Thursday 14 March 2019

Another historic night at Westminster

Last  night was another night as historic as the debates on the Reform Act in 1832 or on the European Communities Act 1972, which took Britain into what the British then called the Common Market.

For readers who are not following British news closely, or are doing so but are still confused, here is an explanation of what is happening with Brexit.

Last night in dramatic scenes, but not so very unexpectedly, the House of Commons defied the Government and voted by 312 to 308 to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. Four cabinet ministers and twelve other ministers defied the whip and abstained. 

They should resign, of course, but will not and they will not be fired. One minister alone honourably did resign, forwent her car and salary and voted against it.

This vote has no legal force. Under British law, a law passed because the Supreme Court upheld Gina Miller's challenge to the Government over using Article 50, and under EU law  the UK must leave the EU on 29 March.

But leaving with no deal is not going to happen. It never was.

The government will try a third time to pass its deal, although according to Erskine May, the House of Commons rulebook, it has no right to bring back a motion that has been defeated by the House and this has been heavily defeated twice.

In any case, a short delay is necessary, but the EU may impose what conditions it likes before granting a delay or may refuse one altogether.  The House will vote today on whether to ask for a delay till June.

Some ministers, according to the Daily Telegraph, are discussing a two year delay. If this happens a second referendum is inevitable.

Theresa May hopes the danger of a long delay will make the House accept the Government's deal if or rather when it is presented a third time. Whether the House will or not absolutely nobody can tell.

The European Commission issued this statement:
"There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. 

"To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal - you have to agree to a deal. 

"We have agreed a deal with the prime minister and the EU is ready to sign it."

This is very exciting but, even for a political obsessive like me, also oddly boring. Matthew D'Ancona was right to call Brexit a boring thriller.

If leaving the EU is delayed by more than three months the British people presumably get a chance to speak in elections to the European Parliament. That would be a very good thing, from the point of view of Brexiteers, if they indicated that they want to leave with no deal (as some polls suggest) or reiterated that they want to leave. 

Remainers hope for a different outcome, but how could the public make its views known? 

Both big parties are very divided. 

Remainers could vote Liberal Democrat, though that party has lost much of its support because of its coalition with the Tories. UKIP and Nigel Farage have now gone separate ways and Tory MPs are mostly (former) Remainers, so it is not clear how Leavers could get their views across.

Theresa May's Svengali, Nick Timothy, was a disastrous influence on her but he is right when today he blames his former boss for bringing the country to its present position, by having her officials in Downing St negotiate in strict secrecy a plan for a soft Brexit without the knowledge of the Brexit department. 

"The decision after the election to agree the EU’s preferred sequencing for the negotiations – seeking to address the Northern Ireland question before agreeing the final relationship, which everyone knew to be an impossibility and a trap – made everything that has happened since inevitable.
"Last spring, it was becoming apparent that the Prime Minister was not behaving in good faith towards the Tory Leavers. Having said their preferred customs policy for Northern Ireland was still on the table, Downing Street made it clear it was not really under consideration.
"This was made worse by the Prime Minister’s decision to side with Olly Robbins, the civil service negotiator, over David Davis, the Brexit Secretary. Relying on an official and not a minister to negotiate was a mistake, born of the PM’s lack of trust in other politicians, and the decision defeated the purpose and spirit of her promise to create a Brexit Department run by a Tory Leaver."
Nick Timothy would point out that this happened after he was defenestrated for advising her to call the election where she lost the Tory majority. 

But the key mistake was made when Theresa May was doing what he told her: the promise that there would not be customs barriers in Ireland. 

From that mistake all else flows.

When she told him she was not going to offer him a job, Theresa May advised George Osborne 'to get to know the party'. This is irony worthy of Gibbon. 

Remember that Olly Robbins was overheard in a bar in Brussels just over a month ago saying: 
“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension. Got to make believe that the week beginning end of March … Extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.”

Theresa May's plan is not lost - in fact it may very well win. If I had to bet I'd bet on it. 

Leaving with no deal would be much better. Staying in the EU would not be worse. 

But Brexit seems lost whether we stay or leave.

1 comment:

  1. Adding detail from the other sides:

    & the gist:

    Jean-Claude PIRIS (@piris_jc) tweeted at 10:17 AM - 14 Mar 2019 :

    10) Nobody knows how the 27 Heads will answer if U.K. requests a postponement of art 50 delay beyond 29th March. A short delay (of 2 or 3 months) might lead to exit without a deal. A longer delay (up to December 2019 ?) will imply that U.K. will participate to Eur Parl elections. (


    I am surprised by how transparent this indecorous exchange is.