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Where Do We Go From Here? A Brexit Bullet List

by John Brian Shannon

1. Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement fails in the UK House of Commons by a vote of 432-202, the largest government defeat since the 1920’s.

2. But all is not lost as most of those voting against the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) were voting against tiny portions of it. Were those paragraphs to be changed the draft Withdrawal Agreement would pass in the House of Commons with flying colours as much of the draft agreement was already acceptable to British MP’s.

3. I don’t blame Theresa May for wanting to put the draft Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament for the simple reason that when both sides have negotiated in good faith (and they have) when one side agrees a deal (the EU27) it’s understandable for them to expect the proposal will be offered up for a vote on the other side (the UK House of Commons) It’s simply a case of showing the proper diplomatic respect they’re entitled to as a good faith negotiating partner — nothing more, nothing less.

4. Of course, British MP’s have every right to politely refuse such a deal and they did just that yesterday, January 15, 2019 by an almost unprecedented margin of 230 votes.

5. But had it passed in the House of Commons yesterday, the draft WA would’ve instantly become law in both countries and all problems relating to Brexit would’ve been solved — save for the highly contentious Irish backstop arrangement, and possibly some minor points contained within the otherwise excellent draft Withdrawal Agreement.

6. So, instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ the government should offer the proposed Withdrawal Agreement for examination in a paragraph-by-paragraph debate in the House of Commons. This could be done very rapidly. Each paragraph takes only a minute to read aloud and MP’s could then vote on each paragraph or block of similar text in a matter of minutes. I haven’t counted how many paragraphs or text blocks are in the draft WA, but within two days MP’s would’ve approved most of the draft WA — and the sections that weren’t approved by British MP’s would be by then clearly identified.

7. Having clearly identified the offending paragraphs of the draft WA the government would then be tasked with finding solutions to those offending paragraphs — and each successful solution would need to be voted up in Parliament and added to the draft Withdrawal Agreement as amendments.

8. Finally, the House of Commons having approved each paragraph of the reworked deal would need to vote on the entirety of the amended Withdrawal Agreement and pass it with a simple majority; Shortly thereafter, Theresa May would present the amended Withdrawal Agreement to the EU27 for their approval, comments, or counter-proposal.

9. All this needs to occur in January as time is against both the UK and the EU with only 73-days left until the automatic default kicks in; A No Deal Brexit. (And many of us are fine with that and think that any claims of economic Armageddon are grotesquely overstated and based on irrational fear instead of fact. Where are all the detailed studies showing that the UK would sink beneath the waves never to surface again? Hint: There aren’t any) Nevertheless, if British MP’s on both sides of the House want a negotiated Brexit deal, good on them. That’s just them being responsible. But remember, it takes two to tango. They can’t order the EU to accept a negotiated exit agreement.

10. Any talk about extending Article 50 is irresponsible as it stirs the public towards civil conflict and causes citizens to lose faith in all elected officials.

11. Any talk about extending Article 50 by the government side of the House is silly because if Theresa May and her ministers couldn’t get a deal with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (who have been sweet and patient with the British side) what makes Theresa May and her ministers think they’re going to get a deal with whomever replaces Juncker and Tusk at the end of May 2019, after the EU elections? That’s not saying that I agree with Mr. Juncker or Mr. Tusk on certain points regarding Brexit. Understandably, they’re in business for the EU27 not for the UK. But the UK government has wasted precious time ‘playing it’ seemingly for political purposes over the past 2 1/2 years and now they’re in bigger trouble than they know — because whomever replaces the soft and fuzzy crew of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk won’t be as accommodating as those two gentlemen. In short, the grass won’t be greener on the other side of May 29th. To put it mildly.

12. Almost no one wants to leave the EU without a deal. No Deal fears are wildly and irresponsibly overblown. However, British MP’s and most Britons say a negotiated deal is a better pathway forward. Therefore, it’s imperative to get a deal even if the fears that drive us toward a negotiated deal are greatly exaggerated. (Doing the ‘right thing’ for the ‘wrong reasons’ can still work for Britain) Theresa May’s draft WA (which was already approved by the EU27) forms the basis of, and the best chance for, a negotiated agreement. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel at this late stage, it’s better through a series of paragraph by paragraph amendments to improve only the paragraphs that need improvement and after approval of the whole amended document by a majority of MP’s, Theresa May can present the Amended Withdrawal Agreement to Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk for their kind consideration. Let’s hope that works, because then both sides can finish with Brexit and get back to the important work of governing their respective people.

