There is one thing on which people on all sides of the great Brexit debate can agree – we wish that it was all over. We’ve had enough of the interminable and internal Brexit squabbling. (Do we really mind what Olly Robbins said in a bar in Brussels?) The Chamber of the House of Commons barely fills when the PM makes yet another of her Brexit Statements. People have started to talk of ’the B word’ at dinner parties for fear of being guilty of some catastrophic social gaffe if they even dare mention Brexit. ‘Let's just get on with it, get it over’, is most observer’s ardent hope
Westminster and Whitehall are in gridlock. Aside from emergency legislation- largely Statutory Instruments- required before Brexit Day, there really is very little domestic Parliamentary Business. Last Wednesday the House rose at about 4 PM- the earliest ever in my 22 years here. Civil servants are being drafted into the Brexit department, hindering everyday government business. And there is virtually no talk in the corridors and tea rooms of anything else.
Businesses are of course being badly affected too- not by Brexit, but by uncertainty about what it will all look like. Some people are stockpiling, others making all kinds of contingency plans, most of which we hope will turn out to have been quite unnecessary.
A kind of Brexit Statis seems to have engulfed the whole nation. Or Brexit ennui, perhaps.
That’s one reason why I will not support any extension to Article 50. One backbench amendment to the Meaningful Vote which will now be on 27 February, would defer the whole thing for two years. Two years. Can you imagine? A couple of weeks or so to tidy up the necessary legislation may be acceptable, but no more than that. Apart from anything else we must have the whole thing done and dusted well before the elections for the European Parliament on 23 May. That’s also why I will not support any move which tries in some obscure way to outlaw leaving with no deal. If we don’t agree a deal, then we will leave with no deal. Pretty straightforward, I would say. And in my view a great deal less scary than some of the ‘Remainer’ scaremongers would have you believe.
European negotiations always run right up to the wire – a deal is pulled out of the bag at the 59th Minute of the 23rd hour, as it were. I am sure that that is what will happen this time too. But there are still a couple of months to go before we see the light of day on 29 March. When I chair Committees in the House, or sometimes the main chamber itself, discussions start precisely on the hour. For a minute or two beforehand the whole House goes quiet in anticipation. It’s like the eerie silence which fell across the First World War Battlefields for an hour or so before the main assaults.
That’s where we are with Brexit right now- an anticipation-filled silence before the great storm.
“I would it were bed-time, Hal, and all’s well.” (Falstaff to the King, Henry IV, Part One.)