What ‘every’ MP should already know by now…


Steve Bullock is one half of the CakeWatch Podcast along with Chris Kendall and a tireless Brexit-watcher and Remain campaigner. Chris has already had an outing on the PP Blog with Brexit negotiations: how is the UK doing? and it seemed this is now the time to feature Steve.

I would strongly recommend CakeWatch. The news in the UK is extraordinarily insular and centres almost exclusively around Westminster. Both Steve and Chris are based in Brussels, have years of experience in UK/EU negotiations, and hence can and do give a wider European perspective.

Everything tends to be rigorously fact checked. The only thing I have ever had to pick them up upon was the rumour that “Brexit had already cost the EU an amount equivalent to the annual GDP of Greece” which they aired. To be fair I had heard this as well, but the figure seemed so extraordinarily high not to be credible. Steve and Chris agreed and were going to try to track down a proper source, but I think none materialised?

Steve is from South Shields on Tyneside and still keeps his accent. I would like to say Geordie but one needs to be careful. One of my friends who is a nursery teacher found one of her children crying uncontrollably. Through the sobs the child eventually said “I was called the worst insult in the world – she called me a Mackam!” Mackams are from Sunderland, Geordies from Newcastle. South Shields is borderland. I’m an honorary Geordie (by the power vested in Lord Stephens of Kirkwhelpington) but if Steve self identifies as a Mackam – I can live with the disappointment!

Steve has come up with a 51 point list as to what every MP should already know. This is essentially a Brexit 101. What is horrifying even at this late stage is how little many MPs seem to actually know, particularly the ultra-brexiters. Indeed the ultra-brexiters give every appearance of being a religious cult, rooted in an alternate reality and locked in their own self-referential bubble.

Sadly also Labour seem not to accept reality and believe somehow that they can reopen negotiations and get a better deal. Cakeism is not just confined to one side.

The list has already been published as a Twitter thread and on the excellent Politics Means Politics site.

Steve has kindly agreed that his list can be published on Progressive Pulse and hopefully will have time to answer any questions. He can in any event be contacted on Twitter as @GuitarMoog.

The List

1. The Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation.

2. The Political Declaration might be tweaked cosmetically.

3. The future relationship will be negotiated during the transition period.

4. There will be no transition without the Withdrawal Agreement.

5. The will be no Withdrawal Agreement without the Financial Settlement.

6. A backstop cannot be unilaterally ended or it is not a backstop.

7. There will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop.

8. The Political Declaration is not a deal on the future relationship.

9. The Political Declaration is wish list, not binding.

10. The Political Declaration leaves huge, crucial questions entirely open.

11. The level of access to the EU markets and programmes is dependent on the level of alignment to EU rules the British Government is willing to commit to.

12. British restrictions to Freedom of Movement will be directly reciprocated by the EU27 for UK citizens.

13. Frictionless trade is impossible outside the Single Market and a Customs Union.

14. Neither the Single Market or a Customs Union are enough alone for frictionless trade.

15. Single Market membership requires Freedom of Movement, whoever is negotiating it.

16. EFTA membership is technically very difficult to combine with membership of a Customs Union.

17. EFTA or EEA membership requires acceptance of Freedom of Movement.

18. EFTA or EEA membership means very little influence and no formal control over Single Market rules.

19. Adjusting the Political Declaration to include EEA + Customs Union would not eliminate the need for a backstop.

20. A new EEA pillar with a Customs Union would not be off-the-shelf, and would need to be negotiated.

21. Negotiations on any future relationship may fail.

22. The British Government has explicitly ruled out being in the Single Market, making this a hard, not a soft Brexit.

23. Labour has implicitly ruled out being in the Single Market by not accepting Freedom of Movement or EU State Aid rules that are required for membership of it.

24. No Deal is a certain national catastrophe.

25. There is no such thing as a “WTO Deal”.

26. Britain already trades extensively with non-EU countries.

27. The projected economic benefits of new trade deals are very small in comparison to Single Market membership.

28. There are, in practice, no EU tariffs on goods from the poorest countries in the world.

29. The Withdrawal Agreement does not protect all the rights for EU Citizens living in the UK or UK Citizens living in the European Union.

