It wasn't supposed to be like this. We were told that Brexit negotiations would be easy. We were told that it'd all be wrapped up by the Spring. We were told that nothing would happen until August was over. Personally, I had plans for this week. I was going to do some nice, calm preparation for Parliament's return on Tuesday. Oh, how ready I was going to be. A level of competence and efficiency rarely seen at my end of SP HQ. Apparently, though Mr Johnson has other plans, though.
Here we are then, the first email in what's going to be a pretty busy couple of months, all the way to October 31st. Oh, and then probably an election in November or the Spring. At some point in, I don't know, maybe 2021 we'll have a stable government getting on with business as usual, I'm sure.
For now, though, it's all about Brexit. In a minute, I'll take you through everything in a way that hopefully makes it easier to understand. Easier to follow as events unfurl. Easier to think thigns through calmly.
Before I do, though, can I make a requst? Can I please ask you to remember that other people's opinions on Brexit are also valid. Even if they think we should completely ignore the referendum and cancel Brexit. Even if they think that we should just get the heck out of the EU right now on no deal. Even if they think MPs should just have got on with it and voted for Theresa May's deal. We may disagree, but we should never give up on proper, human communication. Listening, asking questions, discussing, agreeing to disagree if necessary.
In short: be excellent to one another. It's better that way.
ps - I've now finished this email and it's way, way longer than I had thought it would be. I think it's worth going back, though, to look forward and understand how we got there. If you've just signed up to the list, though, first of all, welcome, and secondly, it's not always like this. Promise!
The big Brexit rundown
23rd June 2016
OK, I'm sorry for going quite as far back as this, but I think it's worth doing. We had a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU. This was promised by David Cameron in the 2015 General Election. It's sometimes suggested that he didn't expect to win an overall majority, and was going to remove the referendum in any coalition talks. He won. The referendum was on.
Campaigning was pretty fierce on all sides. There were speeches and buses and posters everywhere. In my personal opinion, the Remain camp were doomed from the get go. They couldn't stand up and bang the drum and say the EU is a perfect, wonderful dreamy organisation. Because nobody believes that. Instead, their argument had to be remain and reform, that on balance it's better to stay in.
Now compare that to the Leave side. They could call foul on the whole thing. They could appeal to people who are unhappy with 'The Man' and say the EU is bossing us about. The idea of taking back control was hugely appealing. Anecdotally, I heard several people in Thanet (where I do a lot of work in schools) saying that they were voting leave because they hate it all. They weren't happy with politics in general and there is no getting away from the fact that the EU represents establishment politics.
Leave won, famously by 52% / 48%. 17.4 million against 16.1 million. With a whopping 72% turnout. This issue mattered to people.
24th June 2016
Just to be clear, I'm not going to do every day of the past three years. Just worth remembering a few things from the immediate aftermath. David Cameron resigned. Despite saying several times in the campaign that he wouldn't. He was outta here. No, he wouldn't do what man former Prime Ministers have done and stick around in the backbenches.
We also saw the leaders of Vote Leave gave a press conference. They were visibly surprised. It didn't appear they knew exactly what to do next. Nigel Farage called it Independence Day.
Brexit means Brexit
Jumping on a bit we had a new Prime Minister. Theresa May was installed with no contest after Andrea Leadsom pulled out. In her first speech as PM, she told us that Brexit means Brexit. There was much laughter at the time.
It soon became clear as to what Brexit means Brexit was about. It meant that we couldn't stay in the EU's groups. We can't be in the Customs Union or the Single Market, nor could we be under the jurisdiction of the EU courts. Apart from that, she would get the best possible deal for the UK. LInes had been drawn.
On 29th March 2017, Theresa May triggered Article 50, giving the UK two years to negotiate terms of leaving, which would absolutely, definitely, 100% happen on 29th March 2019. Isn't it odd looking back on this stuff now? For those not paying attention at the back, we didn't leave on 29th March 2019.
8th June 2017
Having triggered Article 50, the PM began to look at the maths in Parliament. Corbyn was making it clear that he wanted a 'jobs first' Brexit that kept us in the Customs Union at least. The LIb Dems, SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru were discussing a second referendum. There were people in her own party that might not vote for her deal, whatever it was.
What May needed was more MPs on her side. The solution? It's obvious. Call a General Election, defeat the struggling Opposition and come back with a huuuugggeee majority in the Commons. Imagine what an easy path to Brexit on 29th March 2019 that would have given her.
It didn't work. Not at all. She came back with even fewer MPs than before. Mr Corbyn and his Labour friends had a great campaign, winning unwinnable seats like Kensington and Canterbury. The Conservatives came back with 13 fewer seats. Labour had 30 more than they did before. Without votes from the DUP May no longer had a majority in the House of Commons. That would turn out to be pretty tricky.
There have always been different camps around the House of Commons on Brexit, but it was after the election that it all began to solidify. There were those who wanted almost nothing to do with the EU. A deal should be minimal and not tie us to anything. Or, no deal would be acceptable. MOst of these (but not all) were from the Conservative Party and the DUP.
There were those who agreed with the PM that a good deal that keeps us out of the institutions was the sweet spot. Brexit means Brexit after all. Again, most, but not all of these were from the Conservative Party.
