4th July 2019
The ship of fools, depicted in a 1549 German woodcut
There is a misleading and unhelpful phrase now in common use among politicians and pundits discussing Brexit.
The phrase is “ruling out a No Deal Brexit”.
Often you will read or hear that the House of Commons has ruled out a No Deal Brexit, or will rule out a No Deal Brexit, or should or should not rule out a No Deal Brexit.
The phrase is being used so casually that you would get the impression that the phrase was meaningful.
The phrase, however, shows a misunderstanding of the predicament that the United Kingdom is in.
A No Deal Brexit cannot be ruled out, at least not in isolation.
The House of Commons could vote against a No Deal Brexit, resolution after amendment and so on, until their faces are fully blue – and by those votes would have no effect.
A No Deal Brexit can be avoided, but only as a by-product of another positive act – acts which dare not speak their names.
The starting point, as most of you will know, is that the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement by automatic operation of law on 31st October 2019.
That is the default position; nothing more needs to be done; the ball rolls off the table.
That default can be defeated only in three ways.
One: that the current (or an amended) withdrawal agreement is approved by the UK Parliament and the European Parliament before 31st October 2019.
The problem with this is that the deal has already been rejected by historic majorities by the House of Commons, and there is no time and little inclination by the European Union to revise the current deal on offer.
A deal in place on 31st October 2019 is possible in theory, but there is little basis in reality (at the moment) to see it happening.
Two: that there is a further extension to the Article 50 period.
This is the most likely in practice but – and this should never be discounted – it is not a matter of the United Kingdom Parliament.
An extension can only be given at the request of the departing member state and then with the unanimous consent of the remaining EU27.
Strictly, this is the only one of the three ways that is in the gift of the United Kingdom.
A departing Member State can revoke the Article 50 revocation at any time before exit – according to the European Union Court of Justice.
This would certainly rule out a No Deal Brexit.
Indeed, it would rule out any Brexit – at least in the short to medium term.
A revocation has to bring the departure process to an end – not just stop the clock (although how this stipulation would be enforced in practice is another question).
Unless one of these three means are adopted, it is impossible to “rule out” a No Deal Brexit, and only one of them is entirely within the control of the United Kingdom (though if the current deal was accepted, there is little doubt the European Parliament would also approve it).
So when you hear a politician or pundit assert that a No Deal Brexit must be “ruled out”, there is one simple question.
Thank you for reading me on this new(ish) blog, where I am hoping to blog almost daily.
I expect to be blogging here more often, instead of spending time on Twitter.
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