Sunday, 20 October 2019

Another day in Brexit purgatory

Of itself the logic behind the Letwin amendment is sound. When you have a Tory government you can't quite trust is not seeking a no deal Brexit when time is running out for ratification, it makes sense to close down the options. Though a provisional deal is on the table, it isn't a deal until it's cleared fully on the Brussels side of the table and we'd probably left it a bit late to get it done.

As you'd expect, though, the Brexiteers are fuming about it. In their eyes (and not without good cause) this is a wrecking amendment and that's exactly how the public will see it. Parliament was convened on Saturday to pass a deal and they didn't. MPs can hide behind the amendment but it didn't take long for the real wreckers to get stuck in - with Keir Starmer announcing dozens of amendments and an amendment to insert a customs union and legislation for a second referendum.

The effect of mangling such legislation is to ensure that yet again Brexiters will withdraw their support for the deal ensuring we remain entrenched in this quagmire. I suspected the morning of the deal that the only way this was ever going to pass is after a general election.

Much now depends on the nature of any extension. Though I wouldn't blame the EU for pulling the plug I think there will be an extension but only for the process of ratification and with a termination clause. There is no appetite for further delay on either side of the Channel and if the deal wasn't open for discussion before, it certainly isn't now. If it's only a short extension then there can't be a general election and MPs have to choose between this deal or no deal. Being that the wrecking amendments would make it impossible for Brexiters to vote for it, no deal is still a very real possibility.

You'd think parliament would've learned something but no, we have to repeat all the same fannying around we had over May's deal. They'll sod around the whole time till we're at the cliff edge again and they still won't make a decision. The stupidity of these wastrels is staggering. If there is now a no deal Brexit, the public won't blame Johnson. Parliament reaffirmed its position that it won't pass any legislation that facilitates an orderly exit. They're more at home playing cynical tribal games. It hasn't gone unnoticed.

As to the matter of a second referendum, it should be noted that any referendum can only realistically have two options which is the deal versus remain. This would require a far longer extension which we likely will not get but if we do have to go through the motions then it will likely make no difference. They dress up a second referendum as a vote on the deal but it's only the exit mechanism+transition. That's a technical issue not a constitutional question. Without a defined future relationship, a referendum with a remain option is a straight rerun of 2016 because they didn't like the result. That will be a strong card for the leave camp.

In any case, a "kangarendum" forced on a minority government would still face enormous opposition the Tories can just as easily make Brexit a manifesto commitment and immediately relaunch the process following a general election, this time circumventing the Article 50 process entirely. By that time it will be clearer than ever that this really is the people versus parliament and Johnson could well win by a landslide.

The conventional narrative has it that if Johnson doesn't deliver Brexit after all his promises then leave voters will desert him for the Brexit Party, but I don't think that holds and I don't think it ever did. The public won't blame Johnson and the way in which ardent no dealers have pivoted to support Johnson's deal suggests that support for no deal has always been fickle. It is also becoming clear that Farage could end up blowing the whole thing by refusing to compromise. Between that and the total absence of an electable alternative, Johnson could come through this unscathed.

With so many possibilities and so many branches of probability the situation defies any prediction. As usual we are left to speculate on the basis of incomplete information and limited understanding. The media doesn't seem to appreciate the limitations and constraints the EU is working under and all the while the vagaries of our own parliamentary system adds only further confusion. All we can do is take it one day at a time. For a brief moment it looked like we would leave with a deal on time but thanks to parliament there's a good chance our departure is some weeks away and no deal is as real a threat as ever it was. The shenanigans in parliament can't seem to make it go away.  

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