Oh boy, Twitter was on fire! Brexiters were appalled and incandescent. Remainers, meanwhile, while not exactly over the moon, were thrilled that at last someone had said exactly what they see as the essence of the current situation.
What was the fuss all about? Well. Donald Tusk, the EU Council’s president, said (on Wednesday Feb 6th), “I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out.”Err, yes! Exactly! I mean setting aside the very small majority for leaving, I’ve always thought that as much as I wanted to stay in the EU, if the government and/or those who wanted to leave had a really well thought through idea of how we would leave and what relationship we would have with the world after the EU I would have gone with it. But no. Not a clue.
Btw, I think it important that you read Tusk’s words for yourself (link here) which are grave, serious and heartfelt. What’s more he says, “Today, there’s no political force and no effective leadership for remain.” How true. There’s a lot of writing of articles for remain (in a few newspapers like the Guardian, FT, and other media) plus a lot of views put out on Facebook and Twitter but actual political leadership for remain, there is none.
I don’t know who I condemn more, Theresa May, who has led us into this mess (actually don’t forget Cameron who began it all, although that is debateable, as you could say that animosity against the EU has been festering for decades) or Corbyn the two-faced old leftie who believes in unicorns as much as any of the members of the European (not-much) Research Group. Look, I welcomed Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. I believe in his socialist principles. But what he’s done with regard to Brexit will never be forgiven. He will be like Blair and Iraq, forever remembered for the loss of seats due to his dubious, duplicitous, non-opposition to this most important decision a country could be making. Oh, wait a minute he’s just laid out terms for backing May’s Brexit, which include: membership of the customs union; close alignment with the single market; dynamic alignment of rights and protections and clear commitments on UK participation in EU agencies and funding programmes.
Jeremy, sweetie, that’s what happens when you’re a member of the EU.
And then, at PMQs (also last Wednesday) I do believe Emily Thornberry (shadow foreign secretary and subbing for Jeremey Corbyn) asked for article 50 to be delayed. You what? The Cooper/Boles amendment, anyone?
Actually, let’s backtrack a bit to 29 January. OK, I got that wrong (see last post) instead it was an interesting day, but Parliament was voting solely on amendments, which the Speaker chose, and my word, from the smirk on his face, you could see he was enjoying himself as he read them out.
I think it worth looking at what happened. The lettering, btw, is quite deliberate as 17 amendments were tabled alphabetically, and seven were chosen and voted on with the key results as follows:
a)Official Labour amendment seeking a form of customs union. Defeated by 31
b)The cross-party Cooper/Boles extend article 50 amendment. Defeated by 23
g) Dominic Grieve amendment allowing parliament to take control through indicative votes. Defeated by 20
i) Spelman no-deal amendment. The UK would not leave the EU without a deal – advisory only. Passed by 8
n) The Brady amendment. To replace the ‘backstop with alternative arrangements’. Passed by 16
And two further amendments of no particular consequence. So, what does this all mean?
First of all, I watched much of this on Parliament Live and a very busy day it was too with a lot of rushing around that, as much as anything, highlighted the archaic and panto performance act that is our Mother of Parliaments. Each amendment had the MPs getting up from their seats (if they had one) trooping through the ‘lobby’, voting, returning to the Commons, whereupon 3 MPs standing before the Speaker are handed the results, speak them out loud, march forward, bow, hand the results to the Speaker, who repeats the verdict, and bellows either, ‘the Noes have it, the Noes have it’ or ‘the Ayes have it, the Ayes have it’, them something about LOCK. Forgive me if I stop there!
Well that’s the procedure. But, where does all that activity leave us? Because the whole sequence of voting did rather remind me of a lot of busy bees buzzing around, and you just wondered to what effect?
Two amendments that were passed have some significance, and note I say, ‘some’. The Spelman no-deal amendment does imply that the majority of MPs do not want a no-deal. But whether MPs will ever get sufficient clout or power to take control and veto a no-deal is still in the realms of uncertainty. The Brady amendment, which also got through and had Sir Graham Brady parading around like a puffed-up peacock, is as useful as a chocolate teapot as apparently this meant Mrs May was tasked to ask the EU for the backstop to be amended. Yes, MPs that threw out Mrs May’s plan in the largest government defeat ever, were at that point, united behind it as long as the ‘backstop’ was renegotiated by 13 February for the second meaningful vote on 14 February (but see below). Which, as we all know, is not an option as the Withdrawal Agreement is agreed and as far as the EU is concerned THAT IS IT.
I think one of the key problems here is that much of the negotiations between the UK and the EU took place behind closed doors. Remember, I used to say that nothing’s happened. Well, probably a lot was going on, but no one, including Members of Parliament, knew a thing about the details. Yet, this Withdrawal Agreement is a document that has been agreed by the UK and with the UK and for the UK. What the EU is finding out to its astonishment, I think, is that the UK negotiators and Mrs May herself, were not as in charge of negotiations as the EU believed they were. And only at the very, very, very last minute is anyone aware of how we are leaving. And only at the very, very, very last minute is Parliament having its say.
So, what’s happening? Here is a timetable for the next few weeks;
14 February – no there won’t be a ‘meaningful’ vote. Yes, there will be a debate on Brexit, but not a definitive one. Announcements have come from the government that the meaningful vote (honestly language is being traduced here) later this month on 27 February. Btw, Mrs May has also rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a permanent customs union.
17 February – if a ship sets off to Japan with export goods it does not know what tariffs will be imposed on said goods when they arrive. Ditto for other ships, currently at sea, to Australia and New Zealand.
20 February – 80 international treaties need to be ratified.
27 February – Parliament’s ‘meaningful’ vote.
28 February – the deadline agreed between the EU and May to discuss progress on the revised deal (Withdrawal Agreement – and don’t forget it’s 600 pages long).
Mid March– Parliament needs to vote on its European Union (Withdrawal) Act
21-22 March – deadline for an article 50 extension request. An extension has to be agreed by all members of the EU and as it is their annual spring summit this is the opportunity to ask.
28 March – any extension of article 50 (i.e. a delay to Brexit) would have to be voted on and passed in both houses to change the legally binding exit date of 29March.
29 March – without an extension, or a revocation, the UK leaves the EU.
15-18 April – if an extension is granted this could be ratified when MEPs meet at their monthly plenary meeting
23-26 May – European elections – if the UK is granted an extension, we would have to take part in these elections
No one, even people who voted to leave, is in any way happy about the situation. We have a hopeless Prime Minister in thrall to her right-wing anti-European MPs and the ghastly DUP (and isn’t that all her fault for calling a general election and losing her majority) and a dreadful opposition leader, and no one knows what the outcome will be. Meanwhile important industries are leaving the UK for Europe, and can you blame them.
I promise to write more about the whys and wherefores of this another time, but I leave you with the following which is not much different to the ending of the last post.
- Mrs May doesn’t manage to change the backstop – very likely
- Mrs May does manage to get a couple of tweaks to the Political Declaration – likely
- Parliament votes for the Withdrawal Agreement with no change to the backstop – slightly possible, but not very
- Parliament votes for (a very watered down) customs union – possible
- Parliament votes for a delay (but why, that’s the key) – slightly possible
- Parliament fails to agree anything – quite possible
- We leave with a no-deal – quite possible
- General Election – not impossible if the two above happen
- Mrs May resigns – ditto above
- 2ndReferrendum – unlikely and only if we have that extension
Penny Kocher 11 February 2019
P.S. I’m very aware that there are other important issues to discuss and I will get back to them as soon as….