Labour MPs seeking a cross-party Brexit Deal will be disappointed. Boris’ antics make it unlikely one will be found. Johnson and the Brexiters haven’t just crossed a line in the sand, they’ve spat in the face of those who drew it.
First published in September 2019.
In case you missed it (and given the events of the past week or so, I can’t blame you), a group of Labour MPs recently formed a sort of ‘technical group’ with the Commons called ‘Labour MPs For A Deal’. The group is led by Caroline Flint, the party’s MP for the Don Valley, and along with other fairly prominent Labourites like Sarah Champion and Steven Kinnock, they seek to ‘revive’ some version of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with some supposedly Labour-friendly additions that the party extracted from Theresa May during those cross-party talks that inevitably collapsed.
It’s certainly an interesting gambit. All of the MPs represent Leave-supporting, ‘post-industrial’ seats in places many define as being ‘left behind’ by the forces of globalisation. It’s understandable therefore why they all want to deliver some form of Brexit deal; in their minds, delivering a deal will not only save their own seats, it could lead to many former Labour voters returning to the party, thus giving the Tories a serious bloody nose.
It’s a gambit however that I doubt will pay any dividends.
No Clear Route – The Lack of Numbers
Whilst I certainly admire the attempts of these MPs to find some form of compromise in a Parliament defined more and more by ruthless backstabbing and pointless pantomiming, the numbers simply aren’t there – at least given the current parliamentary arithmetic – for this deal to pass.
There was some hope that now-exiled former Tory MPs like Rory Stewart and Nick Boles would support this venture; indeed, it seems that both groups of MPs share the feeling that the longer Brexit drags on for, the worse the national picture, both socially and politically, will become. However, whilst both Boles and Kinnock worked together on what many felt was a fairly plausible compromise – namely, their ‘Common Market 2.0’ plan – that was shot down in the Commons, causing Boles to bemoan the Tories inability to compromise before emotionally resigning the whip to sit on the Opposition benches.
It’s a shame that Common Market 2.0 didn’t pass. Even as a Remainer and backer of a ‘People’s Vote’, the proposal seemed to be rationally thought through and made in good faith, ensuring the UK basically remained an EEA/EFTA member whilst leaving the political machinations and bureaucracy of the wider European Union. Given that this failed to pass first time around at a time when Tory attitudes were somewhat ‘softer’ on Brexit, one doubts that any revival of it or May’s deal would pass this time around.
Stubborn & Stupid – The Resistance of Brexiters
Another point to consider is the fact that, for many Brexiters, any deal of any kind is supposedly an affront to the now-pointlessly worshipped ‘will of the people’ concept.
I know, I know. You can just hear them all screaming at me, flat white in hand, as I scurry away in my hybrid car (if only that were remotely true). But this notion of the ‘will of the people’ as some holy sacrament whose ‘theology’ of sorts must be protected at all costs is absurd, not to mention actively harming the chance of any deal – soft, hard, People’s Vote or otherwise – from being reached.
There are some that speculate that this is all by design and that Brexiters never wanted any deal in the first place. That WTO rules were the gameplan from the day after the referendum, all they had to do was whip up a storm in the press that painted any deal – even a hypothetical good deal negotiated by their own party leader – as a betrayal. I would suspect there is likely some truth to this. We know that, for example, longtime Tory MP and Bruges Group member Bill Cash has long opposed the very existence of a European Common Market, never mind any notion of political union.
The rather revealing statement recently from the commentator Rachel Johnson (former MEP candidate and, unlike her brother, a Remainer) further raises suspicions. In an interview with The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, she stipulated that many in the Leave campaign are wanting the worst possible outcome in order to short currency markets and make millions. Whether or not that’s just pure conjecture, I don’t know. One thing that we do know for sure however is that unless Boris somehow arrives back from the next EU summit with an absolutely amazing deal that gives the UK everything and the EU nothing, no type of deal will ever be good enough for Brexiters or the papers that serve as their propaganda machine.
Demeaning The Office – Boris Johnson’s “Humbug”
Crucially, however, what I believe will really have stopped any chance of any cross-party co-operation will have been Boris Johnson’s disgraceful statements and power-plays, both those occurred in the lead up to the group’s formation and those that have transpired since.
Firstly, it would be safe to say that Boris Johnson’s desire to prorogue Parliament severely dented any meaningful chance of either of the two main party leaders working together on Brexit. Following this week’s Supreme Court ruling that such a prorogation was both illegal and likely involved Johnson misleading the Queen as to his motives, any chance of that happening is now even more remote.
However, if anything has well-and-truly stopped any chance of the two parties working together, even amongst those Labour MPs associated with wanting some form of Brexit deal, it was Boris Johnson’s comments on Wednesday night regarding the safety of female MPs following the murder of Jo Cox by a far-right terrorist in May 2016. Paula Sheriff (Labour MP for Dewsbury) rightly criticised him for using terms like “Surrender Bill” and “traitors” to describe any person or legislation critical of his Brexit policy, noting that such language has become oft-used by the type of far-right thug that murdered Jo Cox and sends death threats to female MPs and their families.
His response was unbelievable. It was utterly disgusting. I genuinely don’t get what was going through his mind when he described these very real feelings of fear as pure “humbug”. Jo Swinson, the LibDem leader, spoke later about how she received a death threat targeting her child. Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) has received similar threats; indeed, as I’m writing this, an aggressive man was arrested outside her constituency office after trying to harass her staff. Swinson has also again been targeted online (this time, the attack was seemingly egged on by a prospective Brexit Party candidate).
It seems that, not for the first time, Boris’ comments and callous disregard for basic human decency have cost him any chance of reconciling with a now even more furious, bitter and divided House of Commons.
The Now-Crossed Line In The Sand
It’s kind of depressing, realising that nothing can be done. Parliament is at an impasse, the Prime Minister is spouting dangerous rhetoric, and the country is ever more divided. I’ve long supported a People’s Vote as a means to break through all this; put whatever version of Theresa May’s deal Boris or the Commons comes back with against the option to remain in the EU. Whatever wins, wins.
Even then, there’s still this sinking feeling. We can’t go back from here now, can we? Johnson and the Brexiters haven’t just crossed a line in the sand, they’ve spat in the face of those who drew it. I’d suspect many of us have always had a feeling that no matter which way the referendum went in 2016, a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of sorts had been opened. Everything that’s happened in recent weeks has sadly confirmed that.
A rubicon has been well and truly crossed. Any hopes of a cross-party deal now smack of naive, wistful idealism.🔷
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