Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Massive Defeat - What Next?

I did think the defeat of the government could be upwards of two hundred, and sensed that far from the whips shaving off opposition that opinions were hardening. Thus the strategy of Theresa May in delaying the vote completely backfired. She lost by the meaningful vote 230. Not many more Tories than the payroll vote supported the deal.

It is dead, but much else is unclear. A House of Commons Liaison Committee may try to direct traffic towards, initially, indicative votes for how to leave the European Union, but it is clear that the Cabinet is going to do this anyway. There is no way now that Theresa May will be given the freedom to try and do what she wants; leading members of the Cabinet will be getting a grip with a new consensus seeking direction to policy.

The scale of the defeat gave Jeremy Corbyn no choice but to go for a vote of no confidence, and he is likely to lose this. There may be a few wild Tories to vote 'no confidence', but there are enough to stop this in possibly one of the last acts of the Tory tribe coming together. This means that Corbyn is bypassed: the option of a second referendum may still not be his policy despite party conference policy.
So the government can limp on, and another proposal that won't pass without Labour support is a second referendum. Neither of these being enacted, the European Union 27 States by unanimity will not be able to have grounds to extend Article 50.

A second referendum is a dangerous strategy. It will be divisive, the proposers will again lose control of it like they did in 2016 (it became an expression of anti-austerity and looked to kick the government), and of course it could still result in a no deal exit. Such a referendum may happen, but only if Labour back it, and many MPs will not.

No referendum creates two tough choices. One is to leave with no deal on the 29th March later this year. The House of Commons can always produce a majority to stop this, and the Cabinet can also stop this, given the balance of opinion. But the only way to stop this is to revoke Article 50.
Even if there is a referendum, it does not follow that the EU 27 will approve unanimously an extension to Article 50. So it may still need to be revoked, which the UK government can do: the Cabinet can do it as an executive act of governing. However, done as the only viable means to prevent a no-deal, it should get a majority in the House of Commons - if it goes to a vote.

Expect Cabinet resignations, but also possibly expect across the House of Commons appointments into it. This will destroy the political parties as they are, but the predicament demands that incredibly difficult yet necessary decision. They will sell it to give the UK time to think. The Attorney General says we can only revoke if it is to stop it altogether, but (as Kenneth Clarke asked) does this mean for all time? Of course not. To invoke it again is surely allowed once. This is how they will sell it.
However, as soon as it is done the government and legislature will breathe a sigh of relief. There may well be public disorder, but it is public disorder versus serious economic disorder and self-harm when there is no agreement what to do to leave. Politics will be allowed to form what to do to leave, but the government has so many other pressing needs.

I keep to my prediction: a cabinet coup involving Amber Rudd, supported principally by Philip Hammond and Greg Clark; expect many resignations and the sidelining at least of Theresa May herself. There is nothing in the British Constitution that says a party leader must be Prime Minister, instead such a person must command the Commons, and on the basis of preventing a no deal European Union exist, one of these people can command the Commons.

Furthermore, if the Cabinet does not go in a cross-party direction, the result of a new government direction yet within the Tories alone will result in Tory exiter zealots voting in a later vote of no confidence against such a government. Only cross party support and even inclusion into government will allow such a Cabinet as a shifted government to survive and implement the revoking of Article 50.

They must act on it before economic disaster strikes. They need to prepare now on how to explain the revoking of Article 50: the bad referendum campaigns, the lack of agreed interpretation as to what it meant, and the need to avoid disaster. The political system is being stress-tested indeed.

The principal person to blame here is David Cameron, who thought he could gamble the country to save his political party, and secondly Theresa May for behaving equally in a party manner and taking on a bunker mentality after her own failure in calling a General Election. She failed on that and she failed on delaying the meaningful vote. She paid a hefty price on both occasions.

There'll be the simple choice looming, and starkly presenting itself: either go over the cliff edge or revoke Article 50. As the tension rises the Cabinet must get a grip, and the prediction I made a long time back was that it will do just this. The Tory Party is at its 1846 moment, and the Labour leadership is about to be bypassed. Once Article 50 is revoked, it is likely that a General Election will follow, but the political parties may be well divided. The Cabinet might well introduce proportional representation before it goes, simply because 4 political parties (or near enough) out of two is chaotic in First Past the Post, and so a more consensual legislature will be necessary.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Decisive New Year?

