The maddening failure of British politics to grapple in a sensible way with the consequences of the Brexit referendum nearly three years ago continues apace. The Prime Minister thought it would be clever to emulate the ‘red lines’ of the right-wing ERG MPs in her Party and developed a deal so bad that even they winced at it – twice.
Signing away £40billion in exchange for zero certainty on the future EU-UK relationship was a catastrophic error. But Theresa May’s stubborn streak means she thought that last-minute brinkmanship would force MPs to accept a lousy deal. She was wrong.
Despite the PM’s attempt to blame everyone else for this situation in her inflammatory address to the nation on Wednesday, Parliament has consistently reached decisions whenever asked by the Executive, it’s just that they were decisions the Government disagrees with. We have collectively rejected the PM’s flawed deal twice with massive majorities – albeit MPs voted against it for differing reasons. There was also a firm view expressed by MPs against crashing out with no-deal.
When MPs were chosen by voters in 2017 we knew our job would be to hold the Government’s Brexit proposal up to the light, to test whether it was decent or not, and to go through the detail rigorously. We’ve done that. For the Prime Minister to deny any fault in her own approach isn’t just irritating me; it’s severely irritated her own Conservative MPs and it feels to me now that her leadership is hanging by a thread.
So with Theresa May forced to ask for more time from the EU, but without even a basic reason to explain what a Plan B approach would look like, the 27 leaders assembled at the European Union Summit and agreed to delay Brexit in a two-stage process. If the PM can twist the arms of the DUP and her MPs to approve her deal before Friday then she can have until 22 May to enact the consequential legislation. But if Parliament rejects her identical plan for a third time (and this week Speaker John Bercow cast doubt on the Government’s ability to keep presenting the same plan) then we have until 12th April – three weeks – to come up with a way forward.
President Macron explained today that the additional time was granted to give space for the UK Parliament to make decisions in a more orderly manner, rather than in a rush before next Friday. It feels clear to me now that there is a mood among MPs to take control of the decision-making process out of the hands of Theresa May so that a series of indicative votes on each option of Brexit can take place (and potentially allowing the British people the chance to reverse the process).
Sadly there is still scope for muddled decisions and for Ministers to try and ‘game’ this by rigging the process in their favour. And there is still a reluctance for the Labour Party to get off the fence. We’ll see what is proposed when Parliament reassembles on Monday.
In the meantime the British public are expressing their frustration more assertively: a Commons petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked so Britain can remain in the UK has attracted nearly 4 million signatures in 48 hours (and I agree that if needs be we should revoke Article 50 to conduct a People’s Vote with the option to remain!).
Today I will be joining the #PutItToThePeople March in London for a People’s Vote and I know that many are travelling from Nottingham to do the same. I hope we can take this path to resolving this Brexit debacle. But there is still a great deal of uncertainty.