Politics 14 January 2019 | 16:12

BREXIT COUNTDOWN #2: Maybe this time….

14 January 2019 16:12

Been away, now it’s back. Although, to be honest, it never went away. At DRUGSTORE CULTURE, we try to ration your Brexit diet, we really do. So many articles that are written elsewhere about our prospective departure from the EU on March 29 are the empty carbs of the soul. So let’s keep it lean and protein-based.

  • Tomorrow, Theresa May will at last offer MPs the postponed ‘meaningful vote’ on her 585-page deal with Brussels. Today in a speech at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent she called upon her fellow parliamentarians ‘to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy. What if we found ourselves in a situation where Parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a remain vote? People’s faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm.’ This is, of course, very silly, since there is a huge difference between the Commons trying to avert something manifestly awful, and MPs unilaterally (in May’s hypothetical example) forcing an exit from the EU that the public had opposed. But this tells us all we need to know about the way in which she will frame her case: opposition to the deal is opposition to democracy. Ridiculous. But there it is.
  • The joint letter to the PM from Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, on the hugely-contentious ‘backstop’ device – the mechanism that would keep the UK in the EU Customs Union while the Irish border was resolved – has conspicuously failed to win over opponents of the deal. The Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs prop up the minority Tory government, has said that the letter, far from reassuring them, has sharpened their anxieties. It is hard to see any concessions between now and the vote that will make a difference to their opposition.
  • Gareth Johnson, a Tory whip, has resigned today, bringing the total number of Conservative government resignations over Brexit to 13.
  • It now looks all but certain that May will lose tomorrow. The scale of her defeat matters: if it is colossal, she will face pressure to resign – though she is famously impervious to political embarrassment and refused to quit after she lost her party’s Commons majority in June 2017 or the confidence vote last month in which more than a third of her own MPs voted against her. I would be surprised if she is compelled to go this week.
  • Assuming the deal is defeated, the PM then has until January 21 – next Monday – to come back with an amended plan. Again, it is hard to imagine what rabbit Brussels could pull from its chapeau to save the agreement: it has been made clear time and again to the PM that there are no fresh concessions to be made, no goodies being held back until the eleventh hour. The scent of death already clings to her deal. By next Monday it will be in the full grip of rigor mortis.
  • More interesting than the vote itself is its aftermath. May is not the only one who will face intense pressure. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will call a Commons vote of no confidence in the Government – though he may wait until after the PM comes back with her amended deal. The Labour leader’s strong preference is for a general election, which he assumes he will win. He also assumes, for reasons that are opaque, that he will be able to negotiate a better deal with Brussels, using his unique powers as a socialist Dumbledore. Let’s just say this is a triumph of hope over experience.
  • Crucial to what happens next is an amendment that the Labour MP Hillary Benn will put forward tomorrow calling upon Parliament to reject both the deal and the no-deal outcome that many hard Brexiteers now crave. The legal status of such an amendment is unclear. Unless a deal is agreed, the UK automatically leaves the EU on March 29 without any further action being taken. Would Benn’s amendment, if passed, force the Government to seek an extension of Article 50 (the mechanism by which member states leave the EU)? Interestingly, May refused to rule this out today.
  • What else? Oh, yes. Parliament may take over control of Brexit. Yes, you read that right. Nick Boles, Nicky Morgan, and Sir Oliver Letwin – all Conservative MPs – are publishing a bill to give the Commons Liaison Committee (composed of the chairs of select committees) a new and central role in Brexit business if the deal fails tomorrow. This committee of the great and the good would then be tasked with coming up with a compromise that could get through the Commons. This has been described as a ‘coup’, which is melodramatic but not absurd: it would indeed be a historic land-grab of power by Parliament, at the height of a constitutional upheaval, and Number Ten hates the whole plan as an outrageous infringement of Crown prerogative.
  • And finally… the People’s Vote campaign, which DRUGSTORE CULTURE has strongly supported since we launched online in September, now faces its moment of truth. A fresh referendum is clearly the only way to break this horrendous logjam. But will anyone have the courage to lead the charge towards sanity? Do let us know.