ABHI Brexit Update: One for the Connoisseurs
So this is the one when I was supposed to write, “This time next week we will have left the European Union, so this will be my last blog.” Right? That is what the Prime Minister has insisted all along. Not the bit about my blog. To be honest with you, I think she might not actually read it. But what a week this has been. Astonishingly still not yet pivotal, it has, nonetheless, been one, as they say, for the connoisseurs. A bit like a 6-3 at a muddy, wet and windy Mennaye Field in January. And I think I might have to find a few more blogs in me yet.
I am happy, of course, to accept your plaudits and, as always, you have been very kind. I should acknowledge, however, that I was far from being the only pundit to publicly contemplate what might have been going through Speaker Bercow’s mind this time last week. What surprised me more was not the course of action he chose to pursue, but rather the reaction, or perhaps lack of it, from MPs. Of course some were incensed. But that was the crowd who are incensed by everything Bercow does. These are the people who, last year, were plotting to unseat him in favour of someone less violently committed to the primacy of Parliament over Government. Bercow is nothing if not his own man. Hardline Leavers rolled out the line that he is an arch Remainer, determined to frustrate the process and this was just another example. Overall, though, my sense was that the mood of the House was one of resignation. The Speaker was right. Government cannot impose its will by repeatedly bringing back the same motion. That is undemocratic.
I also think that a lot of MPs privately breathed a huge sigh of relief. How does one justify a volte-face when nothing has actually changed? Those who have consistently opposed May’s deal, for whatever, often unclear reasons, were beginning to worry about the consequences of their actions. Leave supporters facing accusations that they are complicit in a process that is blocking the one thing they have fought so hard for, for so long. Remainer MPs in Leave voting constituencies, and they are a lot of them, worried that they would have to explain why they had ignored the will of the electorate. At a stroke they we all off the hook. Although they might not be for long.
Having been told she could not have her vote again, Mrs. May headed off to Brussels to do the thing she had vowed not to. Seek an extension to Article 50. And this was supposed to be the “See you, thanks for coming,” Summit. She did not go there quietly. On Wednesday night she launched a quite remarkable public assault on her parliamentary colleagues. Broadcasting live to the nation from Downing Street, Union flags conspicuous, it was all “it’s not me Guv, it’s them. MPs are so self-indulgent and how can they not see that I am right and everyone else is wrong.” It was an extraordinary gamble. She was obviously trying to endear herself to us great unwashed, but it is hardly a strategy out of “Leadership for Dummies.” Remember, she needs the support of the MPs she has just rubbished to get a version of her deal, that is sufficiently different from the current one for Mr. Speaker’s liking, passed in another meaningful vote. Expect more jiggery-pokery in the Fun House next week aimed at wresting control from a PM who does appear to have finally lost it.
And then there was the length of the extension itself. Be warned there are a lot of “buts” coming up. Jean-Claude Junker repeatedly advised the PM not to put a date into any request for an extension to Article 50. As is her wont, she ignored him and plumped for 30th June as an absolute final deadline. The first of those buts. That causes a problem for the EU because the European Parliament elections take place on 23rd May, and if the UK is a member of the EU on 23rd May, it has to take part. Next but. The UK’s position, which has some legal substance, is that 23rd May is academic because the European Parliament does not actually sit until 2nd July. Here comes another one. The EU points out that the UK has failed to agree a deal in three years so how is it going to ratify one in just three months? And if it cannot, then the UK will still be a member of the EU on 2nd July. Brace yourselves. We do not care says the UK, we are happy to have no representation in the European Parliament. Another. Not that simple says the EU, if you are still members but not represented, none of our institutions are properly constituted. Next one. We will just hold an emergency election then to send some British MEPs for however long it takes. And the last one. Cannot do that as some of your 73 seats have already been reallocated. You cannot make this stuff up. It is too stupid.
Almost as stupid as persisting with a plan that has no hope of being agreed by your own Parliament. So last night the European Council took matters into its own hands. Apparently when Mrs. May was asked by fellow European leaders what she would do if her deal was voted down again next week, she replied that she was concentrating on getting the deal through. Recognising that there was no Plan B, May was excluded from the room whilst the EU27 came up with one for her. The Council has agreed to an extension of Article 50 until 22nd May, providing the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified by the UK Parliament next week. If it is not ratified, then the Council agrees to an extension until 12th April and expects the UK to come up with a way forward before then for consideration by the Council. It is actually rather well done. If the PM has shot herself in the other foot with Wednesday’s outburst and loses again next week, the UK then has two weeks to decide on coups, general elections, second referendums, indefinite extensions and anything else that the EU might agree to. And, crucially, there is no 29th March crash out. But I told you that ages ago. Instead, if the PM loses again or cannot bring herself to even hold a vote, settle down and watch her demise. It could be the week when she finally runs out of road.
In the meantime, an online petition to revoke Article 50 crashed the parliamentary internet on its way to rapidly gaining 3 million plus signatures.
But keep smiling through. Helping us do exactly that this week was the French EU Minister Nathalie Loiseau. Madame Loiseau has apparently called her cat “Brexit” because he meows loudly to be let out but just stands there when she opens the door. As well as a laugh, it gave me a thought. Being descended from French nobility, I am not a natural supporter of La Republique, but forgive and forget and all that and it was a long time ago. Maybe Paris will let me dust down my lineage and give me a Passport. But if you thought that was funny, you obviously do not follow Amber Rudd on Twitter.
Finally, my thanks for the many birthday wishes received. We had a great weekend, although I still have an acute pain in the wallet region. I can report that at 71 years of age the great man is still shaking up a storm, and even my daughter (kind of) enjoyed herself. Given there are so many of you out there, not least on our Board, I should also offer my most sincere congratulations to the Welsh rugby team, who produced one of the most accomplished performances I have seen to complete a Grand Slam. Not a feat easily achieved. It is indeed an uncertain world. I had reckoned the Welsh game would be an absolute cliff hanger and the English one sided to the point of boredom. The perils of punditry eh?