Today is April Fool’s Day around the world, but the British must feel as though they’ve been living in it for months … or Groundhog Day. Parliament meets again today to consider again a set of “indicative votes” for the direction of Brexit after rejecting Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement again last Friday. Commentators expect a new option emerging from the chaos called “Common Market 2.0” to pick up momentum, especially after Labour indicated it would throw its weight behind it:
Labour, the main opposition party in the UK, announced it is supporting and whipping to support the Common Market 2.0 amendment later today. The move represents a shift towards a softer Brexit and will also allow free movement, which may be an issue in some Leave-supporting constituencies.
What exactly is Common Market 2.0? It’s an amalgam of two other competing proposals, the customs union option and the single-market option. In one way, it’s the worst of both plans, the BBC explains, because it would keep Northern Ireland separate from the rest of the UK in how trade would get handled in order to deal with the Irish border issue. That makes the idea anathema to the DUP, which insists that Northern Ireland has to get treated exactly like the rest of the UK. Both the customs union and single-market options would solve that problem by keeping the UK fully within the EU’s trade rules, except for agricultural trade in the latter proposal. That’s anathema to Brexiters who want the UK to negotiate its own trade agreements and to get out from under the EU’s sovereignty.
That doesn’t mean it might not pass. The customs union arrangement only missed by eight votes last week in the first “indicative votes” round, while Common Market 2.0 fell 44 votes shy of passage when a number of MPs boycotted the vote. Needless to say, a deal to establish a Common Market 2.0 would be a lot different than the Brexit voters were promised in 2016, which would amp up demands for a second referendum and for a general election to refight that battle.
The idea suffers from two other problems as well — Theresa May and the calendar. There’s no way that May can front a Common Market 2.0 plan with DUP opposed to it without touching off a no-confidence vote that she might well lose. And even if she did decide to switch gears and back that plan, there’s hardly any time left in which to negotiate with the EU as to what that would mean. The deadline for Article 50 arrives in eleven days unless Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement, in which case it only extends to May 22nd. A switch to the Common Market 2.o proposal would require starting over from square one with Brussels, which would then require the UK to participate in upcoming EU elections. And it might force the issue of Irish reunification in Northern Ireland as that enclave would end up as a de facto EU territory without any influence over its operations.
Nevertheless, Commons speaker John Bercow has selected the customs union and the Common Market 2.0 proposals as the four finalists from the first “indicative votes” session, in which literally none of them passed. The other two are for a confirmatory public vote, which assumes Parliament can actually pass a Brexit deal (all evidence thus far to the contrary), and a bill to revoke Article 50 altogether if a no-deal Brexit is all that is left. Parliament will vote on all four, but it’s unclear what happens next if none of them pass again — or if more than one gets a majority.
It’s an utter mess. Germany’s deputy foreign minister Michael Roth put it less diplomatically while expressing the EU’s desire to get to some sort of finish line:
European exasperation over the chaos in Brexit talks descended into profanity and name-calling, as Germany’s deputy foreign minister said the U.K. government consists mostly of clueless boarding-school graduates.
“Brexit is a big shitshow, I say that now very undiplomatically,” Michael Roth said at an event of his Social Democratic Party in Berlin on Saturday. He accused “90 percent” of the British cabinet of having “no idea how workers think, live, work and behave” and said it would not be those U.K. politicians “born with silver spoons in their mouths, who went to private schools and elite universities” that will suffer the consequences of the mess.
“I don’t know if William Shakespeare could have come up with such a tragedy but who will foot the bill?,” the German diplomat said.
William Shakespeare, Charlie Chapin … who knows? Thanks to the chaos in London, Bloomberg’s Lionel Laurent warns European governments that they’d better start looking at a much longer Brexit extension to bail out the Brits. It’s their opportunity to fully prepare to cut the UK loose whether they want it or not:
But the longer Brexit drags on, the greater the EU’s readiness for a no-deal becomes – and the greater the risk that some countries start advocate cutting the cord. Capitals like Paris and Vienna are already grumbling that allowing a departing EU power to take part in parliamentary elections is a big concession.
The U.K. may offer up sweeteners like a general election or a second referendum to persuade the EU to let the country stay. But it’s hard to imagine a figure like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab in Downing Street will look like progress for Brussels. Ironically, the leader that would probably be easiest for the EU to deal with – opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – would be even worse for British business than Brexit, at least in the eyes of short-seller Steve Eisman.
The likelihood of accidentally sleep-walking into a no-deal Brexit is falling, at least in the near term. But the chances of importing the U.K.’s political chaos into the continent are rising. Europe should brace for another Brexit delay, most likely until the end of this year. It should be the last, for everyone’s sake.
Later this afternoon, Parliament will announce the results of the non-binding indicative votes, but it will not likely deflect May from her course. She plans yet another vote — the fourth — on her Withdrawal Agreement, assuming Bercow allows it. Which he almost certainly won’t, but either way it’s almost guaranteed to be a “big s**tshow” … again. Or a show of some sort, anyway …
Parliament just got a little bit more nuts! pic.twitter.com/znZa5AndUu
— James Heappey MP (@JSHeappey) April 1, 2019
Update: And just to continue the fun, none of the other options to May’s WA managed to get a majority. The customs union came closest, losing by three votes 273-276, but today turned into yet another demonstration of the “s**tshow.” One unnamed EU diplomat has a clear-eyed view of what this means:
EU diplomat on indicative votes: ‘We‘re slowly switching off. April 12 is looming large and that’s now our real focus. We had low expectations but had hoped tonight would provide some clarity on a way forward. Yet again no agreement on what HoC wants, only on what it doesn’t.’
— Nick Gutteridge (@nick_gutteridge) April 1, 2019