Since the publication of The Brexit Swamp Deepens last week, Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that Labour will require a second referendum and will back Remain against either a ‘Tory deal’ or ‘No deal’.
Meanwhile Boris Johnson – almost certainly the next leader of the Conservative Party – has stated that he will not tolerate the N.Ireland backstop staying within the Withdrawal Agreement(WA) , even if it was time-limited: a new hardline position endorsed also by Jeremy Hunt.
His position, taken at face value, effectively rules out a negotiated alternative to No Deal: the EU is not going to cave-in during September to rip out the heart of a WA that it has consistently confirmed as the only deal on offer; in contrast to revising the accompanying Political Declaration (PD).
The prospect of No deal has increased; and, if the UK does exit on the 31 October, Labour’s position will become irrelevant overnight.
Committed Conservative opponents of No deal if they are to prevent a No deal outcome will have to agree a common course of action themselves and with Labour, and vice versa.
Whether that is requiring a referendum, or an amendment to a no confidence vote ruling out No deal, or even a successful no confidence vote, to provide EU leaders with some unanimous and compelling cause to grant the UK a new extension, it really needs activation prior to their Summit on the 17/18 October.
It is unlikely that a referendum, which would be opposed in any case by some Lexiteer Labour MP’s, especially if designed to simply produce a Remain result, would prove that unifying factor.
A straight-forward referenda binary choice between Remain and No deal might have more chance of securing parliamentary support if the cliff-edge was all but reached, but then possibly too late, and still unlikely.
Parliament, even if given the means, and it did vote to prevent No deal, without a referendum, would still need to agree an alternative; it, however, appears irretrievably split between members seeking a negotiated deal and others wanting both a second referendum and to Remain.
Possibly, Johnson aims to increase the negotiating pressure on Brussels during September while also playing to the Tory membership and the European Reform Group (ERG) gallery; and, when his stance proves unsuccessful (while hoping that the EU will blink or splinter), he could change tack, just as the sand runs out.
Well, lets hope so, for the sake of the UK Union and its economy. In which case, as Andrew Duff of the European Policy Centre recently proposed, extending the transition period to December 2022 or beyond, so allowing time for a Canada-style free trade deal to be progressed in line with a revised PD, while in the meantime retaining the benefits of frictionless trade with the EU making the backstop unnecessary, could offer him a way out, at least within Parliament.
Johnson could well – given his party backing – instead go for broke: exit with No deal, seek a fresh mandate, say, in Spring 2020, and bank on Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity with the wider electorate to carry him home.