Theresa May must end drift on Brexit after the Bank Holiday

The deeper meaning of “Brexit means Brexit” doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. Theresa May will have to clarify quickly after the Bank holiday. Arch Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith claims Article 50 will be triggered early in the New Year.

“I have spoken to them and I am certain that these characters – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, and the prime minister by the way – are very clear that they need to get on with triggering article 50 as soon as possible early in the new year.

This would appear to defy legal attempts to require a parliamentary vote on a process which leaves the negotiating cards stacked in favour of the EU more than the UK.

London mayor Sadiq Khan’s call to delay triggering Article 50 until after the French and Germans elections next year is unlikely  to find favour in Whitehall, fearing a “ punish Britain “ reaction from the EU.

In a long analytical piece on Monday the Guardian was none the wiser about the timing.

  May has repeatedly said she would not trigger article 50, the two-year process by which Britain must leave the EU, before the beginning of next year. Some think March looks a likely moment

But there is a persistent rumour that late 2017 or even early 2018 is more likely, partly because it could take Whitehall at least that long to be ready before triggering the two-year exit talks, and partly because Dutch, French and German elections will get in the way.

That would mean Britain would not leave the EU until late 2019, which the pro-Brexit camp as well as the EU, which wants Brexit over before the 2019 European elections and the new EU budget in 2020, have said emphatically is not desirable.

Brexit tactics play a part on the Labour leadership campaign. Jeremy Corby’s rival Owen Smith says he will “fight tooth and nail” to keep the UK in the EU and said that under his leadership, Labour would oppose the triggering of Article 50 in a future Commons vote unless certain conditions were met.

He rejected accusations he was trying to override democracy, saying if Labour believed working people were worse off by the settlement he could “legitimately put it back to the British people”.

That would mean a second referendum. But on what precisely?

John Rentoul whom we have discussed before in Slugger puts his finger on one key objection.

It would be quite sensible to have two referendums, one on the principle of EU membership and another on the terms of the exit deal..  But that wasn’t the deal. If we needed a second referendum, that should have been specified before we went to the polls for the first one. It wasn’t…. To say now that we need a second referendum looks like the complaint of a bad loser.

Academic associates of mine  agree that  the verdict of the referendum need not be for ever. But they’ve produced convincing arguments for taking it slowly  (Times Letters £)

A second referendum could consult the public on the precise form Brexit should take. Alternatively, a general election could be fought on this issue. The problem is that all of this would have to happen within the two-year window granted by Article 50. It is only after the negotiations have been concluded that we will have any clarity.

That delay and the difficulty of renegotiating UK-EU relations speak against a second referendum as a matter of practice. What would happen if the electorate voted to reject the deal? The UK could find itself outside the EU and also deprived of the package it negotiated.

More importantly, the UK is a parliamentary democracy. Political decisions are made in parliament, not by the electorate. On these grounds it may be preferable to call a general election with a particular focus on Brexit rather than another referendum. Whatever happens, it is incumbent on parliament to exercise final and independent judgment on the meaning of Brexit based on long-term political stability, economic prosperity and national interest.

Dr Jo Murkens, Department of Law, LSE; Dr Cormac MacAmhlaigh, Edinburgh Law School, University of Edinburgh

…to float a second referendum now is tricky. Whether it is legally possible for the UK to turn back after triggering Article 50 is unclear — if it isn’t, a referendum vote to stay in after all could leave us in limbo. The promise of a referendum would play havoc with our negotiating power in Brussels. The public have not, on the whole, changed their minds.

Those who want to reverse the vote would be better biding their time. If public opinion does shift clearly against Brexit, a second referendum will be justified. Otherwise, the sustained will of the people should be respected.

Dr Alan Renwick

Deputy director, Constitution Unit, University College London


Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Brendan Heading

    The question for me at the moment is whether or not brexit can be delivered without damaging the economy and the country to the extent that people find intolerable.

    The constitutional crisis here flows from two things; firstly, the people who voted for brexit were sold a pup; and secondly, the people who advocated brexit are safely outside the realms of electoral accountability.

  • terence patrick hewett

    It is quite clear that PM May has a sense of humour: instead of government by the adolescent twitter, twatter and twotter; she has decided to torture the MSM by not telling them anything at all. Interestingly it is the analytical marxists that have realised that the axis has shifted because of Brexit.