30. It does not allow either groups to live “exactly as before”.

31. The British Government has complete control over its policy towards non-EU migration.

32. It is impossible to enter the UK, except across the Ireland/Northern Ireland border, without having your passport checked.

33. Article 50 can be revoked, certainly with the EU27 agreement, probably unilaterally.

34. Article 50 can be extended, with the EU27 agreement.

35. The EU27’s priority is to avoid a chaotic no deal Brexit while not crossing their red lines.

36. The EU27 will not negotiate a future relationship that crosses their red lines.

37. The EU27 are likely to agree to an extension of Article 50 for a Ratify vs Remain referendum.

38. The EU27 are by now largely ambivalent about which one is chosen.

39. The EU27 are unlikely to grant an extension for more messing around with obvious route to a solution.

40. The EU27 are unlikely to grant an extension of Article 50 and will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement just due to a change of government.

41. Reviewing a previous decision using the same method that decision was based on is not undemocratic.

42. Proceeding with Brexit will not heal divisions.

43. There is no problem that being poorer helps.

44. All versions of Brexit will leave the UK poorer.

45. EU member States are unlikely to allow Britain to rejoin for many years, possibly decades.

46. Britain would retain its vetoes, opt-outs, and rebate if it decided to remain a member of the EU.

47. No responsible Government or Parliament could allow No Deal. If, however, nothing is agreed and no action is taken, Britain will leave the EU on 29 March with a (catastrophic) No Deal.

48. MPs should not vote for any deal they believe to be bad for the country.

49. The British Government can choose to try to stop a No Deal Brexit at any time before it happens.

50. If No Deal happened, it would be because the Government had chosen not to stop it, and considered that appalling harm to Britain and its population was worth it for their own political ends.

51. Leaving with No Deal does NOT mean that nothing changes.


  1. Ivan Horrocks -

    When put in list form like this these points make a sobering read, Sean, even for someone who appreciates and accepts them. Deeply depressing so few of our ‘decision makers’ appear able or willing to get their heads around them – and certainly not May. And having read through the list one wonders what difference postponement (as now seems likely despite denials) of the ‘meaningful vote’ scheduled for Tuesday will make. After all, polishing a turd does not stop it being a turd, which is basically what May’s deal is. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Indeed – Steve is very good at presenting information very clearly.

      point 33 has already been superseded by events – Article 50 can be revoked unilaterally.

      May’s deal is extraordinary, completely built around her arbitrary red lines and loathing of FoM. It is indeed a dogs dinner apart from the Northern Ireland part.

      What is frightening is how poor our current tranche of politicians are.

      Rumours are indeed flying regarding a postponement – more kicking the can down the road. Business people looking for certainty must be tearing their hair out!

  2. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

    And now May’s kicked the can down the road – yet again. Perhaps into January – even until January 21st, which, as I understand it, the last date at which it could be held.

    The Speaker’s already made his opinion clear. He hopes the House will rise to the occasion. But – will they? A coalition of opposition Parties plus a few of May’s back-benchers, perhaps – and it might include some at least of the DUP members.

    Now is the time for all good men – not to mention women!

  3. Larry Johnston -

    What I have not understood from the outset is the false premiss on which every argument seems to be based. There are two facets to this. The first is that we have a so-called parliamentary democracy, and there is no way that can be consistent with a plebiscitary nation. It’s either one or the other.

    Second, over and over the argument goes that ‘the people have spoken’. They ‘spoke’ not knowing the facts, and the vote reflected opinion on a particular day. It might have been the opposite on another day. This is a change in the constitution that can not be undone by a future parliament. Consequently, there should be the same provisions that other countries ensure in matters of basic law: i.e., that there is an extraordinary majority at the very least. Or possibly that all constituent parts must agree.

  4. John Hughes -

    “The EU27 are likely to agree to an extension of Article 50 for a Ratify vs Remain referendum.”

