainty. If the reasonable members of the Houses of Parliament unite in an agreed format surely it is possible. If it isn’t, what does it say about our creaking democracy?

    The debate has turned ugly on many occasions and I applaud your actions to shut it down when it affects your comments. There are more responsible voices out there, but those who shout loudest usually get heard. As the days pass I believe they are at last beginning to be heard.

  17. Sometimes it is safer to make a forecast over 10 year than 2 years. I am not sure this is the case for Brexit. But here it goes:
    I agree that we cannot know for certain about the position of the UK relative to the EU in 2020. Yet, the most probable situation in 2030 to anyone who has been following the Brexit unfolding since the referendum is a Canada-style FTA. Perhaps “Canada-Plus”, but not exactly the “pluses” that David Davis kept insisting on. While there are still many uncertainties about how the UK and the EU will get there, it would be good to see political leaders taking this medium/long term perspective.
    I am not basing this forecast on any hard data, but on the belief that the UK back as a regular EU member is at this point unimaginable. A Norway-type of agreement or any other creative option between membership and FTA is still difficult to envision, after seeing how the EU is handling Brexit.

    1. “A Norway-type of agreement or any other creative option between membership and FTA is still difficult to envision, after seeing how the EU is handling Brexit.”

      I’m curious as to what it is about “how the EU is handling Brexit” that leads you to regard a “Norway-type of agreement” as difficult. It is precisely Mrs May’s (or, more likely, Nick Timothy’s) so-called “red lines” on Freedom of Movement and the ECJ which block any such arrangement: the EU would have been perfectly prepared to take an EEA-style agreement as a starting point for negotiations. Whether they would still be prepared to do so at this point, having observed the chaos and raw animosity raging in the heart of the British Government, is sadly less certain.

      As for other “creative options”: the EU already has a variety of relationships with third countries, some of which it sees as positive and some which it regrets and would prefer to mutate into something more practical and manageable.
      As, obviously, the smaller negotiating partner, it would (clearly) have been advisable —highly recommended, in my experience!— and a far stronger approach for the UK to adopt one of those well-regarded relationships as a model at the outset, and to concentrate the very limited time available for negotiation on modifying the details where these would have the most beneficial effect. That the UK has not done so has represented a complete triumph of incontinent self-indulgence over even the most minimal recognition of the contraints required by basic technical competence in managing negotiations.

      Instead, the UK has wasted two whole years needlessly framing the entire process as a conflict, and pointlessly searching for a (non-existent) vantage point whence it can exercise the leverage to impose its will on its declared “enemy” which is six times its size. The entire exercise has been futile, and we are now trying to scare the “enemy” by pretending to stockpile food!

  18. Our politicians would like us to accept Brexit and to stop asking the probing questions. Chloe Smith suggesting that Russian Interference would be discussed ‘in the round’ is the typical language used to play down findings of foul play until it is too late to disrupt the outcome.

    History will record that a successful act of cyber warfare dismantled our coalition of nations unless we take action. A further referendum is the only way that the informed ‘will of the people’ will be legitimately established. It is messy and guaranteed to cause some further upset, but anything less will be viewed as a political fudge.

  19. That’s an acute observation by your sister. I’m a retired surgeon, so diabetes isn’t my specialty; and I’m of a vintage when diabetics were often advised to lead a regular life to help to try to stabilise the condition.

    I do have a long standing interest in the health problems of leaders. It’s quite remarkable (and frightening) just how many had significant health problems, and how often this was hidden from the public.

    1. The comments here are being influenced by the gremlins. That comment was a reply to my first comment about the PM being a diabetic; the reply seems to have vanished.

  20. I have just noticed the comment from Simon Carne which mentions Justine Greening and a three-way referendum. Simon, maybe you could comment on the problem over this idea which I mentioned in my earlier comment

  21. What of the possibility, albeit a small one, that public opinion might well turn against the way the referendum was conducted? (I refer to illegalities reported in findings of the Electoral Commission). These findings would suggest that the result was, at the very least, unreliable as a true indicator of public opinion at the time.
    Moreove, should the result be left to stand (the so-called ‘will of the people’ so beloved by politicians favouring Brexit), it would mean that the cheats will have won, and we may as well kiss democracy goodbye.
    It’s puzzling that there seems little enthusiasm for such a move at the moment. But things might change. There is so much uncertainty around!

