The United Kingdom at the crossroads (I update this sometimes daily until the situation is clarified latest updates at the end of the post)

The British writers and historians Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper in 1994 co-authored a richly detailed history and narrative of Paris after the liberation 1944-1949 (London: Penguin Books revised edition, 2004) In the preface to the book they make a haunting statement applicable to the past but also to the immediate present and future. They argue that despite the heady growth of post war internationalism and globalist sensibility as well as the rise of great global institutions of governance and democratic order, nationalism is not yet and will not be banished. It is, according to Jean Monnet a founder of the European Union a ‘ recurring fever‘. Despite all the multilateral and internationalist institutions nationalist passions have not faded away. .‘‘ if anything , one finds in our increasingly fragmented world that many people terrified of drowning in anonymity, seize hold of tribal or national banners even more firmly.‘‘ (p.ix) Nowhere has this been truer in contemporary Europe and in particular in the United Kingdom, It is at the very centre of the debate over Brexit.

On Tuesday the UK parliament voted by a wide margin 391 to 242 votes to reject the Brexit deal that the Theresa May Conservative Government had negotiated with the EU to leave the European Union.75 conservatives and the DUP, the SNP and the Lib Dems voted with Labour to defeat the May government‘s proposed deal. So now parliament will vote on a no deal Brexit option and if that is rejected(which it was) there will have to be a deal which is premised on extending article 50  provided the EU agrees (and that is somewhat uncertain) or calling off Brexit with possibly a new election.(Parliament has now passed by 413 to 202 votes the government‘s resolution calling for an extension of article 50 until June 30, assuming that the EU 27 agree .) The situation remains somewhat unclear until the EU responds.( They as of March 29th rejected that date and offered as the deadline May 22n provided Parliament approved the withdrawal agreement which PM May had negotiated. Otherwise the deadline was to be  April 12th.)

But overall what this situation reveals is the damage that can arise out of poor decision making based on  inadequate study of the implications of a victory for the leave side and also the instabilities which xenophobia and nationalism born out of economic insecurity and austerity can create.Have a look at the excellent Tory politician Kenneth Clarke‘s contribution to the debate on no deal and the indicative resolutions for an excellent analysis of the failure of the referendum to properly explore all the grave implications of the leave position and the appalling extent to which people were misled about the consequences of Brexit and the nature of contemporary international trade.There is also an excellent article by the British Canadian based writer Adam Foulds in the opinion section of the Saturday March 16 th Globe and Mail .

It is not just the UK which is plagued by the problem.  We can find evidence of similar pathologies in other modern western style societies like the U.S. , in past times in Canada, in Western and Eastern Europe as well as in parts of Asia ,Africa and Latin America. It is a complex reality that progressive policy theorists and government actors have now to deal with.The accelerated globalization of the past few decades created many winners but also many losers. It is the latter who can drive contemporary politics and development strategies in disturbing directions.

No democratic inclined politician or analyst can afford to ignore this fact.Where the UK ends up after the dust is cleared will be unclear for some time to come. The political and economic fallout is likely to be large and last for a number of years.

Earlier last week the UK House of Commons passed an amended motion to rule out leaving without a deal. The vote was decisively a rejection of the May government‘s strategy by 321 to 278 votes despite a three line whip pressuring their members to vote against the amended motion. The amendment which clearly stated that there would not be a no deal crashing out of the UK from the EU was sponsored by Yvette Cooper of the Labour Party.  The Government seems very divided as another cabinet minister has resigned and the group of dissenting Tory MPs has grown in number. The House then considered the resolution around asking for an extension to article 50 by which the UK had given notice of its determination to leave the EU by March 29, 2019. Some members who are mostly remainers have suggested that if the EU doesn’t‘ grant the extension which must be agreed to by all member states, the UK could and should revoke article 50 . Future debate will very interesting, indeed.

 Monday March 18th the UK speaker of the House, John Bercow has thrown a major monkey wrench into the strategy of Theresa May by ruling that the Government cannot reintroduce for the third time after twice been rejected the same resolution involving the BREXIT deal that May has negotiated with the EU without significant changes in its substance. May had patently planned to reintroduce her negotiated and twice rejected deal a third time in the hope that the urgency of the hour would cause enough opponents to relent and pass the deal finally. This greatly increases the pressure on May to find the necessary concession from the EU or to ask for a longer extension of article 50 than she had planned thereby displeasing many of the more frantic Brexiteers.

