So now where for Brexit?

I spent far too much of my spring break listening to debates from the UK House of Commons. And even though I heard almost everything that was said today, I am still not sure what happened. Or, rather, what it means for next week and beyond.

What do folks around the virtual orchard think is going to happen?

18 thoughts on “So now where for Brexit?

  1. If Britain crashes out on 12 April, I doubt the Conservative party will exist in its current form in 12 months time. I don’t expect Britain to crash out. If worst comes to worst they will revoke their Article 50 notice. Once that happens a second referendum is unavoidable.

    I would recommend every Conservative MP read The strange death of Liberal England over the next 24 hours or so.


    • I agree on the threat to the Conservative Party if they crash out. On the other hand, revocation would split the party, too, no?

      And if they revoke, then what is the referendum about? Whether to start it all over again?


      • Indeed. There is no pleasant option for Mrs May now, nor for the Cabinet as a whole. Their goal was always to try to keep the Conservative party together rather than to do what is best for the entire country.

        Monday, which is appropriately April Fool’s Day, will be one last chance to find a compromise. If none is found, or if the government claims the compromise agreed upon is either undeliverable or unacceptable, then Mrs May will probably attempt to get her agreement through Parliament one last time. Either that fails again (possibly without actually being voted on as the Speaker disallows it) or it squeaks through leaving all sides of the debate unsatisfied. Both outcomes appear to lead to the resignation of the Prime Minister, but in ordinary circumstances, lots of events over the past two years would normally have led to that already.

        I would like to see revocation, but cannot be entirely certain that this is where we are headed. I would accept a long extension and/or another referendum as a necessary but far from ideal way of getting to that point. I would even reconcile myself to a long extension in order to negotiate a softer Brexit. Unfortunately MPs are in a less conciliatory mood, and seem determined to let the perfect continue to be the enemy of the good. That would result in the economic, social, political and diplomatic catastrophe that is a chaotic ‘no deal’ exit.


      • The Conservatives have to choose between a referendum and oblivion. Trying to maintain party unity was why Cameron called the referendum in the first place and why Theresa May persuaded herself that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

        I agree they would likely split over a referendum, but moderates are likely to see that as a better option than remaining within the existing party. The penalties for party switching in this situation are much less than the penalties for staying, especially when the Conservative right is devoting considerable energy to denying pre-selection to moderates.

        Incidentally, in the Scottish parliament, the first minister scored the zinger of the week by saying that May had tried to fall on her own sword and missed.


  2. Alan, yoiu writes “… The penalties for party switching in this situation are much less than the penalties for staying.” Are you saying there’s a chance that a significant number of moderate Tories would join Labour? I can’t see that happening. It would indeed be Duverger’s revenge if it did. I think a few might join Change UK (or whatever the Electoral Commission allows it to call itself). But that organization is either going to have to merge with the Liberal Democrats or wither away over the course of a year or two.


    • Remain Tories are being deselected at a rapid rate anyway. Former attorney-general Dominic Grieve is the most recent example, who has just been deselected in a campaign led by his UKIP opponent at the last election. Some will become independents. Some will join Change UK. Some will join the Liberal Democrats. I don’t expect a lot to join Labour. I’ll freely admit that Change UK is probably not long for this world as a separate party.

      However, none of that means that running as a Conservative is going to be a happy or joyous experience if Britain crashes out of the EU.


  3. Our host asks us to predict what is going to happen. So I will fearlessly predict that, for me at least, Monday is going to be another day glued to the live webcast from the House of Commons. Alongside the policy drama, which is compelling enough by itself, will be the procedural one. Will they finally start to take seriously the need for preference ballots if they are ever going to determine anything? Or, alternatively, will they continue to behave as if the point is precisely to avoid determining anything?

    But organizing a preferential ballot at this late stage creates its own dilemmas. I doubt that any two factions can even agree on a list of mutually exclusive and (more or less) exhaustive alternatives. Should revocation of Article 50 still be on the list? It lost badly in the approval vote on Wednesday. The same question applies to no deal. How many flavors of customs union and/or single market are really needed for this menu? Should May’s deal be on the ballot? With or without it’s political declaration component? This list of questions about the alternatives is not exhaustive, either.