    1. You are joking aren’t you?

      Remain heavily outspent Leave. Remain had the same co-ordination meetings Leave did but with more organisations. The Remain campaign promised us a recession, 500,000 job losses and a crash in house prices of we voted Leave. None of these happened. Osborne said he would do a punishment budget and didn’t do it. Cameron said he would trigger article 50 the next day then didn’t do it.

      You are setting a standard pretty much impossible to achieve, and can then use this as a pretext to overthrow any result you don’t like.

      Have you considered what happens when a self-appointed minority sit in judgement on a majority and steals their votes? Do you think people will quietly accept having their votes torn up? You aren’t protecting democracy, you are destroying it.

  22. Great insights as ever.

    On the subject of “predictability:

    Why is the volume of intellectual debate about possible Brexit outcomes so high? Is it because the perceived consequences are (potentially) more dire than other recent political events? And would, for example, the threat of WW3 generate this much analysis? I guess so (?)

    Speaking as a psychologist, however, I also can’t help feeling that all this Brexit analysis reflects a cathartic (therapeutic) process for those involved. Specifically, my sense is that Brexit represents a loss for most Remainers, and as such, is subject to Kubler Ross’s five stages of grief :

    1. denial
    2. anger
    3. bargaining
    4. depression
    5. acceptance

    If the grief hypothesis of Brexit is correct, then it would interesting to locate at which of the five stages most people are. Once this is established, the next steps may indeed become easier to “predict”.

    1. My perception is that Remainers seem to be split with some perhaps a quarter, still in the Anger stage but perhaps the majority have now moved onto the Bargaining and later states.

  23. Brexit is a perfect example of why referenda are both anti-democratic and irrational.
    Anti-democratic because they pose a question or present a law (as in some US states etc.) for a simple yes/no. Posing a question avoids any possibility of debate about specifics. Presenting a law prevents the scrutiny given to proposed legislation such as amendments, the usual 3 readings, rules of debate etc.
    Irrational because most issues in political life are not binary and not simple. Yes, a referendum on a new national flag is fine except, NZ’s referendum created controversy about the alternative flag proposals presented. Compare this with the Canadian flag debate a half century ago which saw a new Canadian flag unlike the proposals at the beginning of the debate. Now, that flag, is universally recognized.
    What has long puzzled me is that the very definition of Toryism should preclude a Tory from ever favouring a referendum on anything.

    1. Yes. I never asked for a referendum. I’d have preferred a government that fought hard in Europe to get the best for Britain, not a succession of governments that seemed to be intent only on demonstrating what good obedient Europeans we were. But Parliament voted 6:1 to have a referendum, and here we are down a path that was one of the possible ones that could clearly have been foreseen when the vote was taken.

      1. Arguably we already have a very good deal. To expect an opt out of one of the 4 freedoms (movement of labour) was a step too far and anyway not a sensible position given the shortages of qualified staff for all manner of professions and industries.