Today Wednesday March 20th The UK Prime minister has requested a delay and an extension of article 50 until June 30th. But the EU has stated that it would only accept this if the UK parliament approves the existing withdrawal agreement that they have twice rejected. Otherwise the options are crashing out without a deal on March 29th -an option parliament had rejected by a vote of 321 to 278- or withdrawing article 50 altogether. So the choice for parliamentarians is quite stark a no deal crash out or accepting a withdrawal deal they have already rejected twice by a large margin. Perhaps the EU is bluffing and with a change in Prime Minister the UK can get a better deal or set of options but that is far from clear. No one except the radical Tory Brexiteers wants a no deal crash out . But that is now certainly a real possibility given the large margin by which the withdrawal agreement negotiated by May was rejected by Parliament.Its a sub optimal outcome but one whose probability has just increased.

Thursday March 21st The E.U. according to media sources is prepared to agree to an extension until May 22 provided parliament passes the withdrawal deal. Jeremy Corbyn as suggested that if it votes no for the third time and refuse to pass a Labour backed compromise he would try to get article 50 revoked and \ or have a second referendum . Its unclear what the EU members would then do. President Macron of France has stated that if May‘s proposed deal is rejected then France expects and is prepared for a no deal crash-out. The latest version of the EU proposal according to reporters is a French sponsored motion to grant an extension until May 8 with a provision to extend the date until the end of the year if the UK notifies the EU that it agrees to hold EU  elections for MEPs.

Corbyn and the Labour party leaders have been meeting with EU officials and Conservative MPs discussing various alternative scenarios as PM May‘s grip on her party and parliament weakens. Some MPs notably Oliver Letwin believe a cross party majority would approve a Norway variant of a deal with the UK still in the customs union and an affiliate but autonomous member of the EU. That may be possible but it like all solutions requires co-operation from the EU. The EU has finally decided on the timetable and its deadlines in responding to the request of the UK for an extension of article 50. If parliament agrees to the withdrawal agreement embedded in Theresa May‘s deal the UK is granted an extension until May 22. If on the other hand if parliament rejects the deal then the deadline is moved forward to April 12 in order that the EU can finalize arrangements for the MEP elections. This would leave parliament a short time frame to build a cross party coalition to propose an alternative plan. Otherwise the UK might crash out and this would be a bad outcome.In an effort to prevent that from happening Yvette Cooper of Labour and Oliver Letwin from the conservatives have co-sponsored a bill that rules out crashing out and compels the government to negotiate either a prolongation of article 50 or if that is not possible withdrawing article 50 altogether. It passed the House by only one vote 313 to 312 opposed . It has now passed the first reading in the House of Lords.

Monday March 25 th. The grand coalition of the Labour Party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats , the Independent group, Plaid Cymryu the Green Party and 29  Conservative remainers have successfully wrested control of the agenda from Theresa May and her Brexit Conservatives supported by the DUP and eight Labour Brexiteers. The vote on a resolution sponsored by Yvette Cooper(Labour) and Oliver Letwin garnered 329 votes for the cross party progressive opposition votes as opposed to 302 votes for the pro Brexit government position. The vote split  for the cross party position was as follows: Labour 232 votes; SNP 34 ; Conservatives 30; Independent group 11; Lib Dems 11; Plaid Cymru 6;Independent 4; Green 1. The Government side was supported by  277 Conservatives, 10 from the DUP and eight from Labour Brexiteers and 3 independents .

MPs will now get to vote on a range of indicative resolutions ranging from a variant of the Norway gambit, the Canada free trade arrangement  withdrawing article 50, passing a deal with a guarantee of a confirmatory referendum among others.

Wednesday March 27. Parliament today debated and voted on 8 indicative resolutions. The outcome was not a surprise as none of them gained enough votes to overcome negative votes. Anyone familiar with Nobel prize winning Kenneth Arrow‘s impossibility theorem would know that the failure in the first round of voting was a possible outcome. Democratic electoral or voting systems are vulnerable to such  impasses. Where  there are 3 or more sets of preferences and three or more independent actors there is no guarantee that one can prevail with a majority.

There will be a second round of voting next Monday and hopefully the various actors in favour of a soft Brexit and a second referendum will find a way to increase the yes vote for their amended proposals.

Here are results which are presented in detail by the British media.

Kenneth Clarke‘s proposal to commit to a customs union was narrowly rejected 272 to 264. It would not take much to get this proposal passed.