Here we are, and Parliament reopens for what is a hugely critical time in The United Kingdom's political future and likely constitutional crisis.

What I wrote in the previous blog entry stands. It will go to the wire. May's agreement with the European Union will fail to get through, and a crisis will lead to a cabinet coup, in effect, and a necessary rescinding of Article 50, ostensibly to buy time. The Prime Minister will have changed, and the Cabinet will propose such emergency legislation not based on party but on informal networks of MPs, some into the Cabinet. So I predict. And it will be a very rough time of reactions and betrayals.

Let's look at the present and likely condition of the political parties instead.

Labour ought to be streets ahead of a government that is incompetent on so many fronts. this Government has second rate Cabinet Ministers, many of whom seem incapable of doing their jobs. Government seems impossible on so many pressing need fronts: housing, transport, welfare benefits, poverty, health funding, education funding.

Labour is close to the Tories on polling. As the party has grown its membership, it seems not to impress beyond this. In the last General election, it attracted those usually less likely to vote: younger people. But many of these supposed that Labour would be more pro-European. In fact, Labour negotiation would end up rather where May has ended up.

The point of a second referendum is to reverse the decision to leave the European Union, but Labour's process policy is contradictory. First it wants a General Election and only then a referendum. But, if it got a General Election, and won, it would negotiate to get something similar to May. It says the 'a customs union' would be different, but up against the EU law based method for having the Single Market and the Customs Union, the Labour result would be like May's.

In any case a second referendum would take a long time and be divisive again, and governments lose control of referenda as a method to heal division. Anyway, they do not.

The ambiguity focuses on Corbyn himself: lifelong voting anti-European, he was in favour of remaining, but refused to campaign alongside others of different parties. Like May, he presented a quiet and neutral position.

Labour at the time of Healey and Jenkins went to the left. Jenkins quit and Healey did not, and that probably saved Labour from a most damaging split and further diminution then. Under soft-left Kinnock, Labour drifted back to the right, becoming centrist under Smith and then spanned from the right to mildly-left under Blair. Now, captured by the ideological membership, it has gone left again. Yet Corbyn is not the far-reaching charismatic figure some think he is, and he would now never use the phrase, "Read my lips," as some politicians have (most notably George H. W. Bush in the United States). He has also been damaged by his political obsessions and loyalties. He lacks the political quality of gravitas.

Labour is split now, and it's not that divergent MPs will 'fall in' but will, in any government it runs, assert themselves. But it is not clear at all that Labour will win any coming General Election. Persistent poll ratings are poor for this opposition, especially at a time like this with government incompetence; also, the sorts of majorities Thatcher and Blair achieved are not available now as fewer seats are marginal and swings have less effect.

At the same time, the Liberal Democrats seem to have become forgotten. It may well be that a General Election will boost them in the real constituency level of results set against Tory weakness. Liberal Democrats principally benefit from Tory weakness, on the ground. The converse is true, and thus why they were all but destroyed under the post-coalition General Election: the Tories benefitted from Liberal Democrat weakness and the vote they had built in Tory constituencies: so many went elsewhere, to Labour for example (with little positive effect). Vince Cable has credibility, but he is no campaigner and they need someone else. Even then Cameron achieved a small majority and on a still good vote May lost even that.

The Conservative Party is split now, and this is 1846 all over again. If the Cabinet acts to prevent a no deal before late March, the party will probably self-destruct. But this is only further on from how it is already, and the likes of Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond will just have to bite the bullet, assisted by people from other parties. (This is my necessary Cabinet coup scenario.)

UKIP outside parliament is going up a dangerous blind alley with its racist direction wanderings. The Tory right wing may become another UKIP without the identity nastiness of this horrible fringe party.

Only the Scottish Nationalists seem to have shown a steady and consistent bloc of leadership with clarity in the House of Commons. Of course other small minorities like the Green MP and Plaid Cymru have been in a kind of alliance of resistance to this absent (except on 'Brexit') government.

The Democratic Unionist Party may play an important role presently, but it is out of step with a Northern/ North of Ireland that voted to remain, and with businesses that want a deal, and with people who want an invisible EU border on the island. It may have a political price to pay. People may largely blame it for the political crisis.

