ABHI Brexit Update: Super Saturday
You should always, they say, be careful about what you wish for. This time last week the Scottish Rugby Union was wishing to take legal action against the organisers of the Rugby World Cup if the game against Japan was called off in the aftermath of a typhoon. With hindsight, the Scots may have preferred to have quietly slipped home a couple of days early, forever maintaining that had they not been robbed by the weather they could have gone all the way.
Never going all the way with the DUP was the Government’s “new” deal on withdrawal from the EU. I wonder if both sides in the Brexit debate wished they had thought and talked a bit more about what would happen in Ireland after Brexit three years ago. It is funny that something that was hardly mentioned in the referendum campaign has become one of the main things preventing a lot of people getting what they thought they wished for in 2016. Less funny and more irksome, is the fact that many of the more conspicuous topics, such as how much better off we were all going to be, have been all but forgotten.
Following Brexit has been a bit like watching the Olympics. You might never have seen a Pommel Horse or a set of Asymmetrical Bars in the flesh, and rather than diving you have always more kind of fallen into a swimming pool. But half an hour on the sofa in front of your widescreen with a can of cider and a tin of Pringles, and you are talking about difficulty scores, dismounts and clean entry like you were born to it. Same with Brexit. We are all now experts on transition / implementation periods, backstops, deals, no deals and rules of origin. This week we have a new one. Consent. This might be the thing that scuppers this deal. Not that the deal is as new as Boris has come back shouting about. The backstop and hard border are avoided by putting a customs border in the Irish Sea and keeping Northern Ireland in the single market, something that Theresa May was told was not acceptable. It treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. I will not bother getting into the fine detail, not that there is much, until, if and when, it actually happens.
The “consent” issue allows the Stormont Assembly to periodically reaffirm, or otherwise, arrangements. What happens when it does otherwise is probably best not to think about. Not that it is a problem at the moment, Stormont has not sat for three years. The DUP’s big concern is that when it does, it may well start to lean more towards Dublin, and hence Brussels, than London. If you were in Arleen Foster’s shoes now, you would probably consider that you had been thrown under a bus by Boris.
The DUP will not support the deal that comes in front of Parliament tomorrow for that reason. Others are concerned that workers’ rights and environmental issues will fall away, given that the “level playing field” on the alignment of regulations has been removed from the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement. There are some words about “upholding common high standards,” but they are in the non legally binding Political Declaration. Make of that what you will.
Others have pointed out, not unreasonably, that the only thing Boris was worried about was getting the thing done by the end of October. That would mean he had honoured his commitment, which in turn, he hopes, will play out well with the voters in the upcoming election. Because that of course is what this is all about. It is the main reason why Labour will not support the deal. Ireland is just an excuse. They want Johnson to have to go back to the EU asking for an extension, having failed to deliver on his promise.
You may not have noticed, but Parliament was prorogued again last week to allow the preparation of a Queen’s Speech. That there was even a Queen’s Speech at all is one of those things that would be considered as absolutely scandalous if more people realised what had actually happened. The Queen’s Speech is the vehicle that the Government of the day uses to set out its legislative agenda, in other words its business plan, for the months and years ahead. Ordinarily I would have been poring over the elements that relate to the NHS for you, and be glued to Parliament TV when they are debated on Monday. Except there are not months and years ahead for this Government, an election is imminent. It is also more likely than it has been for some time that the Queen’s Speech will not be passed by Parliament. It usually goes through pretty much on the nod and the Government gets on with it and everyone else ensures that the legislation receives proper scrutiny. But Boris might be close to another inauspicious achievement he will doubtless laugh off, if he can become the first PM since Stanley Baldwin in 1924 to have failed to get his work programme passed. It is another reason I am paying little attention to the contents, nice as it is to see the NHS at the forefront of thinking and legislation proposed to support the implementation of the Long Term Plan.
What we saw was not a Queen’s Speech, but the launch of the Conservative Party manifesto. With pomp and circumstance. I am sure that Mark Francois and his ilk got over excited about it all, but the main thing that I got excited about was how much it must have cost. I have enormous sympathy for anyone who lives in East London and works in the gig economy who was denied the opportunity to go to work this week by protestors climbing on tube trains. But my preferred mode of transport in central London is on foot, and Extension Rebellion has improved my sojourns in recent weeks on account of the fact that there has been no traffic. The Queen’s Speech on the other hand. I spent an increasingly frustrating hour in Westminster on Monday morning trying to walk between Victoria Street and St. Pancras. Each of my chosen routes was barricaded and it seemed to me that the entirety of the Met was on duty. I even bumped into the Band of the Royal Marines. All to launch the Conservative Party manifesto.
I am not here next week as my wife and I are taking advantage of a residential school trip to travel to Paris while we can still use Eurostar without a visa, but will update you on events over the weekend.
Even as I write, amendments are being prepared and who knows what MPs might ultimately end up voting on. It will be a day for close contests tomorrow then, as England take on Australia in Oita and Boris takes on the opposition in the Commons. There is likely to be a one score difference in both.