ABHI Brexit Update: The Arithmetic Just Got Harder
As the man (nearly) said, “The clock on the wall keeps rolling on, and Brexit, you still ain’t home.” I am not sure we are completely down in muddy waters just yet, but I reckon we have entered the last chance saloon and it is getting pretty close to midnight. And if I pull anymore clichés out of the box, I will be getting myself headhunted by the BBC.
But, anyway, it is all true. Theresa May has less than a week to get something, anything out of the EU to be able to convince her Parliament that they can support her increasingly doomed looking Withdrawal Agreement when the voting starts next week. If she cannot, or whatever she comes up with fails to pass muster, then there is trouble ahead for the PM. It comes, not least, in the form of the blocking amendment laid down by Yvette Cooper, who, in the absence of any sign of the return of Millie the Elder, I am now calling FLL. As I told you before, the amendment seeks to wrestle power from the government and take the prospect of a no deal Brexit off the table. Given that the PM continues to proffer the belief that no deal is a viable negotiating position, a meaningful vote in favour of FLL would spell curtains for Mrs. May. What happens then, who knows, but expect to hear a lot more from the People’s Vote crowd who, as I have also told you, are biding their time.
Still she carries on regardless. Hard at it in Brussels this week again with European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker. But how awkward did the shots of the two of them on Wednesday night look? They reminded me of one of those celebrity couples who, about 30 years ago, went through a horrible, acrimonious, “War of the Roses” type divorce. Now, for some cause or other, they had been brought together again. Standing close but about a million miles apart, they mumble platitudes about water under the bridge and no hard feelings, but you just know that immediately beneath the surface they are desperate, given half a chance, to inflict primal savagery upon each other. Afterwards Junker did not sound positive, talking about the difficulty of now avoiding no deal and the associated mayhem. May will keep trying.
And what about Junker’s face? He had a massive plaster down one side. Look, it takes one to know one, and that, mark my words, was a drinking injury. I reckon I would quite enjoy a night out with old Jean-Claude. If I thought I was ever going to die and was one of those people who needed a bucket list, that would be on it. But I will not, am not and it is not.
Of more interest was the prolonged presence in Brussels of two other senior government figures. Hats off once again to Steve Barclay, the underdog’s underdog. Good lad Steve! Did I tell you we practically grew up together? But even more significant for me than the Brexit Secretary was the appearance of Geoffrey Cox QC, MP. The Attorney General. When the lawyers get involved, you know it is serious. Those of you in operational positions will, doubtless, on occasion, have shared the frustrations I had with corporate lawyers back in the day. They would never give you a straight answer (“it is a business decision”) and I always thought that was a problem. Let me tell you now, I was way, way wrong. There is not giving a straight answer and there is not giving a straight answer. And giving a quality not straight answer might yet extricate us from this mess. Cox will use his formidable, laser like, legal brain to construct a form of words that is utterly plausible, commits nobody to anything and has both sides convinced the other has given up far more in the way of concessions than they have themselves. And it will all be about the Irish backstop. And it will, to appease the hardliners, be legally binding. Because, of course, nothing is legally binding. It is all open to challenge. By other lawyers. That is the genius of it. That is why these people really are clever and why they command the big salaries. And if he can pull it off, we can all breathe again. For at least 18 months anyway.
The parliamentary arithmetic, however, just got harder. I probably do not need to tell you that the breakaway party that I roundly poo-pooed is up and running. Eight Labour MPs resigned the Party and have been joined by three Tories to form “The Independent Group.” None of whom, I hasten to add, would pass the beer test like our friend in Brussels with his sticking plaster.
And we may be counting, but good luck with that. 11 MPs may not sound like a lot, but it is more than the DUP have and they were worth £100 million a pop to the PM. It is also as many as the Lib Dems. And, given the Independent Group and the Lib Dems are pretty much separated at birth, that is a block of 22. In a hung Parliament that is a significant number, and with as many as nine Cabinet Ministers threatening to resign if we head inexorably towards no deal, then the PM’s woes may not yet have started in earnest. Something will give. And, eventually, this might be the week in which it does.
Elsewhere, guidance from HMG is coming thick and fast, much of it presented to us at last week’s excellent Brexit workshop. Make sure you keep looking at our Brexit resources web page for members, and the Member Updates that we put out.