You are not alone if you feel bewildered by Brexit. The latest developments mean talk of delays, extensions and a new referendum have dominated the headlines.
Here, FBC Manby Bowdler Brexit Director Peter Wilding takes a look at the current situation and explains just what it all means.
BREXIT: Where we are:
When will this ever end? You can only look on bewildered as the Brexit drama reaches its climax. But the frequent deferrals in this denouement are just armies waiting to pounce for the final battle. This is why 687 hours until Brexit (less than 30 days!) we still don't know:
- If Brexit will happen on 29 March
- If we will have a deal
- If the Labour party will survive
- If the Tory party will survive
- How to stop (not delay) no-deal
- Whether necessary SIs can be passed in time
- Whether the EU will allow an A50 extension
- Whether we have to take part in the European elections in May
- What Jeremy Corbyn's own definitive cast-iron position is on 2nd referendum
- What the second "Brexit" in "Brexit means Brexit" means
- What the ERG are thinking?!?
But this is a battle when all sides are still plotting the best chance of winning. It was always likely that February and March 2019 would be the time when those who want deal, no deal or no Brexit would have their best chance of success. It was always probable that these final weeks of the article 50 process were going to provide Brexit’s high-noon moment. And that is precisely where we find ourselves now. That’s true on all sides, whether pro- or anti-Brexit. A battle cannot be infinitely postponed. Brexit must either take place on 29 March or not. If it does take place, Brexit's first business day is April 1st when the long term trade policy discussions which will affect all in the West Midlands begin.
Key question one: Can May's deal win?
This week, fearing that more Conservatives could revolt over her refusal to rule out no deal, May managed to buy a bit more time from the Tory party by her concession that the 29 March deadline may be missed and that the article 50 process may have to be extended if the government loses its plan B vote on 12 March.
May’s entire Brexit strategy is now being kept alive by two things. The first is her consistent leaning to the right in order to keep Conservative MPs onside behind her Brexit plan. The second is her hope that the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, can agree some form of legal wording with the EU to enable him to change his advice that the Northern Irish backstop could be legally permanent. And if Cox gets the form of words that May craves, it will be the only change from the plan A on which May was trounced in January. That doesn’t automatically mean that the 118 Tories who voted against plan A will not vote for plan B either. If he does change his advice, 100 DUP and pro-Brexit Tories may be persuaded to back the deal, meaning it would only take 20 rogue Labour MPs to get May over the line. Britain will leave on March 29th. But it surely means that if May loses on 12 March, and especially if she loses badly, she will have no plan C to put in its place, except extension.
Key question two: Extension. How and for how long?
Yet the extension of article 50 is potentially a watershed concession. Extending article 50, in other words, would mean having to embrace a new approach to Brexit. The question is how long is Article 50 extended for? Mrs May is going to ask for 2 months, to make a referendum impossible. May’s pretence is that this is just a small matter, a little bit of added time because of unexpected holdups. She talked again on Wednesday of such an extension being short and limited. That is unrealistic. It assumes that the extension would merely be granted for the purpose of ensuring that MPs finally give their approval to a revision of her original plan and for putting this on the necessary legislative foundation.
But it is the EU 27 who decide if and for how long. The French have said any extension must be for a purpose other than can-kicking; the Germans have suggested 21 extra months. The tabloids will be full of treason and betrayal headlines. Faced with a final cliff-edge choice between no deal and a long take-it-or-leave-it extension Parliament may vote for a longer extension, if offered. The political crisis could then explode into two months of upheaving involving a leadership or a general election topped off, to add to the mayhem, by a mandated European election on May 23rd, a contest which could reshape the parties in what would be a proxy referendum.
If May's deal does not get through, this crisis has a lot further and deeper to go before the Brexit story fizzles out.
Here at FBC Manby Bowdler we have a stellar team of experts on our dedicated Brexit Advisory Team who can help you take control of your business whatever the politicians decide over Brexit.
If you would like to contact Peter or the rest of the team to discuss any of the above please call 01694 724440, 07901 008220 or email email@example.com.