The Only Brexit Update You Need

How's that backstop getting on? How dead is Theresa May this week? Read our Brexit column for answers to all the questions you were too confused to even ask.
November 22, 2018, 9:00am
(Nick Maslen / Alamy Stock Photo)

Despite sucking all the oxygen out of Britain’s politics for the last two and the next five years, Brexit is fundamentally boring. In recent months, the wonk classes have taken the ball and run so far off ahead of the public with their EFTAs and Backstops and ECJs that they’ve stopped explaining anything.

Worse – Brexit itself is no longer just one story. It’s about six, all happening simultaneously, but in very different locations, with very different characters. Northern Ireland. Trade. The Tory Civil War. The Ultra-Remainers. The Labour Party. And whatever celebrity numb-nuts has piped up this week. It’s like solving a jigsaw that’s on fire over the phone.

This column is designed to be the antidote to that. The same questions. The big ones. Every other week. Until we either figure it out or Britain falls into the sea. Short and dumb. The Arlene Foster of words.


Is May More Toast Than She Was Last Week?

Not this week. I feel like I'm going to be typing that sentence a lot. Our limpet PM looked like she was doomed between 9AM and 5PM last Thursday, as Cabinet ministers deliberately staggered their resignations to inflict maximum damage. Yet she has clung on, simply through not acknowledging her terrible predicament. It's Looney Tunes and cliffs.

Jacob Rees-Mogg's 50-strong hard Eurosceptics tried to force her out, but a week on they still don’t quite have the 48 MPs' letters they need, and now they’re the ones with egg on their face.

All of which implies that, even if the Eurosceptics do manage to cross the finish line and hold a confidence vote, the PM will win. Which means she can’t be challenged again for a year. Her deal doesn’t have the maths to get through Parliament, no one likes either it or her, yet it is increasingly difficult to imagine the circumstances in which she’d be removed.

What’s Labour’s Latest Incoherence?

That they will negotiate a better deal. The unofficial plan is still to force a General Election – a plan that got a major shot in the arm this week. What with the government teetering on the edge of collapse.

But officially, they claim that the deal is somehow flawed – despite the fact it aligns exactly with Labour’s key objectives:

  • To retain the Customs Union, and
  • To be in "as close as possible" a relationship with the Single Market (while being outside of it).
Heather Mills gives a vegan cooking demonstration at the Foodies Festival which is part of Brighton Festival 2009 (Edward Simons / Alamy Stock Photo)

What’s The Numb-Nuts Celebrity Intervention Of The Week?

Heather Mills’ Crisp Factory. Heather Mills has gone full Willy Wonka and bought a Walker's Crisps factory in Durham. She now wants to turn the surrounding area into "the silicon valley of vegan food".


“Brexit is awful but if it means we’re inexpensive when it comes to manufacturing, then let’s get on and do it… Plant-based firms in EU countries have come to me and said supermarkets won’t buy from them any more, they’re too expensive. They’ve asked us to manufacture for them.”

This is exactly the "Singapore On Thames" low-wage Britain the Remainers warned us about, except bringing back manufacturing to the North-East like the Brexiteers envisaged, all nested in the consciousness of a Brighton hippie. Yet it's still not nearly the oddest Brexit story of the week. Strange days indeed.

Are We Going Back To The Semtex Years In Ireland?

More likely than ever. The Backstop – the question of what happens to the Irish Border if we tumble out without agreeing a deal – is, ironically enough, a thing we’ve been unable to agree on. So we’re due to tumble out.

The fear is that the draft deal will not only break up the union with Northern Ireland, but by extending unique trade privileges to Belfast will allow Scotland to argue for the same rights, thereby busting up that union too. No politician, certainly no Tory, can allow this. It’s been a key factor in many resignation letters. But then, no one has a better idea either. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Anything Happening On Trade?

Yes. But nothing that will actually happen. To solve the Irish Backstop question, last week’s 585-page draft deal proposed a "Swimming Pool Brexit". A deep end – more alignment with EU standards in Northern Ireland in order to prevent a hard border. And fewer – but crucially, still quite a lot – in the shallow end of Great Britain. This means we’re due to be locked into a Customs Union. Which means we can’t do external trade deals. Which means Brexit will have been largely pointless. Though of course, the draft deal will never get through Parliament anyway.


Whatever Happened To That People’s Vote Thing?

They’re frothing harder than ever. Every MP who has signed up has been out there babbling that it's only way to break the deadlock.