Brexit: Where are we?
23 Oct 2019
Things have moved on since those blissful days when Theresa May emerged from Brussels having agreed a deal with the EU. We thought it was all over. The agreement was passed by the EU Commission and EU Parliament. All that was needed for Brexit to move on to the next stage was consent from the Westminster Parliament.
Then it all began to unravel. Three failed votes on the deal; the resignation of Theresa May; the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister; and the new government's renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB). Finally, we arrived last night at the stage where the WAB was presented to the House of Commons for approval.
And. It. Passed!
And that was the end of Brexit! And everyone rejoiced in the streets and we never spoke of it again.
At least that's the case in a parallel universe millions of lightyears away.
Back on earth, unfortunately, there were some spanners tossed into the works. Because not only did Boris Johnson want to pass his agreement, he wanted to pass it within three days. For this to happen, he needed parliament’s approval via a vote.
The opposition weren’t too happy about this. As was pointed out, three days might not be an appropriate amount of time to debate a bill that will have fundamental effects on the UK’s future. (To give context, a bill about saving wild animals from circuses took five days to debate. One might think debating the WAB could take just a tad longer.)
Nonetheless, Boris was having none of it. The evening began with a threat: support both the WAB and the timetable, or the government will pull the whole thing and we’ll just have to have an election.
But, parliament rejected the timetable (even though they passed the first reading of the bill just before), meaning Boris Johnson announced he was putting the bill on hold.
As a rather large aside, it should be noted that, just because Parliament approved the first stage of passing the bill does not mean it will make it through all the stages. Labour have significant concerns with the deal and they also want a deal that has Customs Union membership. They also want a deal to be subject to a confirmatory referendum. But let's cross that bridge when and if we come to it. I'm guessing we might not.
Ultimately, this puts the ball in the EU’s court. Do they grant an extension (the one Boris Johnson was forced to ask for on Saturday) and, if so, for how long?
Option 1 would be a short extension. This might allow Labour and the Conservatives to come together on the Brexit deal to pass through Parliament. I'm not so sure this is likely, given that they've not been able to do this for three years.
Option 2 would be a longer extension to allow for a general election. This might allow a government with a majority to come back and pass a Brexit deal without having to contend with a powerful opposition.
The funny thing is, both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson have said at different points that they want to go to a general election. Nonetheless, both seem to have chickened out calling for one.
This morning, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn met to ‘discuss’ the Brexit timetable. Now, they are currently going at it at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Nonetheless, one gets the feeling that these are two men who are shouting about an awful lot but aren’t really sure what to do next…