The Brexit Update

In case you haven’t been tracking Britain’s political cannon fire, let’s take a quick dash through the shrapnel. The shooting’s metaphorical, so we should be safe enough, but do stay together. We’ll be moving quickly.

We’ll start at the moment when the members of the Conservative Party (all 42 of them) chose our prime minister. 

Why did they get to do that? Because their party came out of the most recent election with a whopping a majority of two in the 650-member House of Commons. That gave them the right to form a government. Forming a government means they choose the prime minister. And when the first prime minister they chose resigned in despair, they got to choose her replacement, even though the replacement, Boris Johnson, told everyone who’d listen (and several who wouldn’t) that he was going to move the country in a new direction, meaning not the direction the electorate might have thought they voted for.

But hey, that’s democracy for you. You cast your vote and you take your chances.

Does the Conservative Party really have 42 members? No. It’s something in the neighborhood of 180,000. Labour has upwards of 485,000. The Scottish National Party has 125,000. The Liberal Democrats have 115,000. Sorry, I’d give you a link on all this but it has to be downloaded and the link won’t work. If you’re worried about it, ask Lord Google.

How many registered voters does the U.K. have? Upwards of 46 million. 

Did the Conservative Party really have a majority of two? Yes, but it’s down to one now. Long story and we’ll skip it. Remember where I said we’d be moving quickly?

Why do I ask so many questions? Because it’s an easy way to structure a piece of writing. It’s cheesy, but it does let you know where I’m taking you next. And we’re in a hurry. I need to get this online before it all changes.

The point here is that a very small proportion of the electorate got to set the country’s direction. Instead of a negotiated exit from the European Union, we were now barreling toward an exit at any cost: Johnson promised that the country would leave the EU by October 31, “do or die”–in other words, with or without a deal. So it was no surprise when EU leaders announced that he showed no interest in renegotiating the Brexit agreement his predecessor had negotiated and then failed to find support for.

Johnson prefers a no-deal Brexit, they said.  

Does not,” the British government said. 

“Does so too,” the EU said, 

Et cetera, with lots of links to make up for the one I couldn’t give you a few paragraphs back.

But a majority of MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit. What’s Johnson’s next move, then? Well, even before he became prime minister, he was playing publicly with the idea of proroguing Parliament.

Of pro-whatting Parliament?

Shutting it down. Sending the MPs home at exactly the time when they might be able to stop him from crashing the country out of the EU.

Here’s how that would work: Crashing out of the EU is the default setting in this process. If the time limit for a withdrawal isn’t extended and if an agreement isn’t reached, the country crashes out, no matter what Parliament says. So to crash out in the face of parliamentary opposition, all you have to do is kidnap 650 MPs at the right time, which will keep them from interfering. 

But that’s illegal and offends most voters’ sensibilities, and the logistics are a nightmare, so you can do something simpler: You can send them all home, where their magic powers dissolve. And you don’t have to feed them or even tie them up, which you would if you kidnapped them. 

As I write this, the MPs are at home–they left Westminster meekly for the usual summer break–and the ones who oppose a no-deal Brexit are plotting the moves left to them when their powers return in September.

The obvious one is to pass a vote of no confidence in the government. At that point, the prime minister’s magic powers are supposed to dissolve and parliament has fourteen days to find a prime minister with the backing, however reluctant, of a majority of MPs. 

To date, though, no one can agree on who that should be. All the major parties are waving their hands in the air, yelling, “Me! Me! Pick me!”

If Parliament can’t find a majority to back any candidate, Parliament is dissolved and the prime minister’s supposed to call an election and resign. 

In the meantime, Johnson’s advisor–and quite possibly his brains–Dominic Cummings has reportedly said that Johnson might refuse to resign, even if Parliament does form a government. 

If that happens, he could presumably sit in the prime minister’s residence reciting nursery rhymes in Latin and entertaining the prime ministerial cat while the ship of state drifts toward the Brexit iceberg. 

“Look!” he can say. “My hands aren’t even on the wheel.”

The cat’s name is Larry. He–or someone very like him only human, with thumbs and without fur–tweets at @Number10cat. Larry is known to snub fawning politicians without regard to their policies, powers, or parties, in full and satisfying sight of the cameras. As the nation’s chief mouser, he’s outlasted a small handful of recent prime ministers and done considerably less damage to the country. He may or may not be interested in any amusement the prime minister can offer.