  24. Writing from Ireland – I have voted in many EU referendum’s, Maastricht, Nice, Lisbon, and perhaps it is worth making a comment as to how this happens in Ireland and not in the U.K.
    In 1916, there was a (largely) Sinn Fein Rebellion in Dublin – it was led by mostly middle class professionals, poets, artists and few if any of them had fired a gun before- their ideal for an independent Ireland was economic lunacy & politically naive by almost any measure- (the same might be said of Brexit)- however, in due course five years later, British rule was ending over most of Ireland and the U.K. Government decide the British Parliamentary system needed an ‘upgrade’ and they gifted to us our PR voting system and a written constitution (which was replaced with the current one in 1937). So while the U.K. now has a Supreme Court less then twenty years, the Irish one is eighty years old.
    It’s a ‘living’ Constitution which is why we are always amending it for ‘children’s rights’, ‘same sex marriage’, ‘abortion rights’ and of course EU treaty’s.
    Which of course leads to the immediate question, why does Ireland vote twice on EU referendums? (because we got the answer wrong the first time comments).
    The answer is straightforward. Ireland’s Constitution structures the State with fundamental rights, voting system etc, and three independent pillars of State – The President (Monarch), Parliament, and Judiciary. The Judiciary have ruled that Parliament does not have the Constitutional right to ‘sed ’ sovereignty of the State without reference to the people in a referendum. So when the Government sign an EU Treaty, there must be a referendum. When a Treaty is defeated- the public debate will have indicated problem areas and the Government returns to the EU to negotiate Protocols. Following negotiations and usually after most other countries have ratified the Treaty, there is a second referendum with ‘final’ changes.
    The problem with Brexit is that there is NO written UK Constitution. It might be a bit late to say this and it is like trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted, but following the logic of the Irish system, it would be reasonable to have a second referendum at the conclusion of negotiations- Des in Dublin

    1. Des, I’m on the other side of the border; I agree with what you say except for two points. The 1916 Rising wasn’t led by Sinn Féin; they came soon after, as ‘carpet baggers’, and successfully rewrote history so that they got the credit for something they didn’t do. The 1916 Proclamation gave equal rights to all, men and women; the 1937 Bunreacht didn’t. Secondly, the UK has bits and pieces of something that resembles a constitution written down here and there; the UK doesn’t have a codified constitution. (N Ireland was also given STV for its parliament; after a couple of goes, not being adequately discriminatory, it was changed to the Westminster system.)

      1. Well, yes you are right and if memory serves the ‘political’ declaration which was years ahead of its time in Europe was Written by the Irish Labour Party as part of the deal of them not contesting the 1918 general election against Sinn Féin. While the 1937 Constitution was regressive in some areas, in others it wasn’t – so the Irish Constitution was the first time Judism was recognized and given Constitutional protection. The Catholic Church tried to stop this but in fairness to Eamonn De Valera, he refused their protests. This was already a time of repression for Jews in Europe (seems to be a current issue for the British Labour Party), and not long before the building of concentration camps. I think we have had over thirty referendum on the constitution and one great advantage of that is the whole of Society takes responsibility- such as on ‘gay’ marriage and Legalizing Abortion. There is an open and honest debate across the country and personally I think it helps nearly all of Society to change and understand issues together. So should there be a second referendum? On balance yes and if it was in Ireland it would definitely happen, but I think it is now very unlikely that this will happen and the U.K. will leave in March, but there will be the ‘back-stop’ for Northern Ireland (whether the DUP like it or not).

        1. Thank you for you excellent summary of your democratic process in Ireland. Ireland gets often cited as evidence for a perceived tendency of the EU to have one vote after another until the outcome is “right”. What is your sentiment as an Irish to that perception?

        2. I agree, Des. You mention that the Constitution can be amended; if you look at the history of these amendments, you see that there are a few that don’t exist. This is where the proposal was not accepted by the electorate.

          You mention the recent abortion referendum, the 36th Amendment. The history of this has a very salutary lesson for the British establishment, if only they would listen.

          The 8th amendment was passed in 1983 by nearly 67% of the electorate; this gave the ‘unborn’ the equal right to life as the mother, and effectively prevented abortion. Subsequently, there were a series of unhappy events. There was an attempt by the government to prevent a pregnant child of 15 from leaving the state for an abortion. Her pregnancy was the result of incest.

          More recently, the entirely unnecessary death of Savita Halappanvar showed to many the victory of dogma over pragmatism, humanity and the realities of life. One response by the government was the introduction of an Act which didn’t really change things much. Trying to kick the can down the road (or into the long grass), a Citizens’ Assembly was set up to discuss abortion and other matters. Around 99 citizens were randomly plucked from the electoral register.

