The EU is being helpfully unhelpful on Brexit – so what now

Our Chief Executive, Richard Stone examines the latest updates on Brexit.

Article updated: 25 March 2019 10:00am Author: Richard Stone

The Prime Minister’s deal looks dead in the water. Her letter to MPs suggests it may not come back for a third meaningful vote should it be evident there is insufficient support for it to carry a majority – and with the DUP still set to vote against, it looks impossible for the Prime Minister to muster the support to overturn the previous two heavy defeats.

The EU’s offer of an extension, which the British Government had to accept, was at best helpfully unhelpful. By effectively keeping ‘no deal’ on the table and at the same time opening up the possibility of a longer delay it makes it harder for the Prime Minister to persuade MPs it is the only option. Hard line Brexiteers still see an opportunity to force a no deal, while Remain leaning MPs still see an opportunity to push the Brexit date into the long grass. Theresa May had no option but to agree to whatever terms the EU offered but as a result is boxed in and in my view will not survive the next three weeks as Prime Minister.

A majority for Theresa May’s deal could potentially emerge if the motion is conditional. The problem here is that the Withdrawal Agreement, with all its faults not just the backstop arrangements, remains and if the Government pushes ahead this may alienate the DUP to the point at which the ‘confidence and supply’ basis on which Theresa May is able to govern collapses. For this reason the Prime Minister will be reluctant to pursue this course.

More likely, Parliament takes control and holds a series of votes to try and identify what would be acceptable to the House of Commons. The problem, expressed in terms of Condorcet’s paradox, is that no one option can likely gain a majority as each option gives rise to a coalition of opposition, sufficient enough to prevent a majority. Some form ‘knock out’ system of voting has been suggested but ultimately it is difficult to see what decision this will result in. Beyond that process how does any Parliamentary consensus become Government policy and enacted by the Government which ultimately has to carry business through the House. Any such outcome is also likely to require renegotiation with the EU and implementation time requiring a longer delay to Brexit itself – and again any option may only get consensus if conditional on a return to the people by way of election or referendum.

Given the above it is difficult to see how Theresa May can remain as Prime Minister through to the 12th April; as it is hard to see how she could credibly carry on in order to negotiate an alternative to the deal she has so passionately advocated or to implement a deal which she herself did not design, or ask for a longer extension which she has vehemently opposed.

I believe ultimately the UK will be in a position of having to ask for a longer extension to the Brexit deadline and will therefore have to participate in the EU Parliamentary elections in May. This presents all manner of difficulties for the main parties, not least in terms of what policy they put forward in respect of Brexit. A longer extension will also increase the clamour for a second referendum or general election.

Ultimately I do not believe we will leave the EU on 12th April or 22nd May. I predicted some time ago we would not be leaving on 29th March and that ultimately Brexit would likely get thwarted by a second referendum reversing the original vote. I continue to hold to that being the most probable outcome, however, as a strong advocate of Brexit in the original referendum, a view I continue to hold, I would propose a solution for the Government.

A proposed solution

Although a Brexiteer, I would today revoke Article 50.

This may seem a strange thing to say. However, at the root of today’s political crisis is a lack of vision and leadership. The Government have lost control of the process as a result and need to take back control. To do this there is a need to pause, reflect and put in place that vision and leadership.

Having revoked Article 50 I believe the Government should set about articulating a plan to implement the original referendum by leaving the EU without a deal. We have spent over two years trying to negotiate with the EU and it has proven impossible to reach a reasonable basis for agreement which can command the support of MPs. We should therefore plan to leave on a basis we can control, in other words, a managed no deal.

This proposition should then be put to the people, either in a General Election, or more likely in a second referendum. By doing this via a referendum, individual MPs and others would be able to campaign as they see fit without pulling apart the established party system, which largely holds together on all other issues.

Assuming, and I would accept this is a big assumption, people support this approach and confirm the decision to leave we should then re-invoke Article 50. This effectively resets the two year time line. That two years should then be solely spent planning appropriately for our exit. Should the EU wish to come and negotiate with us as part of that process we should of course be open to that and this would be necessary in areas such as security co-operation. It should also include negotiations on future trade arrangements – something to date the EU has insisted cannot happen until we leave but needs to be undertaken ahead of that time.

In short, we would be operating on the basis of things within our control, planning to leave on our terms with two years to implement that decision.

The above approach would cut through the current impasse and it would give certainty to business. Such an approach would require new leadership and a sense of vision and purpose which to date has been lacking. It would deliver on the will of the British people – and confirm it is still their will. I therefore offer this proposal as a consideration to help us out of the current mess in which we find ourselves.


These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre as a whole.

Richard Stone portrait photo
Richard Stone

Chief Executive

Richard is a qualified chartered accountant who has held several director roles across the financial services sector. His responsibilities include all aspects of oversight, including the group's strategy for growth, and encompass control and management of the group's business.

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