Margaret Beckett‘s confirmatory vote commitment was rejected 295 votes to 268  Again this would not require too large of a vote shift to pass it.

Labour‘s proposal for a customs union and close alignment with the single market was also defeated despite Conservatives like Kenneth Clarke voting for it, 237 for 307 against.

A proposal to join EFTA and the European economic area was defeated 188 to 283.

A proposal to ensure that article 50 would be revoked two days before April 12th if no deal was yet approved also was defeated 293 to 184.

Another proposal to leave without a deal on April 12th was roundly defeated by 400 to 160.

A seventh proposal also defeated proposed  preferential trade arrangements with the EU.It lost 422 to 139.

An eighth proposal proposed remaining in the EEA but rejoin EFTA and remaining outside the customs union was defeated 377 votes against to 65 for.

A ninth proposition is a rerun of Theresa May‘s deal which was defeated twice the last time 391 to 242 votes.

So upon  cursory analysis it would seem that the most promising propositions likely to attract a majority vote are the first two. The voting system needs to be an elimination system that results in a run off between the two leading contenders. Otherwise there is the possibility of the impossibility theorem outcome.

Thursday March 28 The May government in order to get around the speaker‘s ruling that the government cannot submit a twice defeated resolution a third time. So in order to get around this May is separating the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration which lays out the desired details of a new relationship with the EU. If they can get it passed they then will have until May 22nd get the  political declaration hammered out and then be in a position to pass the entire package.  However, both Labour and the DUP are opposed to this procedure preferring to wait until Monday and round two of the search for a consensus compromise resolution . But as I explained above that is unlikely unless they change the voting system and have a final choice between just two options as opposed to three or more options.

Friday March 29 Parliament has rejected PM May‘s withdrawal agreement for the third time 344 to 286 as her gambit to separate the withdrawal agreement from the political declaration has failed to attract enough votes.Now Parliament will have to act swiftly to avoid crashing out before the April 12 th deadline by agreeing to a consensus position or by withdrawing article 50 or by negotiating a further extension. The vote by party affiliation was as follows:For the May position and the withdrawal agreement.          Conservatives 277. Labour 5, Independent 4  Total 286.

Against   Labour 234, SNP 34, Conservative 34,  Independent 16,  Lib Dems 11, DUP 10, Paid Cymru 4, Green 1.  Total 344

Monday April 1: Once again none of the indicative motion won a majority. This time the speaker reduced the options to 4 possibilities. these were as follows: a proposal for a customs union sponsored by Kenneth Clarke . This time it lost by a mere three votes 276 to 273. There was another motion sponsored by Conservative Nick Boles which proposed staying in the single market and a customs union which  lost by  282 to 261.

Boles then announced he was leaving the Conservative party because of its unwillingness to compromise. A third motion committed to a final confirmatory referendum also was defeated 280 to 268.A fourth motion sponsored by SNP  MP Joanna Cherry to revoke or extend article 50 if there was no other option than to crash out lost by 292 to 191 votes.

We shall see what happens tomorrow  and Wednesday but the odds of crashing out have definitely increased unless they change the voting system to offer a choice between the two strongest motions only and there are further compromises over wording and coalition building.

Tuesday April 2nd. Theresa May has chaired a length cabinet meeting and emerged fro it to propose a compromise meeting with Jeremy Corbyn to hammer out an agreement that both party leaders will accept and abide by allowing Britain to leave the EU after a short further extension . Her only condition is that her withdrawal agreement would be part of the package approved by the House of Commons. We shall see how Corbyn responds in a few minutes. Nigel Farage has criticized her not surprisingly on his LBC one line radio show for betraying Brexit.He also admitted on air that he has been lobbying some of the EU27 to veto a further extension. 3:12 Montreal time Jeremy Corbyn has responded positively saying that he will be very happy to meet with the PM and that he recognizes her willingness to find a mutually agreeable compromise. He once again restated Labours preference for a deal that kept Britain in a customs union.

Wednesday April 3rd. Jeremy Corbyn and his team held the first exploratory meeting with the Prime minister and her team to see if the can agree to a joint compromise on a way forward to unlock the deadlock with each side expressing some willingness to compromise in the interests of the nation. Corbyn later called the talks constructive but expressed some disappointment as to the limited extent that May was prepared to compromise. May, for her part, had to endure harsh criticism from her right wing nationalist fraction for inviting Corbyn into the process. Two cabinet ministers resigned and and it is possible there will be others doing so.On the Labour side 25 members sent a letter to Corbyn insisting that he not ask for a second referendum on whatever is agreed to. These members mostly represented areas that had voted in favour of Brexit. so schisms have appeared in both of the major parties on Brexit.

