Brexit: A right royal British mess that keeps on giving
Brexit: A right royal British mess that keeps on giving
16 SEPTEMBER 2019 7:23 AM

Just when everyone thought Brexit could not get more dramatic, it does. Businesses, meanwhile, remain worried.

If it was thought that the daily Brexit saga in the United Kingdom could get no further confused or twisted, there is precious little faith in British politicians on all sides to achieve division, polarization and continue their utter inability to grasp the Parliamentary mathematics that to everyone else instantly make newly mooted ideas immediately unreachable.

I write this as a good exercise for myself to make sense of everything, and possibly for international readers who might have given up, and to try and deter myself thinking that the whole of this Brexit saga—one wit said it’s more a dog’s Brexit, a pun that you might have to be British to understand—is not just a case of who blinks first.

U.K. politicians make their Brexit statements to a British audience rather as though they are soundbites. There is almost no presentiment as to how the European Union will react. On 12 September, The Guardian reported the EU said it would veto any Brexit deal that does not include a fluid border for trade and people from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. This is the so-called Backstop, which, if we forget, remains the main stumbling block in all of this.

That decision was “leaked,” apparently.

All the U.K. sides are at fault, and business continues to be marginalized. Brexit just seems to be going around and around a hamster wheel.

Amid the findings of a British Chambers of Commerce survey of U.K. business issued on 11 September, 33% of those questioned said they would “plan downwards” in investment and (31%) in recruitment, while 18% said they “planned to move some or all of their business overseas in a no-deal scenario.”

Meanwhile, there are plenty of other policy matters that have just been ignored, with Bills of Parliament now shelved, awaiting for a new Parliament to reconvene with the hope there is administrative time to present them again. These include simple, obviously unimportant things such as The Clean Air Bill and the Climate Change (Emissions Targets) Bill.

No one has any real ideas, which leads the person on the street to say things such as “let’s just get on with it.”

For some that seems to mean let’s just leave with No Deal—certainly as in fewer than 50 days the U.K. is due to leave the EU—but I think for most business that is a bad idea, and indeed Parliament last week in the week managed to make No Deal illegal.

Also in the last week, the ruling Conservative Party government—which lacks a majority—has “prorogued” Parliament, essentially to give it time to formulize a new agenda for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new government. The timing of that decision has been criticized for being highly suspect. The Conservatives main opposition, the Labour Party, has a split at the very top, with its leader Jeremy Corbyn saying the party is the true home of both Leavers and Remainers, while its deputy leader Tom Watson saying the party should unequivocally support Remain and press for another referendum.

The announcement of the prorogation and that it left only a small handful of business days left for Parliamentary procedure is why there has been so much drama in the last few days.

The government also called for a General Election but cannot name a date without 66% of Parliament’s approval, and that simply is not obtainable. Labour officials said they are willing, but that their willingness is dependent on the Government agreeing to certain stipulations, all of which are not acceptable to the government.

I conclude that the public has no appetite for another election, which—although there will be some movement—will likely result in another hung Parliament. Remain, in case we also forget, remains a problem because of the result of the original 2016 referendum was Leave.

It could be argued that Labour policy is about how to get power, not about sorting out the mess and doing what is right for the country, and Conservative policy is about securing its legacy, not about doing what is right for the country.

Three words: More business uncertainty.

Then—you cannot make this stuff up—the highest civil court in Scotland adjudged the prorogation as unlawful, with its ruling even hinting that Johnson “effectively misled the Queen in advising her to suspend Parliament,” according to the BBC.

To prorogue a government, or to form a new one, it is law that the Queen needs to give her assent.

If that is proven to be true, that would certainly be a step too far in the whole saga for nearly every Brit.

One politician on national TV said the “people” believed some judges are “not impartial,” which is a dangerous statement to make in any circumstance and one it is impossible to quantify, and thus perhaps also to deny.

Such a statement in my opinion is merely another soundbite that dumbs down the conversation and edges closer to the danger of a No Deal, and with things changing so rapidly and people understandably feeling fatigue at all of this, it all seems as though this mess will continue, even if the country does leave the EU.

There are some in the government who suggest that No Deal could still happen, as though we could leave but sit in some form of limbo. For anyone who has read Dante Alighieri knows that the first circle of Hell is not a good place to be.

That is a probability though. On 6 February, European Commission President Donald Tusk said, “I’ve been wondering what the special place in Hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it (out) safely.”

And finally, last week saw the Speaker of the House of Commons—who presides over Parliament and maintains its agenda and procedures—announce his last day in the seat will be on 31 October, the day Brexit is due to happen, while details of Operation Yellowhammer, the government document underlining probabilities resulting from No Deal, was made public following a legal challenge to have it be so.

Businesses could learn a great deal about what their preparation should be for No Deal.

All the fears, or at least concerns, are therein contained.

Email Terence Baker at or find him on Twitter.

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