By Mark Callaghan - 27 March 2019
The past fortnight alone in the world of British politics has contained more twists than a Game of Thrones novel. As I write, the United Kingdom’s embattled Prime Minister, Theresa May, is addressing the House of Commons for the first time since a disastrous speech last Wednesday, during which she blamed MPs for failing to deliver Brexit. Since then, she has requested and received an extension of Article 50 from the EU and now appears set to offer MPs a third and final ‘meaningful vote’ on her negotiated Withdrawal Agreement this week. Just yesterday, the Sunday papers were talking of an impending change of leadership in the Conservative Party. Today, that possibility seems to have been temporarily forgotten. Some further highlights include the following:
12th March: MPs rejected the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between Mrs May’s Government and the EU for a second time.
13th March: MPs voted against leaving the EU without any form of a deal “in any circumstances”, a vote which has limited effect given the inevitability of a ‘no-deal’ scenario if no alternative arrangements are reached.
14th March: MPs voted to request from the EU a delay to Article 50 (14th March).
18th March: the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, informed the Government that it cannot ask MPs to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement for a third time without a substantial change.
21st March: the European Union (displaying impressive and cohesive collective decision making) agreed to delay the deadline for the expiry of Article 50 by two weeks, so that the new deadline is 12 April (unless MPs pass the Withdrawal Agreement, in which case a slightly longer technical extension will be granted until 22 May).
So, where does that leave us? What is certain is that Theresa May has two further weeks to attempt to win a consensus on her Withdrawal Agreement and win a further Meaningful Vote. If she manages to do that, then the legal position will become clearer. Brexit will be implemented in much the same way as we summarised in a previous article, albeit with the Withdrawal Agreement taking effect on 22 May rather than 29 March.
If she fails (or perhaps even whilst she continues to canvass support for the third Meaningful Vote) then the Government may also elect to hold a series of “indicative votes” in Parliament. The stated purpose of such votes is to help reach a form of political agreement about the best route forward. Whether these votes will indeed provide the country with a viable next step remains a matter of significant uncertainty. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the Government will have the will to implement such steps in any event. Mrs May’s statement (which has now, a few short paragraphs later, come to an end) did not do much to suggest that she has any appetite to act on their outcome.
For the time being, businesses and employers should continue to monitor goings on in Parliament, and stress-test their current working arrangements with a no-deal Brexit in mind.