The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

No short delay, UK: Juncker

Theresa May has fewer and fewer options available to complete the one job she signed up for today after EU President Jean-Claude Juncker flatly rejected May's request for a second short Brexit delay:

Speaking to the European parliament, Juncker instead set an “ultimate deadline” of 12 April for the Commons to approve the withdrawal agreement.

“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible,” he said. “After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

Juncker said that at that point the UK would face a no-deal Brexit but that the EU would not “kick out” a member state, in a reference to the certain offer of a lengthy extension of article 50.

The EU27 is looking at an extension until at least the end of the year, with the most probable end date being the end of March 2020.

Juncker said: “Yet I believe that a no deal at midnight on 12 April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the European Union is ready.

No word yet from Number 10 on whether the government would seek a longer extension.

Back in the US, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who went to university in the UK, says the country has gone mad:

The entire Brexit choice was presented to the public in 2016 with utterly misleading simplicity. It was sold with a pack of lies about both the size of the benefits and the ease of implementation, and it continues to be pushed by Conservative hard-liners who used to care about business but are now obsessed with restoring Britain’s “sovereignty” over any economic considerations.

They don’t seem to be listening at all to people like Tom Enders, C.E.O. of the aerospace giant Airbus, which employs more than 14,000 people in the U.K., with around 110,000 more local jobs connected to its supply chains. Enders has warned the political leadership here that if the U.K. just crashes out of the E.U. in the coming weeks, Airbus may be forced to make some “potentially very harmful decisions” about its operations in Britain.

“Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that ‘because we have huge plants here we will not move. …’ They are wrong,” he said. “And, make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft.”

Britain is ruled today by a party that wants to disconnect from a connected world. The notion that the U.K. will suddenly get a great free-trade deal from Trump as soon as it quits the E.U. is ludicrous. Trump believes in competitive nationalism, and the very reason he is promoting the breakup of the E.U. is that he believes America can dominate the E.U.’s individual economies much better than when they negotiate together as the single biggest market in the world.

Madness indeed. The two-week reprieve from a no-deal Brexit has only 9 days left to run. This is terrifying. Since her premiership is over no matter what she does, Theresa May should just cancel Article 50 entirely and then take her seat in the House of Lords.

May and Corbyn to talk Brexit

After a Parliamentary session yesterday demonstrating that no one is able to compromise with anyone else, in which MPs voted down four more proposals for Brexit, PM Theresa May today said she'd seek talks with Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to see what kind of a coalition they could cobble together:

In a brief TV statement inside No 10 following a seven-hour cabinet meeting, the prime minister said she would hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn to seek a Brexit plan they could agree on and “both could put to the house”.

If agreement with the Labour leader was impossible, May said, the plan would be to put to a vote in parliament a series of Brexit options, with the government committing to enact whatever idea won support.

This would require another extension to article 50, May said, but added that she aimed for this to not go beyond 22 May, thus ensuring the UK would not need to take part in European elections.

With only 10 days to go before the current Brexit deadline, neither Parliament nor the government can figure out what to do. This is already the stupidest thing the UK has ever done to itself, and I'm including the Intolerable Acts, the Corn Laws, and Oliver Cromwell in the list.

There's an expression pilots use to describe uncontrolled flying: "in physics." Once an aircraft is in physics, you get to read about it in an NTSB report a week later.

The House of Commons is in physics.

Third time's a darn

Prime Minister Theresa May failed, for a third time, to get the agreed-to deal with the EU through the House of Commons:

The Guardian explains the consequences:

A string of Brexit-backing Conservative backbenchers who had rejected the deal in the first two meaningful votes, including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides during the debate to support the agreement.

But with Labour unwilling to change its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs determined not to support it, it was not enough to secure a majority for the prime minister.

Afterwards, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave,” and added: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, Brexit was to be delayed until 22 May if the prime minister could win parliament’s backing for the withdrawal agreement this week.

Instead, she will have to return to Brussels before 12 April to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to hold European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit.

Welp. We're getting close to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal two weeks from today. How many own goals can one team score?

May to resign this summer (probably)

The House of Commons right now are voting on 8 proposals relating to Brexit; I'll have more in a bit. But over the weekend, and confirmed today, the Conservatives let slip that Prime Minister Theresa May has offered to resign as the price of getting hardline Brexiteer votes on her deal:

The prime minister indicated she would resign only if her Brexit deal passes in order to allow a new leader to shape the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The dramatic announcement to a meeting of Tory backbenchers prompted dozens of Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson to switch sides in favour of backing her deal. Conservative sources said she could formally announce a leadership contest on 22 May, with a new prime minister in place by July.

The frontrunners will be Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, but there is likely to be a wide range of candidates bidding to enter No 10.

May told MPs: “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.

“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the withdrawal agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t; I hear what you are saying. But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.”

I am now tuning into Parliament TV to catch up on the voting tonight.

The UK's reputation in Europe

Whether you prefer "shooting oneself in the foot" or "circular firing squad" as your metaphor, the UK's flailing with just a week left to go before crashing out of the EU has disappointed many people in Europe:

For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of the Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener.

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, ;Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years, and unrealistic.

Only, Britain has been here so many times before. Crashing out of India so hard that the country hasn't had a day of peace in 70 years? Check. Getting rolled by the Soviets after putting a Soviet spy in charge of rooting out Soviet spies? Check. Appeasing a fascist regime bent on European hegemony? Check.

And now, it seems, Russia has rolled them again, as no country stands to gain more from Brexit than they. And still they're flailing about, going through the worst Constitutional crisis (self-inflicted!) since the 17th Century.

