Wednesday 14 November 2018

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.

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