Tuesday’s knife-edge votes in the House of Commons have given the Prime Minister a two-week window to cajole the European Union into re-opening the Brexit withdrawal agreement – and ditch the ‘backstop’ guarantees of an open Irish border, that she had previously agreed, in favour of some (as yet unspecified) ‘alternative arrangements’. That’s why I fully expect this next period of time between now and 14th February will be one big wild goose-chase.
While I was glad to have the Commons majority reaffirm that there is not an appetite for a ‘no deal’ Brexit (the amendment from Caroline Spelman on this was successful), the idea that the Prime Minister is now going to throw away a fortnight chasing unicorns instead of the ‘backstop’ is the very definition of time-wasting. Theresa May has opted to pander to her right-wing ERG anti-EU MPs instead recognising this impasse and putting this issue back to the public.
Having this backstop mechanism to safeguard against a hard border on the island of Ireland is important and I can understand the anxieties of the Irish Government; we should all want to preserve the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago and installing customs and inspection checks along a defended border would be a massively retrograde step.
My suspicion is that the EU27 governments and the Irish will not want to turn a blind eye to the risks of a hard border and they will be deeply reluctant to water-down the backstop. Consequently, we will all be back to square one on 14th February when the Commons will vote again.
Really, at that point, it will be necessary for MPs to face reality rather than fantasy, and set up a proper process for us to make real decisions. If there is no majority for a viable, realistic Brexit, then surely we have to put the question back to the British people?
While Westminster prevaricates, today’s Guardian newspaper reports that the fear of a hard Brexit is pushing one in three firms to plan moving abroad, according to an Institute of Directors’ survey.
There are real lives, real jobs and real consequences of a damaging Brexit occurring. I will not support a decision that damages the livelihoods and incomes of the people of Nottingham.