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February 10, 2019 | Brexit Trifecta: May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next?

Mike 'Mish' Shedlock

Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. Sitka Pacific is an asset management firm whose goal is strong performance and low volatility, regardless of market direction.
In a purposefully delayed response to Corbyn, UK Prime Minister Theresa May took another 4 days off the Brexit clock.

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May.

She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock.

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”.

The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals.

But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”.

She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

Great Question!

Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock.

Labour Splintered

Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union.

Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics.

Tories United

The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal.

The Conservatives have recorded their biggest lead since the last general election after support for Labour slumped by six points, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer.

Theresa May’s party recorded a seven-point lead over Labour in the poll, its biggest since the disastrous election campaign that left her without a majority and relying on the support of Northern Irish DUP MPs.

Labour’s support fell from 40% in the last poll to 34%, while Tory support went up from 37% to 41%. It comes despite continued infighting within the government over Brexit, including a record parliamentary defeat for the prime minister over her proposed deal.

Biggest Fears

The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election.

May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal.


While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories.

If she can do that, then she wins.

Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

Remaining Options

  1. WTO-Brexit March 29
  2. WTO-Brexit delayed
  3. May’s Deal March 29
  4. May’s Deal Delayed

It’s hard to accurately assess the odd, but as I stated long ago, another referendum is totally off the table.

We can also rule out the Norway option and Corbyn’s customs union proposal.

Malthouse Compromise

The Malthouse Compromise is still on the table. The only way to rule it out is by agreement on May’s deal.

After setting up a committee to study that idea (a delayed trade deal but a guaranteed Brexit), May disavowed it a couple days later.

However, May cannot do that if Tories and DUP remain united. Thus, realistically, a trio of options remain.

Brexit Trifecta

  1. WTO-Brexit March 29
  2. Malthouse Compromise
  3. May’s Deal Sooner or Later

EU Will Blink

If push comes to shove, and it will, the EU is highly likely to blink. Under that theory, the EU will offer a backstop time guarantee.

If so, the revised deal will pass.

If the EU holds firm, take your pick from number 1 or number 2 or something in between if not exactly the Malthouse compromise.

May’s deal is no better than 50-50.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock

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February 10th, 2019

Posted In: Mish Talk

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