Last Friday morning, it came to four weeks until the UK leaves the European Union. As it stands, a deal has not been ratified by the UK or EU parliaments, making the departure more likely to arrive without a formal agreement passed. However, Parliament has now exerted its authority, and Labour is reluctantly behind a People’s Vote. But is this enough to stop a No Deal?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that excitement will come just when you’re distracted. In my case, I took ten days holiday – which was lovely, though hard to concentrate on amidst the typhoon wrecking UK politics. Ironically, it was useful to have ten days as a spectator. I asked family their perspectives, and saw that the claustrophobic bubble of politics has such a minute effect on the day-to-day experiences of people.
Very few people are chatting to their neighbours or colleagues about the Kyle-Wilson amendment, or the Independent Group. I was lucky enough to visit family who lived in the constituency of a member of the Independent Group. Apart from a small conversation about their MPs’ votes and former party, the matter was closed as soon as it started.
And while it’s easy to ignore politics, it’s dangerous to reject it completely out of frustration or apathy – especially four weeks from Brexit. To the people who have ignored it, that March milestone will come as a shock and continue to bite hard as No-Deal consequences get more evident.
Theresa May travelled to Sharm El-Sheikh early last week for the joint EU-Arab League summit. Naturally, Brexit was a hotter topic than the coarse Egyptian air. It was announced by May that the next meaningful vote (originally scheduled for last week) would be by the 12 March, at the latest: just eighteen days till Brexit Day. On this news, the Cooper-Letwin amendment which would have forced an extension vote, was subsequently postponed.
On Tuesday, May then promised to the House that MPs would have a chance to reject a no-deal Brexit, and push for an extension to Article 50. This promise was to be fulfilled through votes in mid-March. The phrase ‘mid-March’ once seemed so distant, but it’s just a couple of weeks away now. Laughter turns to hysterical crying in a matter of seconds, it seems.
The real risk for Remain-supporting MPs, and indeed us plucky plebs in blue t-shirts, is the meaningful vote on the 12th. Last time May’s deal fluttered onto the Hansard logs, the vote collected the biggest majority against a Government’s bill in political history.
It made international news, put pictures of Theresa May up all over the place, and redefined the word ‘bungle’. In my amateur political journalism, I suspect this vote will still note pass the Commons. However, it’ll be a smaller majority for rejection than before – not necessarily from the work of negotiations or clarifications from the EU, but simply fear.
But Theresa May has opened a door to end this political deadlock, which MPs and parties only have to peek through. The vote to extend Article 50 will, I predict tenuously, pass by a slither of a majority. With the clear majority of opposition MPs voting for a better deal or referendum, all it would take is government voices to rise up for an extension.
In past votes the likes of Oliver Letwin, Nicholas Soames, and Antoinette Sandbach have voted against the Government to secure a more spacious environment to sort out Brexit. Though after the dismal Malthouse Compromise, there’s no telling where some Tories will go – though by its name, it’s probably a prog rock festival.
So if the extension is voted through, and the EU agrees, what on this green and scarred earth happens next?
Optimistic prediction: Labour will have one more try at their deal, which will fail. They’ll then back a referendum with a clamour of backbench anger and relief in equal measure. John Mann will literally catapult himself onto Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment in rage.
Pessimistic prediction: Labour will have one more try at their deal, which will fail. They’ll then back the official government deal, if it has assurances on issues such as workers’ rights. Several resignations forces Corbyn to star in a socialist parody of Tiswas – where he is gunged by Ben Bradshaw.
Probable prediction: Labour officially supports the Kyle-Wilson amendment, which would lead to abstaining May’s deal if a second Brexit referendum would give final authority. A modest plan, with backbench anger from the likes of Caroline Flint and John Mann. The Labour Party are nominated for the 2019 UK Sensible Awards, held in Felicity Kendal’s lounge.
As with everything related to Brexit, don’t expect any conclusion. Theresa May has postponed a vote before, she’ll do it again. The fact is that people are now completely fed up with Brexit. A referendum on May’s deal or Remain is probably not the best move anymore. Revoke it, sure! Postpone the inevitable crash, at least try to stop it. But in the words of football manager legend Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s squeaky bum time.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)