(Darkness. On the stage, a single spotlight. One person, in a business suit, with a smartphone: the phone rings.)
“Hello, yes, it’s me.”
(Throughout the first speech, the person keeps moving around the stage, spotlight following, as if trying to find a good spot for their phone.)
“Yes, the signal is very bad. All of the tourists here, you know. They block the transmission, using their phones so much. Oh, here is a photograph of a beautiful castle. Here is a cafe where that lady wrote Harry Potter. Here is another cafe where she wrote Harry Potter. My, she got around a lot with her writing notebook and wizards. Here is a statue of a sweet little doggie. Here is a graveyard we are going to pretend is Hogwarts. Tourists are stupid. Ah, here the signal is better. No, I was saying nothing important. Now, please tell me what it is.”
According to rumour, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, has 45 of the 48 letters required for a vote of confidence against Theresa May in his cupboard. No one knows the validity of this rumour, but no matter how many letters he has, I don’t believe that May will be unseated now until after 29th March 2019.
David Davis, the former Brexit Minister, resigned on Sunday after the Chequers meeting: Boris Johnson, the former Foreign Minister, resigned on Monday. Both cited Theresa May’s plan for Brexit as their reason for resigning. The only minister left of the three Brexiters appointed to the Foreign Office by May in 2016, is disgraced former Defence Minister Liam Fox, who is still drawing a salary as minister for International Trade (without actually accomplishing a single trade deal in his entire time in office). For about 24 hours at the beginning of this week, it looked as if Theresa May might be gone within days.
For the purpose of this blogpost, I’m going to suppose that I might be a Conservative Prime Minister.
By heritage and upbringing, I am a natural Labour voter: I’m a trade union member, my dad was a trade union member, his dad was a trade union member, and so on back to my great-grandfather: further than that family legend can’t tell me.
Further, since the Tories imposed the poll tax on Scotland, if not before, I’ve always been clear that I would not only never vote Tory, in FPTP elections I’d always vote for the even-slightly-leftier candidate with the best chance of beating the Tory.
So hold my hand: this is a big jump.
Few English people think about the constitutional settlement of the nations of the United Kingdom. And ordinarily, this doesn’t matter at all.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has an uncodified constitution: not a single document thoughtfully and carefully produced to give a country a good start in life, but a collection of legislation and even judicial rulings made over the centuries as the British people clawed our way into being a functioning modern democracy from a starting point of feudal monarchy. The 1689 Bill of Rights (and for Scotland, the 1689 Claim of Right) is part of the UK’s constitution: so is the 1998 Human Rights Act.
There is one thing which I think is true of most MPs across party lines: they do, by and large, care about their constituents.
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.
Filed under Brexit, Politics
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.
Filed under Brexit, Politics
In December last year, I started writing a post on Ireland and Brexit, which I never published because it seemed to have been overtaken by events: on 8th December, just barely in time for the EU mid-December summit, Theresa May agreed to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and the transparent border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. She had no choice: Donald Tusk had made clear in early December that EU-27 would be standing together and would collectively support the Irish government’s defence of Irish interests in preserving peace and a transparent border.
On 28th February, the EU Commissioners produced a draft agreement based on the outline Theresa May had agreed to in December. The UK did not produce its own draft agreement. Theresa May simply rejected it, claiming that no UK Prime Minister could possibly agree to the deal she had in fact agreed to in December.
But: if there’s going to be a deal for the UK at all before Brexit, it has to be set down in a form 27 EU governments can vote on and agree to, by 30th September this year. And that’s cutting it very, very fine and assuming that the agreement is something all 27 EU countries can vote Yes to.
And yesterday, Donald Tusk reaffirmed the EU position: the UK must provide a solution which includes a transparent border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, or EU talks will not continue.
As I see it, the UK government has four choices ahead of it: