All to fight for on Brexit – including changing our mind

by Hugo Dixon | 09.06.2017

The grand flip-flopper has flopped. Theresa May has no mandate for a destructive Brexit – and no majority for one either.

With the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Tories have a slim majority in the House of Commons. But it is hard to see May ever getting her mojo back. There isn’t any plan to kick her out now, but her colleagues in the Conservative Party may eventually decide to put her out of her misery. They won’t, though, want another quick election. After all, the momentum is now with Jeremy Corbyn. Going back to the polls again would probably see the Labour leader entering Downing Street.

Chaotic Brexit off the table

So what does this mean for Brexit?

For a start, it means the risk of us crashing out of the EU with no deal at all – the most chaotic form of Brexit – is now pretty much off the table. May kept on saying “no deal is better than a bad deal”. But the Tories now don’t have enough MPs to force that scenario through parliament.

The DUP probably wouldn’t go for it, as a chaotic Brexit would lead to the reimposition of a hard border in Ireland. The new Scottish Tory MPs, the party’s one bit of good news from last night, may want a soft form of Brexit.

As if that’s not enough, those Conservatives who had the guts to keep fighting a destructive Brexit after the referendum – such as Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve – will be empowered. Hopefully, they will at least insist that there’s a meaningful vote in parliament on the outcome of the negotiations – something they supported in January, but May squished.

This is good news. It means the prime minister should stop threatening that we’ll throw our toys out of the cot if we don’t get what we want. It will be laughed off as a bluff.

Single market back on table?

For the same reason that chaotic Brexit is off the table, short of a series of monumental cock-ups, May’s preferred destructive Brexit is also less likely. Remember how she wants to pull us out of both the EU’s single market and its customs union. The DUP may baulk at us exiting the customs union as it is that which will lead to the reimposition of border controls.

Meanwhile, it may be possible to reopen the question of staying in the single market, which would be the least economically destructive form of Brexit. Not that such a u-turn would be easy. Staying in the single market, after all, would require us to accept free movement of people, paying into the EU’s budget and conforming to its laws – all without having a vote on what those are.

On the other hand, if we’re prepared to do all these things, wouldn’t we be better off staying in the EU, where we have lots of influence on policy? Voters might start asking “what’s the point?”

Let’s stay in EU after all

There won’t be a change in Tory leader or another election now. But things could be different next year. Even with the DUP’s support, May has such a slim majority that she may be vulnerable to unforeseen events.

A new general election would throw open the whole Brexit question. If Corbyn then emerged as prime minister with the support of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, he might agree to hold a referendum on the Brexit terms once we know them.

In such a scenario, Corbyn might ask the EU for more time as by then the two-year negotiating timetable would be ticking madly. If so, our European partners would be wise to say: “We can’t give you more time but, if you want to withdraw your Article 50 letter and notify us when you’ve got your act together, you are free to do so”. If we were to do that, all bets would be off.

There’s also another scenario that could scotch Brexit: if May comes back with a deal she can’t sell to parliament. Then, again, everything would be up in the air.

Pro-Europeans shouldn’t get their hopes too high. We’re still highly likely to quit the EU, albeit not on such chaotic terms. But yesterday was a great victory. There’s everything to play for and everything to fight for.

This article was updated shortly after publication to take account of May’s announcement after visiting the Queen.

7 Responses to “All to fight for on Brexit – including changing our mind”

  • Whilst this unquestionably opens up the possibility of a less destructive Brexit, I can well understand some, even many, in the EU just wanting, above all else, an end to the uncertainty. That outcome, would though not necessarily be in our interests. The May team’s position is that they want a Hard Brexit, and they are unlikely to change that unless they are forced to by the lack of support at Westminster. I would far rather that the EU use their influence to push the May team towards a soft Brexit , rather than just rush through any deal to beat the 2 year deadline. The risk though, is that the strategy goes wrong, we run out of time, and end up with WTO rules, where we are all losers.

  • So far and and ever since the referendum result, there has been talk of a hard Brexit or a soft or softer Brexit. I have however never seen a definition of what a soft or softer Brexit could mean whereas of course it is easier to see what no deal would mean. I believe in fact that there is only the option Brexit or no Brexit. Trade, existing regulatory rules in a multitude of areas necessarily means accepting the EU arbitration procedures involving the ECJ. What could possibly be the point of staying in the Single Market and Customs Union while having no say in the decision making processes of the EU in these areas. Would this be what is meant by a soft Brexit? In addition being outside the EU when the latter is discussing and deciding on matters relating to foreign policy, security, climate change, migration problems simply does not make sense for the UK. But this is presumably what would happen under a soft Brexit. So what are the real alternatives for the UK ? In my view Brexit or no Brexit

  • Accourding to Google death rate in the U.K is 9.4 per 100000. Population of 65 million..That would be around 1.2 million withen 2 years. This happens to be about the same as the majority for Brexit in the referendum.
    Then you have the youngsters…surley they deserve same rights as Scotish youngsters ?
    Not to forget Jeremy’s youngsters.
    Yes we want an other E.U referendum.
    People have a right to change their minds especially if they feel they’ve been mislead.
    If Brexit arguments are so solid then…surley…we would have the same results perhaps even better.

  • In truth there has to be another plebiscite or at the very least detailed Parliamentary scrutiny of any deal before it passes into an agreement.
    We were sold Brexit on the words of liars and fools. It utterly amazes me that a bombastic, bullying, boorish bullingdon boy like our current, allegedly Latin speaking, Foreign Secretary was able to con so many people; well, get away with such outright lies that is really. It amazes me even more that the fool is still there. What must our reputation overseas be like when they encounter this bumbling idiot? It is the UK version of trump; in fact, one might think trump and son of trump.
    How appalling!

  • I agree Joe, but I would suggest it was worse than just “misled” – it was a deliberate deception of the sort which is almost criminal.

  • As to the deceptions which were numerous and multifarious, these will take years to catalogue and analyse. I hope there are some PhD students on this, somwhere. In the mean time Prof. Michael Dougan provides some very good insight and expert opinion. (I been awaiting a new video from him eagerly each time the Brexit omnishambles takes a new turn.)

    You can find links to many of his videos here: