Saturday, 5 November 2016
MPs already have a vote on hard Brexit
To complete the Brexit process there will need to be a Brexit treaty that writes the UK out of the EU treaties. There will need to be a repeal bill. Whether or not this will all be rolled into one we do not yet know. But for the sake of argument let us suppose they are. MPs get to vote on that. They can either refuse it which means dropping out of the EU (ultra hard Brexit) or they can sign into law the Brexit as negotiated by Mrs May.
What that will most likely be is a single market based arrangement to secure maximum business continuity along with a number of transitional measures. Mrs May is boxed in by the realities and she could not pull off a full severance even if she wanted to - and she has given us no signal that she intends to. She has committed to ending freedom of movement but privately she will have done the math and seen that we will still need a fairly liberal approach to EU migration. Moreover, ending freedom of movement is not nearly as popular as has been suggested. A great many leavers have no particular issue with immigration.
What motivates MPs who want to tinker is largely their own ignorance and gullibility. So spectacularly issue illiterate are they that they have bought the media mythology of hard Brexit. They see this ruling as their chance to insist we stay in the single market - but its a fair bet most of them can barely define it or specify what mechanisms are involved.
Daniel Zeichner has something of a clue and is at least aware of the issues surrounding decentralised agencies like the European Medicines Agency - and that is the sort of input we need to see more of and it would be helpful to hear Mrs May at least give us a signal on such matters - or at least an acknowledgement that they have given these matters some consideration. It is unlikely that such issues have passed between the ears of the Brexit boys. But then Zeichner is largely a malevolent influence who would block Brexit every time for its own sake. If MPs see fit to openly defy the verdict of the referendum then what value can they add to an already difficult process?
In the end the Brexit Mrs May will go to bat for is the one cooked up by her team of advisers and civil servants all of whom by now will have a better grasp of the issues than most of the politicians. The Treasury will also have its own axe to grind along with several other departments who will recommend a high level of continued cooperation. The hard Brexit morons on the back benches won't get a look in and Mrs May has made that fairly clear. The appointment of Fox and Davis are for show. Everything Davis says is countermanded by May.
The bottom line is that there is no need for parliamentary intervention in triggering article 50. MPs have already had plenty of debates on the matter and there will be more to come and they can all have their say in the many select committee meetings. The government, though, ultimately gets to call the shots because they are the government.
The other elephant in the room is that Article 50 negotiations are not like a trip to Argos where you go along with a shopping list and wait for the assistants to gather up your items. They are political negotiations and whatever Mrs May is intent on, the EU will also have ideas of its own. Parliament may be able to bind Mrs May to try her best to reach a particular outcome but parliament cannot bind the EU. Who do they think they are?
If anything this all completely pointless. The input of MPs makes very little difference and I doubt they are suicidal enough to stall Brexit. As to the Lords, if it ends up in the Lords, they are already on thin ice. The consequences of clogging up the process are profound and will further erode confidence in the system. I don't fancy their chances.
Whatever schemes the likes of Starmer and Zeichner are dreaming up, they may as well forget it. Brexit is happening and nothing is served by further complicating the process. There is only a tiny chance of them succeeding in derailing Brexit, and if they do then they open the door to a decade of the most toxic politics imaginable. The debate will transcend the matter of leaving the EU and become a more fundamental constitutional question.
That said, the ruling has proved politically useful. Hits on this blog over the last couple of days have been similar to those at the height of the referendum which proves that there is still the same level of interest in the issue and that leavers are still vigilant. It has given the media a chance to send up a warning flare.
While the remoaners may complain at the tone, it is a reflection of the anger and passion surrounding this issue. The public are not in the mood to be messed around and the interference of judges in the political process is most unwelcome. MPs have powers they can draw upon if only they had the wit and the imagination to organise themselves. If they can't then that's their look out.
In the final analysis this all a complete waste of everyone's time and money. The only real benefit is that we now know who the malevolent actors are and how little regard they have for democracy. They tell us that the referendum was only advisory. It isn't. It is a political artefact that cannot be ignored. Mrs May knows this - and hers, as far as the politicians are concerned, is the only opinion that now matters.