World

Could Theresa May cancel Brexit?

8 April 2019

7:26 PM

8 April 2019

7:26 PM

Is the de facto Brexit default now revoking Article 50 this week rather than a no-deal Brexit on 12 April? I ask because the Prime Minister is now explicitly saying the choice is a binary one between some version of her negotiated deal and not leaving at all (that is what she said in her sofa chat yesterday).

The point is that she has no power to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 12 April by delaying Brexit; for a delay, she needs the unanimous agreement of the EU’s 27 leaders. But she does have the unilateral power to prevent a no deal by cancelling Brexit altogether, by revoking the Article 50 application to leave the EU.

So have she and Whitehall, who are persuaded (rightly or wrongly) that no deal on 12 April would be a catastrophe (especially for the integrity of UK), made a huge emotional leap to prepare for the political (if not economic) explosion of cancelling Brexit this week – in that there remains a serious risk that the EU will not grant the UK an extension or an extension on acceptable terms.


As I understand it, from Government sources, there is no intensifying of no-deal preparations today (the famous Operation Yellowhammer), which there really ought to be if there was any serious prospect of the UK leaving without a deal in just a few days.

The Prime Minister has consistently pledged she won’t revoke Article 50, but what she said yesterday – about the UK facing a simple binary choice between her Withdrawal Agreement and no Brexit – makes no sense unless she is prepared to cancel the UK’s departure from the EU.

And although she might claim that MPs would force her to revoke, that she would become their puppet, in practice – with so little time before 12 April – MPs could probably only instruct her in a non-binding way, and she would retain discretion.

If right at the last, the UK performs the volte face of volte faces and cancels Brexit, that would be her responsibility and her legacy, no one else’s – for which many in her own party would vilify her, and many outside would cast her as the lost hero returned.

P.S. for the avoidance of doubt, when I suggest revocation may be the new Brexit default, I don’t mean that it is her first choice. The Prime Minister plainly wants to avoid it. The question I am posing is whether she now sees Brexit cancellation as preferable to a no deal at the end of this week.

Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This post originally appeared on his ITV news blog


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