March 29 has come and gone, and we remain in the EU. That our government has not implemented Brexit after two years of negotiations is frankly alarming. This is a bitter April fool indeed, and one that will damage trust in our political system for years to come.
Instead – and perhaps initially illegally, as BfB explores this week – the government has postponed the exit day until 12 April at the earliest. May’s doomed deal was defeated in the Commons for a third time, despite a number of last-minute defections from high-profile Tory and the PM’s own promise to fall on her sword. The DUP have stood firm, continuing to argue that the backstop arrangements will weaken the Union – an existential issue for them.
After the ludicrous defeat of all Thursday’s indicative votes, the way forward is hopelessly unclear. Adding another layer of farce May still seems to think there is scope to try again with a fourth vote (or her sixth counting withdrawn attempts). More indicative voting will occur on Monday, but this is all about a post Brexit future. The immediate issue remains whether the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by Parliament so that the UK can move into a transition period.
The importance of a Monday vote in support of a customs union is that it could bring in enough Labour votes to get the WA over the line. Labour is unlikely to formally back the WA since this would mean they jointly own it alongside Theresa May and Corbyn’s strategy of blaming the fiasco on the Tories would be gone.
Despite rumours that the DUP are happy enough with a customs union they can never agree to the Withdrawal Agreement itself. This should ensure yet another defeat for the WA. If the WA is not ratified then it is either no deal or a longer extension, the latter presumably involving a need to take part in EU elections in May (even here there are rumours of plots to circumvent EU law on UK participation in these elections).
Can a PM who promised to honour the referendum really sign us up for years more inside the EU including EU elections? Your guess is as good as ours, but there will a strong risk of splitting the Tory Party and surely this is her final frontier.
Several of our contributors attended the Brexit rally in Parliament Square on what was to have been Brexit day. Many of you may also have been there. Graham Gudgin, Kate Hoey and Gwythian Prins went on to talk at the UPR ‘La France Libre de Nouveau’ conference held round the corner in Church House. Some 3-400 members of the French Eurosceptic UPR (Popular Republican Unity) party had come to London originally to celebrate Brexit and to call for Frexit. They proved to be enormously enthusiastic about leaving the EU and very anglophile. It was an uplifting evening.
Robert Tombs attended a conference that same morning at Chatham House (part of which was reproduced on the Radio 4 Today Programme on Saturday 30th, starting around 1 hr 33 mins) and took part in a discussion with Timothy Garton-Ash on the PM Programme (around 45 mins in), also on the 29th. Robert calls in the Sunday Telegraph (31 March) for a general election with the Conservative Party firmly backing Brexit, but with ‘a new leader, a new direction, and a new boldness’.
The BfB article ‘A WTO-based Brexit could yield the UK £80 billion per year’ first published in January was given another run out on the BrexitCentral website this week, reflecting the importance of establishing the feasibility and indeed advantage of a WTO-based Brexit at this critical time.
We were among the ‘friends’ who Steve Baker MP says persuaded him to change his mind when he was tempted to support the Withdrawal Agreement. He writes in the Sunday Telegraph that he “hopes everyone will stand with us, so that from this descent our country and our institutions can arise renewed without fear of falling into the same fate for generations.”
On the website this week
Former Bank of England Governor backs No Deal, by Mervyn King
John Humphrys interviewed Mervyn King, the former Governor of the Bank of England, on the Today programme about Brexit. (Friday 29th March). Cathy Gyngell of the ConservativeWomen website transcribed King’s calm and rational explanation of the issues around Brexit to have on the record. Humphrys began by asking Lord King whether he still thought the government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations was ‘incompetence on a monumental scale’, and what were the consequences for the economy. King started as he meant to go on: ‘Well, I think the incompetence seems to have spread beyond the government to Parliament as a whole. The fact that they simply can’t make a decision is pretty extraordinary.’ The full interview is published here, verbatim.
“When we hear people talk about… the consequences of leaving without a deal as ‘national suicide’, I wonder sometimes if the political class hasn’t suffered a collective nervous breakdown and lost confidence in the country.”
A Frontstop Approach to the Backstop Conundrum, by Joseph Weiler
Law Professor Joseph Weiler takes inspiration from existing customs arrangements in the USA to set out the ‘Frontstop’ as a pragmatic alternative to the backstop stumbling block. This would use numerous centres either side of the Irish Sea to check goods to crucially remove the need for a hard border.
“It is simply not credible to imagine that three powerful public authorities, the UK, Ireland and the Union itself could not jointly make this approach, which is in their collective interest, work and thus remove one huge road block for future EU UK relations.”
Regular contributor and senior private sector economist Harry Western pours cold water over Theresa May’s insincere claims that MPs should vote for her Withdrawal Agreement in order to prevent a softer “Common Market 2.0” Brexit. These ‘alternatives’ are in fact just two sides of the same coin and will leave the UK inseparably tied to an EU it voted to leave.
