The EU-UK Brexit deal was agreed and released to the EU, UK Parliament and the public on the 14th of November.

The 27 EU countries met and agreed the content on the 25th November, but the same article suggests that the UK Parliament will not schedule its meaningful vote on the deal until the 12th of December.

So, 11 days for 27 countries to meet, discuss and vote, but closer to a month before the UK's version is scheduled. Why is there such a long delay?

As of 17/12/18 this vote has now been put back to;

MPs will vote on the UK's Brexit deal in the week beginning 14 January, Theresa May has told Parliament.


4 Answers 4


Hypothesis: Brexit is a "meatgrinder"

The reason why people are unable to make sense of Brexit is that they keep thinking of it either in very concrete terms ("how is cross channel freight going to work exactly" etc), or in abstract slogans ("sovereignty"). Both of those are thinking far too big. The real purpose of running the Brexit process is to settle a fight within the Conservative party.

In this context, the winner is the last person to give up, and most viable tactics involve making life worse for your opponents to force them to leave the stage. An early version of this could be seen in the leadership contest, where May was the only non-withdrawn candidate. It has been ongoing in the process of putting key Brexiteers into cabinet positions: this both keeps them busy and puts public pressure on to them to be seen to achieve something. Since all their objectives are unachievable or irreconcilable, this may eventually persuade them to abandon those positions. At the very least there's the chance to physically and mentally exhaust them by making them do a lot of work.

The timewasting has already been fairly effective. All the other theoretical deals that Brexiteers claimed were easily achievable have not happened. There is now no time left to negotiate any other deal with the EU. We're down to the last three options: accept the deal, No Deal, or No Brexit.

The purpose of the stalling is to eliminate options - but slowly, so there is no time to replace them with other options which then also have to be eliminated.

The deal is obviously bad; even Nadine Dorries has realised that it means a loss of influence and the UK being forced to accept EU rules with no say. Parliament is almost certainly going to vote it down. But that was obvious two years ago, because there was never going to be any acceptable deal to all sides that wasn't making the UK worse off. All the intermediate time has been stalling.

We will eventually be left with either No Deal or No Brexit. The UK must be exposed to as much No Deal cost and disruption as possible in order to grind down the last few remaining Tory Brexiteers and their supporters in the press. The country will eventually demand No Brexit as the only remaining viable option. The Tory whips will go round in the last few days saying "Do you really want to be known as one of the people responsible for turning off the lights in the UK?"

Perhaps one of the groups worst hit by Brexit will start rioting; for example, if the Home Office starts sending out "you will be deported" letters to the EU nationals who have not yet been able to achieve leave to remain (which is most of them).

Another possibility of stalling is that May wants to hand the disaster over to a Labour or other government - but only at the very last minute. That way they get to take the blame for the consequences (of both Brexit and Not Brexit) and the Conservative party gets to enjoy the backlash.

(This is all hypothetical, but as we get closer and closer to the deadline the options really do disappear. It may still be possible that May does pick the No Deal card, in which case I only hope that not too many people die as a result of disruption to medical supplies)

  • 1
    I can't upvote this for it being utterly cynical and as such entirely unsourced, but it'll be interesting to see how it aligns to what actually happens over the next 4 months.
    – Jontia
    Nov 28, 2018 at 16:14
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    These are cynical and unsourced times we live in, sadly.
    – pjc50
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:07
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    e.g. the proposed "debate" currently under discussion. It only includes two parties, we don't historically do TV debates, and it looks like a prelude to a public vote - which is not currently scheduled. Either May is preparing for a snap election/referendum (which would waste a minimum of two of the four remaining months), or the debate itself is a waste of time. Are there any other explanations?
    – pjc50
    Nov 29, 2018 at 15:49
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    Seeing the vote delayed until next year, the answer here is looking better and better all time.
    – Jontia
    Dec 17, 2018 at 15:42
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    Yes, I've not seen anything to make me want to withdraw this answer; the "Independent" party (not a party) is exactly the result of the "grinding" process, as centrists have been ground out of the two parties. Businesses have been ground out of the UK. It's still 50/50 on whether we get to abandon Brexit or whether we get troops in the streets.
    – pjc50
    Feb 25, 2019 at 11:17

The delay is actually providing time for two vital political tasks, within the UK's Conservative and Labour parties.