          The members met with a judge as a chair over several weekends; the proceedings were televised via the internet; I didn’t see them all, but I saw the all of final day. Various pro and anti-abortion groups gave presentations, after which there were votes on proposals. One of these proposals came from the floor, from the assembly members; that abortion should be available on demand up to 12 weeks gestation; this passed with 66% of the votes. A number of other proposals were also passed.

          The government then proposed to act on the recommendations of the assembly, if these were passed in a referendum. The proposals included the 12 week on-demand one. The referendum passed these proposals by 64%.

          Quite clearly, ‘the facts’ of abortion in Ireland had changed over 30+ years, and when asked, the opinion of the electorate had also changed. A citizens’ assembly, one which had been fully and comprehensively informed, was a very reliable indicator of change in the country.

          Meanwhile, in the UK, the Cabinet has sort of agreed the UK’s position some 15 months after handing in a notice to quit (and after a failed election), and two years after the referendum.

          Were UK citizens told about food and medicine shortages before the referendum? Were they told that it might take 50 years for the benefits of leaving to accrue? Have ‘the facts’ changed from 2 years ago, and has public opinion also changed? If both facts and opinion have changed, then why not a further referendum? And why is the PM so totally against one?

    2. The most poignant clause (Article 51) in the first Constitution of the Free State is this: “The Executive Authority of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) is … and shall be exercisable, in accordance with the law, practice and constitutional usage governing the exercise of the Executive Authority in the case of the Dominion of Canada, by the Representative of the Crown. ” Could not mention the UK. This is the only constitutional clause I know of that makes me cry.

      1. Things, constitutionally, were even stranger between 1937 and 1949. Then, Éire was a Republic with an elected President, yet George VI was the King. Make of that what you will.

  25. “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).”
    I suspect this may understate the difficulty. True, the UK, EU and Ireland all want a soft border. Nevertheless, TM is boxed in by her red lines on the CU, SM and no border in the Irish Sea, while the EU will not accept her Chequers proposal for a customs arrangement.
    The Irish Govt. can’t be seen to resile from what was agreed last year if it is to retain credibility with its own electorate. It’s hard to see how this can be resolved. Remember that to work, the backstop, however framed in legal terms, must replicate membership for NI of the CU and Single Market in goods. Moreover, TM has to work on the assumption that the backstop will come into effect and stay in effect for any forseeable future, because in reality no likely trade deal between the UK and EU would be good enough to do the same job. Talk of a fudge doesn’t seem to me to help in this particular situation since you simply can’t fudge arrangements at an international border.
    Two years ago when she had a parliamentary majority and plenty of political capital TM might have made a soft Irish border her starting point. She could have said that nothing would be allowed to
    take priority over maintaining the union, the closest possible relations with the republic and keeping the hard-won peace in the north. It would have been hard to argue against and could have taken the whole process in the direction of the softest possible Brexit. Instead we had multiple red lines and the border being allowed to turn into the issue which may derail the negotiations.

  26. There is a logical reason to believe a further referendum based on the Govts agreed (in principle) deal or to remain would produce a different result. The leaving deal would set out specific arrangements that could be assessed by individuals on how it would affect their personal well being and maybe even the national interest. The EU would allow time for that to happen. More than a million new young voters would be eligible. I think such a referendum which ever way it went would be less divisive than where we are today.

  27. In working out the probability of any particular outcome occurring, I wonder how much weight we give to Parliament as an actor in this drama, (or is it a farce?)

    As you correctly say, no one know the outcome but some outcomes look more probable than others. It seems to me highly probable that there will not be a second referendum, because neither major party is in favour of such an action.

    You say nothing needs to happen for us to leave the EU beyond the lapsing of time. Legally you are absolutely correct, if nothing happens we leave without a deal on 30th March 2019. If you are a member of the ERG all you need to do is prevent things from happening and your desired clean Brexit will occur.(And that is exactly what they done so far.)