Some Tory MPs insisted on calling Corbyn a marxist on economic policy. This nineteenth century label and the way it is being thrown about would apply to many tens of millions of people in the western world who are fed up with inequality, austerity, ecological neglect and mismanagement of their economic and social policy and who seek democratically to change to social democracy, red toryism and progressive liberalism. Its time for some fresh thinking on ideology and utopia from both sides.

April 5th It appears that the party talks have stalemated . Labour accuses Mrs.May of refusing to compromise. The PM has requested a further extension to June 30th but the EU seems likely to reject that and instead offer a much longer extension , which Tusk has called a flextension permitting the UK to then leave with a deal whenever one can be found in that period which might be as long as a year. France has stated it would reject a long extension unless there were a clear and agreed path forward. So unless something changes crashing out without a deal or the recinding of article 50 looks much more likely now. If the Government reaches a compromise over a customs union acceptable to Labour at the last days and ultimately to the EU the dismal result of crashing out can be avoided.

 April 8th The Yvette Cooper – Oliver Letwin motion to prohibit the government from crashing out on the 12th if there were no agreement and which mandates the PM to ask for an extension which would be no shorter than May 22nd or rescind article 50 has passed the House of Commons and the Lords and received royal assent and hence become law. This simply reinforces the prime minister‘s intention to seek an extension and avoid crashing out and find a compromise with Labour over a customs union. Experienced political conservatives like Lord Michael Heseltine remain skeptical however.(see interview with him in the FT)

April 10th The EU has granted an extension until October 31st but with the proviso that if a deal on the withdrawal agreement can be made prior to that date then Brexit will take place then. so the extension is a very flexible one. the EU has made it clear that the flexible nature of the agreement makes the widest possible range of choices ranging from Brexit with modification of the political agreement including a customs union for the UK all the way to rescinding article 50 and abandoning Brexit altogether. The Tory Brexiteers will now seek to remove May as PM .

But their option is restricted to a no deal crash out which Parliament has already rejected. The EU has made it clear that it would not accept any change in the withdrawal agreement per se as opposed to the political preamble.It remains unclear what alterations the two largest parties will agree to to facilitate  acceptance of the withdrawal agreement.

The latest Survation poll based on an on line survey of 6062 persons in England and Wales shows Labour at 41 % down 1 % point from the election result in 2017,  the Conservatives at 37 % down 8 % points with the Liberal Democrats at 10 % up 2 % points,  UKIP at 7 % up 5 %points, Greens at 2 % unchanged and Plaid Cymru 1 %unchanged and the new Independent Group at 1 %.  Given that Scotland tends to vote more  Scottish National than Conservative these results seem to point to a substantial defeat for the Tories if an election were held soon.( In 2017 in Scotland the SNP won 35 seats, the Conservatives 13, Labour 7 and the Lib Dems 4 )

Data in the poll were weighted by age, sex, region,2017 election results and population estimates for each region .However, the reliability of on line polls from a panel is always a major question as it is not a true random sample of the whole population.


About haroldchorneyeconomist

I am Professor of political economy at Concordia university in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I received my B.A.Hons (econ.&poli sci) from the University of Manitoba. I also completed my M.A. degree in economics there. Went on to spend two years at the London School of Economics as a Ph.D. student in economics and then completed my Ph.D. in political economy at the University of Toronto. Was named a John W.Dafoe fellow, a CMHC fellow and a Canada Council fellow. I also was named a Woodrow Wilson fellow in 1968 after completing my first class honours undergraduate degree. Worked as an economist in the area of education, labour economics and as the senior economist with the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for the Government of Manitoba from 1972 to 1978. I also have worked as an economic consultant for MDT socio-economic consultants and have been consulted on urban planning, health policy, linguistic duality and public sector finance questions by the governments of Manitoba, Saskatchewan,the cities of Regina and Saskatoon, Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. I have also been consulted by senior leaders of the British Labour party, MPs from the Progressive Conservative party, the Liberal party and the New Democrats on economic policy questions. Members of the Government of France under the Presidency of Francois Mitterand discussed my work on public sector deficits. I have also run for elected office at the municipal level. I first began to write about quantitative easing as a useful policy option during the early 1980s.
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