By Jack Ewing
Theresa May told her cabinet this afternoon that despite progress being made there remains a ‘small number’ of issues to be resolved in the negotiations. The main issue being about avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Her official spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister told Cabinet that since it had last met negotiations had continued in Brussels and good progress had been made.
“However, the PM said there remained a small number of outstanding issues as the UK pushes for the best text that can be negotiated.”
There was an expectation that a deal may have been agreed in principle today, however no such announcement was forthcoming.
Over the last two years, the only certainty is uncertainty with Brexit. Whether you ask a political journalist or a guy on his fifth drunken political rant of the night in the local pub, the hypothesis on the Brexit process is the same. It’s been messy and it has no clear ending.
There is an end in sight though, the options on the table are becoming clearer. To quote a mid-2000s EDM track; the destination is still unknown. However, there is a feeling a conclusion, one way or another, is close.
One way the process ends is with a deal. This option has political consensus. Both the government and the opposition want to leave the EU with a deal. A deal could be brought forward before parliament in the next few weeks.
The only deal on the table is Theresa May’s chequers deal.
The problem is that it is clear the deal doesn’t satisfy anybody out with Theresa May and most of her cabinet. It will be seen as a fudge, not a hard Brexit or soft Brexit but a blind Brexit. It is seen across Westminster as deal trying to appease everyone whilst satisfying no one. The government hopes when the pressure mounts, the prime minister can push a deal through the House of Commons. She can then threaten her MP’s with the possibility of a general election and a Labour government if they don’t back her. She hopes Labour will vote for her deal to avoid a no deal scenario, which it claims will be a huge threat to the British economy.
No deal is one of the options still on the table, one which most people believe is looking more likely than ever. This means leaving the EU on March without a deal and reverting to World Trade Organisation rules. The government believe no deal is better than a bad deal and we must be prepared to walk out of the negotiations if Britain can’t get a good deal for itself.
Opposition Parties and some within the Tories believe no deal, is the worst deal on the table. Labour believe that it simply shouldn’t be an option. There is political consensus on this in Westminster and Westminster believes there is consensus on this in the country itself. No deal is not what we voted for. Sceptics believe no deal will have a huge negative impact on the UK economy as a result of Britain ‘crashing out of the EU’.
What if we have political gridlock?
There are two options on the table: a general election or a second referendum.
Labour supports having a general election if no deal can be agreed. It hopes the government collapses and is left with no option but to call an early election. As a result of the Fixed Terms Parliament Act, two thirds of MP’s must support an early election. This means it is unlikely any Tory will vote for an early election, it would be like a Turkey voting for Christmas. However, with all the uncertainty (and Theresa May’s past record with early elections) it can’t be ruled out.
The final option on the table is a second referendum or people’s vote. This option is gaining increasing public popularity as it is seen as a way for breaking the political deadlock but also as a way of cancelling Brexit altogether. Labour has now said it would support a people’s vote if it can’t get a general election. However, there is a clear reluctance from the Labour front bench to entertain any idea of cancelling Brexit. They appear to believe it would be a politically catastrophic move which could lead to voters especially in the North of England deserting them. The government show no signs of entertaining the idea of another referendum under any circumstances.
Many on the backbenches of both major parties now support a people’s vote. Jo Johnson who joined the calls after resigning as a minister on Friday, is the latest to join the likes of Chucka Umunna and Anna Soubry in supporting the public having the final say.
Soubry and Umunna have been frequent thorns in the side of the government. Today they have tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill which asks for an economic impact assessment on the deal the UK brings back to parliament before parliament votes on the deal.
The amendment has so far been signed by 34 MP’s, including Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable.
One MP who signed the amendment, Pat McFadden, justified his action’s on twitter saying; “The government cannot be allowed to compare their divorce agreement only to “no deal” and not tell us what they know about how it compares with the real existing deal we have now.”
It is unclear which of these roads we are heading down. The Brexit people were sold was one with increased British sovereignty and a stronger economy. A soft Brexit is bad for British sovereignty, better for the economy. A Hard Brexit is bad for the economy but better for sovereignty. Chequers tries to entertain both, but critics say it satisfies no one. A breakthrough of some kind looks close, but the conclusion looks as uncertain as ever.