There’s no deal between Labour and the Tories on Brexit. So what next? | Tom Kibasi

May 17, 2019 Off By readly




The news that the Brexit talks between the government and opposition have broken up without agreement comes as little surprise. In the age of Brexit, politics appears to have found a new form: arriving at an obvious conclusion as slowly as possible, thereby extending the misery for everyone. Labour memorably described the process as akin to negotiating with a company going into administration, given the prime minister’s stated intention to leave office before the future relationship with the EU is agreed. With Theresa May’s departure confirmed for June, the talks were plainly pointless.

It was always far-fetched that the government and opposition would be able to strike an agreement. Despite briefing that there would be a “bold offer” to Labour, in the end the May put the unity of the Tory party ahead of the interests of the country. The government offered a customs union to 2022, the time of the next scheduled general election. But this was indistinguishable from the transition period and so was not, in fact, a concession at all. The “dynamic alignment” on workers’ rights and environmental protections excluded the bulk of other single market regulation necessary for frictionless trade. In the end, nothing has changed. So now what?

The prime minister has announced her intention to introduce the withdrawal agreement bill to the Commons in the first week of June. It will be a final, farewell humiliation, set to be defeated by an even greater margin than the last time her deal was put to the house earlier in the year. The surge of the Brexit party in opinion polls ahead of the European elections has only hardened opinion among Tory backbenchers who support no deal. This dynamic further reduces any incentive for Labour MPs from leave-supporting constituencies to back the government in a vote that is doomed to fail.

Taking the blame for a disastrous result in the European elections is the only thing holding May in place as prime minister. A soft Conservative leadership contest is under way, with many runners and riders already out of the starting blocks. Now the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers has set a timetable for her departure, the contest is set to intensify. The most likely outcome is the election of a leader committed to a no-deal Brexit, probably Boris Johnson – the lesson that many Tory MPs have taken from the success of Nigel Farage is that they should elevate their own charismatic populist to the top job. The new leader could be crowned at Conservative conference in early October, perhaps calling a snap general election in an effort to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

In any event, the appointment of a new prime minister will prompt Labour to renew its demands for a general election. But with the party set to lose ground to the unambiguously pro-remain Liberal Democrats and Greens in the European election, there will be an increasing clamour for Labour to firm up its commitment to a second referendum, elevating it from being just one in a number of options to becoming its central policy. Indeed, it is near certain that September’s Labour conference will force the party leadership to fight for a second referendum as the only viable route out of the impasse in this parliament or as a manifesto commitment in any general election that may occur. So over the summer and into the party conference season, it seems likely that both major parties will harden their stances.

All the signs now points towards October as the “crunch month” for Brexit. There is no prospect of May’s deal being passed, nor of a different deal being negotiated with the EU. It is a serious miscalculation to believe that the EU will simply agree to yet another extension without a concrete reason to do so. If there has been no substantial progress, then Emmanuel Macron would be able to veto an extension without the resistance he faced to a short extension that last month. That leaves just three possibilities: a general election, with the Tories probably for no deal and Labour for a second referendum; legislation for a second referendum with direct effect (meaning the result would be implemented without further parliamentary votes); or a final showdown in the last week of October between no deal and the revocation of article 50.

The coming months will see the war of attrition continue. All possible scenarios will leave this country scarred as it enters the 2020s, with a large segment of voters set to feel betrayed by any outcome. Our economy has suffered and our international reputation has been battered. The multitude of problems at home – from stagnant wages to long waiting lists – have been neglected. The truth is that there are no winners. We have all lost from this Brexit debacle, no matter how it ends. A country so riven with division will take a generation to heal, even once we are released from the immediate doom trap that is the current Brexit process. In the realm of least worst options, a second referendum looks like the least worst way out.

Tom Kibasi is director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/17/labour-tories-brexit-second-referendum