The three ends of Brexit

18th April 2019

There are only three ways which Brexit – by which I mean the departure of the UK from the EU following the Article 50 notification of 29 March 2017 – can end.

These are for the UK to leave with a withdrawal agreement under Article 50, or to leave without such a withdrawal agreement, or to revoke the notification.

In short: Deal, No Deal, Revocation.

There are ways and means to these destinations: extensions, referendums, general elections, and so on.

But even perpetual extensions would only be putting-off one of the three ends, not an end in itself.

And there are plausible paths to each of the ends.

(A politician once said that he wanted all students to get “above average” examination results. In a similar manner, so plausible is each of these ends, one could say each had a higher than 50:50 chance.)

As of today, nobody knows which of these three ways Brexit can end.

And doing nothing is no help: that just makes No Deal the end come 31st October 2019.

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26 thoughts on “The three ends of Brexit”

  1. Three ends..appear unarguable options. However, it will be interesting to hear your thoughts on the legal opinion gathered by Sir Bill Cash from QCs and former Judges, that Article 50 was passed into Law, as was the Withdrawal Agreement 2017 which states unequivocally ‘the UK will leave the EU on March 29 2019’ No ‘Resolution’ has the force of Law, and it is the law of the land states that ‘the UK will leave the EU’

  2. Dear David,

    As a Remainer who lives in Keir Starmer’s constituency, I wonder how best to suggest to him that Revoking Article 50 is the solution. It is apparent that not everybody in the country agrees with me and that the leaders of Labour and Conservative parties are very divided between and among themselves. In your view, how should a relatively well-informed citizen who cares about the country and believes in international cooperation engage with his elected representatives?

  3. Am I correct in thinking that, even in event of No Deal, in our then utterly desperate state, we will be necessarily signing up to the fundamentals of the Withdrawal Agreement anyway – citizens rights/paying the bill/Backstop, namely The Deal exPD – if we want to *talk* let alone trade with the EU at all?

    1. The UK can and will trade with the EU27 on WTO rules and using MFN tariffs (highest) without a deal.

      The UK has announced low/no import tariffs on most products except farm products and a few other products. The UK needs food and will have to import – now some of it with 30-40-50% added duty.
      Likely tariffs will also reduce the import of meat, butter, cheese and other food from the EU27 / other countries. But the EU has the best trade deals with the rest of the world and new coming up/being phased in (e.g. Japan, Canada and soon AU+NZ).

      The low/zero tariffs will have to apply to UK import from all WTO countries and this will remove most UK negotiation leverage in future trade talks.
      New low tariffs may also harm countries that now has a preferential status – which is unlikely to make them happy.

      The EU will have to apply its MFN tariffs to any 3 country without a deal e.g. the UK.
      This includes 10% on cars assembled the UK and the same 30-40-50% on many farm products. This will make export of cars to the EU very difficult, but the low value of the pound may compensate for a short while.
      Export of lamb (Wales, Scotland), beef and other food products to the EU27 is unlikely to survive for very long as is many kinds of fish.
      Farm/fish is a tiny bit of the total UK economy, but it will surely be devastating for the people involved.

      For cars and other industrial products the ‘Country/Region of Origin’ will give rise to huge problems in any future UK free trade negotiations.

      FTAs usually requires that over 50% (for cars typically 55%) of the value originates in the exporting country or region. UK assembled cars contains now from 25% or a bit higher UK produced value.
      Currently UK assembled cars have the EU as ‘Region of Origin’ and can easily pass the requirement.
      This is one of the problems a deal with an EU-UK customs union will likely solve.

      The UK can’t live without a proper trade deal with the EU27, and the WA text will be an EU prerequisite for any negotiations.

      Lars :)

      1. Milk production in Ireland is on an all-island basis; it goes to milk products such as (English) pizza toppings, dried milk and cheese (for England). This will be severely affected by a no-deal Brexit.

        Livestock likewise is on an all-island basis, and is potentially at severe risk. Ducks are produced in Emyvale, in the Republic, and exported worldwide; but the chicks are hatched in Aughnacloy a few miles away, but in N Ireland, in the UK.

        The Irish government has been very aware of the potential consequences of a Leave vote even before June 2016. There is an article in today’s Guardian about how much better prepared they were and are compared to the British government.

        https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/18/how-the-irish-backstop-emerged-as-mays-brexit-nemesis?CMP=share_btn_tw

        This echoes Tony Connelly’s book Brexit and Ireland.

        The differences between the two governments (and their politicians) is remarkable; one ‘nimble’, the other basically incompetent. It makes me very much question the value of a public school education, followed by PPE at Oxbridge; ability and grammar schools mastering wealth and privilege.

      2. Thanks for this, Lars, your detail is much appreciated. And your last paragraph nicely sums it up.

        Not only would No Deal effectively trash manufacturing and agriculture in the UK, it would do the same to Ireland’s farming sector – as Korhomme details below. To say nothing of the Good Friday Agreement, an international agreement, which needs Single Market access as well as CU to stay intact.

        No Deal is international pariah/failed state stuff. The fact that one of the results of such an unconscionable act would be signing up to the Withdrawal Agreement anyway just makes it even more ludicrous, and the impetus behind it even more suspicious.

        1. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the American House of Representatives (and the third most powerful politician in the US) has just been on a visit to both parts of Ireland and to the border.

          She has made it transparently clear that the US sees itself as a guarantor of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, and that any Brexit which interferes with the GFA is simply unacceptable, and would prevent a trade deal with the US. (The US was heavily involved in establishing the GFA; Bill Clinton sent Senator George Mitchell as a special representative to help broker the talks.)

  4. Logically there are a few other possibilities e.g. the disintegration either of the EU or of the UK. While these seem unlikely at the moment, they are not absurd, and have been seriously advocated by major players e.g. respectively Mr Farage and Ms Sturgeon.

