24 October 2019 | ANALYSIS
While we have a Parliament in deadlock, having expressed support for the Prime Minister’s new Withdrawal Agreement but not for the timing of its ratification, we have a country that appears to largely support this deal – or at least, appears to be Bored Of Brexit™. Getting something workable through Parliament, then, is once again the problem.
We at Wolves are puzzled by the notion that leaving without a deal on 31 October would be the end of the matter. The belief appears to be widespread among politicians and pundits that ‘that’s it’ if this comes to pass. Both this country and the whole of Europe would be trapped in what many (though by no means all) would see as this disaster scenario, for eternity.
However, this doesn’t seem to make much sense to us. We see no particular reason why the Withdrawal Agreement legislation could not simply be ratified after a No Deal Brexit had already taken place. If it took, say, another two or three weeks, or perhaps a month, to give MPs the time for scrutiny they so desire… then what would actually prevent this from being workable?
Essentially, Britain would depart from the EU at 11pm in a week’s time, which would have instant ramifications as we are all well aware. All the arrangements and effects set out in decades of successive EU Treaties would immediately cease to apply to the UK. This could potentially lead to the worrying scenarios that many have envisaged of lorry queues building up in Kent, along with all the other ramifications set out by Project Fear over the past three years. Exactly how much of it happens would depend upon how comprehensive the Government’s No Deal preparations have actually been thus far.
But is there any real reason why, after a few weeks of ratification, the transition arrangements set out in the Withdrawal Agreement could not simply snap (back) into effect immediately?
Yes, it would be bureaucratic on both ends – and a lot of time would be wasted initially as both parties coped with years of treaty arrangements suddenly falling away and then returning – but it would also be strictly temporary. It would, by all accounts, be highly irregular, and indeed unprecedented, as just about everything to do with Brexit is these days. But does any of that make it impossible?
The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that much of his political capital continues to rest upon the Brexit date that he committed to at the outset of his Premiership – even if much of the country would agree any further delay is by no means his fault. Indeed, we at Wolves rather suspect that this is the real reason why his political opponents have continually denied him the ability to deliver on this key promise. We would certainly contend that, in this regard, their recent behaviour around Brexit has been entirely disingenuous.
Across the water, the European Council also knows perfectly well that it wants and needs this deal just as much as the UK Government. It does not like the idea of a No Deal Brexit any more than much of the UK populace does, so it would be in their interest simply not to grant an extension beyond Halloween.
There is no guarantee whatsoever that either a General Election or a second referendum would produce a result amenable to European leaders anyway, especially given that they would have to take place after 31 October. The EU does not need a politically unstable UK on its doorstep, deal or no deal – and if Brexit does not happen on time, we may well not have a stable majority government for years to come.
With all this in mind, we at Wolves would appeal to the European Council, and to the Prime Minister in his exchanges with them, that the best decision they can make here is to refuse to grant an extension at all. A few weeks of living under No Deal terms certainly ought to, shall we say, ‘focus minds’ in Parliament on getting this new deal ratified as soon as possible, with the possibility of any further extensions under Article 50 no longer an option under EU law.
Exceptions could surely be made to allow for a country that has technically left the EU to put its WA into effect ‘after a short gap’. After all, the Withdrawal Agreement facilitates precisely that: withdrawal, not re-entry. There is therefore no need to apply the normal principles about adopting the euro, etc etc etc, when a ‘third country’ is wishing to form a closer relationship with the European Union.
We would therefore suggest that this is the best way forward now: to allow the Prime Minister to deliver on his key promise to the public, and then to seek their support for his political agenda in an election he would be highly likely to win. This country gets a stable government back. The EU gets a UK leader they already know they can work with for the next few years. And the rest of us can all – finally! – move on.