  • Brendan Heading

    I think this is pretty much what will happen. They’ll activate Article 50, so we technically do “leave the EU”, and then we negotiate something that places is in a situation where we are effectively EU members in everything but name.

  • hgreen

    Not a good look. Getting a new job then going on holiday.

  • hgreen

    Surely every other major EU country would want that deal as well. The Tories have no choice now but to press the article 50 button. They took us to the cliff now they will be forced to show us their diving skills.

  • Well, they could offer to donate all the British nuclear weapons to the European Commission in return for membership of the EU with an opt-out on free movement of labour.

  • Zorin001

    Minus the parts where we actually had influence in decision making naturally.

  • Declan Doyle

    She is to right to take her time. She knows it’s not gonna be good and she also knows that our sensitive markets will wobble again as soon as the trigger is pulled. The UK cannot get a deal that puts them at advantage to member states. There will be a sacrifice somewhere and it’s clear May and Co have not yet quite managed to figure out what particular sacrifice will not slide the economy into mykonos.

  • eamoncorbett

    She’d probably paid for it before she got the job.

  • eamoncorbett

    I agree with hgreen, that sort of scenario would be contagious , but it might work if say it produced another referendum five or six years down the road with all carrots and no sticks on the table.

  • eamoncorbett

    Realistically no referendum can be called within the next 5 years or so even if there is a change of government , so Britain will effectively be outside the EU for a period no matter what happens . If during this “exile ” period relations are still good and the Norway compromise pertains of course re-entry negotiations could take place with a view to rejoining and a subsequent referendum could take place . If however the answer is still no at this stage expect a hardening of attitudes especially on the EU (Franco/German) side.

  • Hugh Davison

    All the NATO countries have them already.

  • Obelisk

    When the UK leaves the EU there will be member states who will not be so eager to take the UK back…something I deem a very long prospect anyway.

    Brexit, that gargantuan monstrosity, has a terrible inertia now, gifted to it by a population who fell for the lies of the leave campaign.It is now easily able to overcome any kind of resistance MPs can think of such as talk of second referendums or parliamentary votes or legal challenges or even the outcomes that have the UK still in the EU in all but name. These are fantasies that the monster will just crush the life out of.

    It just screams ‘DEMOCRACY’ and ‘MANDATE’ at any attempt to slow it down or control it, one word answers that are as simple as they are irrefutable. Anyone who stands in it’s way is just going to get flattened (Owen Smith ) until it reaches it’s final destination and works it’s terrible purpose.

    We will be left with the aftermath. Unlike those Brexiters who joyfully proclaim everything is going to be fine based upon two months of Brexit not actually happening yet, I suspect it will get pretty bad.

    But I doubt it will get bad enough that the UK will go crawling back to Europe.Far from getting carrots and not sticks, the bespoke arrangement they have now with the rebate and no obligation to join the euro and no schenger will be gone.

    They would have to join like any other state without any of the perks they managed to negotiate during their earlier membership.The only way other EU states would accept the UK back is if they were sure it was for keeps this time after all. And the most intolerable thing for any Brexiter is to acknowledge that Britain just isn’t a special country anymore. Even a huge chunk of those who voted remain will probably refuse to go back if it means the Euro.

    In the end, for the English at the least, Brexit truly will mean Brexit.

  • eamoncorbett

    I agree if they are accepted back it would mean the whole menu and not a la carte as it now stands. But it’s in everyone’s interest to see Europe as a unit and not fragmented.

  • Obelisk

    Which means catering to the whims of the most truculent of Europeans is the worst possible outcome, as it would encourage further fragmentation. Best to take the inevitable economic hit of their departure and then rebuild.

  • eireanne3

    “I suspect it will get pretty bad”.
    Step 1: U.K. Banks to Lose EU Access After Brexit,

  • I dont understand what exactly would be asked in a second refernendum. Would it be hard brexit, soft brexit, and no brexit at all? In that case, we would surely get a no brexit at all vote. Alternatively, given that brexit won in the first referendum, would a second referendum offer hard and soft brexit only.