  5. “one could say each had a higher than 50:50 chance”
    One could equally say that none look particularly likely, at least right now. Parliament is against all three. This might lead to the conclusion that No Deal would therefore win as the legal default, but in practice this is not so while the EU is willing to extend if requested. I can see a situation where this rolls on and on with a road stretching far in the distance, and a sack of cans.

    1. Perpetual extensions are a possibility but there may come a point where the next extension is outwith Article 50.

      A50 provides the legal basis for arrangements for withdrawal. If an extension does not have the purpose of enabling withdrawal then it may be ultra vires A50.

      And that is apart from the politics of extension, eg France/Macron.

      1. To my mind, there is no real prospect of a cross-party agreement which is required for the deal outcome. The supporters of the other outcomes are not minded to compromise, and the moment when that could have been possible, has now passed. So, I think that we are in a new phase, a sort of purgatory, neither really in, nor legally out. For now, this situation may seem untenable for the UK or the EU, but really the only alternative would be no deal, which has been rejected by Parliament, the current PM and the EU. After the EP elections, this new status quo may not look so bad to all concerned, not least because it avoids each of their ‘disaster outcomes’. This could still run for a LONG time.

  6. 31 October will be the end date. No extension – the EU have had enough of brexit, MPs won’t vote for the agreement, only revocation or crash are options. So the options are certainty as to the immediate and hopefully longer term future within the EU or some degree of disaster (or sunny uplands). Outside the London bubble nobody really cares apart from industries most at risk. No politicians with the strength of conviction to revoke available so I’m pretty convinced that it will be crash out. Just hope I’m wrong.

  7. How many times can you state the bl…. obvious? Clearly repetition doesn’t help Leave voters (who failed to see Britain’s Irish question a problem)

  8. Is there any possibility of a kind of annulment rather than divorce; we’re sure that the A50 notification was submitted correctly rather than, in fact, not properly done? “Whoops, that never happened”?
    I do know that this is a ridiculous question.

    1. I think that was tried on the question of ‘find the decision’ argument which was required by 50(1). It is still not clear to me who actually took the ‘decision’ the leave (I think that legally it was May, but she has never taken ownership of the decision). I believe that a court said ‘too late’ when the question came before them and the government argued not in national (government’s) interest to ask this question …

  9. Which ever way Brexit ends, one thing remains certain. The Brexit genie has let out the calls for Scottish independence, and for N Ireland’s reunification with the Republic.

    While the Irish, north and south, foresaw the problems of the Border and the Good Friday Agreement, these passed unheeded by those in power in Westminster, but not by the EU in Brussels. (And there were those of us who did point this out in your previous blog.)

    The lasting consequence of Brexit, whatever happens, may well be the end of the ‘precious, precious Union’.

  10. David, please correct me if I’m wrong, but what you’re calling the end is just the beginning of discussions on future relationship? Unless of course revocation is chosen, then it’s the end?

    1. In the first sentence I define what I mean by Brexit in this post – the “end” is what happens in respect of the Article 50 withdrawal process.

      In political terms you are right, of course.

  11. I wonder if you could expand on why you are not impressed by the argument put forward by Sir Bill Cash MP and others that there is doubt about the legality of the way in which Article 50 extension was sought.

  12. Remember that ‘brexit’ (the deliverable product?) is a religious rapture cult. Argument is useless, as reason can never dent faith.

  13. “As of today, nobody knows which of these three ways Brexit can end.”

    In my opinion, the most likely end is where the path of least resistance leads to, which is No Deal. Everything else requires a lot of effort by a lot of people. On top of that, those people need to be successful every time. Brexiters have to succeed only once.

    Also, these are not three possible ends for Brexit, just two: No Deal, or Deal. Revoke is not an end, it’s a different form of extension. One that will make Brexiters push even harder.

    Only Brexit is an “end” in that it creates a new status quo. As to what will happen after Brexit, that’s open to speculation. I’m sure that Brexit is just means to an end, but Brexiters have not shared yet what they plan to do once they’ve won.

  14. Boris Johnson and the custard pies

    A weird confluence of information from the last couple of days (Jung or Charles Fort might argue coincidence indicates greater, even terrible, significance) that I can’t do anything with but you might get something from:

    I’ve been browsing through the High Times archive over the last month and a half. The last thing I thought I’d read about was the magazine’s founder, the somewhat obscure counter-cultural figure Tom Forcade. Prior to publishing a magazine of drugs news and culture he was involved in the anti-establishment New Left in the late 60s – Yippies, protests at Republican conventions, etc. Maybe his most news-grabbing action was in 1970 when he smacked a custard pie into the face of the chairman of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. Forcade’s group of political prankster, the Zippies were a breakaway group from the Yippies, and their brand of political disruption and provocation was inspired by Norman Spinrad’s 1967 science fiction novel “Agent of Chaos”. In recent years the book has acquired a little ironic humour from the fact that its protagonist is named “Boris Johnson”. Boris Johnson, Agent of Chaos seems horribly appropriate. Inspired by Forcade and Spinrad a group formed calling itself Agents of Pie-Kill, advertising in the Village Voice and other underground newspapers. For a fee they would smash a pie into the face of a chosen victim. Throughout the 70s they would go on to cream William F. Buckley, anti-gay campaigner Phyllis Schlafly, Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Edward Teller.
    In the week of milkshaking various right-wing and racist British would-be politicians it seems weirdly appropriate that it all began with “Boris Johnson”.

  15. Third, law enforcement authorities and Europol are allowed to have access to the records, either under specific conditions ( VIS, Eurodac, EES, ETIAS ) or because of the law enforcement (security) mandate ( SIS II and ECRIS-TCN ); 

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