Back on 29th June 2016, just after the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, I indulged in a little speculation about what would happen next:
“I don’t usually like to indulge in prophetic utterances, and I’m not sure I would describe this as such an attempt – more an informed hunch – but I believe that the 17,410,742 people who just expressed their opinion in a democratic vote to leave the European Union are about to find themselves involved in what can only be described as the mother of all stitch ups. Brexit just isn’t going to happen!!!”
However, although I believed that we were going to see the mother of all stitch ups, I was wrong about how this would happen. At the time, I fully expected that ways would be found to avoid ever triggering Article 50, and so I was somewhat surprised when it was. Still, it didn’t alter my view that a Remain Prime Minister in a Remain Parliament was highly unlikely to carry out the mandate given by the majority of voters in that referendum, and nothing I’ve seen or heard since has changed that view.
But we now come to what could well be the crunch week in the whole charade, with the number of possible outcomes being narrowed down to just a few. These are, I believe, the main possibilities:
Another extension, either until 30th June, or a “flextension”, as has been mooted in the last few days
A no deal Brexit
A Parliamentary majority for Revoking Article 50
Of these possibilities, unfortunately I believe that the third is now by far the most likely, even though it was one of the options rejected by MPs in the series of indicative votes held in Parliament, and even though it still wouldn’t command a majority were a vote held on it early in the week. So I guess this needs some explaining.
What I expect to happen next week is as follows. Talks between the leaderships of the two main parties will break down, with both sides blaming one another. This will mean that the default position will remain a no deal Brexit (or to put it more accurately, a World Trade Organisation Brexit) on 12th April.
On 10th April, the EU Council will once again meet to discuss Brexit, and in particular Theresa May’s request to the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, for an extension until 30th June. It should be noted that she made the exact same request in previous letter to Mr Tusk, and it should be further noted that that request was turned down, with two alternative dates proposed — 12th April and 22nd May –, which were tied to her failure or success in getting the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. And so it seems that having seen that deal rejected by MPs on three occasions, she is now going for a second shot at having her extension date request rejected by the EU, and who knows, perhaps she’s hoping to make that three as well! I am not convinced that she is in complete possession of an entire collection of marbles, as it were.
I believe that the EU Council is extremely likely to turn her request down. But unlike the previous occasion, I also think it extremely unlikely that they will grant her any extension at all. And the reason for this is simply this: Emmanuel Macron.
M. Macron is an extreme EU integrationist. He really does want to see a United States of Europe, replete with its own army and a number of new institutions including:
A European agency for “the protection of democracies”
A revamping of the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone
A common border police
A European asylum office
A European council of internal security.
A defence and security treaty to increase defence spending and put in place an operational mutual defence clause
A European Security Council
And despite the fact that the German leadership is nowhere near as keen on these things, this does not seem to dampen Macron’s enthusiasm and he wants to go full speed ahead on this now. However, he is already extremely frustrated that Brexit has been taking up so much of everyone’s time. It was Macron who was the sticking point in the granting of the previous deadlines, and it is he who supposedly kicked back against Mrs May’s request for an extension until 30th June. In the end, as I understand it, Macron grudgingly accepted an extension, but insisted on two shorter dates, tied to the success or failure of Mrs May to get her Withdrawal Agreement through.
I simply don’t think that Macron is going to give way again. And so I expect that he, possibly along with a number of other countries, will reject Mrs May’s request. And so the EU Council will, I believe, conclude their meeting by saying that because the British Government has failed to get the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, and because the British Prime Minister has failed to set out a fresh and credible reason as to why an extension should be granted, they will not be offering one.
Should this occur, late on Wednesday 10th April, regardless of what has happened in the passage of the Cooper-Letwin Bill, Britain will be just 48 hours from exiting the European Union with a no deal Brexit.
MPs will then be faced with a very stark choice with just hours to go. The Withdrawal Agreement will have passed away. The possibility of an extension will be dead. The choice will be startlingly simple: Accept No Deal or Vote to Revoke. And despite the fact that most MPs voted against Revoke in the indicative vote, and despite the fact that they fear the reaction of their constituents should they vote for this, faced with this choice with literally hours to go, I believe them quite capable of, and indeed highly likely to vote to Revoke Article 50. And indeed they are equally capable of justifying it by claiming that they couldn’t in all conscience see the country plunged into chaos (which could well prove to be a case of irony on steroids).
And thus the Mother of all Stitch ups, the Revolt of Parliament against the people will be complete.
No doubt events shall prove me wrong. However, as the clock ticks down, and as this convoluted process boils down to an increasingly narrow range of possibilities, unfortunately it seems to me that a last minute Revoking of Article 50, along with all that that would entail, is now looking increasingly likely.