Friday 29 March 2019

An Indulgent Waste of Time

Theresa May is nothing if not persistent. After losing for the second time, she vowed to have another go. Notwithstanding procedural shenanigans from the Speaker's chair, May was able to return her deal to the Commons again this afternoon. And you know what? In case you hid away from the news all day (and, in all truthfulness, who could blame you?) May lost again. 344 to 286 was the damage this time, despite the hype train doing its best to talk up the number of Brexiteers who had changed their minds. Among them, for entirely opportunistic reasons, was one Boris Johnson. Unfortunately, it's likely we'll be hearing from him some more in the coming days, weeks and months.

Doing her peevish best, May afterwards declared parliament was coming to the end of the process and a majority cannot be found for anything. That's being somewhat economical with the actualité. If she, you know, showed a bit of leadership and an element of flexibility she could get a form of Brexit through. Sure, it might not be her first choice but the loyalist whip plus support for a softer version from the other side of the house would see something through. What then happens next? The unedifying parade of MPs in front of the cameras this evening was suggestive of a realisation that only one sensible option remained: a general election. Also, unless something else happens quickly and provided May doesn't press the fat red button of no deal, the EU has intimated it will be seeking to force a long extension on the UK. A humiliation for the Tories, certainly, and also a nightmare too as it gives Nigel Farage's new vehicle licence to carve up the Tory voter coalition. You know, the sort of thing Dave set down this ruinous road to avoid in the first place.

Not if the Prime Minister has anything to do with it. Alex Wickham reports that the deal is coming back for a fourth shot. Amazing. To circumvent John Bercow, it's bound to be modified in some way. One possibility is fixing to it the Nandy/Snell amendment disallowed by the Speaker today. For those whose eyes glaze over when following this stuff, what this binds government by parliament during the next phase of negotiations around the trade deal/future relationship. The Commons would set the objectives, the priorities, and the Prime Minister would be required to report back every three months on progress (or otherwise) made. As May isn't going to be said PM subject to this oversight, this might prove attractive to her in the abstract. The same, however, cannot be said of her suite of would-be successors. Looking harangued and beleaguered before the next mandatory general election in 2022 (assuming we don't have a snap one in the mean time) isn't a prospect any of them will relish. But could this be enough to get it through? Another alternative under consideration is effectively running off two options against one another: May's deal versus whatever comes out on top of the next round of indicative votes. I would expect something along the lines of a customs union with a confirmatory referendum bolted on to be the most likely winner, but with May whipping for her deal and whipping against whatever she goes up against, what's the point when both are likely to fall?

The big question is will May change? With a premiership that might be measured in days, all thoughts of a legacy have shrunk down to getting a pretty shitty deal through. As achievements go, few are more miserable than leaving the European Union on horribly disadvantageous terms. However, that is not her sole concern. From the beginning, Brexit under May has been a class project about maintaining the coherence of the ruling class's chief political weapon: the Conservative Party itself. This is why, despite career's end staring back every time she peers into a mirror, we're not about to see a volte face or pitch, at least by her, into a softer Brexit. Going for the customs union option is splitting territory. The virtue of today's vote is we now know for definite who the ERG fundamentalists/incorrigibles are, and who knows where this die-in-a-ditch brigade might end up should May demonstrate uncharacteristic flexibility. However, while avoiding a customs union you have the permanent damage the only real alternative - a no deal Brexit - would inflict on the Tories. And that's even before you start thinking about the appalling spectacle of a Tory leadership contest among some of the very worst politicians Westminster has seen in years.

The truth of the matter is by closing down everything, more or less everything is open again. No deal, May's deal with bells and whistles, a customs union Brexit with a referendum, a general election, and an outside chance of revoke and restart. The Tories have presided over a complete farce and an awful, indulgent, poisonous waste of time.


Speedy said...

A serious question - May has said she could call an election if she doesn't get her way at the next vote, but where does this leave Brexit?

The deadline is still April 12 to leave, or does she go to EU and ask for an extension? In this case, according to the news, the choice is likely to be accept it to 2020 or leave on 12th.

Is this reading correct? Because the thing I don't get is how can she say I'll call an election as if that will change anything, and perhaps it will, but that will take at least 8 weeks and what happens to Brexit in the meantime. Oh, and doesn't she need a 2/3 majority to call one? Is this likely?

Anonymous said...

It has already been confirmed by the EU that they will agree to delay our exit date is a GE is called in the near future.

So that at least is not a problem.