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The great Chequers drama explained.



Best guess on today at Chequers? No resignations, but also no real substantive breakthrough, either on the Customs Union or the Article 50 issues.


Let’s consider the incentive structure for the Cabinet’s hard-Brexiters today.

The basic options boil down to the classic Hirschman trio of Exit, Voice and Loyalty:

  • EXIT: they can walk (literally, it seems);

  • VOICE: they can stay and try to change the tabled plan; or

  • LOYALTY: they can go along with it.


Given the substantive gap between what they want and what they see, the loyalty option looks least likely to occur, at least in sense of meekly accepting.

Their number gives them weight to reshape, through voice, but that also incentivises not leaving, because then they are all weakened.

Indeed, if they hang together, then it becomes harder for May to sack them all, as it would make the selling of any deal impossible to the Conservative backbenchers.

So, voice looks like the best option right now. However, voice comes in different flavours here.

Importantly, there is a distinction between noises off and meaningful changes to the policy.


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A failure to agree a position today means that the Summer is lost in Article 50 and the chances of a no-deal increase very substantially.

So, hard Brexiteers have to make another calculation.

Do they crash the Article 50 bus, with the uncertainties and the potential that brings, or do they buy into an imperfect deal to get them over the line of withdrawal (29 March 2019) and into a situation they can mould later on?


The main impression, so far, has been that the latter is preferred by most hard-Brexiteers in the Cabinet: enough worry about a no-deal chaos to merit going for longer-term opportunities.

In addition, Theresa May is a useful scapegoat for them, so why allow her to ship the blame elsewhere, when she will secure the withdrawal and leave the door open for the negotiation of the actual future relationship?


Taken together, there is some reason to think that the Article 50 bus won’t get crashed today (although next week’s White Paper might prove difficult).🔷


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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Wikimedia/Stephen Simpson - Chequers Court in Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, England.)


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Associate Dean, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Surrey and Deputy Director of the ESRC's 'UK in a Changing Europe' programme.
Guildford, UK. Website

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