During this time, Johnson would, presumably, call an election, but while it was being organized the country would crash out of the E.U.

When Johnson was asked if he might refuse to resign, he refused to answer. 

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and assorted important and formerly important people have warned, in a variety of ways, that refusing to resign would cause the worst constitutional crisis since Charles I was beheaded. Okay, since the Civil War, but that did lead to Charles being executed. As far as I can tell, no one’s advocating that, although they might be dropping a subtle hint about where this could all lead.

There’s been talk of getting the queen involved. She’s supposed to be above politics –or locked out of them, if you want to think of it that way–but she is the person who formally asks the leader of the parliamentary majority to form a government, so presumably she also has the right to ask the prime minister to resign if he no longer commands a majority. She apparently can “overrule ministerial advice” in a grave constitutional crisis. But focus on the words apparently and presumablyThis is all new territory, because elections are controlled by a law that’s too new to have had much road testing. That may be why the wheels are wobbling so wildly. 

A few voices have argued that refusing to resign would be plenty constitutional under the new law, thanks. 

Parliament also has another possible way of blocking a no-deal Brexit: It could pass a law–not a motion; motions don’t have the power of laws–outlawing a no-deal Brexit or forcing the government to ask Europe for an extension. But to do that, MPs will have to take control of the Commons’ calendar, which the government normally controls. It can be done, but not easily. An assortment of precedents will have to be parked out in the hall while it happens.

To force Parliament to break precedent, which is always hard in a country that takes its traditions seriously, the government will have to refrain from introducing any new legislation between the time the MPs come back to work on September 3 and Brexit day, October 31. That includes legislation preparing the country for a no-deal Brexit. Why? Because MPs can amend any bill that comes before them in any way they want.

A third way to block a no-deal Brexit involves the courts. One lawsuit has been filed and others are said to be in the works. The one that’s furthest along would prevent Johnson from shutting down Parliament. Others (or another–the wording’s ambiguous) would force Johnson to resign if a no-confidence vote passes.  

In the meantime, Britain first announced that it would leave the Interrail train scheme, which lets a ticket holder travel throughout both Britain and Europe, then a day later, when there was a lot of shouting about that, announced that it wasn’t leaving.

Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

116 thoughts on “The Brexit Update

  1. Maybe a parliamentary government is not so great as I thought. I don’t see how a pm or anyone can be forced to resign. Resignation is a voluntary act. He could serve out his term of office, can’t he. How long is that. Can’t they impeach him and remove him from office if they want to. Sounds like a mess.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve never heard impeachment come into the conversation here. It doesn’t seem to be one of the possibilities. But parliament and first the king and later Cromwell and now the prime minister have been wrestling each other for power for centuries. Prime ministers serves at the will of parliament, so expecting them to resign when they lose that support isn’t voluntary, it’s built into the system. But the new law complicates it. We’ll see what happens.

      I would have thought a parliamentary system was less prone to gridlock than the U.S. presidential/congressional system, but clearly I was wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The way things work there is hard for me to grasp. I am use to there being written ruses to follow. This thing about doing things because of tradition and because it is expected is foreign to me. In Appalachia where I grew up people only did what was legally required, and then only if you could do what you wanted without getting arrested. Nobody there was big on doing anything by tradition, or even worse, because it was expected. Independence and liberty, that was the ticket.

        Liked by 2 people

        • When we say we do things by precedent and tradition here, we ain’t kidding. When the Polie are preparing to charge someone with an offence, the charge sheet has to contain the name, date, section etc of the specific law they are being charged with breaking…where there is one. But some of our laws are called ‘Common Law’ and they predate any written legislation. So, for example, if you are charged with murder, the charge sheet will say ‘Murder (who, when etc)…contrary to the Common Law’ – and that’s it. One more fun fact, all of our laws that Parliament creates are written on vellum (yup, animal skin) and stored in the basement. And I don’t mean they were – I mean they were and still are.

          Liked by 1 person

          • On vellum, no doubt with a quill, since vellum isn’t printer compatible.

            That’s interesting about common law. I’ve wondered about it in passing but never dug into it. I will. Many thanks.