    And what is the place of a second referendum in Monday’s process? Should it be paired separately with each of the policy options on the ballot, thereby doubling their number? Or should it be a separate vote on whether or not to put whatever Parliament decides to a confirmatory vote of the people. Clearly, it should not be treated as it was on Wednesday, as one of eight options.

    And can the process have much legitimacy if one or more parties whip their members — even if the whip is limited to their front bench or cabinet — to abstain on one or more options? Opinions differ here on party discipline. I personally have no problem with political parties instructing members to vote a specific set of preferences. And I certainly have no love for the Australian practice of requiring voters to rank every candidate. But in this situation, groups of MPs who jointly leave preferences unranked can cause havoc. Given the polarization of policy views and the relevance of abstention as a tactic, it is quite plausible for the “winner” of an alternative vote to have final round support of substantially less than half of those voting. What does that do the legitimacy of the exercise? In the U.S., this is a major talking point of opponents of the alternative vote even in low-stakes local elections. And, it seems to me, legitimacy is very much the point of the exercise.

    Finally, who gets to decide the voting rule and the list of alternatives? The speaker? His authority to pick and choose among amendments to a motion is apparently unquestioned. But it is hard for me to see the list of alternatives as amendments to a motion.

    These uncertainties illustrate why every sport worthy of the name agrees on the rules of the game, and the selection of referees, before any matches start. True enough, but another round of approval voting, even with a shorter list of candidates, is not likely to help much either.

    As I said at the beginning, I will be glued to my computer all day Monday.


  4. This just in from the Guardian, on the prospect for a snap election: “May would need a two-thirds majority in the Commons to secure one, meaning a serious rebellion by Tories could block it. May would then be forced to secure an election by backing a no-confidence vote in her own government, which only requires a simple majority of MPs.” ( )

    This is, of course, almost impossible to imagine but it does raise an obvious trivia question for history buffs. Is there any precedent at all for a parliamentary government being backed into a corner where it has to vote no confidence in itself?


    • Collusive votes of no confidence are not all that uncommon. Gerhard Schroder organised one to bring about an early election in 2005. Members of his party abstained in the vote. I’ve been fascinated by the number of breathless reports about an early election in the media that fail to mention the requirement for a 2/3 vote.

      What would May campaign on in an early election? Vote for me so someone else can be prime minister?


      • Also, Germany in 1972. “The Social-liberal coalition of SPD and FDP had lost its majority after several Bundestag MPs (like former FDP ministers Erich Mende and Heinz Starke or SPD partisan Herbert Hupka) had left their party and become members of the CDU/CSU opposition to protest against Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Neue Ostpolitik, especially against the de facto recognition of the Oder-Neisse line by the 1970 Treaty of Warsaw. On 27 April 1972 the opposition had tried to have CDU leader Rainer Barzel elected new chancellor in a motion of no confidence, but Barzel surprisingly missed the majority in the Bundestag by two votes. Rumours that at least one member of CDU/CSU faction had been paid by the East German Stasi intelligence service were confirmed by Markus Wolf, former head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, in 1997. Nevertheless the following budget debates revealed that the government’s majority was lost and only the upcoming organisation of the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich delayed the arrangement of new elections. On 22 September 1972 Chancellor Brandt deliberately lost a vote of confidence, allowing President Gustav Heinemann to dissolve the Bundestag the next day.


  5. Perhaps the most constitutionally interesting bit happening in Westminster these days is a bill compelling the Government to seek a Brexit extension passed through the House of Commons in one day against the Government’s will, and is held up in the House of Lords, where apparently similarly to the United States Senate debates can last indefinitely. I am surprised in British media there has been not much discussion on the possibility of Theresa May advising the Queen to refuse royal assent to the bill should it be passed by the Lords, an action equivalent to the President of the United States’s vetoing a bill he doesn’t like, at least compared to the extent of possible prorogation to prevent Parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit or to bypass Erskine May’s rule of no repeated votes in the same session. It could be because the bill is rather moot because May is going to request an extension anyway, and not because it could be too constitutionally controversial to contemplate happening.


