After various debates over the past weeks which would have convinced any normal person that they were on the wrong track, Theresa May brought her “deal” back to Parliament on Tuesday for another “meaningful” vote.
If she had bothered to listen to what her backbench MPs are actually saying, the Prime Minister would have realised that she cannot win Parliamentary approval for a Brexit deal with the support solely of Conservative and Unionist MPs. At the last minute, May suggested that she would be willing to talk to leaders of other Parties, but those who have tried to engage with her – not just Jeremy Corbyn but also Hilary Benn and others – have reported that she was not actually willing to negotiate at all, she just wanted to tell them to support her deal. She has not been talking WITH other people at all, she has been talking AT them.
She clearly thought that if she threatened the right-wing European Research Group (ERG) (which doesn’t actually want to “research” Europe at all, they just want to have nothing to do with it) and the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, she would be able to gain their support this time round. She also thought that by threatening Labour MPs she might get some of us to support her deal too. The problem is, she hasn’t picked one side or the other. She threatened the ERG with no Brexit. Then she threatened Labour MPs with no deal. And then she threatened the DUP with a united Ireland (in effect, a takeover of the North by the Republic).
It didn’t work, and she suffered one of the largest defeats on a major vote of any Prime Minister in history – the biggest defeat ever being the one she suffered on the self-same “deal” just 6 weeks ago. It was completely predictable – the only mystery was how she ever thought she could win it.
Then on Wednesday we had the vote on whether we should leave the EU without a deal – a “no-deal” Brexit. The Prime Minister is opposed to a no-deal Brexit, and so are her ministers, including the ones who campaigned for us to Leave, and so are all the other political parties, and the trade unions, and the CBI that represents large businesses, and the Chamber of Commerce, and the Farmers Union and the Bank of England. Boris Johnson is in favour of no-deal but, as James Cartlidge MP pointed out very skilfully during the debate, Johnson demonstrated that he had no idea what he was talking about. World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would not make it easier for us to trade with other countries around the world and they wouldn’t rule out tariffs. A large part of our trade would be wiped out at a stroke, and thousands of people would be thrown out of work, hundreds of them in Ipswich.
Despite all this, the Government deliberately made the motion on the no-deal Brexit as confusing as possible, and then after we had made it clearer with an all-party amendment, May tried to force her MPs to vote against her own motion – she lost that one too.
On Thursday – after this column has gone to print – we will have voted on whether to delay the Brexit date. I do not know how this debate will go, or what the outcome will be. But I hope that we do vote to tell the Prime Minister to ask for a delay, because whatever happens now we are already too late to have an orderly Brexit on March 29th.
Whatever the result on Thursday, in my view there is now only one way forward. The Prime Minister will never get the support of her right-wingers. She needs to negotiate with senior MPs of all parties and agree a deal which would be acceptable to the majority of MPs. That way we would know that we had a viable Brexit deal which would not ruin the country. In order to make that deal acceptable to the majority of opposition MPs she will need to include a public vote on the outcome – that way we can know whether the majority of the population support the deal and not just the majority of MPs. And if the majority of the population decide, after seeing the final details of the deal, that on balance they would now prefer to stay in the EU after all, I cannot see how anyone could call that undemocratic.