Sunday 24 February 2019

David Owen on how the next five weeks will play out in Brexitland

Lord Owen, the former Dr David Owen, writes interestingly in the Sunday Times about how he thinks the next five weeks before Great Britain is due to leave the EU will play out.
A series of votes in the Commons has made it clear that only an EU-UK international withdrawal treaty has any chance of achieving a majority, unless Jeremy Corbyn, after his most recent visit to Brussels, tables an official opposition motion. That motion would be to exit the EU through becoming a non-EU contracting party to the European Economic Area agreement, and it would be much harder to reach a majority if it added a commitment to negotiating with the EU any form of customs union.

The one cabinet figure to emerge with some honour from this tortured withdrawal process is Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, who told first the cabinet and then MPs in a carefully considered legal opinion that the withdrawal agreement as then drafted would not allow Britain to leave the treaty at some future date. Despite that legal judgment, his own political view was that he could live with voting for the treaty. 

Such honesty is rare, and I believe if Cox comes back, as I expect him to, with changes in the wording agreed with the EU to the political declaration and concerning the withdrawal agreement, and asserts we will not in future be locked indefinitely into the treaty, then a cross-party majority in the House of Commons will accept the treaty. I do not believe it was ever the intention of a majority of the 27 heads of government to have a treaty drafted to last in perpetuity under article 50, whose very raison d’etre is to allow an EU member state to exit from the EU treaties.

Additionally it will be much easier, particularly for more Labour MPs, to accept an international withdrawal treaty warts and all now that the government is committed to new wording to safeguard hard-fought-for workers’ rights and to provide immediate extra financial assistance for deprived areas.
Lord Owen, the former leader of the former Social Democratic Party, may well be right about Brexit (he was Leave) which is why I quote him. The SDP left Labour because Labour was pledged to take the UK out of the EEC without a referendum. How times change.

He rightly praises Mr Corbyn’s achievement in attracting the enthusiasm of young socialists but says he and John Macdonald are identified with "Trotskyist hatred of Jews", an odd phrase since Trotsky and many of his followers were Jewish and communists cannot be racists. 

He thinks Mr Corbyn's enthusiasm for the IRA and briefly letting Derek Hatton rejoin the party will cost him a lot of votes, but no-one under 50 remembers Hatton, who remained in the party only for five minutes, and few under 40 care about the IRA.

I like David Owen, but though he often sounds like one he is no Tory. His lordship wants a Labour government to be enthusiastic about NATO and spend a lot more on the UN. Why, I have no idea. It reminds me that when the physician turned politician was a young and dashing Foreign Secretary, more than forty years ago, King Hussein of Jordan asked about him,
Do you think he is any good as a doctor?

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