17.4 Million people – 52% of those who voted – asked to leave the EU two years after triggering Article 50. It was clear that that meant severing all ties- in particular leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union, the European Court of Justice; and by that means regaining control of our laws, our borders and our money. Remember all that?
Well a chain of events this week (adding to many others over the last two years since Mrs May’s disastrous miscalculation and mishandling of an unnecessary General Election in 2017) seem to me to be hurtling us towards the destruction of that dream.
Since I last wrote- a couple of days ago:
- Eccentric backbencher Sir Oliver Letwin has taken control of the Government in a constitutional outrage, aided and abetted by Mr Speaker Bercow, whose incumbency of the Chair may be viewed with some disdain by constitutional historians in the future.
- Letwin tried to persuade the Commons to agree to a series of votes on matters ranging from No Brexit, No Hard exit, a second referendum. All were defeated; and none achieved even the level of votes which the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement had reached the previous week. (In numbers, it remains the most popular option.)
- Thwarted, Letwin now changed tack, and on Wednesday he brought in his own Bill to ban leaving with No Deal, to force the PM to seek an extension to Article 50, and for Parliament to approve that extension. (Despite the fact that the EC might well not agree to it themselves.) He forced the Bill through the House of Commons, abusing or ignoring most of the rules and conventions built over 1000 years to ensure that we get good law; and in the end he won by one vote. Interesting to see that one of the MPs voting with Letwin is recently out of jail for a criminal offence. I wonder if the Midnight vote breached her curfew arrangements!
- Simultaneously, Mrs May having concluded that she could not take her own Party with her, entered into serious negotiations with the Marxist leader of the Labour Party to see if she could secure their support. I do not for a second believe she will. Mr Corbyn will plainly demand things (Customs Union, Single Market, second referendum) which are abhorrent to the Tories. If May goes along with Corbyn, her only chance would be to win using Labour, against her own Party. Not since the Corn Laws has that occurred; it would be a national humiliation and mean the certain death of the Conservative Party. She must not be allowed to do it.
- Trade Secretary Liam Fox was at the same moment addressing the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers. He assured us that the Customs Union was wholly obnoxious, would prevent us from entering into Trade Deals of our own, and that our Manifesto Commitment to leave the CU was unassailable. I wonder if he had discussed that with the PM, or with Mr Corbyn before he appeared in front of us.
- Any and all of this demands a further extension to Article 50. We may persuade the EU to agree 22 May, which is the last date before we would have to fight the European Parliamentary elections. The EU do not want us to do so, because it jiggers the party political balance of the various committees and groupings. One thing they do not want would be 50 or 60 extreme Brexiteers in their hallowed portals.
The end result of all of this, as of Thursday 4 April, is that no-one has the faintest clue what happens next. We are still due to leave on Friday 12th, but of course the Letwin law supercedes that. We may not leave without a Deal, but then we have no Deal to offer. Stalemate.
Those who would argue that a Second Referendum or even a General Election would somehow or another untangle this Gordian knot are of course ’talking their own book’. A referendum would be divisive and indecisive, and anyhow, would not be possible within the time frame which the EU would allow us. A General Election would be a nightmare for all concerned. I have a great deal of sympathy with Brenda from Bristol (“Not another one.”)
So the only option left to Mrs May is to try once again to force the Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons prior to next Wednesday, and then try to sort the mess out after we have left.
If we do not do so, I can see no way in which Brexit can happen at all. That would be a disgraceful destruction of democracy; it would outrage the 17.4 million, and a great many Remainers too who nonetheless fundamentally respect democracy.
I shudder to think what the short and longer term consequences of that would be.