TIME FOR MPS TO ‘GET REAL’ ON A BREXIT DEAL

Yorkshire Post - - FEATURES & COMMENT -

AT THE begin­ning of the week, I would have writ­ten a very dif­fer­ent ar­ti­cle to the one that ap­pears to­day. Such is the tur­moil, the mov­ing feast, call it what you wish, which con­sti­tutes our po­lit­i­cal scene.

On Tues­day, Par­lia­ment voted to hold the Gov­ern­ment in “con­tempt” over the fail­ure to pub­lish the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s le­gal ad­vice on the PM’s deal. A more quick-footed gov­ern­ment would have con­ceded rather than al­low­ing it to go to the vote.

Then, led by the for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral and Con­ser­va­tive MP, Do­minic Grieve, Par­lia­ment voted to start what is seen as a process of ‘tak­ing a con­trol­ling hand’ in the af­ter­math of next week’s vote on Theresa May’s With­drawal Agree­ment, al­ways sup­pos­ing that it goes ahead!

But ‘tak­ing control’ is a mis­nomer. There is frankly no ma­jor­ity in the Com­mons which is why the op­tions in­creas­ingly look like a no deal Brexit – where we crash out – or a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

The first would be cat­a­strophic. The sec­ond, al­though at­trac­tive to those of us who voted to stay in, would be deeply prob­lem­atic for the bulk of the 17.4 mil­lion peo­ple who, two and a half years ago, voted to come out. There is no guar­an­tee of a change of heart.

A sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, which could sta­bilise the Bri­tish econ­omy and ar­dent Brex­i­teers is the fear of ‘no deal’, which on ev­ery pos­si­ble fi­nan­cial and busi­ness cal­cu­la­tion would be a dis­as­ter for the UK from which it would take decades to re­cover.

As Mark Car­ney, the Gover­nor of the Bank of Eng­land, has pointed out, and as the Trea­sury’s own as­sess­ment re­in­forced, you can’t ex­pect to leave and con­tinue to gain from the in­te­gral eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship we have with 27 other coun­tries and around 500 mil­lion con­sumers. This should give pause for thought to the ar­dent Brex­i­teers who want out at any cost.

So, who does that leave? Well, a com­bi­na­tion of Con­ser­va­tive MPs with vary­ing de­grees of en­thu­si­asm for the deal, and per­haps from other par­ties just a few who, at this stage, are pre­pared to face the an­tag­o­nism (and much more) of some col­leagues by vot­ing for the agree­ment.

I say ‘at this stage’ be­cause, let’s face it, vot­ing down the agree­ment on Tues­day night is not the end of the story – it’s not even the begin­ning of the end. Some – and this ap­pears to en­com­pass the lead­er­ship of the Labour Party – hope that an im­me­di­ate vote of no-con­fi­dence will trig­ger a Gen­eral Elec­tion. Dream on.

It is true that Sir Keir Starmer and his team, in­clud­ing Paul Blom­field from Sh­effield Cen­tral, have played a very canny hand. Their po­si­tion, how­ever, would leave the prob­lem of the North­ern Ire­land border un­re­solved, the pos­si­bil­ity of free­dom of move­ment still in place and pay­ments in the long term over and above the ‘di­vorce set­tle­ment’. Try sell­ing that on the doorstep out­side Lon­don in any forth­com­ing Gen­eral Elec­tion.

Af­ter any no-con­fi­dence mo­tion has been moved and pre­sum­ably lost, the Demo­cratic Union­ists are not go­ing to put the Labour Party into power. A Gen­eral Elec­tion isn’t go­ing to hap­pen and – when it doesn’t – some­one has got to pick up the pieces.

That some­one has to be in­di­vid­ual MPs who start to think through what the con­se­quences will be with just three months to go be­fore Bri­tain ac­tu­ally does leave the Euro­pean Union.

Yes, we leave on March 29 next year – and the vast ma­jor­ity of MPs ac­tu­ally voted for this – and yet what we are still ar­gu­ing about is the tran­si­tion from where we are to where we might pick up the pieces for the sec­ond round of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

It is com­plex be­cause, frankly, it is a to­tal mess. The Prime Minister may be an ex­tremely awk­ward woman, she may have lit­tle em­pa­thy with what goes on in the real world of the lives of the peo­ple that I have cared about all my life. She may not be very good at han­dling her own party but, by God, she’s done her best. She was dealt an im­pos­si­ble hand, not only by the Bri­tish peo­ple them­selves in the ref­er­en­dum, but by her own party and, above all, North­ern Ire­land’s DUP whose sup­port and back­ing she should have been able to count on.

It may be pos­si­ble to tweak a lit­tle the agree­ment reached, to do some­thing more imag­i­na­tive and cre­ative than the present North­ern Ire­land ‘back­stop’. Back­room talks with the Repub­lic of Ire­land might yield a way through be­cause the other 26 mem­bers of the EU will back one of their own. But in the end, a deal must be done and quickly.

In my view, a deal could not be very dif­fer­ent – even with a change of gov­ern­ment. It re­ally is time to say it: have your mo­ment on Tues­day night but then ‘get real’ be­cause our coun­try de­serves bet­ter than the ma­noeu­vrings of the mo­ment.

Yes, I re­gret that the tran­si­tion deal is not bet­ter but Theresa May, who may well be sac­ri­ficed once an agree­ment has been rat­i­fied, will be re­mem­bered more kindly in years to come than any­one at the mo­ment can en­vis­age.

And if I’m wrong? Well, tell me which of the al­ter­na­tives will suc­ceed? When, and with whom at the helm? And who has the state­craft and the stature to carry it through?

David Blun­kett is a Labour peer from Sh­effield who held three se­nior Cab­i­net posts – in­clud­ing Home Sec­re­tary – in Tony Blair’s gov­ern­ment.

For her han­dling of the im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion of Brexit, Theresa May may well be re­mem­bered more kindly in years to come, ar­gues Lord Blun­kett.

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