Not only is there no end to the government shutdown in the US, there does not seem to be even any action at all on this front. But there is plenty of high drama in the UK where things are rapidly coming to a head over Brexit. Tomorrow there is a big vote in the British parliament on the deal that Theresa May negotiated with the EU. She is widely expected to lose that vote, and if so is then required to come up with a new plan that will be voted on next Monday. Note that there is a deadline of March 29 for any deal with the EU to be approved. If it does not happen by then, the UK would be faced with a ‘no deal Brexit’ (see below) unless the deadline is extended by both sides which seems likely to happen since few like the idea of a disorderly breakup.
The process that is unfolding is pretty complicated but I found this nice article by the BBC that lays out what is going on.
Here is what is likely to happen:
- Monday – Day four of MPs’ Brexit debate, with the PM set to make a statement to the Commons setting out reassurances from the EU over the Irish backstop
- Tuesday – Day five of debate followed by “meaningful vote” on the PM’s deal. MPs will also get to vote on amendments that could reshape the deal. If the deal is rejected Theresa May will get three working days to come up with a “plan B”
- Wednesday – Mrs May could head to Brussels to try to get further concessions from the EU
- Monday 21 January – Expected Commons vote on “Plan B”
The article also explains what a ‘no deal Brexit’ would result in, plus some of the jargon that has grown around Brexit such as ‘customs union’, ‘backstop’, ‘political declaration’, and so forth.
There is now even an extraordinary move by some Conservative backbench MPs led by Nick Boles to wrest Brexit negotiations away from the government if May cannot come up with a plan B that passes parliament within the next three weeks. If she fails, a panel of senior Conservative backbenchers would come up with their own Brexit plan for a vote in Parliament. Here is a flow chart that describes what is envisaged.
It would be an untenable humiliation for May to let this happen and you can be sure that she will twist as many arms as possible to avoid it. She is hampered by the fact that Gareth Johnson, one of her parliamentary whips (the people with the task of counting and rounding up votes in support of the party), has just quit the government, saying that he cannot support her plan.
The idea of a second referendum is being treated warily by all sides, since holding referenda until you get the result you want seems like treating the will of the people with contempt. But on the other hand, it is clear that the many complications involved with Brexit only started being fully appreciated after the process started following the first referendum.
One option that came to my mind is for whatever deal that is finally passed by parliament to be put to the people to vote on. Yes, it would be a second referendum of sorts but not indefensible since this time it could be argued that it would not be based on the vague general idea of leaving the EU or remaining in it but instead on an actual detailed plan where people would know concretely the implications of their vote, and that any Brexit plan was too important to be left just to parliament to decide but needed to be ratified by the people.
There must be a reason why this is not being suggested.
UPDATE: A question for readers from the UK: The Irish border question has become a major sticking point. During the Brexit referendum three years ago, was this problem discussed at all, and if so, what was the solution that the Leavers proposed to deal with it? I am really curious to know.