ABHI Membership

ABHI Brexit Update: Jiggery Pokery

George Osborne has been in Davos this week at the World Economic Forum. Which interested me. Try to forget for a moment (not something we will ever actually be able to achieve in our lifetimes) that Osborne was one of the dribbling posh boys who created the chaos with which we are now trying to deal. Also, as I remain steadfastly apolitical, in fact I have never cared less about Party Politics in my life, I will not pass comment on how his big, bold austerity plan is working out for those of our fellow citizens who are most vulnerable to its crueler edges. That is way beyond my bailiwick and not what we talk about together on a Friday. I am also not keen to start a war with Middle England out there. The fact is that it seems that the former Chancellor, by dint of his role as an advisor to the investment behemoth, Blackrock, is a serious and significant figure in the world of international finance these days.

Now it puzzles me a bit quite how young Gideon, who has a degree in Modern History and who, during his time in Her Majesty’s Treasury, would have been surrounded by the best and brightest minds in the civil service offering him advice, is even remotely qualified for the Blackrock gig. But our George is positively Mr. Benn like in his adaptability. On some days he even dresses as the editor of a newspaper. And so, apparently, his proclamations do actually affect the value of copper and tin. I am sure the pittance he receives for his efforts also helps keep the wolf from the door and the kids in plimsols.

Did I just say all that out loud?

Anyway, the point is that Osborne and I agree on something. With each passing day, the prospect of a delay to Article 50 grows ever more likely. He said so this week, I told you last. But no Blackrock, you can stick it. I am not interested.

Osborne’s observations are consistent with many of those from others outside of the immediate bubble, that the UK Parliament is set firm against leaving the EU in March without a deal. That is what parliamentary business has been all about these past days. I heard one rather weary sounding Radio 4 reporter describe this week, sandwiched as it is between last Tuesday’s historic defeat and next Tuesday’s second meaningful vote, as the parliamentary equivalent of the potter’s wheel interlude. Ask your parents. Personally, I have read it as one full of what we used to call jiggery pokery. Had I not had other things to do on your behalf, I could have spent most of my time sat in the gallery watching the comings and goings. A bit like a Test Match without the streakers. It has certainly had Kuenssberg, Peston and the rest of Vultures Inc. busy boring us with variations on the theme.

Just about every MP you have ever heard of has laid down some amendment or other about some motion or other. Ellie and I actually got caught up in it when we presented ourselves at Portcullis House on Tuesday, for an audience with the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Access to Medicines and Medical Devices – not even the acronym slips off the tongue. As we sat in the reception area watching the green screens call vote after vote, we realised our afternoon was destined not to go precisely as scheduled. To her great credit, the Honorable Member for Newton Abbott afforded us the courtesy of at least coming up to say hello, not that it was easy to hear each other over the continuous ringing of the Division bell. As an aside for those of you now worried about our market access activities, the heavy lifting on the group is done by an admirably well informed researcher, with whom we are looking forward to working in the months ahead.

The Remain lobby are trying every maneuver they can to take no deal off the table. The perceived wisdom, as I write, is that the most likely of all the various options to be successful in next Tuesday’s voting, is the amendment being tabled by former Health Minister Yvette Cooper and supported by the Tory Nick Boles. Cooper is certainly gaining some attention and being profiled by all and sundry. It might be very helpful for her should a certain vacancy in the Party ever open up. As is the way of these things it is a bit convoluted. Her amendment would see parliamentary time carved out the following week on 5th February to hear her Private Member’s Bill read, and potentially enacted, in a single day. The Bill would force the Government to extend Article 50 should a deal not be secured by 26th February. It does seem to have garnered solid support, but there are many ways in which it could be thwarted. The main hurdle is that it is using legislation to potentially force the Government’s hand, and the Government, like the rest of us, does not enjoy being told what to do. Antibodies have been produced.

One potential problem is the Lords. Rumours abound that Brexit supporting Peers are minded to talk out the Bill in the upper House. Should it get through that stage, there are various ways in which spanners could still be aimed at works. It is quite easy to block a Private Member’s Bill, it needs only a single word from a single Member. Ringing bells? You are thinking of Sir Christopher Chope. Sir Christopher has form in this area. A lot of form. I am sure he is sincere in his belief that important legislation should not simply go through on the nod, but he has, on occasion, misjudged the mood of the House as they say. The particular occasion you are desperately trying to remember now, was his blocking of a Bill to criminalise upskirting last year. He is also a bit of a Brexiteer. But he has been put on notice by the formidable Brummie MP who shares my surname. Should Sir C pull the stunt this time around, then Jess is likely to greet him with, what is euphemistically known in the West of Scotland, as a “kiss.” Speaking for myself, I would rather she focused any such attentions on Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose latest wheeze is to have Parliament suspended to stop it passing any legislation that could get in the way of leaving the EU at any cost.

The mood of the moment, and the momentum it has gained, has me feeling rather smug. I have been telling you for months that no Brexit is more likely than no deal, and on Tuesday, no deal could be all but ruled out. And no Blackrock. Still not interested.

But nothing is cut and dried about any of this, and the PM is still convinced that her horse is not quite dead yet. She believes that the tiniest concession from Brussels on the Irish backstop could have the DUP and scores of Tory rebels getting behind her deal, and us getting on with 18 months of talks about future relationships. The problem is that in her mind, and the minds of those opposed to the deal as it stands, the tiniest concession is to make the backstop time limited. And the problem with that is a time limited backstop is not, in the minds of the EU27, a backstop. They have said so, countless times. And, let me say again, whatever deal we agree in Westminster, still has to be ratified by the European Parliament. Taking no deal off the table is not entirely within our own gift.

We will be using our friends in the City’s law firms to help us make sense of things for you with a series of up close and personal workshops, starting on 15th February. Enjoy your weekends and brace yourselves for who knows what in the Fun House on Tuesday.