    Since there is no agreement, in terms of constructing a majority for a particular course of action, it would seem likely that the ERG will get what they want. The Conservative government aren’t being allowed to vary the offer sufficiently for the EU to agree it – now, the EU might tear up the rule book, but I have that probability somewhere very near 0.0, in other words it isn’t going to happen in all probability and therefore doing the deal that May wants on the terms the she wants it is a non starter, again we’re circling zero.

    So, if one was a betting man then where would one put one’s money? Well, I would bet a reasonable sum that May comes back with CETA and possibly a plus or two for the future if they can be successfully negotiated in the interim period and provided that the UK meets its withdrawal obligations on Citizens, fees and emoluments. Given how much time is left, is see little prospect of much more.

    That is what May has to get through parliament in the full and certain knowledge that that is the deal with the repercussions economic and political that prospect will cause. I don’t think she will be able to command a majority in favour of such an outcome. In other words Parliament will not approve that deal.

    Of course, the ERG will be luxuriating in their silk smoking jackets as they watch the clock count down to zero, knowing that we will leave without even a CETA deal, that we won’t pay our fees and emoluments and that is exactly what they wanted from day one and considering they are a smallish minority inside the Tory party, we shall have to revisit theories of power, in particular the efficacy of elites. In short my money is on the UK leaving with No deal despite the fact that so much is agreed upon by both sides and both sides want a deal of some sort. As lawyers never tire of telling you, the devil really is in the detail.

    1. Sadly, I think you are right. And TM – who has come to realise, rather too late, the dangerous implications of a no-deal Brexit – has been as instrumental in bringing us to the brink of a fatal fall-out as any of her party’s most rabidly obstructive ERG Brexiteers.

      Born out of her vehement opposition to the ECJ and still smarting from her inability to drive down immigration numbers during her tenure at the Home Office, TM effectively backed her own negotiating position into an extremely tight corner with her initial Lancaster House speech. Her red lines ignored the problem posed by the Irish border, which was always going to be the inevitable point of tension and failure in any Brexit negotiations. This was abundantly clear from the outset of the referendum campaign, but the Irish issue was almost totally ignored by the campaigns, the media and voting public. Even now, it is considered an inconvenience – worth fudging rather than fixing.

      This is an untenable situation and one the EU cannot ditch or postpone indefinitely as it involves the vital interests of a member state and threatens the integrity of the EU’s trading/standards infrastructure.

      At this point, the EU will just want rid of the obstreperous and confrontational U.K. from its political architecture and policy making processes. Even if the U.K. changed its mind and hoped to Remain, I think the most the U.K. could ever hope for now would be continued membership of the Customs Union, (plus a few key cooperative agency buy-ins to steady the ship). Indeed, that would be a very satisfactory outcome for the EU…

      The WTO wrangling with the wider world will prove to be the next big battleground for the U.K. None of this is going to be particularly pretty and the U.K. has (unnecessarily) manoeuvred itself into a very serious and weakened position, unfortunately. This will delight the ERG-whackos who are banking on the US riding to our rescue – at whatever price they demand.

  28. The most likely outcome is what is assumed to be a ‘soft’ Brexit, so far nobody seems to be very happy with the Brexit likely to be on offer as it is more constraining than remaining in the EU, as was predicted by experts. But Brexit means Brexit so if nobody is happy with the result then we can start again perhaps using expert advice and look at where our best trading relationships lie and their impact on UK jobs and standard of living. So Brexit is just a start perhaps of going back in very quickly once we find out how great a mistake was made. ‘We have been betrayed’ and ‘we told you so’ will be well to the fore in the political debate in next five years.
    Unlike Brexit, the inevitable is inevitable, lies cannot be ignored forever? Was, or is Boris Johnson potentially the best leader of this country for 100 years in a noble cause? Was Brexit a noble cause? Will Brexit benefit anyone in the UK?

  29. What really seems to be worrying many people is not that the UK will fail if there is a hard exit or we crash out, but that the UK will flourish. This will not only create an existential problem for the EU, but for a lot of politicians and professional classes who had flourished under the EU’s massive technocratic stranglehold will leave their reputations in tatters and careers stalled.