It's really sad.

UK government commits to not banging out of the EU unilaterally

In her speech to the House of Commons this afternoon, PM Theresa May promised a vote on March 13th to avoid a calamitous withdrawal from the European Union less than two weeks later:

Here's the relevant bit from Hansard:

As the Government committed to the House last week, we are today publishing the paper assessing our readiness for no deal. I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of a no deal. But this paper provides an honest assessment of the very serious challenges it would bring in the short term and further reinforces why the best way for this House to honour the referendum result is to leave with a deal. 

As I committed to the House, the Government will today table an amendable motion for debate tomorrow. But I know Members across the House are genuinely worried that time is running out—that if the Government do not come back with a further meaningful vote, or they lose that vote, Parliament will not have time to make its voice heard on the next steps. I know too that Members across the House are deeply concerned by the effect of the current uncertainty on businesses. So today I want to reassure the House by making three further commitments. First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then they will, in addition to their obligations to table a neutral, amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March, at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome.

Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50, and, if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. ... They are commitments I am making as Prime Minister, and I will stick by them, as I have previous commitments to make statements and table amendable motions by specific dates.

But let me be clear—I do not want to see article 50 extended. Our absolute focus should be on working to get a deal and leaving on 29 March.

The video includes all the derisive laughter from both sides of the house.

This, along with Jeremy Corbyn's about-face yesterday, means that there could actually be a second Brexit referendum:

There is now a real prospect of another referendum. Labour has committed to several parliamentary manoeuvres including one final stab at its own Brexit, which will certainly fail; another to support Yvette Cooper’s attempt to push no deal further into the realm of destructive fantasy, where it belongs; and a vote on an amendment demanding that any Brexit deal approved by the Commons must be ratified in a public referendum. In that public vote, Labour will campaign to remain in the EU.

“Sources” within Labour continue to deny this new reality, even as its senior frontbenchers have announced it. “It’s a disgrace,” one told me, “that unelected, unsourced voices are briefing against Labour’s frontbench.” “If they want to speak for the Labour party,” a staffer said, “they should stand for the Labour party.” The position as it stands now is not the seismic shift some suggest. It is a continuation of the policy adopted at Labour’s party conference last September. And credit for it belongs with the grassroots of the Labour party.

So, will the UK come back from the brink on Brexit? We'll find out in the next four weeks. 

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Everyone's talking about John Bercow

As I noted last week, John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has exercised more control over the Brexit debate in Parliament than previous speakers would have dared. Today, Parliament votes on amendments to the Brexit deal that could radically change its outcome, and Bercow is the one choosing which amendments, and which MPs, get heard. The Guardian has a podcast going even more into the details. And yesterday, the New Yorker brought the issue to the smart set:

On Thursday, I spoke to Vernon Bogdanor, a visiting professor of government at King’s College London, who is one of Britain’s leading constitutional scholars, about Bercow. “I think he has damaged the role of the Speaker,” Bogdanor told me. “Every other Speaker in living memory has been scrupulously neutral, never been accused of any partisanship. He is the first.” Next week, the pressure will increase further. Bercow’s every call will be scrutinized. On Tuesday—the next big day in Brexit—the Speaker has to choose six amendments from M.P.s, which will set the course of the drama for the coming weeks. Another plot among rebel M.P.s, who are searching for a cross-party solution to Brexit, is to suspend the rule that gives the government’s agenda priority in the House of Commons. If Bercow allows that, it would probably be the most dramatic act by a Speaker since William Lenthall defied King Charles I, who was trying to arrest five M.P.s, in January, 1642—and that helped set off the First English Civil War.

One of the saddest, and most maddening, aspects of Brexit has been the timidity of many British politicians to speak their mind about what is happening to the country. Neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn has ever said—or is likely to say—that leaving the E.U. will be positive for Britain’s health, wealth, culture, or well-being. It is both shocking and not surprising that one of the only people who really isn’t allowed to have a point of view about Brexit seems determined to express it—and that isn’t helping, either.

The votes are underway at this writing. I'll have more later today or early tomorrow, and some analysis of tomorrow's PMQs.

Go home, Theresa. You're done.

The much-anticipated vote in the UK House of Commons on Theresa May's Brexit deal failed by a spectacular 432-202 vote. Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for a vote of no confidence, which could lead to elections before the end of February:

In her final appeal in Parliament, Mrs. May impressed on the lawmakers the importance of the vote facing them. “The responsibility on each and every one of us at this moment is profound,” she said, “for this is a historic decision that will set the future of our country for generations.”

Like most others, though, the prime minister has no easy answers about the way forward. She has signaled that she will appeal to the European Union in Brussels for concessions and try again to win parliamentary approval, but the bloc is unlikely to grant her any.

With no consensus behind any one pathway, and a vanishing window for further negotiation, more radical solutions are rising to the fore.

One group of lawmakers is campaigning for a repeat referendum, which could overturn the mandate to leave, and another favors leaving the European Union on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement, a move that experts warn could lead to shortages of some foods and an economic downturn.

“This is probably the most important piece of legislation for decades, and the executive can’t get it through,” said Tim Stanley, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph. “It’s a very dramatic moment.”

The problem, of course, is that almost no one has told the British public the complete truth about Brexit. Some British believe that crashing out of the EU will solve all their problems; of course, none of those people is an economist.

I can't see how the Tories, let alone May, survive this. But no one has an idea that can pass Commons right now. If Britain just leaves the EU without a deal...whoo boy. But that horrific possibility just became significantly more likely today.