Watching Theresa May standing on the steps of Number 10, leading a chorus of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ in front of the assembled television cameras, you’d be forgiven for asking whether the official switch on of the Downing Street Christmas lights was a chance for some festive cheer, or a plea to MPs to pass her meaningful vote.
She certainly has some work to do. The debates this week have seen an increasingly fractious House of Commons press for a softer Brexit, a harder Brexit, a no-deal Brexit, and no Brexit at all. A Government of national unity – a cross party selection of MPs working in the national interest to resolve the increasingly chaotic situation – has been mooted, though whether two leaders that can’t agree on the format of a television debate could work together to solve the most pressing political issue of our times, is open to question.
The Prime Minister’s job has been made harder this week by the publication of the legal advice given to the cabinet by the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox. In an episode that would make even the sternest of lawyers flinch (we flinched), advice that was assumed to be privileged was released by the Government at the behest of MPs. Imagine, if you will, a court demanding to see the legal advice that your lawyer had given you, and you begin to understand why the Government resisted the motion.
The advice added to the concerns of many that the UK would be unable to leave the backstop in the event that a future trade deal could not be agreed by the end of the transition period, and increases the likelihood that the deal will be voted down when it is put before the Commons next week. What happens next is pure conjecture, and may depend on the size of the rebellion by MPs; a narrow loss might give the Prime Minister the space to renegotiate the deal (though if most political commentators are to be believed, the EU are unlikely to change much more than the font!); a large defeat might lead to an attempt by Parliament to seize control of Brexit, the Prime Minister’s resignation, a leadership challenge, a second referendum, or all of the above. Who’d be a politician?
The only certainty is that uncertainty for business looks set to continue into the new year, increasing the need for careful contingency planning, a thorough review of contracts, and good lines of communication with businesses in your supply chain. We’ll be keeping a watchful eye on events in Parliament, and will share our thoughts on Brexit preparedness as events unfold.