BREXIT UPDATE 26: Brussels, Brexit and the Black Hole: Guest Post by Deborah Maccoby

April 12, 2019

In News

BREXIT UPDATE 26:  Brussels, Brexit and the Black Hole

“It feels like looking at the gates of hell, the end of space and time”: these words were spoken at a press conference in Brussels yesterday (April 10) – in reference not to Brexit but to the first-ever photograph of a Black Hole, 50 million light years away.[1]  But the strong resemblance between the  subjects of two press conferences on the same day, in the same city –  the Black Hole in the early afternoon, Brexit very late at night – was clear to all.  A Black Hole is an excellent metaphor for Brexit — or maybe Brexit is an excellent metaphor for whatever goes on inside a Black Hole.  As the BBC analyst Laura Kuenssberg tweeted: “Not lost on politicos in Brussels and at home the black hole is being revealed across town from where EU leaders are opening discussions about delaying Brexit”.[2]  Replies to her tweet included: “As you approach the event horizon of a black hole time stretches out towards infinity.  Yup.  Sounds like Brexit to me” and “One is an all-consuming entity that defies scientific understanding and warps reality, stretching everything into an infinite singularity that nothing can ever escape; the other is a black hole”.

The issue at the European Council’s emergency summit yesterday night was time:  all the EU leaders were agreed that an extension would be given; the question was how long.  The majority were in favour of a year’s “flextension” – a flexible extension that could end at any point if a deal were to be agreed.  But the decision had to be agreed by all 27 EU member states; and the French President, Emmanuel  Macron, is said to have held out strongly for a short extension.  Macron is said to regard Brexit as a populist revolution which he links with the French populist revolt conducted by the gilet jaunes;   he does not want Brexit to contaminate the EU for too long.  [3]

So in the end a compromise was reached; the offer to the UK was an extension for six months, the deadline being – very appropriately, in view of the weird and daemonic nature of Brexit — on October 31, Halloween.  At the press conference in the witching time of night, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, indicated that this extension could be in its turn extended if necessary, thus confirming the tweeted comment cited above: “As you approach the event horizon of a black hole time stretches out toward infinity”.  So Halloween, even though six months away, could end up as another cliff-edge date that the Maybot could use in order to try to force her deal through Parliament.

In her statement today to the House of Commons, the Maybot, however, made it clear that her intention is, despite the extension, to make May 22 her new cliff-edge date.  She is determined to avoid UK participation in the European Parliament elections, which begin on May 23.  The UK is at present making preparations for the European elections, but the Maybot’s intention is to cancel them on May 22 after her deal, when put to Parliament for the fourth time, has been passed.  Her plan for achieving this solution is the same as the one she described in her statements before the Emergency Summit and evidently put to the EU leaders:   to continue with her talks with the Labour Party in order to agree a consensus on the way forward that can become incorporated into the Political Declaration (which, unlike the Withdrawal Agreement, which the EU refuses to reopen, can be changed) and agreed with the EU, thus enabling Labour to vote for the deal.  If the government’s talks with Labour break down, the two parties will agree on a series of options that will be voted on by MPs in the quest to find one that commands majority support; this will again be incorporated into the Political Declaration and agreed with the EU before the deal is voted on for a fourth time before May 22.

After the Maybot’s brief statement, Jeremy Corbyn spoke.  He pointed out that the government’s fundamental error had been not to reach out sooner to the Labour Party to reach a consensus that could prove acceptable to Parliament.  As a result, the UK was now facing participation in the European Parliament elections.  But he then moved to a more optimistic note by describing the current talks between Labour and Conservative leaders as “serious, detailed and ongoing”, adding that there are “indications that the government may be willing to move on key areas”.  However, he went on to express his disappointment that the Secretary of State for International Trade had recently made a statement ruling out a customs union.  Despite this, he asserted, Labour would continue to engage in the talks.

At question time, MPs seemed to be polarised between Remainers, mostly from “centrist” Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and TIG, who want to use the six months for a confirmatory vote/second referendum (though there are questions about whether six months would be long enough for this) and Tory Brexiteers who wanted to leave tomorrow (Friday) without a deal.  The right-wing Tory Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash talked about the Maybot’s “abject surrender” to the EU, asking “Will she resign?”[4]

In a very interesting post, however, the pro-Corbyn Skwawkbox blog argues that the anger of the Tory Brexiteers is more for show than for real.  Skwawkbox claims to have heard from parliamentary sources that these Brexiteers actually want the Maybot to stay as PM till December (so would be unlikely to topple her even if the UK faces the EU elections in May).  December is the earliest that they can stage another Conservative No Confidence vote against her (after she survived the last one in December 2018, she could not, according to Conservative Party rules, be challenged by another  one for a year); they will then have built up enough support to topple her.  Skwawkbox writes:

“If they succeed, the intention is to install Boris Johnson and leave the EU with a Canada-style ‘venture-capitalist-friendly’ deal…the dangers of a hard Brexit are greater than ever – Johnson would probably opt for a ‘crash-out’ no-deal exit followed by a quickly negotiated Canada-style trade deal.” [5]

Skwawkbox therefore argues that the left should hope that the Labour/Conservative talks result in a compromise by the Maybot, such that the deal can finally be passed by Parliament, at the fourth time of asking, by May 22.  He points out in a later post that the European Parliament elections are likely to benefit the far right.  Paradoxically, right-wing Brexiteers have always performed very well in the European Parliament elections, even though – or perhaps because – the Brexiteers’ aim has always been to take the UK out of the EU.  As was mentioned in Brexit Update 25, some Tory Brexiteer MPs have been threatening to disrupt the European Parliament; thus, in a recent speech at a meeting of the anti-European Bruges Group, the hard-line Brexiteer Tory MP Mark Francois warned that, if the UK is held in the EU “against the democratically expressed will of the British people” then British MEPs will become a “Trojan horse” within it: “you will be facing Perfidious Albion on speed….let my people go”.[6]  Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), has now formed a new party called the Brexit Party, which is predicted to perform very well in the European elections if the UK does take part in them.[7]  UKIP, which has moved towards the extreme, fascist right, could also win some seats in the European Parliament (though predicted to lose massively to the new Brexit Party).[8]  As Sqwawkbox puts it, the European Parliament elections “would strengthen an extreme right expecting to perform well on the back of a frustrated Brexiteer protest vote”.[9]

For those wanting a General Election that could result in a Corbyn-led government, the quickest way to do this would, paradoxically, be to ensure that the Maybot’s deal passes.  Not only is the Maybot likely to keep her promise to resign if the deal passes (this would probably be the only scenario in which she would resign, as she would then have achieved her programmed mission);   the backstop is in the Withdrawal Agreement, which cannot be changed; so if the deal passes the DUP would probably end its “confidence and supply” arrangement with the government, thus bringing down the government and triggering a General Election. Of course, Corbyn could not order Labour MPs to vote for the deal while he regards it as representing a “hard Tory Brexit”, but if the Maybot finally does  go against her own robotic nature and move to make real compromises (which in fact is her only hope of seeing the deal passed; and Corbyn’s comments today in the House of  Commons do hold out some hope on this), then the passing by the House of Commons  of the deal with the aid of Labour votes might be the best way to resolve the current chaos within the Black Hole of Brexit.









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[4] To watch the debate:

The Maybot’s statement starts at about 1’30”.  She begins by referring to the arrest of Julian Assange. The Shadow Home Secretary, Diana Abbott, later  (after the debate on the Maybot’s statement) defended Assange in the House of Commons; and Corbyn has called for the UK government to block Assange’s extradition to the US: see