The UK is entering a period of great uncertainty and constitutional, legal and political upheaval. The big immediate question is what will come out of the debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – which is actually one very detailed withdrawal deal, and one set of vague aspirations for the future in the accompanying “political declaration”. What might happen? The most likely Brexit outcome is Norway, writes Colin Talbot (University of Cambridge). He shows that no other option has the parliamentary numbers.
A Venn diagram of the contending Brexit tribes in the Commons looks something like this:
The numbers are very much guestimates and in any case are probably fairly fluid. Who votes for what will partly depend on the order and exact terms of amendments that will eventually be voted on.
The Labour Party will, of course, whip its MPs to vote against May’s deal. But the deal also appears to have very little support amongst Tory MPs outside of the payroll vote of ministers and their parliamentary bag carriers, and even some of them are wavering.
The hardline Brexiteers, mostly organised into the inappropriately named European Research Group (ERG), want a much harder Brexit. But, as the recent ill-fated coup attempt against May showed, how far they are prepared to really go is questionable. Only about two dozen of their about 80 MPs put in letters to the 1922 Chair, Graham Brady. This probably reflects—more or less—the number who are really prepared to press for a complete no deal, car crash Brexit.
Some hard Brexiters, like Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom form what might be called the “Brexit First” group. They think the priority is getting out of the EU and everything else is secondary and can be dealt with later.
On the more Brexit-moderate wing of the Tory parliamentary party, there are probably a similar or slightly higher number who want a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all. They mostly reject May’s deal because it is too hard and, on the future relationship, open to an even harder Brexit down the road. Some might have been tempted by it simply to stop a no deal happening, but now that appears to be off the table (since yesterday’s procedural defeats for the government) that temptation has probably gone away.
The number of Tory MPs who still back Remain, or a People’s Vote to try and get the same thing, is now quite small. But quite a few soft Brexit Tories might swing behind either a Norway-type solution and/or another referendum depending on how events unfold.
Meanwhile, the DUP are playing games. They are opposed to May’s deal because of its implications for Northern Ireland and they campaigned for Leave. But they also know sentiment in Northern Ireland is pro-Remain or, at the very least, for only the softest of Brexits. So they are hinting they could support a Norway-type deal as a last resort. They almost definitely will not support another referendum because it would inflict even more political damage on them in Northern Ireland.
We know the Lib Dems and the SNP, and the lone Green MP Caroline Lucas, all still back Remain and another referendum. If both these options appear impossible then it is likely this group of almost 50 MPs could swing behind a Norway option.
So where does all this leave us? The table below sums up the numbers game.
In order of probability, it is clear that “no deal” probably can’t muster more than a couple of dozen votes. Even if 60-65 ERG die-hards (with maybe a handful of Labour Brexiters) tried to push it through they would be outnumbered about nine to one by the rest.
May’s deal is also dead barring some miracle. The only scenario in which it might pass is if the Brexit-moderate Tories and Labour swung behind it, which is not going to happen. Even if a significant group of pro-Europe/soft Brexit Labour MPs rebelled it would be very unlikely to offset the DUP and ERG defections.
So the two options left—which are not necessarily mutually exclusive—are the Norway-style deal and/or a Peoples Vote. The decisive group of MPs will probably be Labour.
If it was left to Jeremy Corbyn then Labour would almost certainly opt, reluctantly, for a Norway-style deal. Corbyn would have to swallow some of his Europhobic tendencies, especially his anti-freedom of movement views, but he could still argue he was “respecting the referendum.” He has also been notably more hostile to a People’s Vote than most Labour MPs, Keir Starmer, Labour members, Labour voters and very significantly John McDonnell. The shadow chancellor has been hinting more strongly that Labour should back a People’s Vote. He’d have plenty of support within the PLP for that.
My guess—and it is only that—is that if this choice confronts Labour (which it may or may not depending on parliamentary procedure and votes) Corbyn would insist on the Norway option. He loves nothing better than a good campaign, but the one he clearly doesn’t want is to stop Brexit. During the 700,000 strong People’s Vote march he even left the EU entirely to avoid it.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. it first appeared on Prospect.
Professor Colin Talbot (@colinrtalbot is a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge and Professor of Government (Emeritus) at the University of Manchester.
“Corbyn would insist on the Norway option”
Sorry, cloud cuckoo logic.
(a) The only deal which the EU has signed off on is May’s, and
(b) Even if the EU were disposed to re-negotiate (which it has adamantly stated that it is not), Norway would not accept the UK as a member (also adamantly stated).
Frankly, the “Norway Option” is a time-wasting unicorn cavorting on mythical sunlit uplands.
Let’s face it, there are only 2 viable options within the current timeframe, either:
1. Parliament ratifies May’s lumpen turd of a blank cheque to continue indefinitely with “negotiations” from an even weaker bargaining position (clearly she has not heard of Alan Bennet’s play “The History Boys”: “You can’t polish a turd”, especially not by tying both hands behind your back); On the face of it zero chance of Parliament accepting her turd of a deal (thank all the gods and godesses in every pantheon), or:
2. Parliament confirms that the UK will remain with the best package of terms of any of the 28 sovereign state members of the EU. This requires only the rescision/revocation of the (probably) unlawful letter of 29th March 2017 giving notice of intention to leave, followed immediately by the repeal of all legislation emanating from it. This process might take as much 2 days of Parliament’s time.
The House of Lords (!) has initiated the necessary Bill for Parliament to pass to get the (almost certainly) unlawful Art 50 notice revoked: https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/eumembership.html . We should all be badgering our MPs to get this Bill passed into law before Xmas.
Thereafter, with these legal formalities completed, it becomes a purely political decision as to whether to hold (for the first time since the 1975 referendum which resulted in a 67% majority in favour of remaining) a legally watertight definitive plebescite on which of the 2 available alternatives the electorate prefers; or
alternatively, to declare that the question of a legitimate referendum will be postponed until after the next election (whenever that may be), so that parties may choose to make it a manifesto matter.
The real debate now is the parameters which define a legitimate definitive plebicite within the context of the constitutional requirements of the UK.
I would suggest that it must include at bare minimum the inclusion in the electoral roll of all persons directly affected by the outcome (expats etc), and a super-majority in favour of the change to the constitution.
We also need a constitutional Act making it an offence to attempt to subborn an MP from their duty to vote according to their conscience in all constitutional matters with no parliamentary immunity for party whips.
I think your table is missing the ‘harder brexit’ Tories?
Say the backstop is renegotiated to include a time limit would all but the 12 die hard remain Tories (if the alternative was Norway/no Brexit) support it plus the DUP plus some Labour leavers – enough to get it through?
Would the Tory Softer Brexit group really back a people’s vote?
How does the timescale fit in? Could the die hard brexiteers spin things out and then potentially engineer a lost vote of confidence in the govt an dthus a GE to basically eat up any time to negotiate a Norway/have a second referendum and thus achieve no deal by default?
I cannot see why the EU has a problem, except for its LOSING CONTROL . It has aspirations regarding Europe which far extend members wishes. Having said that,the EU should slow down on expansion and realize it will be reliant on trade with third countries. This feeling of superiority it has towards other countries and subsequent power over them is misplaced.
The UK is allowed to depart unilaterally from the EU and apart from trade agreements the EU lacks further control over the UK. The Backstop is now a handicap to negotiations and should be removed.
Rather than being vindictive the EU ought to realize the Backstop and associated EU laws and regulations enclosed in it would be better removed from it. I think this would enable negotiations to continue to a good ending on time.
Like so many articles by Leavers and Remainers this one assumes that the UK only has to play a tune and the EU27 will dance to it. There is absolutely no guarantee at all that the EU or Norway is going to look favorably on the idea of a Norway or rather Norway Plus (you want to avoid the hard Irish border, don’t you?) In fact, on the basis of their public statements so far, it is rather unlikely.
