‘Stop this parliamentary jiggery-pokery – by preparing for no deal now we are likely to get a good deal. This is the time to be brave’
Tomorrow, MPS need to ignore fears of a dastardly conspiracy in Parliament and say no to the PM’S plan
Tomorrow night, MPS must make a historic choice. They can either vote for the present Withdrawal Agreement, with all its appalling defects – or they can insist on something better. I cannot foresee what they will decide, or in what numbers. But I can see that this is precisely the same wretched text that was in the process of receiving such a spectacular raspberry before Christmas.
It still means a chronic and deliberate threat to the Union with Northern Ireland. It still means that, unless we are prepared to do the unthinkable and abandon Northern Ireland, we will remain locked in the EU customs union and large parts of the single market.
This deal would still make it impossible to do big free‑trade deals – as the US ambassador has correctly pointed out. It would prevent us from engaging in the kind of regulatory divergence – control of our own laws – that people voted for.
And since not a dot or a comma of this deal has changed in the past month, it still means that we are set to hand over £39 billion for nothing, and with no guarantees about our future relationship.
This deal is still the worst of both worlds, by which we somehow leave the EU but end up being run by the EU. It is still a complete stinker, and so no – I can’t tell exactly what will happen on Tuesday. But I cannot believe that it has much of a chance of getting past the House of Commons.
As this reality has dawned on the supporters of the PM’S deal, they have started to change tack. They have come up with a last desperate scare story, designed to chivvy MPS through the lobbies. After spending much of the last few weeks warning of the perils of “no deal”, they have been dismayed to note that, if anything, their warnings have fortified the public – and MPS – in their determination not to be frightened.
Six weeks ago, the idea of leaving without a deal was widely held to be eccentric. Not any more.
Today, the preparations are going ahead full tilt, and one by one the myths and phobias are being demolished – not least by helpful interventions such as that from Jean‑marc Puissesseau of the port of Calais. For months, we have been told that new checks at Calais would mean crippling delays for British hauliers, costing the economy billions. Au contraire, said M Puissesseau to the BBC: “There will not be any delay. The trucks will be passing as they are doing today.”
It is in the face of this outbreak of common sense that the scaremongers have changed their story. Throughout the past 48 hours, they have been ringing MPS and warning that unless they vote for the PM’S deal, the risk is not a no‑deal Brexit – the risk is that there will be no Brexit at all! There is a terrible plot afoot, we are told, involving the Speaker of the House of Commons and various MPS. They have a Blofeldian plan to seize control of the parliamentary process.
If I understand it correctly, the Government is to be deprived of its historic ability, under standing order 14, to determine parliamentary business. This power will somehow be handed to a junta of Remain‑ backing MPS, who will propose various measures to block Brexit.
The whole dastardly conspiracy was apparently uncovered by the Chief Whip, who was innocently tying his shoelaces in the cloakroom when he heard the ringleaders bragging of their plot – like Jim, the narrator of Treasure Island, who overhears the conspiracy of the pirates while hiding in an apple barrel.
I suppose we must all congratulate the Chief on keeping his nerve and getting away undetected – but if you ask me what I think of this plot, and indeed of the risk that Parliament will somehow thwart Brexit, I am afraid I think it is all nonsense.
It must not, cannot and will not happen. To anyone who has followed the Commons debate in the last few days it is clear that MPS do not have the answer, because they simply cannot agree on what to do next. There is no consensus for the so‑called Norway option, not least because in some ways this is actually inferior to the deal on the table. The UK would be even more of a rule‑taker, would have to make substantial payments, would have to accept free movement – and the problem of the Northern Irish backstop would persist.
Few MPS really want a second referendum, with all the horrors and resentments that would entail. The PM has rightly set her face against it, just as she will not risk public fury by extending Article 50.
But even if MPS were collectively of one mind, and even if they had decided that the 2016 referendum should be simply set aside – as John Major bizarrely suggested yesterday – they would be taking a huge risk in trying so nakedly to thwart the will of the people.
The House of Commons voted by 544 to 53 in favour of the Referendum Bill in 2015. All Tory and Labour MPS campaigned on manifestos that promised, in 2017, to implement the result – which, in case you have forgotten, was that Leave won with a majority of more than a million.
If they now engage in ludicrous parliamentary jiggery‑pokery, endlessly tabling amendments designed to frustrate Brexit, they will risk a very serious backlash indeed. The answer is not to leave it to Parliament; the answer is for the executive to do its job, as some of us have been advising for months: to accept that the deal is dead, and to move on.
If the PM is defeated on Tuesday, she should come to the House and announce:
(1) that the UK and EU will keep the sensible bits of the deal, notably on citizens;
(2) that the backstop is coming out;
(3) that we are going to use the implementation period to negotiate a Canada‑style free‑trade deal, and withhold half the £39 billion until we get it; and
(4) that we are going to intensify preparations for no deal – in the knowledge that it is by preparing for no deal that we are likely to get a very good deal.
There is time. If we are brave, we have nothing to fear; and I fear the consequences of no Brexit far more than I fear no deal.
Tomorrow, we must have the courage to vote down this lamentable deal and kill it off once and for all.