Following yesterday's votes on Brexit negotiations in parliament, it seems that the British government has signed up - in principle - to further backstops against a "hard" Brexit in order to appease rebel MPs. This is in addition to the existing backstop they've accepted to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.

At this point, it seems clear that there are only two realistic outcomes from the Brexit process. Either the UK crashes out without a deal, or it accepts a relatively "soft" Brexit which looks a lot like some form of EFTA membership. Pretty much anything else - including staying in the EU - looks to be off the table.

(This was always the likely pair of options on offer but that's not pertinent to the question. What's changed is that this is now written into the negotiations and is obvious for all to see.)

Given that we're at this point, I no longer understand why the government continues to prevaricate on what it claims to want from the process. I do appreciate that they are worried by the prospect of a Tory party split along EU faultlines and of a radical Labour government. But now that we're down to a choice between "soft" or "no-deal", these issues are going to have to be faced one way or the other. To wait is merely delaying the inevitable.

Many voters and business leaders are crying out for clarity and a definitive plan to move forward. Every day we don't get it is hurting the UK economy and the reputation of the Tory party. Therefore I presume the government must see some advantage to the continued delay: I just can't see what it is. What are they hoping to gain?

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    Well, the end of the withdrawal is in 2019. In practice nothing is being delayed as so far the UK is part of the EU. The government expects to gain some leverage (or options) to negotiate with the EU. The problem is that different factions want different guarantees. By not having those guarantees in written form they risk the government making a decision detrimental to them. This is probably not without reason. I hardly believe there would be this much public conflict if MPs found the administration trustworthy. My guess is that there were broken promises before. But this is speculation.
    – armatita
    Jun 13, 2018 at 12:31
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    The UK government's strategy is a bit like a used-car salesman stalling for time, hoping that the buyer's old car catches fire, putting the salesman in a better position. It's about as likely to work, too. Several European countries have strong economic ties to the UK, but they seem to be doing fine for now.
    – Cyrus
    Jun 13, 2018 at 15:04
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    @armatita In several cases, it appears the MPs with mistrust are the administration, or at least ministers rather than backbenchers.
    – origimbo
    Jun 13, 2018 at 15:51
  • @origimbo Perhaps, but the UK is a parliamentary democracy and the parliament the supreme legislative body. The so called tory rebels are exercising their right even when not in agreement with the government. And curiously enough little after I gave my comment I read this article on the Guardian saying the "rebels" did receive some kind of assurance from May that the government would discuss the controversial clause C. A lot in politics is about trust. When lacking people "rebel".
    – armatita
    Jun 13, 2018 at 19:18
  • Almost on purpose here's another article from yesterday saying the rebellion is back on because the assurances given by the government were, at the last minute, broken by a redraft of the withdrawal bill.
    – armatita
    Jun 15, 2018 at 7:58

1 Answer 1


You give the UK government too much credit. It isn't deliberately prevaricating, it is the Tory party trying to handle its internal divisions.

The Tory party has two main sides on Brexit, which are completely incompatible. You have those who want a soft, economically sound Brexit that retains most of the rights and single market access we have now. Then you have the extreme hard Brexit group who are willing to accept economic ruin for ideological reasons.

Because of May's disastrous general election she now has a very small majority, and even that is reliant on the support of the DUP. The DUP has its own Brexit agenda, which requires no additional border infrastructure on the island of Ireland and no border in the Irish sea.

So the government has three powerful factions, all with incompatible demands, and needs all of them to pass any Brexit related legislation.

That explains why it hasn't been able to form a realistic plan or proposal for a post-Brexit deal. On top of that, the few ideas it has put forward have been rejected by the EU as fantasies and unworkable.

The current strategy seems to be to leave everything to the last moment and then try to force the various groups involved to support some kind of compromise, lest the government collapse which is seen as the worst possible outcome by them.

  • One small issue, if the government was able to negotiate a reasonable deal they should feel confident they could pass legislation through the house relying on the Pro-brexit portion of the Labour Party. These MPs exist and have shown they are willing to vote against the party whip on brexit issues. It is another indication of the weakness of the government position, that they do not believe they can get people who want brexit to vote with them on crucial issues.
    – Jontia
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:31
  • Maybe I should add to the answer that Labour has set an impossible bar for a "good deal", by requiring one that preserves the current level of access to the single market and does not result in any job losses or economic loss. Since there have already been losses it's clearly too late for that, even if such a deal were ultimately possible within the limits that the EU has set out.
    – user
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:37
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    If I recall correctly, the Conservatives set that bar themselves and then Labour adopted it. But finding an article saying that is difficult nearly 3 years down the line. There's a lot of hits for the search terms.
    – Jontia
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:40
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    The best I've found is; independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/… reporting on a Government White Paper in early 2017. It includes "Section 8: 'Ensuring free trade with European markets'"
    – Jontia
    Jun 14, 2018 at 8:50
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    Found it: The Phase "Exact same benefits" originated from David Davis, the Conservative Minister for Brexit and leading Brexiteer. The Labour six tests simply adopted this phrase. You can find it about 1/3 of the way down the linked Hansard article from 24th January 2017. hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-01-24/debates/…
    – Jontia
    Jun 14, 2018 at 21:17

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