Super Saturday – What Just Happened?
I bet there were a fair few World Cup Breakfasts happening in Westminster on Saturday morning. Chance for a little light relief for MPs before a long, and let us face it, rather tedious morning until the business started in earnest later in the day. Maybe also something to get the adrenaline coursing before their own confrontations. The glorious distraction of sport. 80 minutes of utterly absorbing yet ultimately meaningless activity. I am not sure how much beer would have been drunk. I have never been able to face it at that time of day. My rule of thumb, with the occasional exception when I am at Lord’s, is that the hours before midday are committed to my continued support for the Sri Lankan economy.
In the end it was a good day for interceptions, whether you were Henry Slade, Anthony Watson or Oliver Letwin. Letwin’s was the most skilful and befitting of his status as an Oxford Don. He had spotted the loophole that was not supposed to exist in the Benn Act, and latched on to the mistrust of the Government that permeates the House. If Boris’ “new” deal had been passed as it was, Benn was off the table as a deal would have been achieved. But that would still have allowed two routes for us to leave without a deal. Even with the deal agreed by Parliament, legislation is still needed to deliver the Withdrawal Act, and legislation is open to all sorts of delays. The Government could have also tried to force an election by calling a vote of no confidence in itself. In either event, the 31st October deadline would have been passed, and there we are. Oops sorry, we just left by accident. If that all sounds like a conspiracy theory, it may well be, but whilst there are many MPs committed to preventing no deal or even reversing the decision to leave, there are still those that want what they call a “clean break” Brexit, or what the rest of us would call no deal. And do not forget that level of mistrust.
Letwin was clever because it allowed many who might have waivered to say they supported the deal but had added belt and braces to the spirit of Benn. It also buys time for those who still seek a route to remain, either via a referendum or a straight revocation of Article 50.
Boris’ response to yet another defeat, and he is making a habit of that, was as predictable as it was petulant. He took his ball, and his MPs home, not even bothering to contest was should have been the main event. If he was really so keen to get a deal, this should not have troubled him. Parliament had, after all, approved his deal in principle, they just did not trust him to deliver it in time. But, of course, all he is bothered about is getting to an election without having failed to deliver his promise to Brexit by 31st October.
And so the letter required by Benn was sent, or at least an unsigned photocopy of the Act was, followed by another note saying that Boris did not think an extension was necessary. For an administration that bangs on about the democratic will of the people, it seems to forget, rather readily, that we live in a Parliamentary democracy and Government is obliged to respect that. There is the will of the people of course, but there is also the will of Parliament. A backlash against Johnsons antics is underway, with some questioning the legality of his approach, but he remains steadfast. For now.
This week, Boris will try and get the Withdrawal Bill enacted, convinced he can still get it done by Halloween. Others will try and slow things down and enact their own strategies. Once again, I was wrong that we had reached a decisive juncture, but so were many others. The question now is what happens next. The best that the BBC could come up with late on Saturday was that it was going to be messy. We are not supposed to be able to leave the EU without a deal, but our Government is adamant that we will leave on 31st October come what may. Best keep those contingencies in place. I will be back in a week or so to try and make sense of what has happened for you.