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It’s time to get out the crystal ball again.

Last year, in “Brexit predictions for 2018”, I got some things right and some things wrong.

I predicted that Theresa May would still be the UK’s prime minister by the year’s end. Sure enough, she has somehow survived everything thrown at her in 2018. However, I was wrong that hardline Brexiters in Mrs May’s Conservative party would bide their time before attempting a coup against her.

I predicted that, by the end of 2018, the EU and UK would strike a deal on British withdrawal from the bloc, but that they would make little progress in the Brexit talks on defining their long-term relationship.

The second part of this prediction seems accurate: almost everything about future EU-UK relations, especially trade, remains to be negotiated. Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former ambassador in Brussels, warns: “The free trade agreement talks will be tougher than anything we have seen to date.”

However, the first part of my prediction was wide of the mark. The EU and UK struck a withdrawal agreement, but for the moment the deal has no chance of winning parliamentary approval in London.

What does the crystal ball say for 2019?

Right now, British politics is as clear as the darkest depths of the Atlantic Ocean. But I shall not use that as an excuse to wimp out of making forecasts.

The uncertainty over Brexit will persist, even as the clock ticks down to the UK’s scheduled departure date of March 29 2019. A possible emergency EU summit on Brexit in January will solve nothing.

The EU will not tweak the withdrawal accord in a way that would substantially alter it. The deal’s most intransigent Conservative party critics will remain dead against it.

Therefore, one of the following three outcomes is likely:

  1. The UK will lurch out of the EU in March 2019 in a so-called “managed no-deal”. This would avoid chaos in areas such as air travel, imports of medical supplies, data protection and so on. But the EU-UK withdrawal deal would remain unratified.
  2. The approach of the March 29 deadline will concentrate politicians’ minds. At the eleventh hour, Mrs May’s deal, or something similar to it, will squeeze through the House of Commons.
  3. The paralysis at Westminster, clarifying that there is no parliamentary majority for any version of Brexit, will compel Mrs May’s government to ask the EU for an extension of the withdrawal process. Then there will be either a general election in the UK or a second referendum. As Peter Kellner writes, such a referendum would include the option of staying in the EU.

Of these possibilities, the third is most likely: the UK will ask for an extension of the withdrawal period, raising the chances of another referendum, a snap general election or even a fresh stab at pushing Mrs May’s deal, or a version close to it, through parliament. The least likely outcome is “managed no-deal”.

I predict that Mrs May will not be prime minister by December 31 2019. However, if there is an election, Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, will not win it.

Lastly, I predict that Brexit will put increasing strain on the UK’s constitutional framework. Particular attention should be paid to Scotland’s relationship with England and to the fragile power-sharing arrangements between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland.

To all readers of Brexit Briefing, best wishes for 2019 from James and myself!

*Brexit Briefing is going into Christmas recess. Barring any Brexit emergencies, it will return, with parliament, on Monday January 7

Further reading

MPs should not get Christmas off in the middle of this Brexit crisis
“We have 99 days until the supposed exit day. I stand ready to cancel my Christmas and get on with deciding the next steps in sorting out this shameful Brexit mess. Other MPs should join me and the Liberal Democrats to demand the government reschedules the meaningful vote now.” (Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, in The Times — paywall)

No-deal Brexit contingency plan
“For Ireland, a no deal Brexit would potentially involve severe macroeconomic, trade and sectoral impacts. Grappling with the enormous range of impacts both in the immediate short term and in the longer term will involve difficult and significant choices of a practical, strategic and political nature.” (Yesterday’s Irish government report on Brexit)

The government's grand post-Brexit immigration plan is likely to see numbers rise
“The immigration white paper, published yesterday, is an unfortunate symbol of the chaos of Britain’s Brexit policy and a government that has become badly dysfunctional. What started out as a plan to reduce and control immigration has, after much ministerial wrangling, led to a policy that is likely to see immigration, including low-skilled immigration, go up not down.” (Theresa May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy, in The Telegraph — paywall)

Hard numbers


It has taken two home secretaries, nearly 18 months and several fraught arguments in cabinet — but Britain’s government has finally published its blueprint for the post-Brexit immigration system. 

It proposes an extension of the current high-skilled visa for non-EU nationals to cover EU migrants. Applicants must have a firm offer and a sponsoring employer but the Home Office has promised far simpler bureaucracy and a two-to-three week turnround on visa applications. Plans to impose a controversial £30,000 minimum salary requirement on such visas will be put out to public consultation and be subject to some exemptions such as graduate jobs. Here’s our full analysis on the white paper’s proposals.

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