“the differences between the WA … and ‘Common Market 2.0’ or ‘Norway plus’, are almost non-existent”
Economics professor Ashoka Mody reports on the terminal problems of the European Central Bank which has only words to solve an impending Eurozone crisis, where actions are really needed.
“Make no mistake, aside from its jumble of words, the ECB has nothing else to offer going ahead”
An Over-Excited Broadside of a Book. A Review of Heroic failure, by John Wilson Foster
Reviewing Fintan O’Toole’s book-length diatribe against Brexit and the English, John Wilson Foster finds little resemblance to reality. O’Toole tries to paint Brexit Man as ‘Basket Man’ in a desperate attempt to discredit what was a reasoned – and majority – decision, to a liberal-metropolitan audience who are presumably still baffled by the vote. This searing and timely review is a contracted version of the full review from the Dublin Review of Books.
“The book will not countenance reasonable or mundane explanations for Brexit (whether you then accept them or not), nor the complexity of the ongoing event”
The Withdrawal Agreement is a one-way ticket back into the EU, by David Blake
Professor David Blake explains how the Withdrawal Agreement is a means for the political classes to usher the UK back into EU clutches within the decade. Olly Robbins’s slip has shown that the backstop will allow a Remain Parliament to lead the UK into the terrifying abyss of ever closer union.
“This is NOT a real Brexit. It is a Boomerang Brexit. It is a trap.”
Rt Hon David Jones is MP for Clwyd West and has served as Secretary of State for Wales and Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union. We publish his powerful speech against the Withdrawal Agreement delivered in the Commons on 29 March, which notes that the Withdrawal Agreement remains unchanged from its previous defeats and is legally inseparable from the Political Declaration (despite government claims to the contrary).
“The withdrawal agreement has not changed since I and the majority of this House voted against it two weeks ago. It has not changed by one paragraph, syllable or semi-colon.”
The postponement of Brexit: is it legal?, by Richard Aikens
Sir Richard Aikens has here built a convincing case that the government acted illegally in postponing the date of Brexit without parliamentary approval. Step by step, he shows how because exit day was written into UK law as 29 March 2019. The government needed Parliament’s approval to change this, rather than trying to coerce the Commons into rubber stamping what the government had done unilaterally.
“It must be arguable that the government has acted illegally.”
The Money Behind Remain, by Robert Tombs
Professor Robert Tombs lifts the lid on the finances of a Remain campaign that tries to pass itself off as grassroots. Recent emails from key Remain figure Lord Malloch-Brown show him soliciting six-figure donations from wealthy businessman desperate to frustrate Brexit.
“Perhaps history will one day relate how much money was spent on the anti-Brexit campaigns we are now witnessing.”
UK to EU: Reopen the Withdrawal Agreement! By Paul Sheard
Paul Sheard, economist and Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center on Business and Government, argues that if the UK wants a satisfactory Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, it must stop allowing the EU to dictate the terms of the negotiation. The UK should call the EU’s bluff and tell the European Council that it is prepared to exit without an agreement if the EU does not agree to open up the Withdrawal Agreement and amend the Irish backstop.
“With enough goodwill and ingenuity on both sides, a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland can be avoided; the issue need not hijack the whole Brexit process.”
A Fourth Vote on The Withdrawal Agreement Requires New Legal Authority, by Caroline Bell
Caroline Bell explains that Theresa May acted with dubious legality in requesting an extension under Article 50 without the authority of parliament. She seems to be risking a worse illegality if she brings her Withdrawal Agreement to parliament yet again: to do so legally, she will need a new Statutory Instrument, and for that she will need a new decision from the European Council.
“The European Council Decision is quite clear that the extension of Article 50 to 22 May is contingent on the Withdrawal Agreement BEING APPROVED BY THE HOUSE OF COMMONS ‘BY 29 MARCH 2019 AT THE LATEST’”.”
The ECB: what better reason for Leaving, by Hugh Gunn
Hugh Gunn sets out his fears over the ‘monetary monster’ that is the European Central Bank. He sees a future where the shaky Eurozone economies topple, and the UK taxpayer has to bail out the European mismanagement of Italy, Spain, Greece and the rest.
“The decadent EU expects the UK to rally unconditionally to their defence whilst kicking us repeatedly. Be careful what you wish on us, Remainers.”
It’s Double or Quits for Theresa May, by Caroline Bell
Caroline Bell carefully sets out Theresa May’s steps she has taken to near the completion of ‘the biggest assault on our democracy and constitution since the 17th century’, which may yet culminate in revocation of Article 50.
“There is no point watching the news to try to work out what will happen next in the Brexit betrayal so carefully orchestrated by Theresa May”
We are also on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briefing4brexit, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
On Facebook this week Clive Norris bemoans how “The political enemies of Brexit have to paint it as an apocalypse, after all the EU is primarily a political project now.”
How you can help
We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion. There are thousands of you. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Write to your MPs. Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture. Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors. Make you views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge