2019-03-29 Where do we go next?

It’s now 33 months since the Referendum on our membership of the European Union.  It took 9 months and a change in the Leaders of both main political parties before the Government triggered Article 50 – the 2-year process for leaving the EU which was due to come to an end today.

Part of that 2 years was wasted by Theresa May calling a General Election she had repeatedly promised not to call, to try to achieve a working majority which she failed to get, to escape from being held to ransom by her own no-deal right-wingers.

Much of the rest of the time has been wasted by letting Boris Johnson and other pro-Brexit ministers prove beyond any doubt that they had no idea what they were talking about when they said that getting a deal to leave would be easy.  No doubt they’ll now start saying everything would have been fine if they were in charge – but they WERE in charge for much of the time, and they got us nowhere.

Since Chequers last summer it’s been clear to everyone except the Prime Minister that she was never going to get a deal unless she negotiated with the other parties, but she has wasted time trying to please the no-deal right-wingers, and trying to pass a deal which pleased nobody.

Now, after the Prime Minister has done nothing to bring back a deal which has any chance of success, Parliament has tried to take back control from the Government. The complete lack of decision-taking is entirely down to the Prime Minister and the ever-shrinking number of MPs who still support her. 

On Wednesday various cross-party groups of MPs tried to find things we agree on.  This only works if MPs vote for everything they CAN accept, rather than holding out for their favourite option.  I have constantly said that a no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome, which is why I was determined to vote for EVERYTHING which I thought might help us to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

I voted for:

  • So-called Common Market 2 – a Single Market plus a Customs Union.
  • A Customs Union on its own.
  • Labour’s Alternative Plan – what we would have done from day 1 if we had been in power – Single Market, Customs Union and increased protection for workers’ rights and the environment.
  • Revocation to avoid no deal – I do not believe we should simply revoke Article 50. That would be a slap in the face for those who voted Leave.  But this Revoke motion would only come into play if it came to a stark choice between revoke and no deal, and no deal would be a disaster.  I don’t believe we would ever get to this position, but making it clear that this COULD happen would have focused minds and avoided us getting there.
  • Confirmatory Public Vote – Whatever deal is agreed, there would be a referendum to give people the chance to show whether they accept that deal.

All of these motions lost, but the Customs Union on its own, put forward by Ken Clarke and Hilary Benn, came very close.  If Theresa May had put this forward as part of her deal, she wouldn’t have needed a back-stop for Northern Ireland, and her deal might have been agreed by now.

I voted against all the variations on Leaving without a deal, and they all lost very heavily.

There are still too many MPs who will not vote for 2nd best, even though they are opposed to a no-deal Brexit.  There are only 160 MPs who support leaving without a deal.  However, unless we can agree something, that is what will happen.

We still have 2 weeks to go, with an extension until April 12th – or 22nd May IF the Prime Minister gets her Withdrawal Agreement through today (Friday).  If she loses again, Parliament will have another go on Monday, but I am not confident.

We should have reached this point last October.  It is ridiculous for the Prime Minister to claim that we are trying to undermine anything – there has been no way forward from her Government, so how could we have undermined it?  She will now  step down once Withdrawal has happened  – in other words, by May 22nd at the latest.

But actually, I’m not interested in the future of Theresa May.  I’m interested in the future of the British economy – and if despite all our efforts the Government leads us over the cliff of a no-deal Brexit it won’t be for want of trying on my part.