No one knows what will happen next, but we can identify key Brexit staging postsby Peter Kellner / February 26, 2019 / Leave a comment
Questions, questions, questions… but very few answers. Has Jeremy Corbyn really had a change of heart about holding a public vote, or is he engaged in a tactical manoeuvre to shore up his position, confident that parliament will never actually pass a new referendum bill? Has Theresa May really decided to rule out no-deal, or is she, too, engaged in a tactical manoeuvre, in her case to prevent mass resignations from her government without completely alienating her hardline backbenchers in the European Research Group? Does either party leader really know what they will say or do tomorrow, or next week, or next month?
Spoiler alert: I don’t know when or how the Brexit drama will end. What we can do is identify the staging posts in the coming days and weeks that will decide the outcome.
First, this Wednesday, MPs are likely to vote on the proposal by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservatives’ Oliver Letwin to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU on 29thMarch without a deal. Even that is not certain: in order to stave off defeat in parliament and the disintegration of her government, May might sanction a concession to appease anti-no-deal MPs.
My guess—and if you place a bet on this, you do so at your own risk—is that one way or another, we shall reach the point in the next few days when parliament must decide between accepting the Withdrawal Agreement (possibly slightly modified) and delaying Brexit beyond 29th March.
Second, if that does happen, ERG MPs will have a tricky choice to make when the “meaningful vote” takes place, probably on 12th March. Will they stick to their line that it is unacceptable and vote against it? Or will they cave in and back the agreement, scared that if they help to vote it down, they will unleash a chain of events that could lead to a new referendum and the UK not leaving the EU at all? This is the prediction of a number of friends whose judgment I respect, such as Adam Boulton of Sky News and John Rentoul of the Independent.
If the ERG does cave in, then May will probably get her deal through parliament, and the possibility of a referendum will evaporate. However, let us…