Brexit : When your ex still sleeps on your sofa 4 months later

Amidst all the hubris of the US presidential race, the issues around Brexit rumble on and the acrimony builds. The decision to split from the European Union, taken four months ago has still not been formalised. No plans have been drawn up in Europe, nor in London and things are beginning to turn sour.

Europe still sees a departing Britain sleeping on its sofa every night, making itself unwelcome at european summits where it is no longer welcome – or not showing up at all – despite still paying £13 billion in alimony every year.

Not all of this is Britain’s fault of course. Article 50 – the method of filing for a divorce from Europe – is one of the most machievillian devices known to man. Imagine a real divorce where if you don’t reach an agreement with your ex in time, you find yourself thrown out without a dime!

This is how Lord Kerr, who actually penned Article 50 described it

I thought the circumstances in which it would be used, if ever, would be when there was a coup in a member state and the EU suspended that country’s membership.

Lord Kerr, author of Article 50 text

Yet that is essentially the way Article 50 was constructed. It’s been compared to handing in your notice with your landlord and then sitting down trying to renegotiate your rent up until the day of departure. Everyday that passes will make the terms a little tighter, the price a little higher.

She got the lawyers in

Even the lawyers have been dabbling in the divorce. The High Court judgement of 4th November, means that the Prime Minister will be breaking the law if she attempts to invoke Article 50 without parliamentary approval.

There have been a fair few comments expressed in the media, particularly social media, that the leaflet that David Cameron’s government printed and distributed to households was unequivocal :

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What Parliament actually voted on was  a Bill to permit the Referendum – specifically in the briefing paper for the European Union Referendum Bill 2015-2016. In Section 5 “Types of Referendum” it said

It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented.

European Union Referendum Bill 2015-2016 (briefing paper)

So MPs voted on a non-binding advisory referendum and the casino-politician formerly known as the UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron sold it to the public as a binding one. Nice one, Dave.

Carry On, Prime Minister

Despite the High Court ruling, Mrs May was quick, as we have reported, to announce that Brexit would not be delayed by such minor inconveniences as a High Court ruling.

The focus of the government is on the Supreme Court case, winning that case and proceeding with Article 50

Clearly we are disappointed by yesterday’s decision. We’d rather not be in this position but we are, so … the key is our commitment to triggering Article 50 no later. The end of March remains the target for the government.

Theresa May

The government is appealing the ruling in the Supreme Court. As we reported last Friday, it is reportedly considering claiming that Article 50 can be revoked, on the basis that the treaty itself is also badly worded. The governments case may be that since Article 50 doesn’t specifically state that the departing divorcee can’t revoke their intention to leave, revoke they may.


The government’s case in the Supreme Court may be solved by this clever strategy but it raises the spectre of a never-ending referendum. Imagine the scenario : a week before the two-year negotiation ends, the UK revokes it’s Article 50 notification, only to invoke it again.

This “neverendum” would make the job of EU negotiators practically impossible and of course, if the government fails to persuade Europe to accept its revocation note, things could get very nasty indeed.

Timing is everything

The Prime Minister will be acutely aware that the Supreme Court review will start on December 4th and is highly unlikely, given the magnitude of the case, to reach a verdict before the end of January 2017 – just eight weeks before the date Mrs May has set herself to get the divorce papers filed.

See you in Court

If the government destroys the High Court judgement on the basis that Article 50 is revocable, The People’s Challenge would quite rightly want proof that Article 50 was revocable. Almost inevitably, the claimants (The Peoples Challenge, Gina Miller, Mr Dos Santos & others) would be forced to take their claim to the European Court of Human Rights, to force Europe to accept (or disprove) the finality of Article 50.

So how do you get your ‘Ex’ off the sofa?

The government could simply accept the current High Court judgement and go to Parliament to get approval to invoke Article 50. That would expose to scrutiny (which it doesn’t want) and it means that Parliament (both the House of Commons and the House of Lords) would be required to debate the bill.

The Commons

The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of David Cameron’s referendum. The majority of MPs (65%) campaigned for and voted for Remain – including the Prime Minister!

Since the Brexit referendum, a number of politicians have scrambled to be on the new winning side for the purposes of political expedience and survival. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary said

I was a remainer, now I am a democrat

Jeremy Hunt

Put a bill before Parliament and a great number of MPs will find themselves in serious doubt about how to vote. Scotland’s First Minister has already said that her 56 Westminster MPs will do nothing that puts Scotland’s interests in jeopardy.


If you can’t or won’t allow us to protect our interests within the UK, then Scotland will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path

Nicola Sturgeon
Since Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain, that is already a substantial rump of votes that could derail the Brexit train. Add to this the Liberal Democrats (a party that now fits entirely into two London taxis) and perhaps one third of the Labour Party and you don’t have vote big enough to stop the Prime Minister.

So it seems scrutiny, rather than fear of losing the vote is what Theresa May is keen to avoid.

A thin red line between leave and hate

Of course, MPs could also not regard the invoking of Article 50 as Brexit. They could simply ask for more detail, to know what is and what is not a red line for the Prime Minister. The most crucial of these are free movement and passporting rights for the UK financial services sector & car manufacturing.

The Prime Minister has already said she doesn’t want to disclose her negotiating position. But she may have to come clean on these core issues or face the House of Commons refusing to invoke Article 50 without more information.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords, the revisionary chamber of Parliament is firmly pro-Remain. Though some of their lordships will perhaps feel obliged to reflect the wishes of the people, a great many will see their role as that of saving the United Kingdom from jumping off a cliff.

We have already seen veiled threats in the media (the Daily Mail of course) about House of Lords reform or “stuffing” with 1,000 new Lords to change the balance of the place.

If the House of Lords brings down Brexit, the country may never forgive it, but there is a feeling afoot that even the destruction of the institution itself would be worth it, to prevent the catastrophe that an ill-planned Brexit may represent for the country.

The Prime Minister may come to regret the simplicity of “Brexit means Brexit”.

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    Written on June 10, 2017

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