Moment of Truth?

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As parliament finally gets the chance to indicate its Brexit preferences - if it has any - we discuss the real choices now facing MPs and government. What is the sequence of events that would actually prevent a no-deal Brexit? Can the Withdrawal Agreement be separated from the Political Declaration? And if it can, will MPs eventually have to vote for it? Plus we ask how long we can avoid another general election and we discuss whether Theresa May's survival to this point tells us more about her resilience or about the dysfunctionality of British politics. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton, and Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law.

Talking Points:

What is the relationship between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration?

  • The political declaration is about the future; the withdrawal agreement is about wrapping up the past.
  • Article 50, which is the basis for the withdrawal agreement, does not allow discussions about the future.
  • Anything about the future is done under separate legal provisions.

The only feasible options now are no deal, May’s deal, or revoke article 50.

  • Are we underrating the possibility of no deal? How does parliament prevent it if it can’t do anything else.
  • Both sides seem to be sticking to the same strategy, which is to put their party first.
  • The only thing parliament can do unilaterally is revoke Article 50—everything else depends on the EU. This is the nuclear option.

There are divisions within the EU over Brexit: Merkel doesn’t want a disruptive Brexit; Macron doesn’t want Britain in the EU.

  • A disorderly Brexit poses economic risks for Europe.
  • It’s hard to predict what the EU would do about another request for an extension.

Any form of compromise doesn’t work: it’s either too little for remainers or too much for leavers.

  • The middle ground, which may be economically sensible, doesn’t work politically.

Have we learned something about the office of the prime minister in all of this?

  • It’s really hard to throw people out of office.
  • Becoming prime minister now—the risk is enormous that your legacy would almost immediately be one of dramatic failure.
  • If the withdrawal agreement passes, people will want the job. But now?
  • The underestimated explanation of Theresa May’s resilience is the fixed-term parliament act. This is a fundamentally different constitutional arrangement.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Further Learning:

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

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