“Nothing has changed! Nothing has changed!” For what feels like our entire natural lives, that has been the weekly refrain on Brexit in TWFW. But – whisper it – this week, believe it or not, something changed. In fact, both theGovernment and the Opposition, after months of banging their heads repeatedly against the same brick wall, shifted position. Whilst we don’t exactly have a way out of the ultimate Brexit deadlock, we do have a clear path forward over the coming weeks which should mean, within the next 14 days, we will know whether have the May Deal, No Deal, or Delay.
Most importantly, the Prime Minister has at long last created a proper process for Parliament decide between those three principal options. On 12 March, once again, the Commons votes on whatever stands on the table at that point. If there is no change to her plans from now, that is almost certainly going to be defeated. But some hold out hope that the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, can pull something out the hat legally to give a clearer route out of the backstop, sufficient to reassure DUP and the ERG.
The same day, the Commons will vote on a Labour motion for a Second Referendum – the big change in Labour’s position and something theOpposition has never properly backed before. As it stands, despite all the noise People’s Vote campaigners make, it does not appear that there are the votes in the Commons to make that happen. Not yet at least.
Assuming both the May Deal and a Peoples Vote are rejected – and that is what most assume – the next day Parliament will finally get to vote on accepting the default and leaving with no deal. Short of a huge change in attitudes, no deal will be defeated at this point.
If none of the above have been passed then the next day, 14 March, theCommons will vote on asking the EU for a delay to Brexit. That motion is likely to request a three month one-time-only delay until the end of June. Now whilst most would expect this to pass, there is some uncertainty about this because at the moment the Government hasn’t clearly stated that they will whip for a delay. Moreover, any delay needs to be agreed with the EU who presently say they will only agree to one that is long (anything up to 21 months to Dec 2020 gets mooted) and also that the UK has a plan on what to do in the delay period. But given the catastrophic effect of no deal on an EU member – Ireland – surely there is a deal to be done there.
All in all, compared to many weeks in this ongoing shambles events of this week represent at least some progress. We have a path to reaching some sort of decision within two weeks, even if the most likely decision is to kick the can down the road for a few months. But given there is no sort of majority for any other choice, let alone anything approaching a national consensus, maybe kicking the can is not such a bad thing after all.