Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brexit : Parliamentary Arithmetic and Constitutional Conundrums

 This first item was updated at 11.30 am on 8th September 2019 and again corrected at 2.40 pm. Then adjusted following the move by Sam Cyimah to the Lib Dems on 14 September.
 EU Countries Map
Hat tip for map. See here.  
                          We Now Have A Clear UK Minority Government

The party status of no less than 46 MPs has altered since they were first elected – 31 are former Conservatives. 15 former Labour. This is a post-war record for such changes.
                                    2017 General Election         Currently
                                       % Votes     Seats                      Seats
Conservatives           42.4        317                        286  One Deputy Speaker
Labour                      40.0        262                        247   2 Deputy Speakers
SNP                            3.0          35                          35
Lib Dems                   7.4          12                          19
DUP                           0.9          10                          10
Sinn Fein                    0.7          (7)                         (7)   Refuse to attend
Plaid Cymru               0.5           4                            4
Green Party                1.6           1                            1
Independents                              1 (Hermon)          34 +Defected/Removed
Change UK                                                              5   Defections
Speaker                                      1                            1   Only casting votes
Resigning                                                               (1)  PM's brother
(Source of percentages -

Initially Conservatives with the support of the DUP (and less their Deputy Speaker) enjoyed 326 potential votes to the oppositions 313. However the DUP's support on Brexit issues could not be guaranteed over the backstop issue.

Currently with the Conservatives taking the whip away from 21 MPs and with two resignation, then even with potential support from the DUP on most issues the Government are technically in a minority position of 343 to 295 over a hard Brexit. But even on other matters where those Conservatives who have lost or resigned the whip could still go into the lobby with them, they still (even with DUP support) only have a maximum of 316 votes with a possible 322 against them.

Luciana Berger and Angela Smith have moved their party attachments no less than four times each in the current parliament. Each from Labour to Change UK to Independents and now to the Liberal Democrats. 

                           Parliamentary Arithmetic on Brexit
When it comes to having any future votes in the Commons on how to leave the European Union, it is difficult to see how a majority vote can be carried. Other than a possible vote of no-confidence in the Government. For there are blocks of MPs in at least four different camps, which make it almost impossible to cobble together a simple majority on any position.
    1. There are those who wish to leave the European Union without any agreement. Their main numbers are within the Conservative Party as expressed via the European Research Group which at one time was discovered to have at least 55 members. But there are many others who also adopt its approach, at least as a fall-back. Boris Johnson's current tactics aid their stance.
    2. The SNP, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Green MP, Change UK, Independents and sections of the Labour Party generally favour a fresh referendum. Most hoping that it will then determine that we will remain in the EU. Others claiming that any plan to leave the EU should require endorsement or rejection via a Referendum.
    3. Then there are those who still look for a departure deal with the EU , even if time for this is running out - unless we can again get them to further postpone the date for our departure. Yet even here the hoped for options differ. There is still the existing EU deal with Theresa May, especially if progress could be made to overcome its problems concerning the Northern Ireland backstop.
    4. Then there is even the claim that a fresh deal could be pursued on say our operating a Customs Union with the EU.
But there is no conceivable majority in parliament for any of these or any related options. Unless, perhaps, a procedure was adopted to engage in an exhaustive ballot to decide which road to pursue. But to give parliament time, that would still require Boris Johnson to get the EU to seek to get an extension for our proposed date of departure. This is now most unlikely.

                                         Constitutional Conundrums

With Boris now arranging to end the parliamentary session and have a fresh Queen's Speech just a few weeks before we are due to embark on the process of leaving the EU, we are driven back to the significance of the very decision which initially set this ball rolling.
After the result of the referendum on 23 June 2016 the Commons first voted on 1st February 2017 to implement the UK's use of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in order to start the procedure for us leaving the EU. With Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and with his support, the initial vote on this proposal was carried by 498 to 114. There were 47 Labour MPs who rebelled on the issue. The only Tory rebel (plus five who abstained) being Ken Clarke. The date for our departure from the EU was then invoked by Theresa May on 29 March 2017 in order it provided for our leaving by 12 April 2019. When her proposals for that departure failed to get parliamentary approval, she made arrangements  with the EU to put the final date for our departure back to 31st October, which is just three parliamentary weeks after the coming Queen's Speech. Then in the limited time available parliament has now decided to try to get the EU again to push back the final date for our departure.
Time is running out fast for options other than leaving without a deal. Then will a fresh general election emerge to lead on to any later change of direction? Or would it just produce a new parliament which merely repeated the current divisions on the issue ? Then what if Boris wins the election comfortably? The latest YouGov Poll with its field work done over the last two days gives Conservatives 34%, Labour 22%, Lib Dem 17%, Brexit Party 13%, Greens 8%.

Click here for a parliamentary link which covers the constitutional complexities. 

Major Treaties and Agreements.

1952 to 2002. European Coal and Steel Community.
1952  Court of Justice (which moves to the Common Market and then the EU).
(1953 European Court of Human Rights via the Council of Europe, which also covers EU nations but goes beyond covering some 47 nations).
1958 Treaty of Rome – EEC and EURATOM (i.e Common Market and Customs Union).
From 1967 to 1999 Merger Treaty (a collective defence alliance).
1987 Single European Act (towards a single market).
1993 Treaty of Union – the Maastrict Treaty (goes beyond economic matters to security and justice, with some joining its Euro).
1999 Treaty of Amsterdam.
2003 Treaty of Nice.
2009 Treaty of Lisbon – a clause which the UK is currently acting upon to depart the EU by the end of October. 

EU Members from their years of access.
1958 (6) Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands.
1973 (3) Denmark, Ireland, UK.
1981 (1) Greece.
1986 (2) Portugal and Spain.
1995 (3) Austria, Finland and Sweden.
2004 (10) Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia.
2007 (2) Bulgaria, Romania.
2008 (1) Croatia.

The significance of the UK leaving the EU is seen from the fact that we are its third largest nation in terms of population, out of its 28 member states. Our population being larger than 15 of its member states added together. The current EU's total population is only exceeded by those of China and India, being more than that of the USA. We are 13% of its population. 

Added 12 September : see this link for the relevant Yellowhammer information which the Government have recently been pushed into publishing, although it has a redacted section which is said to read “15. Facing EU tariffs makes petrol exports to the EU uncompetitive. "Industry had plans to mitigate the impact on refinery margins and profitability but UK Government policy to set petrol import tariffs at 0% inadvertently undermines these plans. This leads to significant financial losses and announcement of two refinery closures (and transition to import terminals) and direct job losses (about 2,000).”

Added 15 September ; the Liberal Party Conference has now voted in opposition to our using Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty under which the UK can make arrangements to withdraw from the EU.  Yet back on the 1st February 2017 Liberal MPs (less three abstentions) voted in the Commons in favour of our Government making use of Article 50.  So we now seem to have many MPs who have flip flopped and many others who have been consistently incorrect. But will a general election resolve matters ?