We see the problem at present. The political parties seem to be in a melt-down. Labour looks confused and divided, the Conservatives are in a split to become a chasm, and the Liberal Democrats are invisible.

It is why the House of Commons, at a time of deep political  and increasingly constitutional crisis, has to step up to the plate across parties, but the fact is that it cannot be the executive, and this is why a Cabinet has to take decisions and introduce emergency legislation to save this country from catastrophe, and it also act by working across the parties.

Suppose it does. What then?

The fall-out of necessary current Cabinet resignations, for other party people to go in, even on a temporary basis before a likely General Election (there is no time for that first or a referendum: actions must be taken), means that the Conservative Party will cry betrayal and disloyalty in different directions. The Labour leadership will be bypassed, and many will think this is no bad thing. It hasn't exactly shown that it would get a grip: its public performance and internal operation seems lacklustre. The Liberal Democrats might provide into a Cabinet, informally, but only if the rescinding of Article 50 is to stop us leaving the European Union and not to mess about afterwards.

A view has to be taken that the referendum in 2016 was bogus: bogus by both campaigns being terrible and ill-informing, bogus by making binary such a complex issue, and that the whole thing was a failed Tory Party exercise to silence the Eurosceptics - gambling the country to save a party. It is Parliament that is sovereign, not advisory referenda, and, if you don't like it, vote for MPs standing on an anti-European Union ticket. It is perfectly possible for a government, after the rescinding of Article 50 by a predecessor, to invoke it again and, if so elected for the purpose, to take us out of the EU.

Again, Party manifestos will matter less than personal manifestos.

It is because parties are now so divided and weak, that new parties are likely to emerge. The lesson of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, is not good: not good as a split that weakens its own side. But it may be different given the Tory self-destruction and the Labour leadership incapability, and Liberal Democrat national invisibility. I expect a new Nationalist ex-Conservative Party, a Centre Party with a reforming streak (like the left of the American Democrats), and a left wing party that will not be as on the march as it thinks. To me, Labour is on the march to do as it has so often done: pluck defeat out of the jaws of victory, and it isn't presently even in the jaws of victory. Policies matter, but then one wonders whether the people to present them can actually step up to the plate.

Politics is going to be rough, very rough, and many people will not like what is coming along.

The alternative is that we go, like the leaders did into the First World War, into a situation where legal and business chaos takes place. No one really thinks that this Keystone Cops Government has contingency plans that will work - look at Chris Grayling, for one example, hiring a ferry company that has no boats and won't find any, a firm with previous questionable management at best, and with a single dredger working at Ramsgate Harbour.

If the Tory Party does not destroy itself under my predictions, the voters will destroy it over the chaos that will come along so soon. Never before has a country decided to commit self-harm, as is optionally coming along - if the politicians do nothing, because they freeze like rabbits facing the coming headlights or just because they cannot manage it, the cliff edge will really hurt at the bottom thump. This is the very real danger.

So goodbye to the once secure political parties, and let's hope for controversial but necessary political decisions to stop the disaster soon down the line.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The Strategy of a Cabinet Coup

So what happened was that Sir Graham Brady rushed the vote of confidence in Theresa May. By this method, and her saying she won't lead the Tories into a 2022 General Election, she stopped a vote of some 140 against her and clipped it to 117, a slight majority of those not on the government payroll.

The very next day she went to Brussels and failed to get any legal clarification to the backstop for the border issue in the island of Ireland. She went from a 'win' to pathetic in a day, and now seems to be playing for time.

It's like having a player with 2s and 3s in cards, but who also decides when the cards are played. As soon as another player is about to put down the winning hand against her, she pulls the game. We think she is delaying, but she did say the meaningful vote was 2016 and the important date is the date we leave. So she might be damning the country in a kind of personal madness. Whatever, she is engaging in Kamikaze politics.

But all this just goes back to what I have been suggesting here, and still no one seems to be saying this in the broader media. It is that the Cabinet has to remove her, via people who have not descended to May's brittle bunker mentality. It will be bloody, in the sense that someone must take over, many must walk out, and people from other parties come in, and start acting to produce legislation. The principal act has to be to pull out of Article 50, either to buy time or stop the thing altogether.

