How long an extension to Article 50 does the UK need?

sonja-langford-357-unsplashDespite last-minute additions, Theresa May’s Brexit deal has again been heavily defeated in the Commons. Hence, MPs will need to consider an extension of Article 50. Meg Russell and Alan Renwick argue that for any practical purposes – including renegotiating a deal, or holding a referendum or citizens’ assembly to break the Brexit impasse – the extension previously proposed by the Prime Minister is too short. MPs may now want to press a longer extension on the government.

This week is crunch Brexit decision time for parliament. With the official exit day of 29 March just over a fortnight away, the Prime Minister has been defeated for the second time on her deal, despite some last-minute concessions. She has previously promised MPs further votes on two things: the immediate prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit, or requesting an extension to the Article 50 period. Following tonight’s defeat, MPs will be asked tomorrow whether they wish to exit without a deal on 29 March. If that is defeated, as looks very likely, they will be asked on Thursday whether the Prime Minister should return to Brussels requesting a delay to exit day. Such a decision is at the discretion of the EU27, who must unanimously agree.

The Prime Minister originally proposed that if the Commons supported extending Article 50 she would ask for a ‘short, limited extension’, which should go ‘not beyond the end of June’. But while this might buy the UK time, and avoid the immediate risk of a ‘no deal’ exit, would it really be adequate to resolve the situation? When MPs face this question, there are many reasons to believe that they should demand a longer extension, given how little could be achieved within three months.

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A second Brexit referendum: Democracy as discovery

john-cameron-1302147-unsplash.jpgIn this last post in a series of 4 for the Political Quarterly, Albert Weale explores how the result of a second referendum would be considered. Now that the options are clearly on the table for the electorate, a confirmatory vote would make sense for this “once in a generation” choice.

I began this series of blogs by noting the fogginess of the UK’s constitutional position in relation to the Brexit referendum. In formal terms the vote was advisory, since there was no concrete legislative proposal for voters to choose, by contrast say to the 2011 referendum on the Alternative Vote legislation. Yet, virtually all MPs acted on the assumption that the EU referendum was mandatory.

Even after the Miller judgement, ensuring that the government could not trigger Article 50 without parliamentary approval, many MPs and government ministers continued to debate the issue as though, once the electorate had voted, parliament had been given its marching orders. Yet, since no parliament can bind its successors, the fog has not lifted. We are now in a position in which, although no decision was taken to determine the precise constitutional status of the referendum, people insist that it would be contrary to democratic values to hold a second referendum.

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A second Brexit referendum: The generation game

social brexit websiteIn this third post in a series of 4 for the Political Quarterly, Albert Weale explores if it is right to say that the referendum was a “once in a generation” vote. For him, a second referendum would be similar to a “two-round” scrutiny now that a concrete leave option is on the table.  
The 2016 Brexit referendum, we were often told during the campaign, was a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity for the British people to decide on future membership of the EU.
Of course the phrase ‘once in a generation’ has no clear meaning in general and certainly it has no clear political meaning. Yet, it makes sense. It suggests that a decision made at the referendum should not be quickly or easily reversible. This was a ‘big’ decision, the effects of which we would live with for some time, for better or for worse. What could possibly justify that claim and what might it imply about the democratic justification of holding a second referendum?In an earlier blog I suggested that the idea of popular sovereignty made no sense. The people cannot lay down the rules by which they are given the final say in a political decision.

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Doris, cleaner to the chattering classes, and the transition period

doris - transition period

Doris cleaner to the chattering classes

A new UCL European Institute series of cartoons by Ros Asquith featuring Doris, a cleaning lady that witnesses the divides of a society shaken by Brexit. This series will be composed of a monthly cartoon shedding light on a particular issue around the British society and Brexit from July 2018 till the departure of the UK from the EU in March 2019.

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A second Brexit referendum: The myth of popular sovereignty

Boatleave - 10In this second post in a series of 4 for the Political Quarterly, Albert Weale explores what it could possibly mean to say that the people are sovereign. As the sovereignty of the people can never exceed that given to them by the constitution and Parliament cannot bind its successors, he invites us to consider Brexit as a changing process rather than a one-off binding event. 
Brexit is an issue that combines the need for urgent practical decision making with profound questions about the value and meaning of democracy. In my previous blog I discussed how far it would be an affront to democratic values to hold a second referendum, given the need to respect legitimate democratic procedures. I suggested that procedural fairness required a clear procedure, and the well-known flexibility of the UK constitution did not give the required clarity in the first referendum. In this blog I consider whether a second referendum would be wrong because it would violate the sovereignty of the people.
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