What justification for an Article 50 extension can the Commons provide?
MPs are almost certain to vote on Thursday for the Article 50 process to be extended so that the UK does not crash out of the EU on March 29. But what do MPs want an extension for? This is the central question hanging over the Commons — and in many ways the only one that now matters. We know what the Commons does not want. Last night MPs voted for the second time to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
We know, too, that the Commons does not want no deal, at least on March 29. A motion to that effect is pretty certain to be passed this evening — even if the text of the government motion is not quite the resounding rejection of no deal that many in business would like to see. The problem for the UK is that if it wants an extension, this needs to be agreed by all 27 EU member states, probably at next week’s EU heads of government meeting. And securing that agreement will not be straightforward. As Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Wednesday: “[The British] have to tell us what it is they want for their future relationship. What will their choice be, what will be the line they will take? That is the question we need a clear answer to now. That is the question that has to be answered before a decision on a possible further extension.”
So what justification for an extension can the Commons provide? And how will it reach that decision? One possibility is that the Commons decides to hold what are called “indicative votes” on alternatives to Mrs May’s deal. This would mean that MPs vote on the three main options available: the Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area; the Corbyn plan for a customs union; or a second referendum. An amendment to hold these indicative votes could well be tabled on Thursday when MPs vote on an extension. But even if indicative votes are held as early as next week, the process might not be conclusive. It is not certain that any of the three proposals outlined above enjoys a majority in the Commons — so the deadlock might continue. What then? It’s hard to believe the EU would withhold an extension altogether.
Instead, at its summit next week, it might at least allow an extension of six weeks to mid-May to allow the UK and EU to finalise their no-deal planning. That might set the scene for Mrs May to put her deal to the Commons one more time (as Robert Shrimsley argues) before March 29 — on the grounds that there really is no alternative to what she is offering. Perhaps the Brexit hardliners would decide to back her then after all. But if Mrs May were to lose a third time, the only course of action might well be for parliament to revoke Article 50 altogether, asking for a much longer extension and possibly moving to a second referendum.
THERESA MAY’S BREXIT DEAL IS DEAD — MPS MUST NOW TAKE OVER “After two years of tortuous negotiations, Theresa May’s strategy for taking the UK out of the EU lies in ruins. From the moment the stentorian attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, pronounced that late legal changes won by the prime minister did not remove the risk of the UK being ‘trapped’ in the so-called Irish backstop hated by Eurosceptics, her withdrawal agreement was headed for another crushing Commons defeat. The priority now must be to avoid chaos — chaos in parliament that could be exploited by extremists of left and right, and the chaos of a no-deal exit. MPs must stabilise the political situation and create the space for a Brexit rethink.” (The FT View)
PAUSE IT AND RETHINK “A pause is required because a pivot to a new arrangement is easier said than done. Most of the proposed alternatives to our membership of the EU have, under Mrs May, seemed unattainable, unappealing or both. For the UK to be in a better place politically will require a different, better politics. That will take time, and Mrs May needs to ask Europe for it.” (Editorial, The Guardian)
FORGET ABOUT ABSURD VOTES ON NO DEAL — MPS OUGHT TO BE INVOKING GATT ARTICLE 24 “The 164 member WTO offers Britain a remarkable opportunity to leave the EU cleanly, avoiding all of the apocalyptic predictions set out by the likes of the CBI, Bank of England or chancellor. Because through GATT Article 24, the EU and UK are able to agree a very basic Free Trade Agreement that would keep tariffs at zero for the duration of the period the two sides negotiate a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.” (David Campbell Bannerman, MEP, BrexitCentral) Hard numbers
BRUSSELS BRIEFING — LOSING CONTROL OF BREXIT By Theresa May’s standards, it was not that bad. But the still breathtaking 149-vote margin of defeat over her Brexit deal has sailed the UK into uncharted waters. The options for reviving this treaty look almost completely exhausted. A dark mood has gripped both sides.