If you don't like it, there'll soon be a chance to get elected to change it. Because the Cabinet coup is for one purpose and one purpose only: to prevent a hard exit. It can look for any consensus in Parliament. If not, ram on the brakes. The days of constantly doing the Conservative Party Shuffle has to end; the party is pretty much bust anyway. The minority of Tories must be circumvented, isolated, forced to scream blue murder: but these are choices that have to be made. Not to have a hard exit means precisely that, and decisions must be taken.

The probable truth is that Norway plus could be quick but has similar disadvantages to the Theresa May deal, although without a never-ending legal trap. The reality is that with the brake off and a Cabinet decision to stay, politics can resume afterwards.

We might say, well, parties will form and reform and pressure will exist about being 'cheated' and the like, but at least this can happen without the cliff edge. Let's just see. My own view is that if Article 50 is withdrawn there will be a sigh of relief and many opposers will be fed up to do anything. They may come back later. The likely reality is that this has been Suez with knobs on, and what follows rescinding Article 50 is a country that will realise its lack of power, its stupidity over these past years, and that it will sit in the corner and lick its wounds.

All another referendum does, if you can find a question set that does not look like cheating, is generate more division. Instead, representative democracy has to face the coming punching from the electorate, so it won't be easy, but it will be reflective. Perhaps if the Tory Party collapsed before and after a General Election, it would never be able to gamble the country against its internal divisions again.

It doesn't follow that 'an extreme left wing government' will form, because in the reorganisation of parties and tendencies, many of those Labour MPs of now who will be re-elected will hold it in check. Nothing will be the same again. To me, Labour has been and still is as much in fantasy land regarding renegotiations and time left as are many Tories, except that it has not inflicted the same level of damage. The likelihood is a time in recovery of the patient post General Election, when there comes a coalition of factions of parties bigger than the parties themselves: so that the Cabinet post election may well be drawn from various parts. Eventually the political ship will come back together again from the wreckage.

But, meanwhile, Mrs May has to be removed, the Cabinet should shake itself out, become coherent to itself across the parties, and take out Article 50.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

The Movement Towards the Logic of Remaining

Saturday 8th December and Amber Rudd speaks out in a way that suggests she might emerge in the manner of my last blog entry to take the reins of government for the purpose of sorting out the exiting the European Union mess.

I need to adjust my crystal ball gazing, however, and in a manner away from what Amber Rudd was suggesting. The thought the Norway plus solution has potential in the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole. I rather agree with Anna Soubrey, however, that it seems to be receding.

The reason is twofold. First, it is not a shoe-in. It needs the agreement of thirty countries, those in the European Economic Area (all of the EU plus others) and in the European Free Trade Area. Secondly it needs the UK also to join the Customs Union in order to avoid the hard border in the island of Ireland. Thus we would be subject to all the EU decisions but have none of the say. This is half the problem with the Theresa May deal. In Norway plus the ECJ could fine the UK for breaches of its rules and yet the UK would contribute no one to the Council, the Commission, the Parliament or the Court. It was always so, it's just that Theresa May's deal also doesn't let us get out.

It undermines a sovereign state's ability to remove from a treaty. The Geoffrey Cox spin, before the government caved in to censure, was that the backstop could be subject to legal attack that would likely succeed. I watched him live on TV, and calling him as like Rumpole of the Bailey crystalised the bizarre nature of that attempt to circumvent the instruction of a Humble Address. His legal advice was rather different in tone, and no wonder the 'summary' was many times the length of the original. (Gosh, if academics did summaries like him, they'd make a whole book rather than a page for just one article summarised.)

Furthermore, it does look now that the matter of being in a treaty means, according to the European Court of Justice, that Article 50 can be withdrawn unilaterally, so long as this is a serious matter. In other words, it can't become an in-out dance. It means, in effect, one chance to remove it (and then perhaps restart it). The judgment comes very soon.

Also we now have the Dominic Grieve amendment. This means that the Standing Orders are put aside on this matter so that the House of Commons is able to give a roadmap to government on the way forward after a defeat on the Theresa May deal. Until now - as I stated - the executive was really the only force to give shape to a plan B. This is why I thought a rump Cabinet would arise to take a grip under a leader who had consulted MPs across the parties.

However, it still needs an executive to hear the Mind of the House. The media has begun to refer to a caretaker Prime Minister.

I remain opposed to a second referendum. This is suggested because it gives it back to the people. But no matter how this goes, people will feel cheated.

