So now, finally, it’s make-or-break time and the issue remains exactly the same as it always was, for Brexiteers and everyone else caught up in this maelstrom.
Are MPs going to do what they promised the electorate they would do and honour the referendum result and the (amended) act of parliament they themselves passed by allowing the UK to leave the EU on April 12; or are they going to break their promise, cementing into history their contempt for democracy and the British people, and stop Brexit?
For after the smoke from last night’s disgraceful Remainer shoot-out in the Commons has cleared away, the choice facing MPs is Mrs May’s deal or leaving with no-deal.
A general election, her latest weapon being deployed against the Brexiteers, would solve nothing. A second referendum (which as things stand would probably produce a bigger majority for Leave) would also return us to precisely where we are now.
Today, the Cabinet is meeting in what has been threatened as a marathon session to find a way forward out of the “impasse”. Why? There’s no impasse.There’s a way forward already. The UK will leave the EU on April 12, as is written into law.
So why is the government behaving as if this clear and obvious way forward isn’t an option?
As I wrote here yesterday, it’s now obvious that the dire predictions of apocalypse now from leaving with no deal have been wildly exaggerated, almost certainly in order to terrify people into supporting Mrs May’s deal or some other form of negating Brexit.
As several have observed, including the present and former governors of the Bank of England, although there would be some short-term dislocation cost Britain is now well-prepared for no deal; and the medium to long-term prospects of being outside the EU are bright indeed. Even Mrs May has acknowledged that fact.
So why is Mrs May so implacably opposed to no-deal?
I don’t know her and so I can only surmise. But I think it must ultimately boil down to this.
We know that she has a strong sense of duty and responsibility to both her country and her party (not necessarily in that order). As a tepid Remainer surrounded by the ideological Remainers of the civil service and British establishment, she will have agreed with them that the referendum result, which shocked them all to the core as something that reversed the natural order of things, required a damage limitation exercise.
That inescapably meant watering Brexit down. But she probably wouldn’t have seen it in that way. Observing that the country and her party were split down the middle over the issue, plus her small and fragile majority in an overwhelmingly Remainer parliament, she almost certainly decided that her duty lay in steering a middle Brexit path – to bring both country and party together.
But because she is at heart a Remainer, and because she never seems to understand the big picture about anything, she was incapable of grasping that on the question of leaving or remaining in the EU there is no middle path. You can’t be out but at the same time a bit in. If the UK remains under the EU’s thumb at all, it remains, for all practical purposes, in. It does not deliver the independent self-government for which the British people voted in the 2016 referendum.
Incapable of understanding this simple fact, Mrs May went cap in hand to the EU – which promptly stamped all over her, resulting in her lamentable withdrawal deal which, as MPs overwhelmingly decided in the first “meaningful vote”, was unconscionable because it would have left the UK powerless under the EU’s thumb and thus worse off even than remaining an EU member state.
But Mrs May refuses give up on her deal – because she believes it’s the only way to repair the terrible rift over Brexit within the country and the Conservative party. On the contrary: the tragic fact is that her deal, if passed, would trap the UK into EU “vassalage” and thus destroy both the Conservative party and what remains of public faith in the entire democratic process.
The only way to prevent all that from happening is to allow the UK to leave with no deal on April 12.
When MPs voted against no-deal, they were voting against their own act of parliament and the undertaking they had given to the British people. In constitutional terms it was no more than an expression of opinion, a spasm by MPs who have forgotten that they exist in office solely by virtue of the votes cast for them and that the authority of parliament ultimately rests in the sovereignty of the people.
The former Brexit junior minister Steve Baker made a statement on Monday which all should read. In it, he said this:
“Members of Parliament have been deliberately and systematically bullied by the British state towards a deal which is widely understood to be a betrayal of the fundamental principle of the referendum: a deal which converts a clear instruction to take back control into a surrender of our capacity for self-government with no voice, no vote and no escape.
That this would be done was announced in advance, at least twice. I recall reading in the press a Number 10 briefing that we would vote as many times as necessary to get the deal through, setting up a merciless battle of attrition. And Olly Robbins’ Brussels bar comments are well known: he was clear we would be made to believe our choice would be between the deal or a long extension.
He also confirmed what we knew: that the backstop is considered a bridge to the future relationship, not an insurance policy. Those of us who want an independent trade and regulatory policy for a free UK cannot accept a deal based on a customs union with a high degree of mandatory regulatory alignment. It would amount to a reversal of the referendum result, risking a Corn Laws-scale split in the Conservatives.
On top of the indefinite threat to the union, that’s why some of us could not swallow this shocking withdrawal agreement. And using the contemptuous phrase that the choice should “focus MPs’ minds” merely adds to the outrage. Our minds are now and ever focussed on the national interest of the UK.
And yet the situation we face this week is worse still. The Prime Minister now threatens a general election if we will not surrender at a fourth attempt. Yet it is a deal which every member of the public who approached me on Friday knew was a stinking repudiation of their vote. In principle and with practical foresight, it cannot be allowed to go through at any cost.
So the plan reveals two things about those who would be our masters. They are so confident of MPs’ cowardice that they believe we will capitulate in our opinion of the national interest, not stand firm. And they are willing – as the Prime Minister’s horrible speech showed – to turn people on one another to get what they want: they presumably now anticipate that MPs facing an election will savage “recalcitrant” MPs into submission.
They can think again: I will revisit once more the question of whether I can retain the Whip before I submit to a life of regret and shame after failing in a struggle for the rights of a free people in which others have literally fought and died.”
Those Brexiteers who are holding firm against Mrs May’s deal are absolute heroes. Steve Baker’s impassioned message yesterday revealed the ferocious pressure they are under. That pressure will now increase still further as the ultimate break-point is reached. The Brexiteers must now keep their focus, maintain discipline and hold their nerve.