Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 14th of March 2019 to The Sounding Line.
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As was widely expected, the UK Parliament has now officially voted to reject leaving the EU without a deal on March 29th. While the outcome of the vote was taken for granted, it ended up being surprisingly close. 312 MPs voted against ‘No Deal’ in any scenario while 302 voted in support of ‘No Deal’ in at least some scenario. It is worth noting that the vote is non-binding. It is effectively advice for the government to consider and does not actually prevent ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Only revoking or extending Article 50 would do that. It is also worth noting that while No-Deal Brexit lost, it actually received more votes than Theresa May’s transition plan.
Where do things go from here?
Today there will be a vote to request an extension to the Article 50 ‘Leave’ date until June 30th. It is widely believed that that vote will succeed. The 27 EU countries will then have to unanimously grant that extension and will likely require some concession or guarantee from the UK to do so.
What the UK expects to achieve with the extension is a bit of a mystery. With more time on the clock and with the UK Parliament having just voted against ‘No Deal’ Brexit, it’s hard to imagine the EU feeling the pressure to renegotiate the Irish Backstop. France’s President Macron has said as much, stating that any extension could not be used to attempt to renegotiate the Irish Backstop. The EU likely sees an extension as a window to a guaranteed customs union, second referendum, or a general election in the UK. Advocates of Brexit aught to be very skeptical of an extension.
Is there any way left to get out of an EU customs union?
Given the closeness of the ‘No Deal’ Brexit vote, it is worth at least considering the possibility that the vote to extend the Article 50 deadline fails. While probably unlikely, if the extension fails, ‘No Deal’ Brexit on March 29th remains the default outcome despite Parliament’s vote against it. The pressure of No-Deal Brexit is the only thing that might bring the EU back to the negotiating table on the Irish Backstop and allow for a revised Brexit deal that can actually pass through UK Parliament. In typical ‘head-scratching’ fashion, Theresa May has scheduled a third vote on her plan for the 20th of March, before the UK-EU summit on the 21st and 22nd when the plan could potentially be improved.
The whole point of Brexit is to get out of the EU customs union. That is what is necessary for the UK to have a meaningfully independent trade and regulatory policy. The Irish Backstop in Theresa May’s transition plan virtually guarantees that the UK ends up in a customs union one way or the other (read why here), and an extension virtually eliminates the UK’s negotiating leverage on the backstop and opens the door to a general election and/or second referendum.
If today’s vote to extend Article 50 passes, I personally don’t see a path out of an EU customs union. Do you?
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