Wasting Time? How the Article 50 extension has been used

Wasting Time? How the Article 50 extension has been used

As we await the Supreme Court decision reflections on what’s happened since it was agreed in early April

When the last Article 50 extension was obtained on 10 April, Donald Tusk said“Please do not waste this time.”  

So how has Britain used the 167 days since then?

Well, it has certainly been busy. There has been no shortage of activity to keep even the most jaded of political journalists interested:-

  • The then Prime Minister entered into discussions with the opposition to get agreement on a deal. These talks, predictably enough, went nowhere.
  • She tried to get another vote on her deal but withdrew in the face of pretty fierce opposition from her own MPs and Cabinet.
  • She then announced her resignation, sobbed a bit but managed to stay on just long enough to endure the Purgatory of another EU meeting at which she was looked on pityingly by her fellow leaders and a state visit by President Trump, notable only for the fact that the President could not find a tailor able to make him a white tie suit that fitted. He looked like a fat waiter meeting the Queen. She’s probably met worse.
  • As Mrs May left she made a speech about her legacy which no-one remembers, probably because there isn’t one, at least not one anyone wants to revisit.
  • Farage’s new party won the Euro elections and has since distinguished itself in the new Parliament by its boorishness: turning its back on a youth choir singing “Ode to Joy“, comparing Britain in the EU to slaves yearning to be free and refusing to vote in favour of the release of Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe. It has displayed all the charm of English football fans visiting Europe in the mid-1980’s.
  • The Tory party embarked on a lengthy leadership campaign designed to finish only just before Parliament rose for the summer break. A number of well-known and unknown-even-in-their-own-homes wannabes vied for the leadership to no avail, only one – Rory Stewart – making any sort of impact with his eccentric attempt to win Tory MP votes by speaking to – and taking selfies with – random strangers round the country. All the public learnt was that most of the applicants had taken drugs and were obsessed with leaving on 31 October, to the exclusion of all else.
  • The British Ambassador to the US was forced from his post after some emails saying that Trump was a bit of a moronic loose cannon unfit for office, a view shared by, well, pretty much everyone with eyes to see and a brain to think with, were leaked. An inquiry was started involving the police. Nothing has been heard since. Nor will it. No replacement has yet been appointed. Who cares. Diplomacy by Tweet is now where it’s at.
  • Some sort of Parliamentary motion was passed requiring it to discuss Northern Ireland, in an attempt to stop a No Deal Brexit. Just as well someone wants to talk about Northern Ireland because no-one else does, despite its border being the single most important thing stopping a Withdrawal Agreement happening.
  • Boris won the election, sacked everyone he could other than those who had resigned first, appointed a lot of Brexit-supporting nonentities to his Cabinet, appeared once in Parliament and then settled down to the important business of making up with his girlfriend and getting a dog. Priorities are so important after all. He appointed Dominic Cummings to do his thinking for him and continue with the general humiliation of anyone displaying any independence of mind.
  • The government’s Brexit policy turned into a “Do or die” Brexit by 31 October. Depending on how trusting you want to be, you can also believe that the government is trying to negotiate another deal, finding an answer to the Irish question, preparing for departure without a deal and negotiating a British-US FTA the minute Britain leaves.
  • A party created to change British politics changed so much that it appears to have vanished without trace. It may now have 3 MPs. No-one cares.
  • Other MPs have left their parties: some for independence (Field, Boles), some for the Lib Dems (Lee, Wollaston, Ummuna, Berger). Some have been kicked out of theirs for voting in favour of not having a No Deal exit: 21 of them, all Tories, including Ken Clarke, the Father of the House, who simply could not care less and might, if some reports are believed, either lead a GoNU or vote Lib Dem or support Corbyn as a temporary PM.
  • The Tories lost their majority.  The Opposition declined to call a Vote of No Confidence, their leader preferring to speak to some people campaigning against the Tories outside Parliament about the wickedness of the government he declined to try and bring down.
  • The Lib Dems changed their leader.  The Scottish Tories lost theirs.  Labour kept their useless one in place.
  • After the summer various opposition MPs bestirred themselves enough to pass a law requiring the PM to ask the EU for an extension if by 19 October he has not got a deal with the EU so that a No Deal exit could be avoided.  The PM discovered his inner Marxist, indicating that the end (Brexit) justifies any means (not complying with the law). This may be bluff, frustration or mis-speaking. Or maybe a new sort of political gender fluidity. Constitutional lawyers cannot believe their luck.
  • The Tories lost every single vote in Parliament. They could not even get opposition MPs to agree to a General Election. A Cabinet Minister resigned.
  • A policewoman fainted during a speech by Boris.  She expressed what many feel when he opens his mouth.
  • Boris did the usual round of European capitals, being politely patronised in France and Germany, lectured in Ireland and snubbed/humiliated/insulted in Luxembourg.  For a brief while, journalists learnt how to spell “Xavier“.
  • The Lib Dems have agreed on a policy to revoke Article 50 the minute they win a General Election.  A 113-year extension of Article 50 may therefore be necessary.  What their policy will be if this is not granted and Britain leaves no-one knows.  It is much more exciting to change policies every few weeks.
  • Labour has decided that it will decide on whether to be for Remain or Leave mañana, after a General Election and a new deal and maybe a referendum.  Anyway, not now.  And possibly not ever.
  • Labour’s conference has turned into a paean of nostalgia for the policies of the 1970’s. Perhaps we will get an updated version of “Anarchy in the UK” for our times. The music – not the politics – was the best bit of the 1970’s after all. So typical of Labour to miss the point.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg started a meme by draping himself over House of Commons seats like an expiring virgin in a pre-Raphaelite painting.
  • Boris prorogued Parliament for 5 weeks despite promising he wouldn’t.  There was uproar by MPs.  Not to be outdone, Bercow announced his resignation on the day of prorogation, to take effect on the day Britain does or does not leave the EU.
  • The lawyers got involved – inevitably.  The Scottish Court ruled against the government.  The English High Court didn’t.  The Supreme Court heard the arguments last week and lots of people became instant Twitter “experts” on justiciability.  11 out of the 18 barristers appearing before the Supreme Court came from one set of chambers.  Their clerks will be deliriously happy at all the fees being paid.
  • We could find our constitutional norms upended – or perhaps not.  One side will certainly be furious. The number of opinions expressed on the judges’ decision will be in inverse proportion to the number of people actually reading the damn thing. A word of caution for those expecting fireworks: remember the Hutton Inquiry.
  • No-one has the first idea whether a deal will be reached, whether if reached it will be passed and if not reached whether Boris will resign, get someone else to ask for an extension or simply refuse to comply with the law. Given everything else going on, it is far too exhausting to worry about such things.

And as we wait for the Supreme Court’s decision – to be announced at 10:30 am – perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we have used this time wisely or, as poor gentle Mr Tusk feared, wasted it. Still, not long to wait now.


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