    And don’t start on about how it is going to be really bad when we leave. You have no clue. No-one does. What happens after this will be up to us. But this is our last chance to avoid being permanently the meat on the EU’s plate.

    1. I think it’s very easy to list a lot of ways it’s going to be hard after Brexit:
      -Trade tariffs
      -Customs checks
      -Taking your cat on holiday.

      These are irrevocable facts. Even Rees Mogg accepts post Brexit Britain has challenges. The unknowable things are how long they’ll take to resolve and exactly what form the resolution to these issues is.

      You could turn to one of the chief architects of Brexit for a guess on how long it’ll take to sort out. Rees Mogg is now saying it’ll take 50 years to negotiate better conditions from outside the EU to resolve these issues.

      I think it’s a fair certainty that we’re better managing our relationships with European neighbours through the institutions of the EU.

    1. I’ll put that comment as Exhibit C in the Remainer Economic showcase, along with Exhibit A, George Osborne saying that if we didn’t join the Euro we would have elected to remain in a low growth outer-rim round the high growth Eurozone core; we outperformed the Eurozone for 10 years solid, and Exhibit B, all those predictions about what would happen if we voted to Leave.

      As I said above, beforehand no-one knows anything. In retrospect, it was all obvious.

      1. Cheers Dipper

        Use your imagination to list the things we’ll no longer be able to do post Brexit.
        It’s easy- I’ll start you:
        -Better customs tariffs than WTO norms
        -easy holiday travel round Europe
        -common standards to allow easy trade
        -no customs checks to allow efficient manufacturing business
        -a passport for your dog

        The list goes on. All these benefits go when we leave.

        Then think of the things it’ll allow us to do with our precious time instead. That’s principally a “free hand” for a weakened negotiation position to work really hard to get back some of the things we had before.

        Simply, there is a certainty of future hardship. There’s only uncertainty of when we can resolve those hardships.

        It takes some sophisticated mental gymnastics to believe that’s a sensible plan for the future.

        1. a basic misunderstanding that only by being in the EU are nations able to agree mutually beneficial arrangements. Countries other than the EU also have standards, and many standards are international and use British courts to arbitrate. No customs checks would be ideal but if customs checks make international trade less easy then that will boost production in the UK as we have a trade deficit in manufactured goods.

          EU growth around 1%. USA 4% global growth rate including EU 3%

          All the best decisions require a bit of courage. Timidity gets you nothing.

  30. Thank you for your clear statement of the current situation; given the current high level of uncertainty, perhaps concentrating on looking clearly at where we are now is as much as we can hope for.

    There is a vast range of speculations expressed above. They can’t all come to pass. The key factor that will collapse these possibilities down to the actual outcome will be contact with reality. Anything that is based on hopefulness, magical thinking or plain ignorance of the world will inevitably come to grief. The caveat to this is that failure (for either side of the argument) can – and will – be spun mercilessly, and so may not be acknowledged (or clear) in the short term.

    One post-Brexit possibility is seldom mentioned though. Some of those advocating a no-deal Brexit are now saying that they still feel any hardship that might befall us would be a price worth paying in exchange for the net gain of sovereignty. But what of their mirror image, those who would still want to rejoin the EU, even if Brexit turned out not to be completely bad? People whose identity has been formed by 40 years of EU membership and free movement?

    The Eurosceptic narrative took at least 30 years of tabloid drip-feed to marinade and become mainstream, topped up by external events (Maastricht, Lisbon), then turbocharged by post-Crash disquiet and agitprop. How long might a Rejoiner narrative take to come to fruition? Starting from a massively larger base than the 1970s Eurosceptics, and with demographics firmly on its side, it could well take less than 10 years, though external events (global, EU and national) could greatly facilitate or hinder this.

    This is no more far-fetched than many other possibilities being discussed. In which case, the turbulence and uncertainty might not end, even after Brexit…

    1. “But what of their mirror image, those who would still want to rejoin the EU, even if Brexit turned out not to be completely bad? People whose identity has been formed by 40 years of EU membership and free movement?”

      As a Leaver I’d say that if people want to campaign to rejoin the EU that’s fine, but please come up with a positive narrative. How we are going to shape Europe, how we are going to forge alliances to overcome the Franco/German federalism core, how we are going to ensure democratic accountability survives. The current “pro-EU” arguments that the UK is a hopeless basket case full of stupid people whose only hope is for superior European neighbours to make all our laws and do all the clever jobs for us is an affront to democracy and an open insult to millions of people.

      1. Well, it’s a relief that Rejoiners will be given permission to campaign, of course (only joking). And you’re quite right that very little positive campaigning has been done – on either side. But that was my point really. The Eurosceptic position was always largely one of principle and emotion, even before it donned the grubbier accoutrements of the the referendum campaign (Union Jack – check; black shorts – check; dog whistle – check). The Rejoin campaign (should it arise) will no doubt be equally emotion- and identity-based (purple passport – check; multiculturalism – check; assiette de fromage – check). The idea that leaving the EU – in whatever form – will “settle” anything is surely mistaken. The cultural clash will continue, and I was suggesting that the tide may be flowing in the direction of the Rejoiners over the long term (though events could change that).

        The problem, of course, for anyone making the pro-EU case is that it is a nuanced one, not least because the EU is direly in need of reform – just as, judging from the recent chaos and the DCMS report, is our own democracy. But then that was the problem with the referendum. Two choices? For a plebiscite that purported to be providing advice that would be shaping government policy? It’s like having a pub where you can only ask for “drink” or “no drink”. And now Theresa the bar steward has gone ahead and served everyone a Campari and Coke and no one is happy.

        Principles coming into contact with reality will result in events. These events will start to affect people’s everyday lives, which will in turn drive changes in public sentiment (albeit guided by spin). But the underlying cultural conflict is too big and deep-seated to go away any time soon.

        1. For centuries the UK has been half-in and half-out of Europe, which seemed to suit us and then. Now the EU are saying we need to be all in, or all out. I think that is a huge mistake by the EU and one which will dog them for however long it takes for them to relax their approach.

          1. Terrible isn’t it, the changing fortunes of time.

            Imagine, for millennia, Cornwall was kinda half in, half out of England, and then wallop it was not only made to be fully in England, but in that bastard federal monstrosity the United Kingdom.
            And now they claim it would be idiocy to leave.
            Long live Kernow!

        2. The problem for remainers is making vivid the things EU institutions do for us. Indeed, Dippers comments on this thread are a fine example.
          Brexit will bring these things into the open, as well as finding out what wishful thinking brings us.

          So you’re right, sunlight is likely to be a fine disinfectant.

          1. here we go again. Useless Brits who need clever Europeans to do everything for us. Stupid Leavers about to be brought down a peg or two.

            No doubt if we had adopted the Euro you’d be saying how running our own currency is beyond us.

            Stupidity and cowardice masquerading as worldly wisdom. I’d endure all sorts of misery just to not have to live under your patronising sneers.

  31. Postponing the exit date to December 2020 instead of having a transition period in fact makes no sense at all. Because the reason we need a transition period is that we’re not allowed to even negotiate trade agreements with other countries while we’re still an EU member. We have to have a period when we’re not a member but are still covered by the EU’s existing trade agreements with other countries so that we can negotiate replacements for those agreements.

      1. I sense a significant change in the prevailing wind over the last few days. The Sky survey has tapped into a growing unease amongst the electorate that Brexit might not be the easiest deal in history. Murdoch has a significant interest in shaping and shadowing the will of the British people and may well have adjusted his position. The ongoing success of Pay TV requires disposable incomes and regular supplies of Doritos and beer.

      2. But it’s not only those mythical deals, it is all the other rather more important things (aviation/EASA springs first to mind) for which the transition (/’implementation’) period is necessary.

