Early update

The first skirmishes in the Brexit debate did not go well for Theresa May. She managed to lose three Commons votes in a single day, something no government has done since the 1970s, and a clear indication that she is losing control of the narrative. Her strategy depends entirely on convincing MPs that there is no sane alternative to her compromise plan, but it is increasingly evident that nobody really believes that. Parliament is polarising around a straight choice between a hard exit and staying in the EU, but it’s still unclear if either position can be sure of commanding a majority.

Some encouragement was given to the Remain cause today with the opinion from the ECJ advocate general, likely to be upheld by the full court, that the UK can call off its departure by unilaterally deactivating article 50. This, along with the vote affirming Parliament’s right to propose a plan B if and when May’s deal is rejected next week, signals a possible escape route. Another referendum would be needed to give this course of action some democratic legitimacy though.

Despite this, Leavers still have the advantage, since Brexit is the default position, so all they have to do is to frustrate any other plan for the next couple of months, a goal which they seem more than capable of achieving. If that doesn’t work they might be tempted to accept another plebiscite, in the hope that they will win again, an outcome which, although terrifying, is not unimaginable.

So, it’s no exaggeration to say that the next few days might shape the country’s destiny for a generation or two. It would be nice to think that our political class was up to the job, but the very fact that we are in this mess suggests otherwise. We’ll know the answer before too long I guess, but in the meantime there’s nothing to do but wait until the immediate drama has played out, then try to make the best of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

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