ABHI Brexit Update: The Pursuit of Consensus
It was when Tony Blair’s New Labour Party was youthful, ambitious and optimistic that it adopted the popular song “Things Can Only Get Better,” as its anthem for the 1997 General Election campaign. I do wonder, though, if the refrain was ringing in Theresa May’s ears as she drifted off to sleep on Tuesday night.
She has presided over an historic administration, although the superlatives are not exactly ones for the grandchildren. Last year it became the first to be held in contempt of Parliament, and this week it suffered the heaviest defeat ever inflicted on a Government in British political history. I know I have said, and still contend, that a win is a win and a loss is a loss, but the magnitude of this one was extraordinary. I admit to being surprised. I was aligned with Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who in the hours before the vote was talking mysteriously about “strange media management,” and predicting a margin of 50-60. In the end it was 230. Crickey.
Whilst the result was clear enough, the ultimate implications of it are far less so. Outside, supporters of both sides celebrated wildly. This is hardline Brexiteers, who think we should have left already, and the 'hug an EU citizen' crowd who still do not think we should leave at all, both believing they had “won.” Choose your simile, people on either side of a very tall fence (or maybe wall to use the vernacular), polar opposites, whatever, both cannot be right. It would be easy to assume that is was down to our poorly informed plebs, but for the fact that the same range of opinion was evident amongst the patricians inside the Palace of Westminster. Leavers think that this takes us ever closer to a March exit come what may, whilst remainers believe that this makes no Brexit more likely.
In an exchange that I have not been able to explain to anyone, immediately after the vote, the Prime Minister dared the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition to table a motion of no confidence in the Government. He duly obliged and she duly survived. This was another vote in which there was no doubt about the outcome. There is not going to be a General Election. Even the most disgruntled Tory backbenchers will not be complicit in a process that results in an election in which they may lose their seats, and, anyway, they have the Fixed Term Parliament Act to hide behind. The DUP also honoured its confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives and stayed onside. I am sure that the Unionists wanted to do the right thing, but I am also sure that the prospect of the people of Northern Ireland having to pay back the £1Billion bung that brokered the deal, was also a consideration. So the only tangible outcome was that another day was wasted. They are running out. She may have said that she would not lead the Tories into the next election, but Mrs. May must be desperately looking for an exit now. Her problem is that, a bit like finding a deal that the UK Parliament can agree on, it is hard to see how that is going to happen at the moment.
The fact that Mrs. May is still the Prime Minister, is more to do with the parlous state of our two main Political Parties that any sense of her personal authority. She has none. Gone. But the pantomime continues. I would not bother watching any news programmes over the weekend if I were you, as someone once said, why don't you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?. (Cornish Pirates at Coventry and Sunday lunch with Uncle John in Oxford since you asked). All you will miss is one politician after another say that we have to continue talking until we reach a consensus. Two and a half years have failed to find that consensus and they have just two and a half days left. And, in case we forget, and it is all a bit confusing, this is just about the Withdrawal. The future relationship bit comes later.
There are some new deadlines for us all to worry about. On Monday, following one of last week’s defeats, the PM will have to bring back a new plan on EU Withdrawal. It will be fully amendable and there will be a mind blowing number of them, which, and let me get all foolish and speculate, could essentially rule out a no deal Brexit. Then, a full debate and vote is now scheduled for 29th January. And we are due to leave on the 29th March. It is a bit tight to say the least. And that is assuming there is something that the UK can agree on that will subsequently be ratified in Europe. Too tight in my opinion and there is now a strong possibility that Article 50 will be delayed. Listen to me, practically giddy with foolishness. Others think the same. The EU has long been preparing for a three month delay in Brexit, but now I understand, with the approval of France and Germany, consideration is being given to it slipping into 2020. That would bring in to play the small matter of European Parliamentary elections in May, giving us the problem of electing 73 new MEPs to send to Brussels in July when we had not been involved in the process. But DON’T PANIC. This time the Electoral Commission has it covered. Preparations are being made should an emergency European election be required, and, yes, plans are also in train for a second referendum.
All in all I have nothing to offer you this week but more uncertainty. A date for your diary, however, is February 15th 2019, where we will be hosting a seminar on the latest Brexit updates. With a preferential rate for Members and a host of experts on-hand to answer your questions, we expect a full-house for this one. Bookings are now live.
Finally, I know you all really love my writing in this blog, and it is not for me to promote other commentators, but I simply cannot match the Guardian’s Marina Hyde. Well actually I am a little more restricted to be fair to myself. So lay down all sharp items, and do not put anything in your mouths as you enjoy this wonderful rant at the events in what passes for our Parliament these days on Wednesday. It comes with a warning that it is a little X certificate in places, but it is as good as anything I have read in quite some time.