Short Brexit “flextension” makes general election ever likelier

11. April 2019, 13:15 Uhr

Yet another EU summit – and yet another extension. But this one, mind, will definitely be the last. Come October 31st, Britain will be out finally, one way or the other (barring a unilateral revocation of Brexit). The extension itself has turned out far shorter than anticipated by many, courtesy of France. So what does it provide for? A general election? A second referendum? We try and answer these and other questions in turn.

Six months are relatively short. Does this space suffice for a potential second referendum?

Theoretically, yes. But with each week passing without legislating for it, it becomes even less likely than it is right now. As of today, there’s no majority for another referendum in the House of Commons. Reaching it would necessitate at least a) an agreement between the government and Labour, b) an indicative vote by the House of Commons in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement plus an amended Political Declaration entailing the agreement reached between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as well as an indicative vote in favour of another referendum, and c) actual legislation for such a so-called confirmatory vote by the public on the amended Brexit deal vs. Remain (plus, possibly, vs. no-deal). The Tories will not agree on any other kind of referendum but such a confirmatory vote already to prove a very hard sell; a simple re-run of the 2016 referendum along the lines of “in” or “out” (for example by setting no-deal against Remain) is out of the question.

Have the odds of a general election increased?

Decidedly so, yes. With Halloween the new and final cliff-edge date, only a unilateral revocation of Brexit can stave off a no-deal Brexit this time around, should Parliament continue to reject the Withdrawal Agreement in either its current or Labour-amended form. Such a putative revocation, however, is inconceivable without any kind of a public vote beforehand, with a second referendum the relatively more complex and time-demanding and thus less likely exercise compared with an election. And there’s another, even more relevant reason in favour of a snap election: Even if there’s an agreement with Labour, Theresa May will then have to rely on Labour votes for her ensuing Brexit legislation, a situation which cannot last long, inevitably resulting in an election by law if a vote of no confidence finally succeeds. If no agreement between Labour and the government is reached, an election is all the more likely.

Is no-deal finally off the table?

Absolutely not, no (see the recent, related post on the Economic Ticker, too). For a no-deal Brexit effectively to be prevented, the ratification of the unnegotiable Withdrawal Agreement remains part and parcel. Should Parliament continue to refuse doing so, or a new Prime Minister embark on yet another fruitless attempt to try and re-negotiate the backstop wasting time in the process, or a general election yield yet another inconclusive or even pro-Brexit result, no-deal very much remains a live option. Above all, Parliament’s single instrument to try and stave off no-deal, i.e. ordering the government to ask for yet another extension in Brussels will not be available this time around, so that the only unilateral action for the UK remaining would be the revocation of Brexit altogether.


[Picture by sitziSIT, use under Creative Commons license CC0 1.0]