The government’s failure to win the latest vote marks a further deepening of the Brexit crisis. It was not, formally, ‘meaningful vote 3’ because of the ruse of splitting the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) from the Political Declaration (PD). Had it succeeded, it would have created a very nasty trap in which, come next May, no further extension would be possible, because no preparations for the European elections would have been made, and yet the UK would still have to complete its domestic withdrawal legislation before then. In effect, back to May’s deal or no-deal.
It was a
shabby ruse, typical of the endless tactical game-playing of this government,
which deserved to fail and it did. There is a rich irony in the fact that this
was in large part because of the continued rebellion of the most hardcore
segment of the hardcore ERG. For, had they voted it through then, by
subsequently rebelling on the Withdrawal Bill legislation they would have had a
decent chance of getting to their no-deal nirvana. Perhaps they were too dim to
work that out, perhaps they are simply beyond all reason and calculation.
On the other
hand, there is also a certain pleasure to be taken in the way that Rees-Mogg, Dominic
Raab, Boris Johnson and others compromised on their ‘principles’ – those speech
marks should be especially heavily emphasised in the case of Johnson – but to
no avail. They will now be in line for the ‘betrayal’ vitriol they have done so
much to whip up against others. Few will weep for them.
events, Brexit has now been cracked wide open. The chances of applying to the
EU for a long extension period are now very much greater (although it most
certainly can’t be assumed that it will be granted) and those of another
referendum, and the possibility of the abandonment of Brexit, now somewhat
greater. Yet, at the same time, the possibility of no-deal has not gone away
and may have increased – this seems to be the view of
the European Commission in its statement following yesterday’s vote.
unbelievably, has May yet accepted that there is no chance for her deal. If
reports are correct she
intends to continue Terminator-like to try to engineer some new way of
getting it voted upon next week.
has a long way to run yet.
immediately, the Indicative
Votes process that began this week now comes to centre-stage. As a result
of this process, MPs finally began to have the discussions about the different
things that Brexit could mean that should have occurred immediately after or,
even better, before the 2016 Referendum. It is to the great credit of Oliver
Letwin and a number of other MPs that they forced this process to happen in the
teeth of government opposition which continued
right up until the last minute, when it lost a vote trying to block it.
even at this very late stage it is remarkable how riddled with confusion the
debate remains. For example, amongst some of the propositions made (not all of
which were called) for the indicative votes were ideas that are simply
included Nicky Morgan’s ‘Malthouse’ proposition (which was not selected to be
voted on) and Marcus Fysh’s ‘Malthouse Plan B’ or ‘managed no-deal’ proposition,
which was selected and garnered 139 votes. There’s not much point discussing
what these proposals consisted of as it seems unlikely they will be revived
(but see this
previous post on ‘Malthouse’ for what is wrong with it). Of
particular note is that the European
Commission statement after Friday’s vote explicitly ruled out any
transition period or sectoral deals if the WA is not passed. In other words,
managed no-deal is, as it has always been, a dead duck.
Even some of
those amendments which fared better were based on ideas with severe practical
problems. The Labour proposal remains stuck in the meaningless pre-referendum
nostrum of what Corbyn calls single market “access” (although the actual wording
in this proposition was “close alignment”). It is an expression which should be
expunged from the Brexit lexicon and has done untold damage all along by
refusing to face the binary choice of membership or non-membership of the
single market. It is worse than shameful that the official opposition should
still be dissembling about this.
proposal for a customs union (only) is coherent, and got more support (265)
than Labour’s (237) but wouldn’t
resolve the Irish border issue, and would not obviate the need for the
backstop provision in the WA. The Boles ‘Common Market 2.0’ or ‘Norway+’ proposition is
also potentially coherent, and would resolve the border, but attracted
surprisingly little (189) support, though some expect it now to gain ground and
it is at least conceivable
that it will become Labour’s official position.
proposition which gained the largest number of votes (268, though there were
still more against it) was not about the form of Brexit but the process; the
Beckett proposal that any agreed Brexit should be subject to a confirmatory
referendum. I suspect that come the second stage of the indicative votes
process this, in some form, will
come to command a majority.
some blathering from Brexiter MPs and a lot of quite misleading media
reporting, this was always envisaged as being at least a two-stage process and
on Monday (and perhaps on further days) the next stage creates the possibility
of MPs coalescing around a policy and perhaps a process. Of course who
implements that, and how, remain very big and open questions.
deal defeated again, one outcome, potentially, is that it comes back modified
with something like Beckett’s proposal (i.e. the deal with the Kyle-Wilson
amendment included), perhaps with May still in post, accepting another
referendum through gritted teeth as the only way to get her deal through. I’ve
thought for a little while that was possible. It seems less feasible
that she would preside over that if the deal was amended along the lines of the
Clarke proposal (i.e. with the Political Declaration re-negotiated with the EU
to indicate a permanent customs union as the direction of travel).