Then there were those who wanted to leave but stay firmly tied to the EU. This was the Labour Party's policy for a long time.
Finally, there were those who just wanted to remain. IT was generally agreed that the best route to remain was through a second referendum, as politicians cancelling the whole thing after the referendum would have sparked some serious anger from those 17.4 million that voted to leave. So it was the position of the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens and Plaid to have a 'People's Vote'.
As we've seen, there are four sides to this in the Commons. Crucially, two of them are mainly populated by Conservative MPs. Any deal would have to appeal to more than one group. Which is tricky, because the groups disagree with each other and we're living in the breakdown. Nobody listens to each other anymore. Everyone is in broadcast mode about their particular vision for Brexit.
The deal was doomed from the moment it was agreed with the EU. Let's have a quick recap of what's in it.
First of all there was the Withdrawal Agreement, that had 4 main parts:
1) All EU citizens currently in the UK and all UK citizens currently in the EU could stay there on the same terms they had now
2) We'd pay the EU around £39bn
3) We'd have a two year transition period during which very little would change
4) If at the end of the transition period there was nothing in place for the Irish border issue, we'd move into a backstop that keeps us in some kind of Customs Union until the day we can work out another way to keep the Northern Ireland border with Ireland open.
Nobody was best pleased with this deal. Ministers resigned. Even the minister who negotiated it resigned. Mr Johnson resigned. Those who wanted minimal contact were outraged by the Backstop. Those who wanted to be in the Customs Union said it threatens human rights, jobs and the economy. Those who didn't want to leave don't like it because, well, it's leaving.
That's it really. This is where we are. Entrenched positions. No ability or desire to listen to each other. Have I mentioned the breakdown yet? The next few months became an inevitable sequence of events. Of course, Meaningful Votes on the deal failed. Repeatedly. Who was going to vote for them?
MPs from across the House took it in turns to stand up and tell us exactly why they think it's a terrible deal. And then, for the next Meaningful Vote, they told us why it's still a terrible deal.
Then May was forced to ask for an extension to Article 50, because, well, because of course, she was. There was never anything the MPs would have agreed to. Then she was forced to extend again. With no hope of ever getting a Brexit deal through, Theresa May (with tears in her eyes) resigned as PM.
No deal looming
At some point in early 2019, as it became clear that no deal could make it through the Commons, MPs began to see that maybe the inevitable conclusion of this would be to leave with no deal. The hard Brexit loving ERG featuring Jacob Rees Mogg and supported by some of the big guns in the party (David Dais and Boris Johnson) were becoming increasingly influential. Of course, they would later take over not just the party, but the country as Johnson became PM.
A coalition of sorts began to emerge. It became the only thing that MPs could agree on. We don't want a no deal Brexit. OF course there was still no agreement on a plan for what they did want. Just that no deal is a terrible outcome.
Since then there have been various attempts to legally stop no deal. None have so far been 100% successful, but they have been hard to manage for a government that wants to leave no deal on the table.
Enter Prime Minister Boris Johnson
After a leadership battle that was interesting, but also a foregone conclusion, Boris Johnson is our Prime Minister. He was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign. He resigned over the PM's Brexit policy. It was clear he was all about leaving the EU on October 31st. Do or die, he said. Which must mean that he's happy to leave with no deal if that's what it comes down to.
Johnson still wants a deal, he says. He just needs the EU to remove the backstop and we can negotiate. The EU have said since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed that they won't renegotiate and that message has come very recently from top figures across Europe. There may be slight signs now hat positioning is weakening.
There is an EU Council meeting on 16th October. If some kind of deal can be hammered out between now and then, it could be signed off that day, leaving just enough time for Parliament to give it the nod and get it in place before the Haloween deadline. A deal is still possible.
And now, we've arrived at today. On one side we've got a group that could well be a majority of MPs against a no deal Brexit. On the other, we've got the Prime Minister and his government.
A couple of days ago the Opposition parties met to discuss plans to stop this from happening. They (mostly) agreed that the best course of action would be to force a law through Parliament that we would request another extension and that the PM would be forced to accept it.
The next day, yesterday, Boris Johnson countered that by proroguing (suspending) Parliament for 5 weeks. To be fair, 3 weeks of that time is Party Conference season, when Parliament doesn't sit anyway. In total, I think that about 4 days of Parliament time have gone. But. When Parliament returns there will be a Queen's speech and that's always followed by the Queen's Speech debate which lasts a few days. He's really squeezing the time available to force a new law through both Houses.
Of course, Johnson claims that's nothing to do with it. This has been the longest Parliamentary session ever and it's time to draw a line, have a Queen's speech and move on.
All of which means that the plan to force a new law through is looking very tricky. The new plan is to hold a vote of no confidence very early next week. Maybe even on the first day back - Tuesday 3rd September. If that were successful, we could have a General Election in October. The winners of that election would determine if we ask for another extension of leave with no deal.
These desperate plots to thwart the other side have been building for months and months. Years even. There is no compromise here and both sides see it as vital that they win. Both sides have used unusual constitutional tactics. They're digging deep in this battle. Sure, suspending Parliament was an absolute outrage / a very courageous step. It's a big play. The ball is in the anti no deal group's court.
What happens next is going to be fascinating and it's going to change our country for a very long time. I hope you'll stay with us at Simple Politics to guide you through it.