  2. Thanks. You’ve made this murky mess somewhat less murky. I’ll be over in mid-October for firsthand observation, hoping all sides stick to verbal and written combat. I’ll be spending two days south of Gatwick to gird my loins before wandering around London for a week and to cheer myself by finally getting to the wonderful Much Ado bookshop in Alfriston and Charleston, home of much Bloomsbury fun and companionship in the past. I’m a little nervous about London but there’s nothing quite like being right there for big historical and possibly hysterical happenings. Meanwhile back here in the land of presidential insanity, Netflix just released a 5-episode series of Jeff Sharlet’s The Family, a book that is the Rosetta Stone of the last 40-50 years here. I used to yearn to move to Cornwall but it looks like continuing to keep my toes slightly wet along the rising Pacific Ocean while securing my cupboards against the next big one, be it ground shaking or bullet-ridden, is my best option. Thanks again. Your explanation took work and I appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad it appeared to make some sort of sense. It all gets crazier by the week. Before long it’ll get crazier by the hour. May the Big One–whatever form it takes–not be in any hurry to reach us, and may your trip be wonderful.

      And apologies if it’s taken a while to get back to you. I just dug this out of the spam folder.


  3. Welcome to our world of meaningless constitutional crises. We are so happy to share our fun with you.
    We have a president who was elected with 3 million fewer popular votes than Secretary Clinton but won through something we cleverly call the Electoral College which might have made sense in 1787 but seems oddly irrelevant today unless it allows a minority to elect a president and vice-president.
    Now the president who was not popularly elected by the American people has declared that he is above the law and the constitution and has chosen to ignore little things like, oh let’s say, Congressional subpoenas which are supposedly un-ignoreable. And not just subpoenas for him – but for everyone in his administration including every cabinet official, clerical worker and presumably even the White House chef.
    We have an actual report that identifies 10 acts of law breaking by the president but we say oh, ho hum, our economy is great. So what’s the big deal?
    In the end, we’ll resolve our problems the same way all democracies resolve their differences.
    We’ll send them to the courts.
    Or we’ll make sure to win the Electoral College votes in 2020.
    Regardless, we’re sure to have as much fun over here as you’re having over there with Brexit or No Brexit.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Clearly your definition of fun and mine differ slightly, but I admit…. there’s never a dull moment. My question is this, Brexit seems to be very unpopular with the people, and many of them admitted outright they had no idea what they were voting for…. so why not put it up again? The answer I usually get is there’s no time. But with all the delays and extensions you could have had multiple votes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Given the choice, I’d skip the fun and settle for a bit of sanity.

      Now, to your question: The answer depends on who you ask. Brexiteers will tell you that a second referendum would violate the will of the people. Since the original referendum was short on information and long on misinformation and quite possibly illegal meddling, there’s a strong argument to be made that it was flawed and should be rerun. And another one to be made that consulting the people a second time doesn’t violate the will of the people. I think many Remain politicians have been afraid to embrace a rerun, though.

      “The best lack all conviction. The worst are full of passionate intensity.”

      I don’t know how many people have changed their minds or what the result of a second referendum would be. But unless we’re going to crash out, I don’t see any alternative to a second referendum.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I fear that sanity in politics is a ship that has sailed… and sunk. We have a clown who thinks he’s above the law for a president and a side show of an administration who are too terrified of losing power to reign him in. And me? I keep wondering how the hell we got here.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Some polls suggest that quite few people have changed their minds, though certainly some have. The vote was about 52/48 to leave. What does seem to have changed more significantly is that a number of the people who did note vote before say they would now vote and a majority of them would vote remain, so a different outcome is a possibility if there was a fresh referendum. If.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay-y-y… now I am confused. So, what are the rules really like, concerning who can and cannot do what to whom and how? Do I understand it correctly that … nobody really knows – but we’re all probably going to find out come October?
    I wonder who will really gain from a hard brexit. That is always a key question: cui bono? …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question. According to a columnist in today’s paper, a few hedge funds–those contrarians who count on making money when everyone else is losing it. Some politicians who’ve bet their careers on Brexit, although I suspect–no, I hope–their gains will be short term. Disaster capitalists. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