13. Perhaps the most important point of all is that British MP’s of all parties should continue to support Theresa May’s government and the Motion of No Confidence slated for 7:00pm tomorrow (January 16, 2019) should fail, as the quickest path to a negotiated Brexit is an amended Withdrawal Agreement. Theresa May should remain as Prime Minister, and the entire Conservative Party, the entire DUP, and MP’s from other parties should vote to keep her on the job.

14. As bad as the optics of it are, all that’s really happened over the past 24-hours is that British MP’s were offered the opportunity by Theresa May’s government to vote on a draft Withdrawal Agreement that the EU27 had previously approved. And as the EU27 has negotiated in good faith they deserved to know the answer to their proposal. Not allowing the EU27 to receive an answer to their proposal would’ve been extremely disrespectful. And that’s not the way to begin a new relationship with an important trading partner with whom we share so much history.

UK Brexit Withdrawal Agreement vote January 15, 2019

Image courtesy of BBC – Data from Commons Votes Services. 

Why Would British MP’s Approve an Incomplete Withdrawal Agreement?

by John Brian Shannon

The UK’s draft Withdrawal Agreement is a fine agreement except that it lacks in one key area; The so-called ‘backstop’ portion of the agreement which has no end-date. It’s a major flaw in the draft and it must be removed.

The backstop means that if the UK and the EU don’t reach a free trade deal in 2019 the UK will be stuck in the EU Customs Union forever, and will never be able to negotiate its own trade deals. And the opportunity to take back control of the UK’s trading relationships was one of four main reasons that Britons voted to Leave the European Union.

Remember the four metrics of Brexit success?

  1. Take back control of the UK’s borders and immigration
  2. Take back control of the UK legal system
  3. Take back control of the UK economy
  4. Take back control of UK trade

In the so-called ‘Political Declaration’ between the two parties there is reference to the backstop which states that it’s expected a free trade agreement will eventually be worked out between the two sides — neatly solving the problem of the backstop clause.

But as they’ve had 2 1/2 years to work these issues out and still haven’t (not even close) it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence and voters on both sides of the English Channel are entitled to better service from their politicians than that. CEO’s must be wondering, too. Much of the EU’s trade is with the UK and 2 1/2 years later, no free trade agreement is in sight even though the UK is leaving the European Union on March 29, 2019. Very disappointing.

And Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk’s replacements can choose to be bound by, or not be bound by the non binding Political Declaration as both of those EU leaders step down after May 26, 2019 to make room for newly appointed EC and EU Presidents. We don’t know who those new leaders will be, nor do we know how they view the draft Withdrawal Agreement, nor do we know if they’ll give two hoots about what the non legally binding Political Declaration says. (If I were them, I wouldn’t either!)


How to Fix It

If the draft Withdrawal Agreement fails to pass in the House of Commons tomorrow (as expected) Britons can breathe a sigh of relief because almost certainly the backstop clause will be removed in time to get an amended Withdrawal Agreement passed in the House of Commons before Brexit day on March 29, 2019.

And one reason we can count on that is the EU operates a stunning £95 billion trade surplus with the UK (£67 billion net) and without a free trade agreement, businesses on both sides will suffer greatly. When there’s £95 billion on the line you can bet CEO’s will pressure their respective governments and a trade deal will happen quickly! Or heads will roll.

For goodness sake, it’s a trade agreement between two nations that have traded with each other for centuries! It’s not like the Klingons and the Romulans opening trade relations! How hard can it be?

The way to fix this situation is for British MP’s to vote down the draft Withdrawal Agreement tomorrow and encourage CEO’s on both sides of the Channel to put significant pressure on Theresa May, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk until they get their jobs done properly which is what they should’ve been doing all along.

Doing their jobs properly — even if it’s already a year late and counting — means removing the backstop completely, or inserting a firm end date for Customs Union membership and getting a free trade deal done by July 1, 2019.

Any level of success lower than that should be considered unacceptable by citizens, by European industry, and by any country that trades with the UK or the EU.

After 3-years of Lollygagging Now They Want An Article 50 Extension?

by John Brian Shannon

The best example of European ‘Low Ambition’ has arrived (in the UK of all places!) and British citizens should be enraged.

After piddling around for over 2 1/2 years, the UK government is now putting out ‘feelers’ about how the UK public would react to an Article 50 extension. Pathetic.

