Despite passing his Brexit Bill at second reading, Boris Johnson was strangely reluctant to allow longer scrutiny of the detailed 110 pages of his legislation and over 300 pages of his withdrawal agreement and protocols this week. So much so that he deliberately ‘paused’ his own legislation on Tuesday, refused to let MPs work on it this week, and is now demanding a general election rather than getting on with the line-by-line debates.
Could it be that Boris Johnson doesn’t actually want anyone to discover the consequences of what he is proposing, preferring instead for those who are bored, impatient and frustrated to just wave anything through?
The reason the Prime Minister has failed to meet his own 31st October ‘do-or-die’ deadline is the arrogant and dismissive way he has approached getting the issue dealt with in Parliament. First he tried to shut the place down for five weeks in September – a move deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Then he unilaterally insisted on a very ‘hard Brexit’ deal, ignoring his own DUP allies in Northern Ireland and proposing a new border in the Irish Sea, so any goods coming from Northern Ireland into England, Wales or Scotland will need export declaration paperwork. Unsurprisingly, the DUP have decided that this jeopardises the future of the United Kingdom and won’t support him!
Johnson’s plan to try and rush through the rest of the Bill committee stage through the Commons and Lords and demand a general election thereafter isn’t going to work, and nor should it. There is a growing consensus that a Brexit Bill which includes a confirmatory public vote is probably the last remaining option out of this quagmire. And when the political game-playing by Johnson is over on Monday, I hope that a cross-party backbench alliance will come together and get on with this.
Ministers are the architects of their own misfortune and could never have expected Parliament to merely rubber-stamp their damaging Brexit plan. I’ve been pressing Ministers all week to tell the country what the economic impact assessment is, but they point-blank refuse. Earlier Treasury analysis suggests it’s barely a step up from a no-deal Brexit. And the Johnson deal keeps open the risk of no-deal if a trade agreement can’t be reached in 2020.
MPs shouldn’t be bullied by the Prime Minister and his advisers. We have a duty to pay close attention to the consequences of what this particular version of Brexit will do to businesses, jobs and public services – and not to jump to artificial party political deadlines. Johnson knew very well he couldn’t fulfil a “promise” of 31st October and the bluster and threats feel very much like a smokescreen to distract the public from seeing how his word now means very little.