The House of Commons will circumvent the hard Tory right, and the Cabinet rump will shun them. This is why a select group of Labour, Liberal Democrat and even SNP people could replace the Tory right walking out of the Cabinet. So what would the choice be, disallowing the damage that a no deal exit would cause?

A) Theresa May's deal.
B) Remain as we are.

There will be many many spoilt ballot papers on that one, because the 'hard exit' would be excluded, the May deal seen as too close, too binding. Indeed, what would be the logic of this if May's deal is heavily defeated in Parliament?

A) Norway plus.
B) Remain as we are.

So one is like the other, except in A is closer and B is the same but with representation. Once again, expect many spoilt ballot papers.

A) Hard exit - no deal but basic arrangements as absolutely necessary.
B) Theresa May deal.
C) Remain as we are.

Well, there will be immediate cries of foul, as we see the exit vote divided between two options; plus, a three-way referendum means deciding something on a minority position.

Parliament will never countenance a second gamble of staying in or coming out without a deal, and three options with Norway plus does make Norway plus a bit superfluous as well as dividing up the main two (it could be seen as a half-remain option).

Plus, a referendum takes on a mind of its own. No matter how well constructed, how well the campaign is formed, it comes to stand for something else. In 2016 it represented the resentment against austerity and the Cameron-Osborne contempt for how too many ordinary people were being forced to live their lives.

So it is up to Parliament - people paid to take responsibility - to take these decisions. The most sensible seems increasingly obvious. Stop Article 50 and stop the process altogether.

There is still political damage, but this is unavoidable. The explanation needs to be that the referendum was offered under false political motives to do with the Conservative Party. Secondly, when it happened, it was hijacked into a misleading campaign and inept campaigning on both sides. In stress testing our membership of the EU over two and a half years, we realise that we cannot do such surgery without killing the patient.

Now, many will not like this, including Tory MPs of a certain kind. They will have to do politics, won't they? They can split off. Farage and company could form a new political party. It's not good, this, but it is better than a bad decision regarding representation on the European continent. The rump Cabinet may well have this job to do, before the inevitable General Election. The final explanation for the political failure of the last two and a half years is that we really have more pressing problems and needs, and these must be addressed, and frankly we have to do it from inside the EU. If you don't like it, then do the politics to come to power and so do otherwise.

Blame David Cameron and his gamble. He 'won' the Scottish Independence Referendum and thought he could do the double. Blame the Liberal Democrats for propping up the Tories: done in a previous crisis, but went on for too long and at too high a cost. Let's hope that the Conservative Party as it is reaps the destruction to them and benefit to us for their appalling mismanagement of this country and threatening its very well-being.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Come the Hour, Come the Woman?

We have now come to a crucial and critical political point in the United Kingdom. The European Union top end has approved the draft withdrawal agreement that, subject to European Parliament approval, can (from that end) become a treaty. It also needs sovereign parliaments in the twenty seven to agree, and, most crucially, the Parliament for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Normally the Democratic Unionist Party for Northern Ireland give the government ten positive votes: on this agreement they become ten negative votes. There are about ninety to a hundred negative or no votes in the Conservative Party for the whips to whittle down. I would not be surprised if upwards of twenty Labour MPs vote for the government, but the rest won't, including the Labour leavers who usually vote with the government. Only loyalist Tories, the government benches (probably depleted further) and those convinced the deal is the best under the circumstances will vote for. All others will vote against. The House of Lords is a certainty for its stance.

On this basis the vote is doomed; but, being a "meaningful vote", the government could bring it back. It would only lose again.

So what is the procedure after such a vote is lost? The first thing is that the government has to come to the House of Commons and make a statement. Nevertheless, there is real politics ahead, rather than just formal procedures, and no one has yet set out the scenario as I see it.

A problem is that with a 'Brexit failure' the Tories will not vote for a General Election and it won't get the two thirds majority as required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which also removed calling an election by the Prime Minister, a one time monarchical power held by the Prime Minister. There is not a majority for a second referendum, and no one would know the questions to ask or have the rapid mechanism available to decide these. A Tory Party leadership election takes time and would be riven by division.

Oh dear oh dear? What will happen. There is a road forward, and no one has set this out. it is based on the fact that there is no requirement for a party leader to be the Prime Minister, and who is Prime Minister remains a monarchical power, this is to say the Prime Minister can be anyone who will present to the House of Commons and carry the vote in the house.

