The Brexit update, with a virus

As usual, Brexit’s a mess. Here’s what I’ve been able to sort out. 

Boris Johnson has worked out a Brexit deal with the EU, but don’t ask the marching bands to tune up just yet. It still has to get a majority in parliament and everybody’s counting noses to see if it stands a chance. 

At the moment, Johnson has a working majority of minus 40. Nope, I didn’t make that up. Finding a majority for the deal depends on four key groups:

The Democratic Unionist Party–a small but crucial Protestant party in Northern Ireland–isn’t supporting the deal  

Why not? Because it would align Northern Ireland with EU trading standards and customs, leaving an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The open border is considered crucial to keeping the peace in Northern Ireland, which nobody really want to mess with. But keeping that open border means creating a border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

A border between Northern Ireland and Britain is a red line for the DUP. Or a red flag. They’re unionists. Their primary commitment is to keep Northern Ireland in the UK. A border between Northern Ireland the Britain means–or they believe it would mean–that Northern Ireland becomes increasingly Irish and decreasingly British.

The current deal would give the Stormont Assembly–Northern Ireland’s governing body–the right to end or renew the arrangement periodically, but (unlike the last proposed deal) it would only need a simple majority to renew it. Since pro-EU parties have a thin majority in Stormont, we can assume that it would be renewed. 

Not that the Stormont Assembly’s been meeting in recent years.

Are you following any of this? The more I explain, the less sense it seems to make.

Next group? Hard-core Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. The going belief has been that they’ll take their cue from the DUP, although since Johnson’s one of their own he may be able to sweet-talk them. Or he may not. The interesting thing here is that the elements they objected to in Theresa May’s deal–all focused on the Irish border–haven’t been resolved.

Why not? Because they can’t be–not if you want to both placate the DUP and keep an open border in Ireland. But Boris makes all the right noises, from the hard Brexiteers point of view, even though he’s offering them less than Theresa May’s deal did. 

They may back him or they may not. 

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.”

Of course, he also said, “I didn’t say half the things I said.”

Third group: MPs who Johnson expelled from the Conservative Party. Talk about awkward conversations. Some of them are nervous about being stampeded into an agreement that they haven’t had time to look at in any depth. 

So what’s the rush? Johnson wants to say he got a deal before October 31. 

Why does that matter? Only because he said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than ask for an extension.

Some members of this group are saying the current deal is worse than the one May negotiated–which Johnson voted against. Twice.

Others will probably vote for it. This is far from a unanimous group.

Final group: Pro-leave Labour Party MPs who want, at a minimum, to maintain the EU’s standards on employment, consumer, and environmental regulations and rights. Dump those and the government’s likely to lose these votes. Johnson has said he promises to uphold “common high standards,” but I’m not clear whether this is politically binding or just rhetoric. 

The Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is warning that the deal risks “triggering a race to the bottom on rights and protections: putting food safety at risk, cutting environmental standards and workers’ rights, and opening up our NHS to a takeover by US private corporations.” Whether that warning will bring this group back into the fold is anyone’s guess. The Labour Party–like the Conservatives–is deeply fractured.

An additional group of MPs may vote for the deal if it’s combined with a second referendum, where people are given a choice of this deal or staying in the EU. It’s not clear whether Labour would back a second referendum at this point.

To anyone who’s frustrated with parliament’s gridlock (and who isn’t?), a comment from The Brexit Blog comes as a timely reminder that parliament’s a pretty fair reflection of the country as a whole. In an assortment of polls, no single solution has a majority.

How would people vote in a referendum? The poll results are inconsistent One puts no deal at 34% and staying at 22%. Another has staying at 34% and no deal at 23%. The answers depend in part on the range of choices offered and also, quite possibly, on the sampling method. Or maybe we’re all too dizzy by now to give consistent answers. 

Does it make sense to hold a second referendum when people already voted to leave? It may be the only way out of this mess. No one, during the first referendum, had a clue what leaving meant–including, based on the evidence, the people running the Leave campaign. So setting an actual deal in front of people and saying, “Is this what you want or should we call it off?” has a certain logic. 

Meanwhile, anti-Brexit campaigners have filed a suit to block the government from putting the deal in front of parliament. A BBC article says, “They believe it contravenes legislation preventing Northern Ireland forming part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.” They’re also asking the court to write to the EU on behalf of the government asking for an extension, using a power called nobile officium. Which sounds like something out of Harry Potter but, as far as I can tell, isn’t.  

