The British Parliament achieved a breakthrough of sorts earlier today — they finally voted for something on Brexit. By a single vote, MPs passed a bill that orders Theresa May to seek a longer extension from the EU on Article 50 than the current April 12th deadline. The bill opposes a no-deal Brexit as well, but both provisions are equally futile:
A cross-party group of MPs has forced through an emergency bill in less than six hours to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit, despite government opposition.
The bill, spearheaded by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Sir Oliver Letwin, passed late into the night, with MPs defeating a number of obstructive amendments from both Brexiters and the government.
It finally passed its third reading about half an hour before midnight by just one vote – 313 ayes to 312 noes – and must now pass the House of Lords.
This appears to be yet another instance of a phantom option. Last month, an EU negotiator characterized a similar debate as “the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way,” which describes this as well. The April 12th deadline applies if Parliament refuses to pass the Withdrawal Agreement, which Parliament has now rejected three times while May mulls working towards a fourth vote. A secondary deadline is already in place — May 22nd, at which time a no-deal Brexit will occur if the UK does not accept the WA.
Put simply, Parliament’s vote against a no-deal Brexit is utterly futile. No-deal Brexit is the default position without adopting the WA. The EU has repeatedly made it clear that they will not renegotiate a new agreement over the course of a few days after having built the WA with the British government over the course of nearly three years. Despite being called a bill to “prevent a no-deal Brexit,” it actually prevents nothing. It’s no more than a sense-of-the-chamber bill, and more dangerously, a futile gesture that only looks like action and progress.
Besides, May had already rejected settling for a no-deal default and had pledged to seek an extension. So why push this bill at all? Well, they had to do something:
The government opposed both the Cooper-Letwin motion and Benn’s amendment. The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, argued earlier in the debate that the government had already said it would request a short extension.
Speaking in the debate, Letwin said the government’s plan to seek an extension was an “enormously welcome development” and he did not have doubts that they would seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but there was still a need to pass legislation.
At least they finally passed something in this debate, so Parliament at least picked up a couple of points on style. If May wants an extension to May 22nd, the EU might consider it if she presents some indication that the WA will pass in its present form. May has agreed to work with Jeremy Corbyn on a compromise that could gain more Labour votes, but the WA has to remain part of it. Corbyn will likely try to get changes made to the political declaration about the future of the UK-EU relationship in order to push the eventual outcome towards a customs union or Common Market 2.0 plan. However, both ideas have been twice rejected by Parliament, along with every other possible iteration of Brexit.
If May wants a longer extension than that, then the UK will have to participate in EU elections. The EU will likely demand that the UK commits to remaining in the EU for at least a year, a prospect that will make Brexiters livid and might end up undermining the whole project. It’s tough to see any combination of options that could get a majority in Parliament, especially since opposition to a disastrous no-deal crashout barely got a one-vote majority.
If you find all this Brexit stuff confusing, you’re not alone, says CNN’s John Avlon. Despite its description as covering the “latest Brexit chaos,” this explanation’s not likely to help sort out the present confusion at all; for instance, it never even mentions the backstop, the Irish border, or the Good Friday agreement. Nor does it sort out the various options left on the table and the differences between those and the Brexit promised by the referendum, or those and what’s in the WA, for that matter. As a jolly sort of how the bloody hell did we get here sort of segment, it works, but it’s mainly a vehicle to poke fun at the 2016 version of the UK. It also comes with some requisite Trump bashing, even though Brexit passed well before Trump even formally got the nomination. At the end of this, you’ll be no less confused but perhaps a bit curious as to why CNN seems so far behind the Brexit curve.
Confused about the latest Brexit chaos? You’re not alone.
— New Day (@NewDay) April 4, 2019