Thursday 14 March 2019

Brexit's Groundhog Day

How many times can you write 'extraordinary' in a short article? Let's have a go. It's extraordinary to see the so-called People's Vote campaign calling on pro-referendum MPs to abstain on, well, another referendum amendment put by former PV darlings The Independent Group. It's extraordinary for eight (eight!) members of the cabinet to vote against the government's position on extending Article 50, these were Alun Cairns, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson. No prizes for accurately forecasting Williamson's company in the no lobby - one can't let Boris Johnson claim the Brexit limelight alone when it comes to the bloodletting of the future Tory party leadership contest. But forgive me, I realise there's one missing from the inglorious roster. Yes, that would be Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary. He voted against the very extension motion he spoke to in the Commons. Extraordinary.

Believe it or not, the day could have been even more so had a couple of MPs changed their minds. In an audacious bid to grab control of the Brexit process from Theresa May, the government retained its position with a majority of just two. Extraordinary. Had it passed May's deal would well and truly be dead and with it quite possibly the Prime Minister herself, for it's hard to see how she would have gone on with Brexit taken off her. Yet to have dodged a bullet that came this close, will it be enough to give her pause where repeat humiliating defeats have not?

Whatever. We're now in the twilight zone. Parliament has consented to request an extension of Article 50, and far from taking back control the process is temporarily in the EU's hands. Cue much fretting over meetings Nigel Farage has (allegedly) had with Matteo Salvini, and secret backbench Tory delegations to Poland. Funny how these so-called patriots scab on their country's (bourgeois) interests and never have to account for it. Anxieties abound over what concessions the EU are going to demand in return for the extension. There's concern Spain will re-open the question of Gibraltar, that the commission will wrangle again over membership subs to the EU, will only agree to an extension of a set length, and there's the terribly tricky waters of the European elections and resultant shifts in balances of power in the EU. Everywhere you look, uncertainty begets more uncertainty and the nervous breakdown of the British political system continues unabated.

Yet the unexpected could still happen. While we ponder and speculate about an extension to the end of June, or up to a year or whatever, the possibility of May's deal coming back for a third try is amazingly, unbelievably, extraordinarily alive. Supposing the Speaker lets the deal return, which is still up in the air, there is some suggestion of significant movement on the Tory benches. After Wednesday's removal of no deal and Tuesday's drubbing reality has dawned on some ERG-types and Brexiteers that this would be the best Brexit they can get. David Davis, for instance, is supposedly among their number. If the alternative is a softer Brexit a la Labour's and the more reality-based wing of the Tory party, or a second referendum, or an election, or the revoking of Article 50 they're going to go for it. That in itself will shift some, but not enough. However, the very spectacle of a movement might see some of Labour's leaver MPs, reluctant or no, pile in. While it is true they aren't prepared to sacrifice their careers to spare the Prime Minister the blushes of another record defeat, some of them will change their minds if it appears the vote's going to be close. And so the ghastly, tedious vision of her deal coming back after the majority against falls to double figures, and again, and again, time after time, with a minor modification here and a new choice of words, this is not beyond the realms of possibility.



Ian Gibson said...

"will it be enough to give her pause where repeat humiliating defeats have not?" I can only admire your optimism...

Darrell Kavanagh said...

As you said, May's entire political project, and quite likely the Tory government, survived by only two votes. 6 Labour MPs voted against the Benn amendment. They are objectively scabs and should have the whip removed.

Boffy said...

A softer Brexit is not possible, as the EU made clear from the beginning when they said its hard Brexit or No Brexit. Theoretically, the Tories could join with Corbyn in agreeing to CU, and Single Market membership. The EU will not allow that on Corbyn's basis, as they have repeatedly stated, i.e. no seat at the table, no external trade deals, no end to free movement. If a National Government of May-Corbyn then couldn't get that, what then? back to No Deal Brexit or No Brexit.

Politically, May or other, cannot reach across the Labour on that basis, because it would rip the Tories apart, the Tory rank and file that support No Deal, as do Tory voters by *0% to 20%, will not wear it. May would be out on her ear, just as soft Brexit Tories are facing deselection, now.

The DUP are only interest in NI not being carved out of the UK single market/polity. They don't care if that means the UK staying in a CU etc. But, the ERG do, for the reasons set out above. There is no way of squaring the Irish circle. To keep the same regulatory regime either side of the border (tariffs are irrelevant) requires N.I. to be in the Single Market, and the backstop means therefore Britain as a whole must be in the Single Market.

The ERG know that, which is why they cannot go along with it, because it really does mean that Britain would have to stay in the Single Market forever, or until there is a United Ireland. The EU cottoned on to the Tories duplicity, and Gove's plan to break the Treaty obligations, after Britain had exited, and so tied Britain into the CU and Single Market indefinitely, as a vassal state.

The ERG have made it clear they will not follow Gove in pursuing the course of breaking international treaties as that would make Britain a pariah state. So, its a No Deal Brexit or No Brexit. As things stand, its No Brexit, with May having to revoke Article 50 to avoid the disaster of crashing out. My guess is that she then calls a GE, on the basis of a negotiated No Deal, and Canada FTA.