So we have the formal statement. The government may pledge to find a way to present the agreement back. Suddenly those 48 letters appear, to have a vote against Theresa May, but she would still win because Tories cannot agree on anyone else.

However, what matters is that the Cabinet itself implodes. In effect, the Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond faction of the cabinet, along with Jeremy Hunt and more, realise there is a crisis of an unprecedented kind, and effectively the five exiters (plus) resign - to begin with. The exiters cannot themselves force a cabinet coup. They can be replaced.

Theresa May also goes; and in the chaos it takes someone with a plan and flexibility to come to the fore. I am suggesting Amber Rudd as the most likely, because she is new (again) into the Cabinet and has a recent history of talking cross-party and thinking out of the box. She can go out and bring people into the Cabinet across the board, picking people from the Labour right or 'remainers' (e.g. Liz Kendall, David Lammy) and from the SNP even and even Liberal Democrats to come in on what would be a non-Tory Cabinet simply to manage this one issue.

The plan would be to select across the House of Commons, bypassing the party system for the time being, among MPs to get what there probably is a majority for - an 'off the peg' EEA/ EFTA solution. Pulling in a 'Cabinet of National Unity' in this deep constitutional crisis could lead to a 'for now' acceptance that we need government and we need government to produce legislation (because motions and amendments are not enough to change the crash-out legislation in place at present.)

The EU will only extend Article 50 not for negotiation but for reconsideration. This includes the off the peg option, but it may also and further involve, after all, a referendum with a remain option.

The majority to allow this Cabinet to function, and a Prime Minister such as Amber Rudd to function, would be slim, transitory, and to the task in hand. Labour might support it in general if it has the referendum option in it.

The question will then be EEA/ EFTA or remain. There would not be a crash-out option: the rump government would be the means to prevent the crash-out by legislation.

After this comes about the rump government itself would collapse into a General Election, after all it would not simply be Tory failure.  If the two thirds still does not appear, the government itself could legislate to remove the Fixed Term Parliament Act and replace it by a simple majority: Henry VIII powers once removed don't go back. No one would accept a Prime Minister having monarchical powers to call a General Election again. After all, a lot of the fight over leaving the EU has been about not restoring monarchical powers to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the executive branch).

In deep crisis, then, a Cabinet can draw on monarchical powers to produce a caretaker Prime Minister. There is government to produce and pass legislation necessary. All the dedicated Tory and few Labour exiters are sidelined. The result is we either stay in or go to the EEA/ EFTA solution.

Afterwards the country will be deeply divided and politically traumatised. Referenda do not bring people back together: they divide.

Years ago I blogged that the effect of the narrow 'leave' vote was Labour split first but the Tories would later. Had it been marginally to 'remain', the Tories would have split as its exiters went self-defined, even United Kingdom Independence Party. Now we see the Tories split, and it is equivalent to 1846 (repeal of the Corn Laws where the liberal end of the Tories proper formed the modern Conservative Party). The Tories are heading for electoral destruction for utter incompetence and causing all this in the first place. It does not mean Labour marching to the socialist tune either: the obvious opposition in the defiance to all this fetishising the referendum would be the Liberal Democrats, as one time Tory partners in government and thus a refuge for Tory votes (and where they are mostly second). A Labour government is most likely, but those centrist Labour MPs aren't going away, nor does it follow that being in a government of national unity will cost those who participated.

We are now heading for earthquake politics. This must be so when a government so obsessed by 'Brexit' and with an international agreement ready finds itself defeated. The need to avoid perceived disaster, the need for government to produce legislation after its collapse forces radical and unseen before measures, based on the available constitutional forms. This is why, out of the remains of the Cabinet, has to come leadership from the Cabinet, reaching into the wider House of Commons, to act to avert disaster back into the European Union.

A lesson will be learnt here about fantasy politics and realities: and Prime Ministers like David Cameron who cannot gamble a country on the basis of solving one Party's tribal politics. For this his party deserves to be destroyed.

By the way, given her majority in Hastings, Amber Rudd is unlikely to survive the next General Election. Nevertheless, Theresa May will have set the benchmark for 'doing public service' and on that model Amber Rudd (can be someone similar - but she has the contacts) can do public service until she then moves on in another career.

