Today the House of Commons had a debate and a vote on whether the House of Commons should be able to have a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal, or lack of one. The House of Lords proposed and won an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that said there should be a meaningful vote: Dominic Grieve, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield and Attorney General for England & Wales from May 2010 to July 2014, proposed an amendment to support this for a debate in the House of Commons.
Grieve’s amendment lost 303 votes to 319, so the only vote Theresa May will permit on her Brexit deal (or lack of it) is on a neutral statement: a neutral statement cannot be amended, it only records that the House of Commons “took note”. In the end Grieve himself walked through the lobby to vote with the Government, against his own amendment, because (he said) “he woke up in the small hours worrying that his actions would cause the the government’s collapse“.
This could very easily have been true. As Dominic Grieve is well aware, Theresa May’s government (and the Brexit negotiations) are inherently unstable.
The EU, in particular the Republic, won’t accept any hard border in the North in the EU deal. Therefore, either the UK crashes out of the EU with no deal (which creates a hard border in the north involuntarily and creates a disaster area out of the whole of the UK) or there’s a hard border between Northern Ireland and rUK.
But, the DUP won’t accept a hard border in the Irish Sea, and Theresa May depends on the DUP to stay in power.
Therefore, if Theresa May accepts a hard border in the Irish Sea as part of her EU deal, she loses the DUP and her goverment falls.
But, if Theresa May accepts a soft border in the Irish Sea, then the whole of the UK has to be within the customs union/single market and 70 hard Brexiters in the Tories don’t accept that (including half of May’s Cabinet) so Theresa May loses them and her government falls.
If the UK is therefore about to crash out of the EU with no deal because May is trying to please both the hard Brexiters and the DUP, it would be nice to think she’d then lose the Tories who realise this is as disaster and her goverment falls, but so far they’ve shown themselves to put party before country.
Dominic Grieve’s decision to place preserving Theresa May’s government as a higher priority for him than preserving the UK is a perfect example. Grieve knows how disastrous hard Brexit is going to be; but he doesn’t want to be the Conservative MP who goes down in history as the one who gave the push to end Theresa May’s government. And that, in the final moment, was more important to him than staving off disaster.
No clue if Labour would do any better, though. They may not be tied to the DUP or to quite as nany fund managers who have shorted shares in greedy preparation for the moment when the UK economy collapses, but they’re lying about how much damage Brexit is inevitably going to do.
But none of these problems are going to go away until there is a General Election or 29th March 2018, whichever happens sooner.
At 11pm on 29th March 2019, the UK leaves the EU. If no deal has been agreed to, the UK becomes a third country, without access to the trade agreements made between the EU and non-EU nations, without access to the EU’s infrastructure, with a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, between Gibraltar and Spain, and between Dover and Calais.
David Davis claimed in the House of Commons today that he had to have the option of no deal (“you cannot enter a negotiation without the right to walk away”) since otherwise the EU would think they could offer us a bad deal and, Davis thinks, we would have to reject it and then exit without a deal. (I am paraphrasing him a bit: you can read just what David Davis said here.)
But the UK doesn’t have the option of walking away without a deal. That is only an option when walking away from a negotiation without a deal preserves the status quo, and the only way for the UK to preserve the status quo is for a majority of MPs in the House of Commons to vote to revoke Theresa May’s Article 50 letter. No-deal Brexit will hurt the EU, but it will be catastrophic for the UK.
But Theresa May knows that giving the Commons the right to cancel Brexit if there’s no deal, will lose her the support of 70 hard Brexiters in the Tory party. So if she saves her country, her government will fall.
From David Cameron’s first proposal of an “In/Out referendum” in January 2013, to this House of Commons debate today, Brexit has always been, for the Tory party, an internal war between Europhile and Eurosceptic factions. They are not concerned with the collateral damage their war does to us.