There are now just 42 days left until the UK leaves the European Union. Some readers might want to add “unless we annul Article 50, or delay it”. But the only “we” that can do that is the Government, and Theresa May has made it very clear that she has no intention of doing any such thing. Labour called a vote of no confidence in the Government because we wanted to get a grip of the Brexit shambles and the only effective way to do so was to form a new Government. The result of that no confidence vote makes it clear that the only Party which can possibly be held responsible for the way Brexit is being handled is the Conservative Party.
On Thursday, after the deadline for this column, Parliament held yet another round of votes on Brexit, in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock. I cannot be certain of the outcome, but I assume that as before the Government has turned down all the substantial options for progress. The motion put forward by the Government may or may not have been defeated but it was fairly meaningless anyway. I should tell you what options Labour and others have put forward, though.
At the end of January Labour proposed a permanent customs union and a strong relationship with the European single market – this would have protected British jobs and our economy, and made the so-called backstop unnecessary – and to give Parliament the possibility of proposing a second referendum on the agreed deal. This was voted down by the Tories.
We also proposed to debate the matter until it was resolved – this was also rejected, as was the proposal to allocate as many days as it would take to resolve it, and the proposal to delay Brexit if the matter hadn’t been resolved in time. The one vote we did win was to reject the idea of leaving without a deal. And the Conservatives voted through an amendment requiring the backstop to be replaced, but without identifying anything to replace it with.
On Thursday 14th February, we will have voted on whether to ditch the Prime Minister’s failed deal, whether to delay Brexit for 3 months until a deal can be struck, and whether the Government should come clean on the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit. My guess is that each of those options will have been defeated.
So far, the only thing that a majority of MPs have agreed with is that we must not leave without a deal. The problem is, that unless we can agree about what we must do, we will crash out without a deal on March 29 willy-nilly. I believe that would be a disaster.
Not all MPs agree about that, of course, and many Conservatives outside Parliament also seem to think a no-deal Brexit would be a fine thing. If we produced all our own food and goods, and didn’t need to travel or buy or sell anything abroad, and didn’t need any of the nurses or doctors or builders who are not British citizens, and didn’t need to cooperate with anyone else on anything, then they might be right. They could have been right in 1819, but not in 1919 and certainly not in 2019. If we leave without a deal we will not just be going back to 1970, we will be tearing up the deals we have made with other countries as part of the EU too. It won’t just make trade with Europe difficult, it will make trade with Canada and South Korea and Turkey and many others more difficult too. The prospect is so horrendous that I feel duty bound, as the MP for Ipswich, to do whatever I can to prevent it from happening.
So what happens next? I believe a deal along the lines put forward by Labour in January could command overwhelming support – a Brexit deal agreed by Parliament, with the option of a second referendum to give the British people the chance to vote on whether they accepted that deal or would prefer to remain. But every time she is given the opportunity, May rejects that proposal. Will there be any alternative proposal put forward which can save us from a no-deal Brexit? I don’t know, I’m not the Government. But I do know that the Conservatives are now sliding very close to the cliff edge – if we go over it without a deal on March 29, the consequences will be entirely the fault of this Tory Government.