They do so as a matter of practical politics: even a constituent who is not eligible to vote in a Westminster Parliamentary election can influence the vote in one direction or another (“oh yes so-and-so, well, he’s Wrong Party but he’s a nice chap: my neighbours were in trouble, no fault of their own, and he was really helpful”)
But to be fair: MPs are human*, and even the poshest and most privileged MP, come face-to-face with human tragedy, as they may be required to do with their constituents, is likely to have some kind of human feeling towards them.
*No, really. Even Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Human.
Hard Brexit is going to be catastrophic. Any Brexit is going to be bad for the UK, but no-deal Brexit is going to cause a disaster across the UK that will cost lives and could be worse than anything anyone born and living in the UK has ever experienced.
I am not exaggerating or fearmongering. Hard Brexit will be bad for the rest of the EU, but EU-27 will still have their infrastructure, each other’s support, their common market, their trade deals with the rest of the world: planes can still fly, goods can still travel, imports and exports will be affected only to and from the UK. The UK will not have air travel: shipping and road transport of goods in UK-registered vehicles will be affected: our ports will be locked up: the UK’s stockpiles of medicines and food will begin to run out within days. None of this is a secret. None of this is breaking news.
And this will happen in 281 days, unless MPs vote to stop Brexit.
Yet, time and again, Conservative MPs given the chance to vote for their country or their party have opted to keep Theresa May’s government in place and risk hard Brexit. The risk is, for the most part, not one that will impact on them: MPs as a group are wealthy people, well-paid, often with other sources of income beside their salary, home-owners, with access to resources beyond anything ordinary people can hope for. Their constituents will suffer, but not them.
George Freeman is the Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk. He voted with the government in yesterday’s debate to end the chance of a meaningful vote in the House of Commons in the event of there being no deal agreed to soften the UK’s exit from the EU. He is evidently aware that no-deal Brexit will be terrible, though he seems to think that it will be just as bad for EU-27. I found his statement today interesting.
Naturally, Freeman’s statement includes self-serving witter to convince himself he was right to vote to allow David Davis the freedom to threaten the EU** with no-deal Brexit even though Freeman can see for himself that no-deal Brexit would be appalling.
**The UK can threaten the EU with no-deal Brexit in much the same way as a Russian Roulette player can threaten the observers of his game with being splashed by his blood and brains as the bullet goes through his skull. That won’t be very pleasant for them, of course, but David Davis is wrong to suppose the EU would give us anything we ask for in order to avoid getting splattered by our own determined self-destruction.
Shorn of his witter, how I think his statement summarises: “If the UK is at the point where it will crash out of the EU with no deal, obviously Theresa May will have to ask MPs for a vote of confidence and obviously we will then vote no-confidence and either May will fall or her government will fall and there will either be a new Conservative Prime Minister or a general election and either way the winner will have to fix this so we don’t crash out of the EU with no deal.”
I would actually rather like to believe George Freeman. I know nothing particularly bad of him, beyond his being a Conservative MP: he has been employed in the pharmaceuticals industry, which should mean he is well aware that a hard Brexit means the UK ceases to be able to export or import medicines as the UK will no longer be covered by the European Medicines Agency.
But not only is it hard to believe that there will come a point when Conservative MPs will put country before party and vote to topple their own government rather than risk hard Brexit, there are timeline problems which I’ll discuss in the second half of this blog.
The timeline problems:
No one has ever invoked Article 50 before, and no country has ever sought to revoke their invocation of Article 50, so we are on uncertain legal ground, but it is clear: Article 50 must be constitutionally invoked by the country’s government (hence Theresa May had to have an Act of Parliament to authorise her to do so) and it seems likely that the EU will agree that Article 50 can be revoked the same way.
If the House of Common agrees by a majority vote to revoke Theresa May’s invoking of Article 50, and sends a formal communication to that effect to the EU Commission even up to 10.59pm on Friday 29th March 2019, it appears likely to me that the UK can stay in the EU. But if we were to get as close as that to the red line, the UK would be in significant trouble already.
The first deadline is Friday 28th September 2018. That is the date the Brexit negotiations end. Any deal has to be agreed to by 27 national governments, and this takes six months.
If during the week beginning Monday 1st October 2018 MPs are faced with the unpleasant reality that whatever deal agreed to by the EU for the UK post-Brexit is
- unacceptable to the DUP MPs (hard border in the Irish Sea) or
- unacceptable to the 70 Tory Brexiter MPs (UK to stay within the customs union allowing a soft border in the Irish Sea)
then can we rely on Conservative MPs to rise up and topple Theresa May (replacing her with another Tory MP in a leadership election) or topple their own government, and triggering the 2018 General Election?
Can we? By that time, we have a very tight timescale.
General Elections in the UK do not generally take place in December or January due to national holidays and weather. By law there must be 25 working days between one Parliament being dissolved and the day of the General Election. The last day on which we can feasibly have a General Election in 2018 is Thursday 29th November – Parliament having been dissolved on Wednesday 24th October. Further, as legislated by the Fixed Term Parliament Act in 2011, the Conservative Party has 14 calendar days to try to form a government if Theresa May loses a vote of no confidence, before a general election is triggered.
And just to further complicate matters, from 13th September to 9th October Parliament is in recess to allow MPs to attend party conferences: though of course the Speaker of the House can call MPs back for a sitting during a recess.
So the very last date for this no-confidence motion that George Freeman has such confidence in, is Wednesday 10th October 2018, if we are to have a General Election before the end of 2018. (Nor is it as sure as George Freeman would like it to be that the result of this forced general election would result in a clear winner who could resolve the issue of Brexit.)
Can we hope that Conservative MPs would come back from their party conference primed and ready to vote against Theresa May as Prime Minister and topple their own government?
Can we hope that whichever party wins the General Election and forms a government, that government – Conservative or Labour – will accept the EU’s offered deal, whatever it is – or else vote to revoke Article 50?
The other timeline – a general election which must elect a government to stop Brexit by revoking the Article 50 invocation – is even starker.
Parliament is customarily prorogued for a week after a General Election, to allow time to form a government. The very last date by which a General Election could possibly happen with the new Government having a chance to convene to stop Brexit, is Thursday 21st March 2019: Parliament must be dissolved on Tuesday 12th February (as there’s a bank holiday in Northern Ireland on 18th March). In this scenario, the latest date in 2019 for Theresa May to lose a vote of no confidence is Tuesday 30th January. The Christmas recess ends on 7th January.
Can we rely on Tory MPs, having – in this scenario – agreed to hang together to support Theresa May through October and November in the party struggles over the EU’s deal, to come back from their Christmas recess full of the will to vote her down and have a general election in March?