Situation Report on Brexit Xmas 2017

Eighteen months after the 2016 Referendum the advance to a Hard Brexit continues with the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) 2017-19 through its second reading in the Commons. Some concessions were made including the date – which still remains 2019 but may now be adjusted slightly from March 29th, and Amendment 7 – whose significance needs scrutiny.

The major factor is the weakness and divisions within the Anti Brexit forces and whether these are to be addressed. Before the House went into Christmas recess it appeared likely that this would happen. The attempt to unify anti-Brexit was flagged up in the Guardian (report by Patrick Wintour 17 12 17) and is overdue. However a moment of unification may pass without action.  It is vital that this is not the case.  The analysis following focusses on the proposal and how it may develop.

The Unification Proposal

Wintour’s article headline was “former diplomat to lead remainer’s bid to shift public opinion on Brexit”, with a subhead – “Lord Malloch-Brown aims to unify campaigners and sees MPs vote on the final deal as ‘the moment to stop the trainwreck'”. Unity is desirable, but is far from achieved.  There is no proposal for a single organisation, but Malloch-Brown claimed “from New Year is likely to see a much more co-ordinated campaign”.

All anti-Brexiteers must welcome this. But firstly, will it happen? Three organisations were named as taking a lead role – Open Britain, the European Movement, and Best for Britain (BFB), and that Malloch-Brown “has recently become chairman of Best for Britain”. There was no mention of Britain4Europe, which has a real grassroots presence. The earlier document on key seats strategy in the 2017 election (26th April) had named Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain4Europe, not BFB. It is vital that a broad front group emerges with all major organisations involved.

Whether this will happen we will see in early 2018. Immediately attention should focus on the second proposition, that the MPs vote on the final deal is the key moment for stopping Brexit. 

The background  analysed

Malloch-Brown is quoted as saying “The aim will be to shift public opinion by the time MPs come next autumn to have the meaningful vote that was agreed last week. We cannot know precisely the Brexit deal that the meaningful vote will be on, but it will be the moment to stop the trainwreck”.

 The idea of a ‘meaningful vote’ in the autumn on an unknown deal scheduled for March 29th 2019 or thereafter  is contradictory, but more contradictory still are the problems of whether  MPs can vote to defeat Brexit by voting on the deal, or at least the (incomplete) deal available in autumn 2018. Government has made crystal clear that a veto vote by MPs will not happen. This is underlined by responses to epetititions drawing responses from Government that do not suggest the vote on Article 7 of the Exit Bill (European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – vote December 13th 2017), will be effective. There are at time of writing two relevant petitions.

a) An epetition submitted by Tom Holder (deadline 12 3 18- e-petitions are open for  six months therefore this would have been submitted around 12th September 2017) entitled ‘Petition Hold a referendum on the final Brexit deal’  with three options suggested for the ballot paper, the response from the government was as follows:


“On 23rd June 2016 the British people voted  to leave the European Union. The UK government is clear that it is now its duty to implement the will of the people and so there will be no second referendum. The decision to hold the referendum was supported by a clear majority in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the referendum was the largest democratic mandate in UK political history. In the 2017 General Election more than 85% of people voted for parties committed to respecting that result.


“There must be no attempts to remain inside the European union, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government to make sure that we do just that. Rather than second guess the British people’s decision to leave the European Union, the challenge is to make a success of it, not just for those who voted to leave but for every citizen of the UK, bringing together everyone in a balance approach which respects the decision to leave the political structures of the EU, but builds a strong relationship between Britain and the EU as neighbours, allies and partners.

“Parliament passed an Act of Parliament with a clear majority giving the Prime Minister the  power to trigger Article 50, which she did on 29 March in a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. As a matter of firm policy, our notification will not be withdrawn – for the simple reason that people voted to leave, and the government is determined to see through that instruction.

“Both Houses of Parliament will have the opportunity to vote on the final agreement (i) reached with the EU before it is concluded. This will be a meaningful vote (ii) which will give MPs the choice to either accept the final agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. We want a deep and special partnership with the EU (iii). We can get the right deal abroad and the right deal for people at home. We will deliver a country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before.”

(i) This statement made  in September 2017 raises the question why the government refused to back Dominic Grieve’s amendment 7 to put this commitment into law in December.

(ii) My emphasis – this is a phrase used in parliament which seems to have no meaning at all, as the vote will be a foregone conclusion. As the next part of the sentence indicates, the choice is to accept the government’s position or accept the government’s policy. The deal cannot be amended or rejected for further negotiation. Any vote under these circumstances is a farce.

(iii) But as Justin Bieber sang in a chart hit, “Can we still be friends?” – second verse and chorus – breaking up is easy, staying in a positive relationship something else.


(b) an epetition submitted by Anne Greaves deadline 17th May 2018. (thus submitted November 2017) taking up the point  (ii) above and which said of the choice offered

“A lesser of two evils choice between a bad deal and no deal is not acceptable. Our country deserves better than than Hobson’s choice, and our MPs should be allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver what they believe is best for the country”. Government response was shorter and less belligerent, but made no concession on substance, while leaving out the phrase ‘a meaningful vote’,  making the following statement. 

“The British people voted to leave  and the government will implement their decision. The vote on the final deal will give parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.

“The result of the Referendum held on 23rd June 2016 saw a clear majority of people vote to leave the EU (iv)  Parliament overwhelmingly confirmed the result of the referendum on 8th February, by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal)  Bill. The Government is clear that it its duty to deliver on the instruction of the British People and implement the result of the referendum.

“The government has committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament as soon as  possible after the negotiations have concluded. The terms of this vote are clear: Parliament will have the choice to accept that deal or to move ahead without a deal (v).We are confident that we will get the best possible agreement and one which Parliament will want to support.”


Department for Exiting the European Union 

(iv)  The facts are that while a narrow majority of those who voted were for Leave, unlike the 1975 vote there was not a 2/3 majority. Nor did the whole UK vote for Leave – the phrase used in the first government response which has been removed – as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain. This will have consequences for the survival of the UK which Brexiteers do not discuss.

(v) If the vote is to take place after negotiations have completed, why expect it  in Autumn 2018? 

Possible Outcomes

The government’s position does not give much room to suggest  the ‘trainwre

ck can be stopped’. No vote will take place on Leaving, and the choice of a ‘bad deal or no deal’ which is all that is on the table, will not include a vote on staying in the EU. If “Brexit is Brexit”, it cannot be stopped by a vote on this basis. If the Commons votes against the deal, the government is committed to leave the EU. The Amendment 7 passed on December 13th merely adds “subject to the prior enactment of a statute by parliament approving the terms of withdrawal of the UK from the EU”. The policy of the government is to leave without such approval if parliament votes against the deal.

It is possible that a use of Crown Prerogative could spark a constitutional crisis. There will be intense pressure to accept even a bad deal, but if the Commons voted against, and the government persisted, a Commons majority could pass a vote of no confidence in the government, which if passed would mean a General Election, or if Labour took office a government committed to passing Brexit.  The only other option is for parliament to vote for a Referendum. A General Election would be impossible to call.

It would appear those like Lord Malloch-Brown who believe that MPs can reverse Brexit are mistaken. A ‘meaningful vote’ in Autumn 2018 is not what parliament agreed in December 2017.

Trevor Fisher

December 2017

Speak Your Mind