This political disaster was always coming. I predicted it as the means not to leave the European Union, and either I am right on this or we will have the next best thing. But the crisis is coming and it needs people with strong political stomachs.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Surely This Could Not Be a Treaty

The Cabinet has agreed the draft deal of the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union. Wednesday evening Theresa May well after 7 pm came out and gave a very luke warm presentation, a small puff of white smoke, that agreement had been reached. The Cabinet meeting went on more than two hours over the expected time period.

Given what was known and assumed at the time before agreement, Nicky Morgan MP was prepared to consider it, even approve it, in a desire to 'move on' and consider all these problems in society receiving such little attention these days. This worried me, because it sounded like yet again the so-called 'Remainers' capitulating to something sub-standard. And of course a bird in the hand, a document that would be so difficult to tweak, to change, is better than a calamity of no deal. Theresa May also raised this 'binary' option into a 'tertiary' on, of no Brexit at all, as an alternative. The latter used to be her position.

I have tried to imagine what this agreement would look like as a treaty. It won't get there, of course, but what if it did? It means we have no political representation in the EU, an extendable transition period, a backstop that means a sort of customs union and Northern Ireland in the Single Market and Customs Union in effect.

What would future governments do with this? The trade agreement to be UK-wide must match Northern Ireland. Would they keep extending the transition period? Would the backstop be the model for the trade agreement?

This is like some or most of the advantages of being in the EU, without the political representation? What is the point of this?

There are reasons in political life why we let sleeping dogs lie, or get them to sleep again when they wake, and why the anti-EU sentiment had to be suppressed. We see it in Northern Ireland, now to be treated differently from the UK if this becomes a Treaty. These are deep ethnic and constitutional issues. Deep too were the resentments of austerity that were dumped on the political class via the 2016 referendum. The gamble of the EU referendum was made to solve a Tory Party problem, which was then able to exploit a damaged public and bring in moneyed interests to cause damage against a social market economy model of political co-operation. The referendum has been made 'sacred' by interests that want a raw economy, that will do down the very people they conned to vote for the future not in any ordinary person's interest.

But imagine future governments of different political persuasion inheriting this agreement as a binding treaty? What would they do? They would extend the transition period. They would have the backstop as a model for the trade agreement: it must be to preserve Northern Ireland as part of the UK, and even then this agreement makes Northern Ireland different. And how come Northern Ireland has the benefits of the EU Single Market when the other countries of the UK do not? Imagine UK firms leaving England, Wales and Scotland to set up in Northern Ireland!

Perhaps the Cabinet ministers opposing this decided to back it on the basis that it would fail anyway. They will, presumably, resign anyway in order to vote against it themselves. Chequers seems to be the model for this: agree one minute and resign the next.

The elements of this agreement do not add up. It's like saying, here is this half-baked, half-offering what you have, inadequate product, without political representation. It's about the best on offer, we are told. But as a treaty it would be ridiculous and no future government would want to work with this. Surely this is now obvious? Surely now politicians can do what politicians should and stop this altogether. We work within the EU because it is there, and because it gropes towards democracy compatible with sovereignty not in itself but among Member States, sharing and pooling sovereignty via EU institutions, such as its Parliament and, critically, building a body of law which gives certainty of governance.

We've had two and a half years of this experiment into what is possible and impossible, what is a calamity and what is a pipe dream, mental imaginings that do not equate to realities on the ground. It is time to realise that this experiment was a delusion, that nothing was ever on offer, and bring it to a close. Parliament can do this, and start to heal what Angela Merkel, a woman of deep democratic and liberal principle, brought up through the oppression of East Germany, recently described as a deep wound.

Brexit Crunch Pincer Movement

It was always going to come to this. I have blogged for about two years of a trajectory that meant a point of crisis arriving in Parliament. Here it is. As I write, Cabinet ministers have seen the Prime Minister one by one. They have a Cabinet meeting Wednesday afternoon. It is very difficult to believe that there will not be resignations. Cabinet ministers can be replaced, but it would add to the voting cost if they were.