    But not for very long.

    The EU parliamentary elections start on Thursday, May 23. There is no way the UK could participate if article 50 was outstanding and there is no way an EU member country could not participate in the elections.

    If article 50 is to be extended to after Thursday May 23 then the elections would have to be postponed.

  5. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

    If this were a Whitehall Farce, the lines couldn’t be bettered! The Government are now expecting the House of Commons to debate – the ‘Ivory Bill'(!!) – and a Labour MP has been unable to resist making the point that Donald Tusk(!) has already said – this afternoon – that the EU are not prepared to renegotiate. Poor Andrea Leasom is now trying to field the flak, and being hammered by MPs from her own Party.
    Nicola Sturgeon has asked Jeremy Corbyn to table a ‘no-confidence’ motion – but he apparently won’t. Perhaps a General Election campaign over the Christmas holidays doesn’t appeal – because it would appear that such a motion would garner sufficient Tory and DUP support to be passed – probably with a large majority.
    And for the next Act in this splendid Farce…

  6. jonathan battle -

    Mostly, but not all, true. Probably the worst egregious falsehood:
    46… would retain its vetoes, opt-outs, and rebate ..
    – no, rebate is gone. But the almost 5B GBP is small change compared to the other damage done by brexit.

  7. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

    Okay, friends of Progressive Pulse, are you up for this?

    Jane Sanders (Bernie’s wife) and Yanis Varoufakis have formed a new Progressive Alliance. I’ve tried to join, but as an individual – and the site won’t allow me, as a non-representative of a named organisation, to do this.

    You have a named organisation – would you, Sean, or anyone else, be prepared to take Progressive Pulse into the Progressive Alliance?

    1. Ivan Horrocks -

      A very good question, Jennifer. Given the similarities of purpose it’s certainly something we ought to consider. Sean? Peter?

      1. Peter May -

        I think it is definitely something we should consider. Do you have a link Jennifer?

      1. Peter May -

        Many thanks

        Will read and discuss.

    2. Peter May -

      We are all theoretically up for it.
      Could you write a short article for us as a ‘mission statement’ and to further convince us all?

      1. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

        Sorry – had computer glitch and only just got back on line!

        Will let you have the ‘mission statement’ within next twelve hours.

      2. Jennifer (aka Jeni, Havantaclu) Parsons -

        During the past ten years, since the financial crisis of 2008, a global war has been waged against workers, against our environment, against democracy, against decency.

        We have been watching, with increasing disquiet, a network of right-wing factions spreading across borders. These groups have been working to erode human rights, to silence dissent, and to promote intolerance. No country has been exempt from these factions. To defeat this new Nationalist International, we cannot simply go back to the failed status quo.

        The narratives of neo-liberalism created unfettered globalization, which promised peace and prosperity – for one per cent of the global population, it may have delivered on its promise. But for the rest of us it has delivered financial crisis, needless war, and disastrous climate change.

        The time has come for progressives to form a grassroots movement for global justice: to mobilize workers, women and the disenfranchised all around the world behind a shared vision of democracy, prosperity, sustainability, and solidarity.

        The Progressive International, founded earlier this month by Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders, and Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Minister for Finance, promises to reach out to communities in every corner of the world to help build a new and radically different shared vision.

        The Progressive International promises to stand by people who are already fighting to end inequality, exploitation, discrimination and environmental degradation.

        The Progressive International promises to reclaim our communities, our cities, our countries, and our planet with a bold International Green New Deal that we will work, together, to deliver.

        The Progressive International gives a new international group of voices with whom Progressive Pulse can empathize and to which I believe we should commit.

  8. Andrew -

    When did the UK lose its rebate, Jonathan?

    But perhaps worth adding to #45 that there is no way the UK would regain its current selection of vetoes, opt-outs, etc, if we leave now and attempt to rejoin in a decade or two.

    1. Peter May -

      Quite – if we withdraw Article 50 we’d preserve the status quo. And I agree with May’s deal there would be no incentive to let us join as we’d already be compliant non-voting members!

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