      As for who gets to do what to who, we really are in uncharted water. The law on fixed-term parliaments is new and in many ways untested, and with an unwritten constitution–. Oy vey.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Some suggest that hedge funds and others want the UK out before new EU wide rules come into force requiring significantly more disclosure from overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands- which are under British control. If the UK is then still in the EU they will have to comply…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Brexiters crow about ‘the largest democratic decision the UK has ever made’ (they’re wrong about that) but loudly support MP’s being prevented from being democratic and voting by a PM proroguing Parliament. Meanwhile, to escape being ‘controlled’ by the ‘unelected elite’ of the EU (they’re wrong about that too), they’re pinning their hopes on the brains and sharp constitutional practice of Dominic Cummings, a man who nobody elected for anything but appears to be Johnson’s own personal version of Grima Wormtongue.
    Yep, it’s all full of sense and logic like that. Possibly it’s always been like this but there’s 24 hour news and social media to keep us entertained by it these days. What fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. An election would be rather worrying for M.P.s who have come out for ‘Remain’ representing constituencies which voted ‘Leave’……yet another complication in working out a possible No Confidence vote.
    And then there are the Labour M.P.s who might have to face trigger reselection votes in their local party. ….
    And the sheer lack of any nous in the ranks of the Greens and Plaid to allow – nay, invite – the Lib Dems to walk all over them in the name of Brexit…calling on Swinson to join an all woman cabinet is like baring your neck for the executioner.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I fear that any referendum now is touched by pitch…..opinions are so rooted that neither group would accept defeat gracefully.
        An election is, for me, the way forward out of the mess…make people aware that Brexit is only part of the problems facing the U.K…..but I can’t see M.P.s having any great enthusiasm for the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I could be misreading things, but I think a large number of people would be happy just to have the conversation end. And I’m afraid any election would be so dominated by Brexit that it’ll be hard to discuss anything else. Not that I’m arguing against holding one, I’m just moping a bit.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Where are we now? A quick Brexit update – Keeping you up to date with Brexit

  9. Thanks for making this all perfectly clear!! Ha Ha! I am still looking forward to the post, “What I hoarded for Brexit”. Last time cat food, baked beans, and loo rolls were on the list of possibilities. Also the post, “What I Wished I Hoarded for Brexit and Didn’t.” should be enlightening. 😺

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ye Gods ! This sounds distressingly like OUR gummint – only without (so far as you know) the Russians.
    Today I not only got your WP notice, but a bunch of other WP blogs I had subscribed to.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

    You’re rank amateurs. To force Congress to have a balanced budget they, with bipartisan support, passed a law called Sequestration which would enact major cuts to specific departments equaling any excess spending. The cuts would hit both left- and right-wing favorite spending area, making it distasteful to both sides. Of course Congress, being what it is, did an end-run around the law by suspending the debt ceiling. With no ceiling they can’t exceed spending limits, thus no forced cuts in the budget.

    John Adams: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress!

    JA: A second Flood, a famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair — but no, you gave us Congress! Dear God, Sir, was that fair?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s more or less what Wild Thing says, usually when someone tries to convince her that lasagna is supposed to include a white substance with roughly the texture and taste of wallpaper paste. The exact quote is, “We got here just in time.”

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Amazing recap Ellen! Front row seats on a roller coaster. Clive points out BJ has the right to call a general election and not resign in case of a no confidence vote and dissolve parliament. Ugh. Talk about a country shooting itself in the foot…
    Caroline Lucas has an interesting idea he said ( he follows all this ) With a cross party women’s party, proposing some candidate for p.m., women being less tribal she said, and he remarked that sadly there haven’t been anti meat street demonstrations reported on recently… so is the opposition falling into summer apathy? Oy. Keep us posted with news from the home front!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lucas, unfortunately, managed to propose an all-white cabinet and had to backtrack in the next day’s headlines. I don’t think anyone’s apathetic right now, just waiting to see what the hell happens next. Although I don’t really know. It’s hard to read.


  13. That was the most coherent summation I’ve heard to explain the Brexit issue to date. I still don’t thoroughly get how the government got into this situation, but apparently people voted to leave, without knowing how it would be accomplished. Still smarter than anything we’ve done on this side of the pond, politically speaking.

    I was tired after reading it. It must be exhausting living it. Good luck to you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow Ellen, that is a lot of information! And I thank you for your explanation and your humor! Thanks for linking this post to the #GatheringofFriendsLinkParty 4

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link. I read–well, I read the left-hand side of your post. For reasons I can’t explain, it ran wider than my screen and refused to let me move to the right to see what you had to say over there. It made for a choppy argument, all told. One of these days I’d like to read you more coherently.


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