The Conservative Party needs time to take in the mess that the country is in, because they couldn't form a clear idea of what their problems were with the EU. A lot of the Conservatives have been labouring for years under the idea that without the EU, the UK will return to a time when it was economically dominant and could dictate the terms of trade deals. That seems to have been the feeling that motivated many of the Brexiteers. It's obviously ludicrous when stated in those terms, but people take time to adjust to the collapse of their illusions.

The Labour Party, which is the only realistic prospect for an alternative government, has been opposing the Conservatives' actions of the last two years, but carefully avoiding opposing Brexit, because many of their traditional supporters are in favour of it. They now need to get their act together and create something that looks like a viable alternative policy.

Yes, the UK is remarkably short of quality politicians at present. That's how we got into this mess.

  • Is there any evidence that the two major parties will use this time as you suggest? It would be great if so... But as far as I can see they're just using the time to retread the same ground they've been going over for the last two years. Tory Hard-Brexiteers and Labour We'd negotiate better than you positions seem unchanged.
    – Jontia
    Nov 28, 2018 at 9:25
  • Well, time is available for this, and the need is obvious. Labour have apparently been talking to the EU negotiators, without publicity. The Tory Brexit hardliners can't change their positions, but there are a lot of other Conservative MPs who have been staying below the parapet. Nov 28, 2018 at 9:43

I read that the vote was scheduled for December 10th, not December 12th, but two days make little difference to the question. The EU has a key budget meeting on December 13th. It makes sense that they would want a decision by then.

Brexit is important for the EU, it is more important and more controversial for the UK. After the brief Gibraltar hiccup, there seems to be little doubt that the EU will accept the proposal.

The UK, on the other hand, seems to need more time to decide what kind of Brexit they want. So the UK government scheduled the vote to give the Parliament more time to deliberate. A cynic might also say that delay to the vote punctures any hopes (or illusions?) that there can be more negotiation.

  • The problem for me is that all these little delays add up, and if the UK Parliament decides they don't want this kind of Brexit that's at least another two weeks they could have been using to work out what they do want that will have been wasted. Meanwhile the March 2019 clock is ticking.
    – Jontia
    Nov 27, 2018 at 17:15
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    @Jontia, the time for any meaningful renegotiation is long past. There is an upcoming case in the ECJ if the UK could unilaterally retract the Article 50 declaration, but unless that option is allowed and taken there are only two options left, hard Brexit or the current deal. Anything else is delusional (sorry if that sounds harsh).
    – o.m.
    Nov 27, 2018 at 17:37
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    Even without the ECJ case no Brexit would still be possible with consent of the EU27. And the ECJ case is another great example of time wasting given the government attempt to stop the case being referred, for what reason I can't possibly fathom. But I fully agree this is the only deal. But there is still time to consider the realities of no deal vs no Brexit and how to go on. Time that is being frittered away for reasons I don't understand. Procrastination almost never helps anything.
    – Jontia
    Nov 27, 2018 at 19:01
  • @Jontia The opposition to the ECJ case is simple: if you remove the possibility of no Brexit, Remainers will be forced to accept Deal over No Deal (cue Noel Edmunds)
    – Caleth
    Feb 25, 2019 at 11:48

May needs time to sell her deal to MPs. To stand any chance of winning the vote she will need to get some opposition MPs, mostly from Labour, on board too. Her plan seems to be to try to get the British public on her side and thus convince enough MPs to switch to supporting her on the basis of it being the will of their constituents and potentially damaging if they are seen to defy the "will of the people".

To this end she has suggested a TV debate with Corbyn a couple of days before the vote. There are risks too, the delay may give her enemies time to come up with an alternative plan that might draw votes away from her's.

  • Another big risk with the TV debate, at least from the acknowledged positions at the moment, is that it lends weight to the idea of a second referendum. Why are you debating this in front of a public audience when their input is not being asked?
    – Jontia
    Nov 29, 2018 at 16:13

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