“If it was left to Jeremy Corbyn then Labour would almost certainly opt, reluctantly, for a Norway-style deal.”
Would he? Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that for Jeremy Corbyn Brexit is almost a side-show. He sees himself within touching distance of being the first really left-wing Prime Minister since Harold Wilson, or maybe even Clement Attlee. Being a spectator in the whole Brexit business while Theresa May flounders can only help him in this. It would suit him very well to let the Conservatives stay in power (or rather, not in) until the next General Election, when he can then appear as the one to pick up the pieces. This hypothesis of mine explains why Jeremy Corbyn has, until now, avoided taking sides. I don’t see why he should change that now.
I think Alias has hit the nail on the head. I worry about Jeremy Corbyn waiting under his rock. I do not think Momentum is for the people but for an outdated idea of a Communist state.where the energy of the individual is seen as a bad thing and all controll must be from some sort of central Polit Bureau. Some in Momentum think Stalin is a nice man. I know because I have heard it said.’ I see the arguments in parliament over Brexit as a great thing rather than bad. . For the first time in many years the concerns people outside London are being considered. It is not enough that the Uk should earn a living selling only financial services. The economy must grow in many different ways and be encouraged to do so., and I hope that the changes coming will be a boost for the economy. The UK is a great country and it’s people free . If the UK is to pay into the EU then we should be able to lever some sort of good deal. Much better to remain close friends with the EU but not shackled..
The options that the UK has at this point are:
1. Remain (withdraw the Article 50 notification)
2. May’s deal (accept the Withdrawal Agreement that the EU and UK negotiated)
3. No deal (do nothing, meaning that the UK leaves the EU on March 29)
The EU has ruled out the possibility of negotiating a different withdrawal agreement.
The “People’s vote” is not an alternative to the above three options; it is just a way of giving the people input into which of the three options is chosen.
The “Norway option” is not an alternative to the above three options. If the “Norway option” is what the UK wants, it still has to choose one of the three options above, and then plot a path to get from whereever the chosen option leaves it to the “Norway option.”
Theresa May will never agree to the Remain option, and I think she’s still strong enough to block it. Talbot claims that, “May’s deal is also dead barring some miracle.” I’m not convinced of this; I think May still has a shot at getting it through. But if she doesn’t, the result will be No Deal, because that’s the only alternative left. It doesn’t matter that No Deal, “probably can’t muster more than a couple of dozen votes,” because No Deal doesn’t require a vote. It happens by default if one of the other two options isn’t taken.
Remain is not an option. We’ve been through that. We had the People’s Vote and they decided to leave. All talk of second thoughts, they did not know what they were voting for is rubbish. That could equally be said of any and all remain voters. (Don’t think those who voted for remain want an end of the monarchy, and end to our own parliament, etc. which is what the Lisbon treaty means).
Besides that, as Diane Abbot stated, an IN / OUT referendum would produce the same result. There was a poll recently: 42% remain; 27% Brexit with no deal; and, 16% Brexit with a deal. That shows what leave voters want.
To remain now, would be a very serious breach of trust.
May’s deal (which was overwhelmingly voted down) was a cop-out. The worst part being the backstop which tied us to the EU with little or no prospect of getting out. Anything that binds a future parliament or legally binds us to the EU will have drastic consequences (read the Lisbon treaty for proof of that).
No deal is by far the best option and closest to what we voted for. Talk of cliff-edges and crashing-out is to buy into ‘project fear.’ The most that can be said is: we don’t know. And, again, that cuts both ways. The main gloom and doom merchants are the same ones who said we needed to be in the ERM and the Euro, and they were (provably) wrong both times.
The BIG issue (which gets forgotten) is that the UK needs to get it’s sovereignty back (which it should never have signed-away in the first place)! We need our parliament to be voted in or out and them to make laws and run the country. When they do so, all things being normal, the UK will be (much) better off!