Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Terminal velocity

In the last few weeks I could have filled up considerable space with speculation. This is tedious on two counts. Firstly it adds nothing, and secondly it presumes to tell you what you can't work out for yourself. But now all we can do is speculate.

MPs have voted by a decisive margin not to back the withdrawal agreement. The ERG looks to have voted with the SNP and the Lib Dems in blocking our scheduled exit from the EU. Being that we know there is no majority for no deal, we are looking at an extension, and though the EU would likely grant one, it rather begs the questions what for, and how long?

This we do not know. We know that the same deal cannot go before the house again and we know that the deal cannot be reopened. Some MPs will see this as a window to completely change tack - but that is not going to work. Whatever they have in mind is not going to happen without a withdrawal agreement.

Essentially this leaves us with two options. We fanny around for two months allowing the EU further time to prepare before we crash out, or the executive caves in and revokes Article 50. If there is any sign of the latter, the Tory party will be furious. There is no chance the Tories could revoke Article 50 and expect to survive. In so doing they would be handing the keys to Number Ten to one Jeremy Corbyn. Being that the Tory party always puts its own fortunes ahead of all other concerns, it rather seems that we are going to leave without a deal.

If that be the case, I won't have much sympathy. All those MPs who didn't want to leave without a deal did at one point vote to trigger Article 50 and to pass all the relevant legislation. They're the ones who joined the chorus of voices demanding there be no border in Ireland and they're the ones who wanted certain assurances from the withdrawal agreement in respect of citizens rights and workers rights. May's deal gave them that. In the end, though, it is clear they never had any intention of respecting the referendum.

But then at the same time, if we end up remaining, I have little sympathy for the leavers either. Defending May's deal is a largely futile endeavour and all too often I'm told "That's not Brexit". Except of course it's a great deal more Brexity than remaining. Leavers had a withdrawal agreement on a plate and they turned their nose up at it. As far as parliament goes - each side is playing double or quits.

At this point, either way has serious implications. Certainly there is a major constitutional crisis if we remain. Not only does it raise questions about the legitimacy of our continued membership - but also any subsequent law from the EU. At some point, a government has to go back to the people to secure a mandate for continued membership of the EU. It is not sustainable to have a situation where we have a referendum, vote to leave, then after two years of fannying around have our parliament decide it's all too much hassle.

My hunch, though, is that we will leave simply because the default option doesn't actually require a decision from anybody. Politically it is the most convenient, and they can try to offload some of the blame on to the EU for refusing to reopen talks. The remainers can blame the ERG and the leavers can blame remain MPs. No deal then becomes nobody's fault.

Between now and our departure, whenever that may be, we now face the tedious bickering over process and procedure and questions over how long Mrs May can stay in her post. Tory leadership speculation is the go-to displacement activity for our media. More than likely May will be left in post to carry the can for whatever comes next. There is no utility in replacing here because new leadership does not change the facts on the ground.

It would now seem that there is no nothing much to be done save for going through the motions. The only sure bet to take is that if there is a way to kick a can down the road then the can will be kicked. This is entirely consistent with the entire Brexit process. When the tale of Brexit is told it will be a tale of how parliament simply couldn't get its act together when it mattered. Now we confront the consequences of our long term political decline.

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