  32. Excellent article.

    I have read all the comments. So far no one has noted the obvious possibility that the UK will no longer exist within 10 years as the Union from which the ‘United’ in the Kingdom derives may have been dissolved by the withdrawal of Scotland from the Treaty.

    Is it likely or not? I don’t know. Does it depend on how Brexit pans out? You bet it does. Hard Brexit and we’re off. So long. Glad you enjoyed all the oil. All the best for the future!

    1. In both parts of Ireland there is now considerable debate about unification of N Ireland and the Republic. The ‘harder’ the Brexit, the more likely this is. Even Peter Robinson, a previous leader of the DUP, was warning unionists about this, and suggesting that they should think seriously about it. The state of play here is now ‘when’ and not ‘if’. (The DUP at Westminster do not speak for all of NI, no matter what they say.)

      In a decade or so, it’s quite likely that both Scotland and N Ireland will leave the UK; England (and Wales), you will be on your own.

    2. Derick – well that’s Scotland’s choice. But if you are off, where are you off to? If its back to the EU after a hard Brexit then there’s that border to consider, and are you going to take the Euro? If not into the EU then isn’t that the equivalent of doing a double-hard Brexit (England and EU) to avoid the consequences of a single hard Brexit (EU)?

      I would sincerely hope that we English can offer you a decent enough deal for you to remain with us.

  33. This sums it up nicely. What is missing though is the fear in Brussels and at least one of the littoral countries that the current UK government (as well as potential successors) lacks the capacity to make any agreement with the EU, apart from a simplte trade treaty of the Canada type. That lack of credibility (borne out on a daily basis by ERG radicals as well as the Leader of the Opposition preculdes also a return to the status quo (revoke art 50 notice) which may require unanimous consent by member states or a close rel;ationship of the Norway type. Since a “bespoke” deal is difficult to describe in the withdrawal agreement that possibility is also off the menu. What about the withdrawal agreement itself? Could it pass the hurdles of DUP protest (any Irish solution that plkeases the South will be blocked by the DUP, as well as ERG protest (who want nothing that could impede a US trade treaty and that would mean openness to US farm imports. I reckon that the chances of a no deal outcome are very strong since both EU inclinations (UK credibility deficit) and institutions (need to secure unanimity) work against the sort of thing that might pass in the UK and Any solution for Ireland will destroy the ERG aim to get a USFTA.

    A second referendum or a government change that would remove both DUP and ERG out of their strongholds but not see Corbyn’s closed shop (the diametrical opposite to the ERG) in power might be the only way to avoid this process to result in a “no deal” . Even then the credibility gap will remain. The EU has learnt that the UK best be out of the decisionmaking process, given its history of opposition against true integration.

  34. I think it important to add that the issue is no longer really about whether the UK remains or leaves the EU in the abstract. The issue is t that this Brexit is a shambles and a disaster coming down the tracks. It reinforces my belief that referenda are not only undemocratic, but also bad ways to make decisions. When some in Canada opposed Nafta in 1993, their slogan was NOT THIS NAFTA. NOT THIS BREXIT should be the slogan for all on either side of the abstract issue.

    I have often critiqued referenda for reasons stated above. I just want to point out that they don’t even work out well for simple, easily understood questions such as the issue of a new flag. As some may know the issue of a new flag was the subject to two recent referenda in NZ; the first was to reduce a number of choices into a binary choice in the second: this new flag or keep the old one. The old flag won.
    Canada’s flag debate over a half century ago is very instructive. The anglophone tories were in favour of keeping the old red ensign; the liberals, NDP and francophone tories were in favour of a new flag. The important takeaway here is that the ultimate design emerged late in the long long long debate at the committee stage in which the all party committee unanimously supported the flag we now know.

    It eventually passed in the Commons despite Dief’s last ditch filibustering. It was controversial then. Some provinces adopted an adapted red ensign as a provincial flag. No one would change it now.

    I suspect that a referendum pitting the red ensign against the original new flag design would have given us the red ensign again or a fairly ugly new flag.

    Debate and amending make a crucial difference.

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