To Delay Or Not To Delay, That Is The Question

To Delay Or Not To Delay, That Is The Question | With Theresa May’s hopes of securing a Brexit deal disappearing fast, what next? |

On Thursday’s edition of Radio 4’s Today programme, an unrepentant leave voter gave Nick Robinson a biscuit analogy in which he said the UK had behaved like “a soggy Rich Tea” in its negotiations with the “solid Hobnob” that was the EU. “If we’d have sent a Hobnob with chocolate on we’d have won,” he said, suggesting Lord Sugar was the Hobnob with chocolate for the job. This was said in all seriousness.

Once I’d stopped laughing, I found myself both agreeing with the Today listener about the UK’s Brexit negotiating strategy and concluding that Theresa May’s chances of winning the vote on the Brexit deal were dissolving faster than a Rich Tea biscuit in a cup of Yorkshire Tea.

The fact is, here in the UK, we're entering uncharted territory. The House of Commons is currently debating the government's proposed Brexit deal. Next Tuesday, unless Theresa May decides to postpone the vote, the Commons will decide whether or not to approve the deal. The risk, if she does decide to press ahead with a vote on Tuesday, is a massive, crushing defeat, estimated to be anywhere between 100 and 300 MPs.

If the Brexit deal is rejected, as it surely will be if the vote does proceed, the government then has 21 days to make a statement to Parliament about what it intends to do next. This is because the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 requires parliamentary approval of any withdrawal agreement reached with the EU.

May’s deal, which she’s presenting as a ‘compromise’ between leave and remain positions’ is a version of Brexit which pleases almost nobody. May has long argued that our choice is between her deal and no deal. But the EU Advocate General released a statement on 4th December confirming that the option of staying in the EU is open to us, and that the far better deal we have with Europe will remain intact i.e. the UK can unilaterally revoke its notification to leave the EU under the Article 50 process.

To date, Theresa May has stoically and enigmatically carried on, deploying her favourite strategy: to kick the can down the road. Disliked by all in equal measure, so far she’s managed to survive a calamitous election result in 2017, to get a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration signed off in Brussels and, most recently, has seen off a poorly organised putsch by the ERG group of Brexit hard liners. She has staked her reputation on being able to deliver the Brexit that she interpreted as being the one the British population wants. Even if this is a Brexit the majority of people dislike.

it is pretty well certain she will not win Tuesday’s vote, if it does proceed. The Guardian has a summary of the parliamentary arithmetic here. I agree. Having reflected on the options available to the Prime Minister and the strategies she’s deployed to date, pulling the vote on Tuesday seems to me the most likely option. It’s consistent with her favourite strategy of ‘kicking the can down the road and would give her breathing space over Christmas and the New Year to consider her options more deeply and go back to the EU.

The risk May takes, if she does decide to delay the vote, is that the ERG wing of the party will try to force May out. Rees-Mogg and the ERG may have failed to gather the 48 letters to force a no-confidence vote in May last week, but their chances will be higher both if May is defeated in the “meaningful vote” and if she pulls the vote.

With the Brexit clock ticking loudly and the UK fast approaching a moment of national crisis, both options are a monumental waste of time. The fact is every version of Brexit comes with a severe cost. Instead of squandering precious time, the government should be focused, day and night, on developing a plan of action which is in the national interest and MPs can agree on.

Question: What are your thoughts on Britain leaving the EU? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to tell me in the comments box below.

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