Two weeks from now – to the day – it will be the 31st of October, or as it is better known, Halloween. And speaking of arcane forces, unknowable realms and things that make the blood run cold, it will also be the latest deadline for the UK to come to a decision on Brexit. This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his negotiating team have spent much of their time in conversation with the European Union’s representatives, trying to hammer out the final details of a withdrawal deal. Much like a spine-tingling Halloween legend, it’s very much been a case of hopes being raised one moment, only to be dashed the next.
Literally during the writing of this analysis, both the EU and the UK Government have, finally, announced that they have concluded the terms of a deal. However, this has met with a frosty response from the Northern Irish hardliners in the DUP, who have reiterated their objections to aspects of the deal. To an onlooker without experience of the Northern Irish political sphere, their misgivings may seem minor and easy to overcome – but suffice it to say, when the DUP are not happy with something, they have few problems letting that be known.
So, as the clock ticks down towards the end of the month and a possible “Spooky Brexit”, it’s worth looking at what the bookmakers think. After all, that’s often where you’ll get the best guidance for how political trends should be interpreted.
A deal achieved – so, what now?
Much has been made on social media of the achievement Boris Johnson has pulled off – he’s managed to negotiate a deal that the EU are willing to accept, and done it in less time than his predecessor Theresa May took. This is a good look for Johnson’s preferred image of a swashbuckling deal-maker, and tomorrow’s front pages will certainly make a lot out of it. However, scratch the surface of this deal, and it’s hard to see this being an end to the Brexit story.
For one thing, the DUP have issued a statement saying that they will be unable to support this deal with a vote in Parliament. Not only does this deny Johnson ten votes he was hoping to count on, but it could mean that several members of his own party also refuse to back the deal. Additionally, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has voiced the opinion that this deal is worse than any achieved by May – and her deal was soundly beaten three times in Parliament.
If this deal is similarly voted down, the government may face a Vote of No Confidence, which may bring it down. However, it’s realistic to expect that opposition parties will hold off bringing such a vote until a more concrete plan can be agreed – so at Paddy Power, we would back “No” on another VoNC in 2019. They have that priced at 5/4.
The long goodbye
It takes a special level of skill to implement a referendum with the intention of healing a divide in your party – as David Cameron did in 2016 – and end up splitting not only your party, but also a few others and the entire country into the bargain. The Conservative party is winding up for a General Election with the slogan “Get Brexit done”. That’s quite something to consider – it’s not “Let’s make Brexit work” or anything similar, just “look, anything will do, we just need it to be finished”. It’s three years and nearly four months since the referendum, and not only has the UK not left the EU, it’s also done next to nothing else in the meantime.
So, with slightly less than two and a half months left in 2019, can we at least say that Brexit will be “done” by the time we all have to buy new calendars? The answer is “probably not”. Parliament is due to sit on Saturday – a fairly extreme circumstance in itself – to vote on this deal. Two outcomes are possible, verging on likely: the first is that Johnson’s deal is voted down and he needs to seek an extension. The second is that an amendment to his deal is moved on Saturday accepting the deal – on the basis that it be put to the public in a confirmatory referendum.
Either way, it would seem highly unlikely that the final pieces for Brexit will be put in place this side of the new year, so Betfair’s odds of 10/11 that Britain will not leave in 2019 are worth taking.
An election coming, one way or another
Since Parliament returned from its recess in September, and Hillary Benn’s bill to force an extension in the event of no deal was passed, Boris Johnson has moved to an election footing. Knowing that he stands precious little chance of steering any bills of worth through a Parliament ranged against him, the Prime Minister wants to ensure he has a majority if needed, to push through any version of Brexit he can negotiate. However, mindful that the PM could use the closure of Parliament that accompanies any new election to ensure that a No-Deal Brexit happens, the other parties have resolutely refused to give their permission for an election.
It seems certain, given the paralysis in Parliament at present, that there will be fresh elections held before too long. With that said, the date for this to happen has shifted from an expected November or even December poll, and the smart money is now on any new election taking place in 2020; potentially even after another referendum has been held. In BetVictor’s market on which year is likely to see the next UK election, 2020 is available at 8/13. With Saturday likely to see things remain confusing – and perhaps become even more so – that’s a decent bet and you’re unlikely to see better odds after the weekend.
Bets of the Day
No new Vote of No Confidence in 2019 (Paddy Power, 5/4); Britain not to leave the EU in 2019 (Betfair, 10/11); Next General Election in 2020 (BetVictor, 8/13)