When is Brexit day now?

Who knows?

I will try to be brief.

In UK law Brexit day is 29 March 2019. It should be easy enough to change that date, but there would have to be the political will. I am not sure that there is definitely a majority for that. If changing the date can be agreed, then we move on to the next steps. This would need to be voted on next week, and preferably on Monday. If the date cannot be changed, then either the UK leaves on 29 March 2019 or, if sufficient support can be found in Parliament, the Article 50 Notice is revoked.

Next week the UK Parliament may vote for the third time on the deal that is on the table. It has been rejected twice already. The Speaker of the House of Commons has ruled it cannot come back again in this Parliament unless amended. It hasn’t been amended. But there is an offer of a longer period to get ready until 22 May 2019. That may be enough.

If the deal on the table comes before Parliament, and is agreed (I would suggest that is still doubtful as at least eighty MPs would need to change their minds) then there is an extended period until 22 May to prepare for the next stage – the implementation period to 31 December 2020. Strictly that would mean no real change for businesses until 31 December 2020. What then happens after 31 December 2020 relies on whether a trade deal can be agreed between the EU and the UK and, I suggest, whether a solution to the Irish border issue can be found. I don’t know if Brexit could be revoked in that period to 22 May 2019. It definitely cannot be revoked after 22 May 2019.

If, however, the deal is not accepted by the UK Parliament, then the time limit is extended to 12 April 2019 (two whole weeks). I am told that the time limit to revoke the Article 50 Notice is also extended to the same date. The idea is to allow more time for other solutions to be found. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether UK politicians will manage this in an extra two weeks. Their track record suggests not. This means that unless the Article 50 Notice is revoked on or by 12 April 2019, a no deal Brexit on 12/13 April 2019 with no transitional period. I do not believe that the UK would be ready, and would certainly not have passed all necessary legislation, let alone got minor things like new Customs facilities in place. I think it will also leave issues at the Irish Border, even if the UK operates an honesty box as it is suggesting, there is nothing to say that the EU27 will reciprocate.

Could things be held up even further? I sense no appetite for that amongst the EU27, but it is possible. For example, if the EU came up with a deal that looked good, but some flesh needs to be put on the bone to gain agreement not only in the UK, but in the EU27, then I suspect a pragmatic approach would be taken. I’m not sure the resignation of the UK Prime Minister would be enough for a further delay. If a general election was called might be enough, but that would almost certainly mean the UK taking part in the European Elections as well. I think a deal being put the UK electorate (another referendum) might also gain an agreement for a further delay, although it is clear that amongst the two main political parties there is no taste for a further referendum. That would almost certainly also require the UK to vote in European elections.

I am not going to try to draw a flowchart.

In the meantime, as I write, the UK Parliament petition for the UK to Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU stands at nearly 3,250.000 signatures – and the backing continues to grow. The volume of signatures is larger than the populations of member states Lithuania, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta. Within the UK it is more than the population of Northern Ireland and the population of Wales. This is not directly influential upon the UK Government, and the UK’s Prime Minister has already dismissed it saying she won’t change her mind. Actually, it is not her choice whether I comes before Parliament to be debated. It is the choice of a special parliamentary committee. If that committee decides it should be brought before the House, then it can and will be. The question then is whether it will be allowed time to be debated before 29 March 2019 or 12 April 2019. That would largely be in the hands of the Leader of the House of Commons, and she has already made her opposition to it clear.

So what if the Article 50 Notice is revoked, is that it? Do we just go back to what many in the UK felt (rightly or wrongly) was an unacceptable relationship with the EU. Well possibly. But some changes could be made with the agreement of the EU through implementation of the Tusk plan put to the previous UK Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, as well as adopting changes to the UK’s migration law provided for in EU law. Putting the two together now looks rather inviting compared to what is on the table!

Steve Botham