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Elite ignores Brexit law

Bruce Oliver Newsome
March 23, 2019

Britain's elite pretends that the EU's agreement to delay Brexit trumps British law.

Britain's elite has lied about Theresa May's proposed Withdrawal Agreement ("indefinite purgatory is a great deal!"), the alternatives ("accept this deal or no Brexit"), the Brexit we voted for ("nobody wants to crash out/fall off a cliff"), and the blame ("Brexiteers caused Remainers to frustrate Brexit").

Now the elite is pretending that the law to leave on 29 March doesn't exist.

The elite is pretending that British law was trumped on Thursday by
the EU Council's agreement with Theresa May's personal request to delay. In fact, the European Withdrawal Act still stands. Parliament has legislated for Britain to leave on 29 March. Article 50 of the European Union's own constitution mandates that the petitioner to leave has two years from lodging the petition before leaving: the two-year clock expires on 29 March. Theresa May's personal request does not change the law. The EU Council's agreement to her request does not change the law.

So why is the elite pretending that we're definitely not leaving on 29 March?

Here are the facts. The European Withdrawal Act was approved in June 2018. In November 2018, Theresa May revealed her proposed Withdrawal Agreement (that is: indefinite purgatory in replacement of membership from 29 March). Her WA was rejected by Parliament in January. She refused to re-present or change it until overnight 11-12 March, when she agreed with the EU an addendum, which, she claimed, guaranteed Britain's unilateral right to withdraw. In fact, the addendum confirmed the EU's veto.

On 13 March, Parliament rejected her WA for a second time. But Parliament is so terrified of the false "no deal"/"cliff edge"/"crashing out" scenario that on the next day it voted against leaving without a deal, voted to approve her motion to extend by three months, and incidentally approved her motion for "indefinite extension" if her WA were to be rejected. (All of these votes are "indicative" of Parliament's will; none counts as law.)

Theresa May tried to motion her WA a third time, but on Monday 18 March the Speaker of the House (John Bercow) ruled that it could not be re-presented without changes. She indicated immediately she would ask the EU to extend the date of nominal separation (but not to change her WA).

On Wednesday this week (20 March), May petitioned the EU by letter for an extension by three months (through 30 June), on the grounds of getting her WA approved. (Neither Parliament nor the Cabinet had approved this letter: they learnt about it from a tweet.) The same day, Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) made approval of such a delay conditional on getting her WA passed. Late on Thursday, the European Council granted an extension until 22 May if her WA is approved, or until 12 April if her WA is rejected. The latter date was chosen so that Britain would face the additional cost of lodging its participation in European elections if her WA is rejected.

None of this changes the law: the European Withdrawal Act of June 2018 schedules Brexit at 2300 hours 29 March 2019. The law stands.

Yet you wouldn't know that from the elite's presentation.

On Friday, Theresa May wrote to Members of Parliament that the European "Council agreed that if the House approves the Withdrawal Agreement next week then the date of our departure will be extended to 22 May", or "12 April" if the House doesn't approve her WA. She made no mention of the European Withdrawal Act.

She offered to Parliament four options, one of which is: "leave with no deal on 12 April", but she gives no hint that Parliament would need to change the law to get there.

Her other options are: approve her WA and "leave on 22 May"; reject her WA, ask for another extension, and participate in European elections (scheduled for May, but she gives no schedule, and thus implies indefinite extension); or revoke the Article 50 request to leave the EU, so Britain would never leave.

May gives no hint that the law would need to change to validate any of these options, and no hint that Britain must leave on 29 March unless Parliament changes current legislation.

On Friday, the Daily Mail reported that "Britain will not leave the EU until at least next month after a late-night deal in Brussels"; and that the government would be motioning for a second referendum or revocation of Brexit "after failing to deliver Brexit for March 29." The page included a graphic flow diagram, supposedly showing all possible scenarios, but none is for Brexit on 29 March. (A different page of the same newspaper has a different flow diagram, but still doesn't show any possibility of Brexit on 29 March.)

The BBC reported that "EU leaders have agreed to delay the departure date" so "If MPs approve the PM's deal next week, Brexit would be delayed from 29 March until 22 May. Otherwise the UK has until 12 April to propose a new plan."

The Guardian newspaper takes the prize for self-contradiction. One of The Guardian's self-righteous Brexit-for-dummies pages gives this impossible contradiction: "the 29 March Brexit deadline has been removed. The government still needs to change the date in the EU Withdrawal Act."

In reality, contrary to what our own prime minister, the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, and the most popular British newspapers of both the right and the left are telling us, the law stands: Britain is leaving the EU on 29 March, with or without May's Withdrawal Agreement, unless Parliament passes a law to supersede the Withdrawal Agreement of June 2018.

Britain's elite has moved beyond ignoring the will for Brexit to ignoring the law for Brexit.

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of San Diego
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