Thursday, 13 December 2018

Blue - on - Blue Brexit

There are some cheerleaders, such as Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 who is using his show to call the public to get behind Theresa May and her deal. The same deal that on Monday the 10th of December the Prime Minister decided to pull rather than face defeat in the Commons.

That analysis of defeat was accurate when, following the motion of no-confidence in the PM from within her own party, it transpires that 117 of her own MPs failed to back her. This may seem a small number when compared to the 200 that did but, this exact ratio, 200 - 117 was identified, prior to the vote, in Conservative Home as a problematic victory. In order to be safe, they reckoned that 215 MPs would have to back her. The degree of the victory, with over one third of the parliamentary party failing to back her, keeps May in the danger zone and her authority over the party is only partially recognised. 

The no-confidence vote was called by the members of the European Research Group (ERG) on the basis that if May can be deposed, the resulting process of selecting a new leader would run down the clock on Brexit, in turn leading to their desired outcome of a no-deal exit. This has always been the aim of the economic right wing, as it is only the start of the complete deregulation of British society. Certainly this is what billionaire backers like Arron Banks and James Dyson really want out of all of this. With the overarching regulation on health, safety and working hours, the EU stands as a major barrier to their dream of unregulated corporate rule. 

Theresa May has at least been smart enough to realise that no-deal will be a hammer blow to the UK economy. Her deal addressed this by keeping industrial standards tied to the EU, thus simplifying trade. Her own intolerant views on immigration, as displayed while Home Secretary, is also displayed insofar it does away with freedom of movement. Naturally May and her supporters argue that this is what the people of the UK (well, mostly England) voted for but, in reality, it is very much a deal in her own image. Trade, yes. Immigration, no. Deregulation, some. 

The problem is that if May listened to anyone at all, it certainly was not those who still backed Remain. My initial response to the 2016 referendum outcome was that some form of Norway deal, that being keeping in the Single Market, some form of customs union and keeping Freedom of Movement would have been an acceptable compromise, while acknowledging that it is inferior to full membership. It works well enough for countries like Norway and Iceland and, in different ways for Switzerland too. It would have addressed the issue of Ireland’s border and backstop. New deals over agriculture and fishing would have been possible. Of course, the UK would have had to pay membership and keep EU regulation for goods and services, which make it unacceptable to the economic right. Those opposed to immigration would have been unassuaged too and it is this issue that keeps public support for Brexit relatively high. As already mentioned, it is an issue that is close to (what passes for) May’s heart too. 

Remainers were not consulted however and it is only this week, after nearly two and a half years, that Labour is making any real noises in this direction. Rather too little and too late. Theresa May attempted to railroad her deal through, even keeping the cabinet isolated at Chequers in order to get it through at that level before signing with the EU. When it came before Parliament last week, it was clear from the outset that Parliament, having not being consulted previously, has no intention of passing the deal. I don’t see any way this will change, especially when it is clear that there is such a large number of her own MPs not supporting her. 

Last night BBC political editor John Pienaar was talking up the possibly of a People’s Vote - otherwise known as a second referendum. This is the first time it happened: whenever it was previously raised on his show, it was pretty much waived away as a non-starter. Now it is a real possibility. Leavers say that holding a second referendum would be to disrespect the outcome of the 2016 vote. That’s fine: it was a three month debate of terrible standards on both sides. In Scotland we debated independence for two years prior to the 2014 vote which, at the time seemed an absurd length. With the benefit of hindsight though, it was the time required to debate the issues involved. It has taken about the same length of time to make it clear what Brexit actually means. Guardian reporter Carol Cadwalladr has been doing a huge amount of work in uncovering the illicit side of the Leave.EU campaign funding and methods, not that that has made a similarly huge amount of impact with the public. Enough to say that the 2016 result was flawed and possibly illegal. From the beginning I never respected it: it was so short because David Cameron did not expect to lose.

What is clear is that Theresa May’s deal is dead. What is not clear is whether any deal exists that can pass through parliament. This would take a new team to return to Strasburg and reopen negotiations from the beginning. There is no time. The EU has made it clear that the deal made is the only deal available but that depends on the UK’s red lines, or rather those painted by May. She would have to go if any meaningful new negotiations were to come about. 

Naturally the ERG are still hoping to run down the clock and leave the EU without any deal being ratified by parliament. That has always been their aim. It is possible that the EU would agree to extend the March deadline if there is either a general election or a second referendum called. I suspect that if a new government were to negotiate any new deal, Article 50 would have to be halted, resetting the Brexit clock. Only then, if the UK were determined to leave, could a new government start meaningful talks with the EU. How do we know the basis of that mandate though? Only by holding a second referendum. A second vote is a prerequisite ahead of anything else now.  If the country votes to stay, the current government has to fall. If we vote to leave again, then a general election has to be called in order for the parties to put up their competing visions of Brexit. A Remain option would no longer be viable after two Leave results.

Despite whatever the Conservative Party wants, all ways now point to a second referendum.

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