There was a remarkable interview on C4 News with both Alistair Campbell and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the latter making it clear that the government have not got the numbers in Parliament. There are 51 of his lined up against, and then the remain faction against, set against about 20 Labour MPs or more who would vote for the government. Kenneth Clarke says he will vote with the government if (big if) borders are open across the UK for as long as it takes to get a trade deal (of the correct kind). Some so-called remainers would not agree, from the argument that we for so long would take EU rules but be out of decision making structures. We would become a satellite of the EU instead of an equal member -  vassal state. Kenneth Clarke seems to accept that this is the cost of a referendum to which he never agreed, and he did not vote for Article 50. Why he does not follow-through and uphold our membership of the EU I do not know.

We (likely) have a UK wide customs arrangement, but even though this is supposed to protect the open border within Ireland (and the rest of the EU), it will contain some extra provisions on alignment should the UK become too flexible regarding EU rules. Now the Democratic Unionist Party opposes this, but let's be clear: they have Northern Ireland as different when it suits them, not just on excise differences, and the like, but on maintaining opposition to equal marriage and abortion freedoms. The DUP have no consistent principles at all regarding the Union. The government should never have made an agreement with them regarding voting support - that is now unravelling.

The argument has always been simple. Being completely out of the EU is to be removed from a just in time industrial and continental business structure, of a sharing in economics that leads to a sharing in politics: shared culture, shared interests, getting over the historical scourge of nationalism. In the end, this is a project of citizenship, of slowly bringing together sovereign states in shared decision taking with citizens' rights and freedom to move around, principally in seeking employment. Europeans are a people who share a history, much of it unhappy.

To have the Customs Union and Single Market but removed from the politics is least painful but is the worst of all worlds: and here we are with a worse version than that.

The EEA/ EFTA option involves its own institutions, but it is also tied to EU decisions and is usually a condition for a country considering joining, not leaving.

The alternative is being in the EU and reforming it. Remember, the single market was a British Conservative Party pursuit and changed the EU in a more neo-liberal direction. It used to be a social market economy: Thatcher feared it was socialism by the international backdoor. We can go on reforming and democratising.

For a while now Downing Street has had a bunker mentality, believing it can fix this and fix that. One should never underestimate the ability of government to get its way. The government controls the parliamentary agenda, and has since the Blair government. It now timetables procedures, and long gone are attempts the extend and ruin the timetable. Secondly, an agreement is' boots on the ground', rather as people have learnt that the EU is 'boots on the ground'. This is why some twenty or more Labour MPs are likely to vote with the government. Labour leavers - 'Brexiteers' may well not! I have never quite trusted the Tory 'remainers' to deliver under pressure, but in recent months they have hardened their positions and Jo Johnson is an example of clarity of opposition.

 In that the Government holds the cards, the Government will try to make it a binary deal or no deal scenario, and thus the 20 plus Labour MPs may well grow in number. The number of remainer opposers on the Tory benches may well shrink. Nevertheless, the betting has to be that the draft agreement cannot get through Parliament.

What then? May would have to go, although she is likely to try and hang on. A Brexit Tory Prime Minister simply will not carry the Tory Party: it will be 1846 all over again.

We also have the uncertainty brought about by Jeremy Corbyn, who in Der Spiegel recently stated that Brexit cannot be stopped: the people voted to leave. Keir Starmer, the Shadow Exiting the European Union Secretary, says it can be stopped. This is itself a battle at the top of the Labour Party. It could well be that Jeremy Corbyn and his dream of one-nation socialism undermines everybody. At this point, many Labour MPs would indeed rebel, but maybe not enough. For someone who could not campaign to remain with David Cameron, it would indeed be odd if the Labour leadership called to support the deal. It seems so unlikely, this, but prepared to be disappointed by maverick politics, of which Corbyn has been a practitioner all his political life.

Somehow, Parliament has to become itself the executive because this is where the hole is going to appear. There would have to be a huge political realignment at a time of national crisis, perhaps to organise a second referendum, or, better still (or both), ram on the brakes. We may have a General Election, but one where the main unreconstructed parties offer no alternative to this slavish attachment to a Tory Party based advisory referendum. We need political leadership from the likes of Chuka Umunna and David Lammy, and across the political parties. It is done through amendments to legislation, but in many cases this is just inadequate. Primary legislation needs countering by other primary legislation, and it may well be a referendum on the deal/ no deal to stay in comes about. But the bunker mentality government says absolutely not.

This is why Parliament needs to take up executive responsibilities and find a way to sort this out. Let's see what happens in the coming days in this regard.