    • An identical situation recently happened in Australia with law dealing with refugee matters. There was some speculation the government would advise the governor-general to refuse royal assent. The problem is that, according to Anne Twomey, a specialist in the area of constitutional law and the monarchy, the crown does not act on advice in assent matters (boldface mine):

      In practice, in neither country is the head of state given ministerial advice to assent to bills. While there is a common belief that assent is advised in meetings of the Privy Council or the Federal Executive Council as the case may be, this is not so. It is done separately by the head of state as part of his or her normal paperwork, once the houses have passed the bills.

      Indeed, in the UK, the formal words of enactment of a bill state that it is:

      enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same.

      I doubt the queen or the governor-general would accept ministerial advice if it were given. The queen, in particular, would be extremely reluctant to give any appearance of imposing Brexit by personally exercising royal authority. Doing so could be catastrophic for the monarchy particularly in the Commonwealth of Nations and the Commonwealth realms and possibly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

      I doubt Elizabeth II intends becoming Queen of England, Wales, the Scillies, and Upper, Middle and Lower Wallop*.

      *There actually are three villages with these names on the road to Stonehenge.


      • The Cooper bill in the UK received royal assent on 9 April. So far so good for Anne Twomey’s analysis. Australia may be slightly different. The last refusal of royal assent in the UK was in 1708. Viceregal vetoes have ha[e[need occasionally in various colonies in the form of bills being reserved for a decision by the British government, but Twomey’s analysis takes account of that.

        Some Brexiteers are now road to Damascus republicans. There was a serious, if highly unsuccessful, attempt to have the house of lords reject the bill. Evidently they approve unelected bureaucrats in Westminster and Windsor, but not Brussels.


  6. The Guardian on April 6 has a fascinating statement attributed to Tory education minister Nadhim Zahawi, who “said that if Labour and the government failed to find a joint approach, then MPs should be forced to find a compromise through a preferential voting system to find a solution …” ( ) The language is the reporter’s, not Zahawi’s, but I think it speaks volumes about how the British political elite views the alternative vote. It is something to be contemplated only in the context of an “existential threat”. Zahawi’s use of that phrase refers to the threat to the Conservative Party of holding European elections at the end of May, which he refers to as a “suicide note” for the Tories. That’s nteresting, too, but what reall grabs me is the attitude toward preferential voting.


    • How did we segue to the British attitude toward preferential voting? Canadian too: one of our standard arguments for proportional representation is “being represented by my second choice is the problem, not the solution.” After Parliament’s Electoral Reform Committee spent months hearing from Canadians from coast to coast to coast, its Liberal Chair explained why the Liberal minority report (the Committee had a multi-party majority) did not even mention the ranked ballot: “nobody wants ranked ballots.” So much for Justin Trudeau’s preferred option, which is why he then famously broke his promise.


      • wilfredday asks, “How did we seque to the British attitude toward preferential voting?” That’s been a major part of my interest in the Brexit story for weeks. Along side the policy drama — whether the EU is a good thing, whether any country should belong to it — is the procedural one — how should a country make up its collective mind about what to do in this situation? If it weren’t for the governance issues so conspicuously on display, I probably wouldn’t be watching.


      • The No2AV campaigns in some ways served as a model for the Leave campaigns. One of their calms was that because AV is so complex Australia uses expensive and unreliable electronic voting machines. When both John Howard and Anthony Green stated that Australia had never used electronic voting machines in federal elections they were accused of lying.


  7. The UK Telegraph has published a guide to how Leavers and Remainers can most effectively place their X to get an MP who represents their view on the central issue of the century:

    “Does tactical voting actually work? Use our tool for the realist view”

    Needless to say, “cast your vote for the candidate you like best” is not advisable. Instead, the Tellie gives 1,100 words of caveats based on which constituency you live in and how the local opinion polling is looking on the day:

    “… If Labour holds the seat with a majority of over 10 per cent;
    If in Scotland, Labour holds the seat, the SNP are in second place but the Conservatives are within 10 points of the winner;
    If no other explicitly Remain party has a realistic chance of winning the seat (based on the criteria above);
    If the Lib Dems are within five points, then recommend both Labour and Lib Dem. If there’s a pact, then look at the combined vote share of the participating parties and if it’s ahead of Labour, recommend them….”


    But thank heavens the British rejected Alternative Vote.. it was just sooooooo complicated to explain!


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