There are many valid reasons why citizens and the media should virtually veto this idea — and number one on the list is that it cynically works to strengthen the hand of Remainers many of whom still can’t accept the June 23, 2016 referendum result and are actively working to this day to subvert the will of the majority.

Is Theresa May actually trying to create the conditions necessary to start a civil war? Because without her feeding the anti-Brexit movement at irregular intervals over the past 30-months it would’ve died out of its own accord as it wasn’t that strong to begin with.

What kind of leader would work against the wishes of a majority of referendum voters to strengthen the losers of such an historic referendum? Sir Winston Churchill (who earned his title by the way) is rolling over in his grave at this very moment.

Again, Britain’s leaders must stop acting like they’re representing the 120th-largest economy in the world and begin acting like they’re representing the 6th-largest economy in the world. Yes, even if that is scary. Oh Winston, where are you?

Britons and the entire world are dying to hear Winston Churchill snarling, ‘This will be Britain’s finest owwwa!’ in full British bulldog mode.

And far less of;
‘IsItAlrightToSitHere?Oh,ItIsn’t?OK,Sorry,I’llSitRightOverHereThenIfThat’sOKWithYou. AndI’mWillingToPay£39BillionForThePrivilege,ButIfYouWantMoreThat’sOKToo. ButPleaseJustGiveMeSomeTimeToSellItToMyGovernmentFirst.
IfThat’sOKWithYou,Jean-Claude.Don’tBeMad,OK?’

Followed by the mandatory 5-minute round of air-kisses between the two. Sickening.


Let’s Look at the Pros and Cons of a Delayed Article 50

As there aren’t any ‘Pros’ let’s skip directly to the ‘Cons’ of an Article 50 extension:

  1. It might create a civil war in the UK: Or it might strengthen the present divisions which could lead to the kind of polarized society we see in the United States. Which is great if you’re a UK politician trying to make a name for yourself by using ‘Divide and Conquer’ tactics leftover from the feudal era, but it’s never good for a country. Yes, it might work for you but it will permanently damage the country. Anyone who uses such tactics to further their own career, prolong their premiership, or gain a fleeting advantage over their political opponents should be fired by their party for fomenting public strife.
  2. Adding even more uncertainty is bad for the economy: Keeping the fight going for whatever reason instead of getting on with the business of the country has had a deleterious effect on the UK economy. As long as a Remain vs. Leave fight continues business confidence within and outside the country is negatively affected. Leave won. Remain lost. Even Remainers in government must get over it, or do the honourable thing and resign their Parliamentary seat. This applies to the House of Lords as well. If you can’t accede to the will of The People you’re not a democrat, you’re a despot. And nobody wants you — except the losers of the 2016 referendum. Bye! We (the people who believe in democracy) won’t miss you. Don’t call. Don’t write. We don’t want to know.
  3. The UK looks weak in front of the entire world: As the world watches, the way Brexit has been handled on the British side makes Britain look disorganized, unsure of itself and led by a closet Remainer, that is at all times afraid of its own shadow… and this! this? is the UK that hopes to become a major exporting nation in a globalized world that (try not to laugh here) is supposed to be based on a meritocratic government and society according to Theresa May? Give us a break!
  4. There is nothing to be gained by extending Article 50. Nothing! The same (apparently intractable) problems will remain and nothing more can be said then, that hasn’t already been said between the two sides. If they can’t get it done in 3-years (!!!) what makes them think they can get it done in 3-years + 3-months? Ludicrous! The EU says the draft Withdrawal Agreement can’t be renegotiated (which is incorrect, as it’s only a ‘draft agreement’ or ‘proposal’) and if they want to sell cars, etc. to the UK they will sign a revised (no backstop) agreement at some time before the 11th-hour on March 29th. And I don’t blame the EU one bit for trying that bluff on a weak UK Prime Minister. I would too, as would any negotiator. But Theresa May will be a fool if she falls for that ol’ negotiating ploy. Everyone can see it for what it is. So why can’t Theresa May? Inexplicable!
  5. After the EU/EC elections in May 2019, the UK will be facing the ‘Hard Crew’ — not the ‘Soft Crew’ of jolly old (and powerful) Jean-Claude Juncker and businesslike (and powerful) Donald Tusk — both of whom almost like the British. The Hard Crew is most decidedly NOT going to be easier to negotiate with. The Hard Crew is NOT going to allow any better deal for the UK. The Hard Crew is NOT going to put up with some of the shenanigans we’ve seen from the British side. And the Hard Crew certainly won’t consider changes to the proposed backstop. And the Hard Crew (and this is important!) won’t be bound by any self-serving and pollyanna Political Declaration that has absolutely no force in law. Might as well tear that up right now Theresa because the Hard Crew isn’t going to entertain one word of that document unless some part of it happens to favour the EU side. If you think the EU aren’t your friends now (and they aren’t, they’re quite rightly negotiating and bluffing for their own side, not the UK side) just wait until you meet the new boss!

