Friday, 29 March 2019

End of the line

Brexit day. Supposedly. There's no getting around it. Theresa May's deal is a long way from what anybody wanted. According to reports, there were cheers from Brexiters outside Westminster when it was announced that the deal had yet again failed to pass. But now it all hangs in the balance. The legal default may be no deal but we have a little while to go before we know exactly which way this goes.

As a long time Brexit campaigner you might expect of me that I would be joining the protest outside Westminster, but this is as much the failure of Brexiters as it is parliament as an institution. I'm not wasting my money to wave flags at a Tommy Robinson jamboree or listen to witless speeches from the likes of Claire Fox of the Spiked ilk who have contributed precisely nothing to the debate over the last three years.

Moreover, leaving without a deal is not something to be celebrated. Terminating all formal trade relations and cooperation accords with our nearest and largest neighbour in peacetime is far from an accomplishment. No deal cannot stay no deal and in due course we'll be back in negotiations with the EU where the preconditions will be to implement the backstop as is and to cough up the £39bn - so we haven't actually achieved anything except to kick our own exporters in the balls.

Though there is much blame to go around, I can no longer single out any one culprit. In the end the ERG didn't come close to winning parliament over to their ideas, but parliament have enabled them through their collective ignorance, indolence and disarray. They could at any time have asserted themselves to hold the executive to account but passed up every opportunity to do so. We have drifted to this point by way of not making any affirmative decisions.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to a schism between parliament and the public. Parliament just won't do what is required of it to deliver on the 2016 vote. They could have leveraged the softer Brexit they prefer. There have been a number of votes on the EEA Efta option, but instead have kicked the can down the road as often as Mrs May has. It was always going to be pushed right to the wire. Now we are at the wire, it comes down to a face-off between no deal and no Brexit. Essentially this is economic blackmail hoping that enough moderate leavers will chicken out. I think it's a little late for that.

As ever, though, the decision is not wholly our own. Brussels will have it's own views in due course, and whatever their verdict will be contingent on Mrs May going back to them with a coherent and decisive message. There is no reason to believe such will be forthcoming. Brussels may very well conclude that there is no mileage in letting this drag on.

The next few days will be telling. The government and parliament both have their work cut out but if they've not yet realised the urgency and gravity of their inaction by now then they probably never will. An accidental Brexit where we simply run out of time and options looks more likely than ever.

If by some means we do end up remaining then I will be torn between two narratives. On the one hand it will be a victory for a newly established ruling class who were never going to let us leave, but then at the same time, with no deal having such profoundly damaging consequences, it is arguable that parliament has done its job. No deal does not have majority support in the country.

Brexiters have held all the top job jobs, had every opportunity to engage in the process and present plans of their own. They could even have voted for May's deal when it mattered. They played for double or quits and there was every possibility they could lose. There was a win within their grasp and they threw it away. All the while, the astonishing ignorance and frivolousness of Brexiteers has undermined their own case through the course of negotiations. Never was a win so readily squandered.

As it happens, though, it really all rests on what Mrs May does next. She would be crucified by her own party were she to revoke Article 50 and there is no apparent support for another referendum. It looks like she has nowhere to go. Parliament's vote has now given control over the Brexit process to the EU Council and Commission. This is the end of the line. Whichever way it goes, this chapter ends in failure.

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