But it is
now clear (if she is to be believed) that if any deal does go through it will see the departure
of Theresa May. That prospect clearly delights many Tory Brexiters, and it
was one of the things which persuaded some to come round to voting for her deal
yesterday. In some cases this was merely because it gives hope to their
leadership ambitions. For others, it arises from their persistent delusion that
the path Brexit has taken arises from May’s poor negotiation, perhaps resulting
from her lack of ‘true belief’ in it.
nonsense in its purest form. Any Brexit deal would have involved the financial
settlement and the citizens’ rights agreement. As for the backstop which they
so revile, it arises precisely because of May’s insistence on the Single
Market/ Customs Union red lines that those hard Brexiters themselves support.
Their objection is based on the imagination that their choices would not have
those inevitable consequences, and that these only arise from betrayal or lack
of faith. It’s utterly infantile.
idea that a hardcore Brexiter could create something better in the future terms
negotiations is a fantasy. Those future terms will be decided by the
combination of the UK red lines and the realpolitik of the EU’s superior
negotiating power. No doubt their expectation is that, in the next phase, and
as a third country, the UK will be able to rip up what has been agreed and all
of the lies of the Leave campaign will be enacted. It won’t, and they won’t.
why the hard Brexiters are doomed to disappointment were there to be any future
negotiations was in evidence this week in a vote which, in all the other drama,
received almost no attention. This was the approval of the statutory instrument
to change the leading day in UK legislation from 29 March, in line with what
had been agreed with the EU following the previous (i.e. second) defeat of
May’s deal. In principle, this was a minor technicality. Placing the date in
legislation in the first place had in any case been a meaningless sop to the
The vote was
always going to be carried, as both the government and Labour supported it, but
it brought out of the woodwork a parade of bloviating, plethoric, ante-diluvian
buffoons. Some were dubious barrack-room lawyers. Others paranoid fantasists.
Still others just vicious demagogues. These are people you really wouldn’t want
to be stuck in a lift with. It’s depressing that they play any part on public
life, and intolerable that they should have a decisive role in deciding our
future. Some 105 voted against the change.
speeches were a reminder of was how, even having secured the Brexit referendum
vote, extreme Brexiters are so full of anger, vitriol and paranoia. That mind set
bled into the UK approach to the negotiations with the EU from the beginning.
Rather than starting the process in a spirit of generosity and, indeed, joy the
tone was always sour, resentful and aggressive. Indeed, as
I’ve remarked before, it has often seemed as if Brexiters think the
UK is being expelled from the EU rather than choosing to leave.
If they now
get their head, and install one of their own to lead the next phase, this
approach will intensify and, as a result, the final outcome of Brexit – which
will necessarily be bad – will be even worse than it needs to be. Indeed,
whilst the prospect of May’s departure may have persuaded some of the Tory
Brexiters to support her deal, the likelihood of her replacement with a
hardliner undoubtedly played a part in dissuading potential Labour rebels from
we are not there yet, and may very well never get there. There are so many
other possibilities and permutations that it is almost pointless to speculate.
There is much talk of an immediate General Election (Fixed Term Parliaments Act
notwithstanding). Quite what Brexit policy the main parties could plausibly run
on seems unclear, as does the capacity of an election to actually resolve the
Brexit crisis. May might, as
I speculated in my previous post, now double-down on no-deal
(although those are not the noises she is currently making, and parliament
might well be able to prevent it anyway). She might now resign immediately.
It’s in the
nature of the crisis that there are far too many moving parts now, and they are
moving far too quickly, for any sensible predictions to be made. For example,
there have been indications
in the last few hours that the DUP might actually change its stance
on Brexit altogether. The fact that the ERG are now deeply split, having been
pretty disciplined to date is another key factor.
conclusion to be drawn from this week’s fiasco is the point which I have often
made on this blog. The longer and deeper the crisis – damaging as its effects
are and horrible as it is to live through – the greater the chance that Brexit
is averted. In a
post on 20 July 2017 I wrote something which seems to have stood the test
“… for all
that it will be a white-knuckle ride, committed remainers might have as their
best hope that the government continue to display division and incompetence and
bring Britain to the edge of disaster … Of course this is very high risk stuff,
not just for remainers but more importantly for the whole country. Precisely
because it means going right to the brink of disaster in order to avoid
disaster, it inevitably means damage. The jobs and investment lost, the
companies relocating, the skilled workers leaving, the shredding of national
reputation will all have long-term negative effects. But, against that, we
might just get out of the even worse precipice that the Brexiters want to push
If so, and
again to reprise a point made before, that will only be the end of the
beginning. It will only avoid disaster and still leave us with the job of
reconstructing our battered and bitterly divided country.