Finally, Theresa May has been getting better and better by the month. However, she’s failed to grasp some important points which may prove disastrous to Britain and to her legacy once she leaves office.

Her oft-repeated statement which she quoted on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday goes like this; “Don’t let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

Which is a nice thought but it misses the mark and she doesn’t see it. Brexiteers aren’t asking for “the perfect” — they’re asking for a “successful” Brexit. What Theresa May thinks is “the perfect” is what Brexiteers merely consider “the bare minimum” level of Brexit success.

Remember the four metrics of Brexit success?

  1. Take back control of the UK’s borders and immigration
  2. Take back control of the UK legal system
  3. Take back control of the UK economy
  4. Take back control of UK trade

And her draft Withdrawal Agreement as it presently sits (unloved by anyone in the world except Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker) satisfies only 3-out-of-4 of those metrics, but is otherwise an excellent document.

Which results in a failed grade for Theresa May as far as Brexit negotiations are concerned.

A ‘No Deal’ Brexit is far superior to the present draft Withdrawal Agreement as a No Deal Brexit WILL ALLOW THE UK to strike any trade deal it wants, post-Brexit.

Theresa May is living a fairy-tale if she thinks that allowing the backstop to remain in the draft agreement and then post-Brexit trying to negotiate her way out of the backstop with the Hard Crew is going to get the UK out of the backstop. (What???)

Sorry Theresa. I like you. But the EU is trying to steal Northern Ireland from the UK by stealth (If I were them, I’d try the same thing!) employing the backstop to arrive at the point in time where a UK Prime Minister’s choice would be narrowed down by events to only one of two choices; Either surrender Northern Ireland to the EU, or the UK becomes trapped in a worse deal.

Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement as it stands would’ve gotten her a 1-out-of-10 grade in Political Science class. That’s a 10% grade. Not even up to the D- mark that we all feared in high school.

Yet, with one change (dropping the backstop, or alternatively, putting a firm end-date on Customs Union membership) would turn that very same draft Withdrawal Agreement into an A+ agreement, or 95% if you prefer that measure.

Who wants an even worse deal than at present? Hands up! None? See Theresa, I’m right!

So choose to drop the backstop, or alternatively, get a firm end-date on Customs Union membership and you’ll be the hero of Brexit and live out your life in the House of Lords after your premiership ends! Or, choose to be reviled worse than Guy Fawkes — for being the Prime Minister who delivered the British people into the hands of the EU’s Hard Crew and concomitantly trap Britain in an even worse deal than it presently has.

There’s no other options left. Taking the path of least resistance with your EU pals is no longer an option. The time has come to show some mettle or get out-of-the-way and let someone who can get the job done, get it done.

And forget about cancelling Brexit. That should be a treasonable offence even for British MP’s including the Prime Minister. The People voted to Leave and you must follow their instructions.

Of course it’s nice to leave the EU with a Withdrawal Agreement that allows an easy Implementation Period so that no one has to work too hard at moving to a new way of doing things, and it’s nice to create fluffy and pretty Political Declarations that sound wonderful and sweet (but in reality will rank as nothing once the Hard Crew gets into power) and all the other sweet, flowery, diplomatic and fluffy things that the new relationship with the EU could and should be. But none of that is based in reality.

And unfortunately, no matter how we try to pretty it up, we live in reality, not in non legally binding documents. And no one wants to be trapped in a worse deal.

So, put on your big-girl pants and get the final and most important part of the job done, or get out-of-the-way and let someone else who can, get the job done.

You’ve been great, but obtaining a successful Brexit is bigger than any one Prime Minister (or two, or three!) and it must be done right.

Hurt feelings, being pushed aside for a more proactive and bolder Prime Minister, or not being able to build the legacy you want are far less important than the British people getting out of the EU (which is what they voted for) and either obtaining a better Withdrawal Agreement prior to March 29, 2019 or moving smartly along to a No Deal Brexit by the same date, are your only two options.

Any other paths are merely flights of fantasy that only serve to waste everyone’s time, including yours.