Ex-Downing Street insider: Odds rising that UK revokes Article 50

Our undercover corporate lobbyist says we overstate Europe's willingness to come to Theresa May's aid with an extension.

by Anonymous
Last Updated: 21 Mar 2019
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Secret Brexiter

It seems like a long time ago that I predicted the most likely outcome of the Brexit saga would be a short delay and May’s deal squeaking through. As you can imagine, it’s been a busy 11 days and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

As I take a short break from doing the rounds in Westminster, I’ll stick by my prediction – just. The twin spectres of no deal and no Brexit should give Brexiters and Remainers alike a sufficient spooking to get it through Parliament, no matter what John Bercow says.

The risk of a no deal has definitely gone up. MPs may have voted against it, but as Barnier says "that’s like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way".

European leaders seem to be coming round to Macron's way of thinking - allowing a short delay, but only if the deal passes first.

It’s easy to assume that’s bravado, and that the EU would throw us a lifeline in the form of a long extension, should May’s deal fail yet again to pass muster - Europe is famous for its 11th hour clinchers - but we may be putting too much faith in the EU’s commitment to avoiding a no-deal.

The mood in Brussels is turning and they’ve got bigger things to worry about – European elections and domestic elections among them (Spain’s could still upend an extension to the withdrawal agreement). Many are starting to come round to the view that this is a distraction they can no longer afford.

In Westminster, March 2019 is starting to feel like August 1914, when politicians of all stripes knew they were sliding towards the First World War, but were collectively powerless to stop it.

The big question for business – and I assume you’re all well underway with your no deal contingency plans by now – is what would May do if she can’t get her deal over the line? And what would Parliament do?

May’s position would be untenable, but that’s not stopped her before. She’s also been clear that the UK shouldn’t leave without a deal, she’s just not been as loud about it as she has about honouring the result of the referendum.

It raises the prospect that either she or the Commons would take the nuclear option and revoke Article 50. If the deal fails and the EU doesn’t cut the UK some slack, that’s the choice facing MPs: crash out or revoke.

If you know your Star Trek, Brexit’s turning into the Kobayashi Maru, an unwinnable scenario. Revoking Article 50 would be seen as a democratic betrayal par excellence, but crashing out without a deal would be economic self-harm. Both are the political equivalent of drinking poison.

In the TV show, Captain Kirk became the only person in history to pass the test – by cheating. If Theresa May has been hiding an ace up her sleeve all this time, she’d better play it now, because time’s running out.

Image credit: Fancycrave.com/Pexels

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