Parliament’s expected to meet on Saturday to consider this mess. That’s also when the government’s expected to release the details of the deal.

According the the Independent, Brexit has already cost the British economy £70 billion.

In the meantime, I have a stinking cold and haven’t managed to be funny about any of this. Blame it on the germs. 

83 thoughts on “The Brexit update, with a virus

  1. Add two letters – a and n – to the blame you attribute – those germs – and you have Johnson’s approach in a nutshell, for when it all goes pear shaped (round about Saturday evening, I’m guessing, unless the MPs want to take a break to watch Strictly).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A useful article on May’s withdrawal agreement…..if the Boris version does not correct any of these then it would be the worst of all possible deals.
    I cannot agree that people did not know what Leave would entail. Anecdotal evidence, but when in England just before the referendum the people I spoke to thought that the E.U. would do all they could to make life difficult…but that it would be worth it to abolish that ‘superior’ tier of governance and law – even if not put so politely.
    What they did not expect was that their country’s negotiation team would be sinking the ship before it left port.
    Or, come to that, that M.P.s who stood in the 2017 election on a manifesto of respecting the referendum decision would do all they could to subvert it.
    There is only one way to negotiate with the E.U. – refuse to engage with it on any terms but your own. Examination of the treatment of Greece – and before that of Ireland and Portugal – should make that clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leave, in the referendum, could have meant anything. Stay in the customs union. Leave everything. It was a poorly worded, poorly thought through referendum, and the campaigns on both sides consisted of slogans and generalities. Neither really dug into what leaving would mean and what–setting aside the difficulties of the Irish border–the problems or disentangling an economy would be. The amazing thing is that, having rejected May’s deal, they seem to be recreating it, and the conversation is about nothing but the border.

      Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Good article that made sense and had a smattering of humor in it.
    Sometimes if the only deal you can get is a bad deal the best thing to do is to take it.

    I don’t have much stock in referendums. I think elected representatives and judges should make the decisions and negotiate the terms. Kind of like representative democracy. Lawyers work out all details . . .as the song went.

    Liked your reference to Yogi. That always lightened the mood. Think you missed both quotes, but who’s counting and not to quibble.

    My sinuses have been giving me headaches. Something must be going around.

    Get plenty of rest and stay warm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t double check the quotes and it did occur to me that I should, but with Yogi Berra, misquoting strikes me as matching the spirit in which they were spoken.

      Referendums (or referenda if we’re going to go all Latin about this) are, I think, problematic, especially when the campaigns either fail to inform people or misinform them. I seem to remember reading about some state that had set up a system that would have a state body responsible for researching and reporting on the issues involved in them, in a neutral way, so that people could make informed choices. I haven’t been able to cross-check my memory (and since this isn’t a Yogi Berra quote, I really should), but it would be a useful contribution to public life.


      • After posting the comment, I remembered that in Georgia we have referendums every time there is an election. They are amendments to our state constitution. Our legislature is limited by our constitution and many issues especially any borrowing of money by the state can be permitted only by a public vote to amend tge constitution. Every two years when we vote there are a dozen or more constitutional amendments to vote on. Works pretty well. The main problem is understanding what you are voting on. The short descriptions on the ballot can be almost impossible to understand and misleading. Anything really important or controversial gets attention in the media and us discussed by those in opposition.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That reminds me of voting for judges in Minnesota. I never did know who they were or what they’d be like as judges–and I did try to keep up with elections and news. I was half convinced that people chose on the basis of the name. John Olson? Sure, sounds like a nice, reliable guy.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a very pithy summary. I am impressed you managed to condense this latest chapter of the chaotic mess so succinctly. I believe it is beyond the ability of mere mortals to draw any comedy out of the Brexit debacle. I hope you feel better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I will have to reread this at a later time in hopes of muddling through it, but this is because of the current things here in The Former Colonies, not any fault on your part. Suffice to say that the rumor is that copies of Neville Chamberlain’s biography have been given to all members of the White House staff.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. May you be well soon. :) … our federal election here in Canada in on Monday 21st, and I’m hoping the messes to the south and east of us are enough to warn voters off of making the same mistakes here … gotta say, I’m getting nervous now.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Pingback: The Brexit update, with some old lady’s bananas | Notes from the U.K.

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