When I moved to Scotland almost 17 years ago, I soon discovered a huge cultural difference compared to Denmark and Germany: a disregard for deadlines and a huge ability to improvise. Basically, if somebody in Denmark tells you the deadline is a week on Tuesday, they actually mean that they want it to be finished then, not that you’ll get a gentle reminder that day and that the actual deadline is much later. On the other hand, a Danish company is less likely to pull out all the stops and make compromises to get the product ready before it’s really too late – if it’s too late, it’s too late, and the main focus is on starting earlier next time.
Of course I’m generalising a lot here, but that experience has taught me a lot about Brexit. Denmark, Germany and many other of the other EU countries actually mean it when they say the UK will leave on the 29th of March, whether they’ve signed May’s Deal or not, and they really aren’t going to change the deal they’ve negotiated. Most of the Westminster MPs, however, assume that something will happen if they’re not ready – the EU will grant them another nine months, and when the real deadline later gets close, they’ll sit down and make some pragmatic changes that will make everybody happy.
As the legal blogger David Allen Green likes to repeat ad nauseam on Twitter, the UK will leave the EU by automatic operation of law on 29 March. The ball is in Westminster’s court. As Michel Barnier said recently:
As you listen to the debates in London, you find that there are currently two majorities in Parliament. One against the agreement and one against a chaotic no-deal Brexit. Now, British politicians need to find a positive majority for something.
It’s a huge worry that Westminster are acting like the deadline isn’t real. They haven’t even passed the necessary legislation for Brexit to happen in March, as The Mirror pointed out yesterday:
At this point, there will be fewer than 30 sitting days left for Parliament to pass all the legislation needed to Brexit with Theresa’s deal. They might be able to increase it to 40 or so if they cancel half-term and Fridays. To Brexit calmly and cleanly on March 29, in those 40 days Parliament must pass 9 Parliamentary bills and amend 600 other bits of legislation. […] Of the 14 new bills required for Brexit – on things like animal welfare, money laundering and haulage – just 5 have been passed since the referendum. Of the 9 remaining, the one closest to being finished is the Trade Bill – and the House of Lords just voted to shelve it because it lacked detail.
(The article that quote is from is highly misleading, by the way, because it’s assuming Brexit won’t happen if the legislation isn’t there. It will – but it will be very chaotic.)
I was very surprised that so many people were happy when May’s Deal got voted down. The deal itself is actually decent enough if you really want to leave the EU – it’s just the political declaration that is awful, and it’s not legally binding. The deal itself is actually mainly about technical issues related to leaving, and it would be possible for a new government to negotiate Norway+++ under May’s Deal.
It simply isn’t good enough simply to vote everything down – it’s important to vote in favour of something, and Parliament are utterly failing to do so. The UK won’t remain in the EU just because they don’t pass May’s Deal. In Scotland, we’re also realistically out of time to save ourselves, probably because of the same belief that a deadline isn’t a deadline.
The most likely outcome is that the UK will leave the EU on the 29th of March, unprepared and in a state of confusion. “Ready or not, here we go!”