    A nuanced question in a second referendum wouldnt make it past the electoral commission, as it would fail the test of being comprehensible to voters.

    David Cameron made it abundantly clear many months ago. The question would be put the the people in a simple in/out referendum. Everyone understood the terms, the arguments were made, hyperbole was used on all fronts, and more people voted for one option than the other. The largest number of votes ever cast in a uk election were recorded.

    People fought for years for one man one vote, not one university educated 18-45 year old, one vote. You might say that people have been sold a pup, but we have been sold a pup at every election we have ever voted in, and that hasnt altered the outcome.

    Let’s get on with it and move along to the next big national debate. The country is not being harmed by brexit, but by uncertainty. Prime Minister May should avoid flogging a dead horse, and should work to make a success of the outcome of the vote.

  • eireanne3

    if brexit is brexit there are really only two options: a hard brexit (just tell the EU we’ve left and repeal the relevant Acts of parliament) or a soft bexit – years of negotiations, haggling over terms and so forth, risk of Scottish independence and NI drifting off to be linked in some way with the ROI.
    Which will suit the UK better?

  • Starviking

    So we will not be able to oppose all things the Brexiteers trumpeted about, for example, the EU Army…

  • Lex.Butler

    Why is there a consensus that a a second referendum would deliver the ‘right result’? There is little evidence to support this view. Whilst I voted to remain, I’ve had to accept we are not. The people who will suffer most are those professionals in service industries who may find it hard to compete in the EU. Those on minimum wage jobs, zero hour contracts and dreadful housing are going to find not a lot changes either way. However, is any change better than the world of the past three decades? That there may be a labour shortage may result in higher wages and better conditions. What’s wrong with that?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And control them……..

  • Brendan Heading


  • Sir Rantsalot

    They should trigger Art50 now. Talk of needing to prepare is nonsense. Everyone knows politicans do nothing until they have to. They need a kick in the ass.
    At this rate the UK will be the last country in the EU.

  • Skibo

    It is not the issue of politicians being ready, the country is not ready. The UK has not had any need for trade negotiators since it entered the EU. They need the tools to do the job and they are not in place at the moment. Another lie by Brexit on what could be done.

  • Skibo

    Not even sure what they would vote on. If Article 50 is actioned then the UK has two years to leave. We couldn’t stop the process just with another vote. It would have to be on a unanimous vote by all the rest of the countries to suspend article 50. Can you really see that happening?
    We in the North have one chance of staying in the EU and one only one once Article 50 is actioned.
    That is reunification of Ireland.
    Not even sure that Scotland could stay after Article 50 as they would have to ask could they stay as a new nation following independence. That may not be an option of taking up the UK place and rather an application to join.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Another lie by Brexit?? Whaaa ? You are the one that just said the country is not ready, you just said claimed there are no negotiators !! 🙂
    I agree with Nigel Farage, he wants A50 triggered now. Theresa May sided with the globalist corrupt elite in the referendum. You can hardly claim her delaying is from the Brexit side.

  • Skibo

    I want a Ferrari but I can’t afford it! The country is not in the position to negotiate Brexit. Nigel and Boris won an argument they thought they had lost. They had no plan as to how to carry it out. I am no admirer of Theresa May but I believe her argument to delay is pragmatic.
    Fail to plan, plan to fail.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Farage has got massive acclaim and praise all round the world. You must have your head in the sand if you think he didn’t achieve his goal. Just watch his speech at the Republican rally recently, he got a rock star reception. Turn off the TV news and get on independant news sites and get educated.

    I would feel a bit better about a delay if TM explained what activity us happening at the minute to prepare for triggering A50.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps you forgot the news reports prior to the results coming in for the referendum where he was accepting defeat.
    “Farage has got massive acclaim and praise all round the world” So has Kermit the frog but I wouldn’t want him leading the party either.
    Farage and his party have so much acclaim at home that they have ONE MP and that was a defection form the Torys.
    As for his appearance at a Trump rally, yes I could understand them loving Farage. Numpties the whole lot of them. Sure even some Republicans say they wont vote for Trump and they elected the two Bushs!
    Any time I turn off the TV to look at a real politician, it is normally to get balanced reporting on Jeremy Corbyn.