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Predicting Brexit – a foolhardy task

Mar 29, 2019
The politics of Brexit did not come to a halt on 29 March, and it's unlikely to see an end or get clarity any time soon. Mark Kennedy drives home the fact that we just can't predict what the future brings for Brexit.

The politics of Brexit seems to be an inexhaustible source of suspense, change and, of late, what might almost be seen as incoherence. As I write (29 March 2019), we should be waking to post-Brexit Britain and Europe. Instead, we are facing another day of political wrangle, sound-bites and yet another rejected proposal from Prime Minister May.

So what can we see at this point? The British political establishment cannot seem to align itself to a single Brexit proposal. Ms May is about to call a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement again, and the view from the UK is she will not succeed for a third time unless the DUP do an about-face, which does not seem very likely. The indicative votes tell us that the most popular – albeit not passed – motions were to move towards a form of a customs union and the idea of a second people’s vote.

The other possibility that cannot be excluded at this point is that a general election will be called, precipitated by PM May resigning. I do not think she will go yet, but the pressure mounts with each passing day.

Nonetheless, by splitting the votes on Agreement from the political declaration, PM May has perhaps left the door open for a third so-called 'meaningful vote' and little room for another attempt to change minds. Whether or not this is a possibility at all will probably be evident in the margin of defeat this afternoon. The political steps to any of these outcomes remain obscure, and so, we should reasonably expect that going forward, we will witness as many twists and turns as we have had in the past weeks.

All of this attempted analysis, of course, is coloured by our proximity to London. If one stands back, however, the view pulls features the other actor in the drama: Europe. The European side has been clear, consistent and unflappable throughout the negotiations, and has offered the possibility of an extension – both in the short and the longer term – although wrapped in terms suggesting that it is a last resort. If one looks at the options I have described – election, second referendum and a renegotiated position to encompass a form of customs union – they will happen without an extension. However, despite the caution of European leaders, the EU has made an art of finding a political compromise, and I think an extension will be allowed, as it is the least bad option facing all sides.

Any attempt at my forecasting in this environment is foolhardy, but if put to it, I would bet that either Mrs May will succeed in getting the Withdrawal Agreement by 12 April, or we are looking at a lengthy extension, however politically achieved. For business, of course, this is the worst of all worlds – in limbo for another period. On a more positive note, it is an opportunity to better prepare for the ultimate UK departure from the EU, whenever they get around to making that to happen.

Mark Kennedy is the Managing Partner at Mazars Ireland.