Is the dead parrot about to stagger back onto its perch? Are the most steely Brexiteers really about to demonstrate that they are in fact people of straw?
Today’s Sunday Times reports “growing confidence” in Downing Street that the prime minister, Theresa May, will get her widely excoriated Brexit deal through parliament. Her allies report a “significant improvement” in the number of MPs who are prepared to support it.
“Speculation is swirling that the prime minister may be able to extract a meaningful concession from the EU on the Irish backstop, the insurance policy that aims to keep the border on the island of Ireland open after Brexit.
“This would enable some members of the arch-Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), including Jacob Rees-Mogg, its chairman, to back the deal. A cabinet minister described securing Rees-Mogg’s support for the deal as ‘work in progress’”.
But Mrs May’s deal is appalling even without the Irish border issue (which threatens to appropriate part of the UK under EU rule and prevent the UK from ever leaving the EU without its permission). As others have observed, the rest of the deal keeps Britain under the EU’s thumb but without any representation. That’s why many Remainers along with Brexiteers were united in declaring that Mrs May’s deal was a total non-starter because it would leave the UK in a significantly worse position than under the terms of its current EU membership.
So are these MPs really that shallow? If they are, they are playing with democratic fire. Some, of course, are not just playing with it but taking a flaming torch and throwing it onto the democratic pyre.
Amber Rudd, uber-Remainer and wannabe prime minister, has the gall to claim that there is now a “plausible case” for a second referendum if the parliamentary deadlock over Brexit is to be broken. But there is no parliamentary deadlock over the one thing that matters – honouring the vote to leave the EU; and that’s because parliament itself voted overwhelmingly to do that and to do so by March 29 2019.
Rudd herself paid lip service to “absolute respect” for that referendum vote – until she stopped doing so and set out openly to spit in the eye of the voters. What Rudd calls “deadlock” is in fact nothing more than the attempt by MPs like herself to try to reverse the decision by both the people and parliament to leave the EU, but without being seen to do so.
A no-deal Brexit under WTO rules is “unthinkable”, she claims, like “a car crash”. Numerous others have said this is total rubbish. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written:
“’No deal is better than a bad deal’ – the words upon which Amber Rudd and every other Tory MP campaigned. Mervyn King, former Bank of England Governor, backs WTO rules above May’s ‘muddled commitment to perpetual subordination’. Ex-MI6 boss Sir Richard Dearlove says ‘WTO terms is now the only viable way to leave the EU’, pointing to the ‘hysterical demonisation’ of this option. ‘There is nothing to fear from WTO rules,’ Sir Anthony Bamford, the boss of JCB, one of the UK’s most successful exporters, remarked last week. Such comments, from people of massive expertise, have attracted scant attention.”
Leaving with no deal is far from optimal. There are bound to be problems and disruption; an enormous undertaking such as leaving the EU can hardly be achieved without at least some of that. Worse, much worse, is to leave with no deal after the government has spent two years refusing to put the country onto a no-deal footing and take all necessary steps to minimise disruption.
But the apocalyptic scenarios are being deliberately exaggerated. As Evans-Pritchard says: “A no-deal outcome is a big risk, but the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement pose an even bigger risk.”
The greatest risk to Brexit, however, was always going to come the very last minute. The EU calculated that no-deal was the UK’s ultimate red line. So it felt secure in making an uncompromisingly aggressive pitch, including the threat of splitting the UK, on the basis that fear of no-deal would mean the UK would cave on even the most dire terms. But the EU didn’t bargain for no-deal happening by default if parliament voted against the May deal but not for an alternative course such as the Norway option or a second referendum.
The danger is that the EU is beginning to realise its gamble has failed. Perceiving that Britain is indeed now gathering itself to leave without a deal, the EU may well throw in an eleventh-hour sweetener – some worthless “guarantee” about the backstop, dressed up in legal language to pretend that the backstop is not what it actually is, all in order to persuade MPs desperate for any straw to grasp that this will enable them to claim that a compromise has been reached and that, with the backstop now safely neutralised, they can vote for Mrs May’s deal after all.
But as has been said here and elsewhere many times, between leaving the EU and remaining under its control there can be no compromise. The break has to be clean, clear and unequivocal; if not, the UK will not leave the EU in anything other than name only.
Mrs May’s deal does not deliver Brexit. Even if the wretched Irish backstop were removed, sealed into a container and dropped from a great height into the English Channel, Mrs May’s deal would not mean that the UK regained its independence from the EU. It would remain under the EU thumb but henceforth powerless as a non-voting member – and paying £39 billion for the privilege of such serfdom.
People should be hammering this message home to their MPs: that to vote for Mrs May’s deal, with or without the Irish backstop, is to vote Remain and thus betray not just the 52 per cent who voted for Brexit but democracy itself.
To judge, though, from the white-hot fury being expressed not just by Brexit voters but also by many who voted Remain about the arrogant contempt for democracy and the people themselves now on such brazen and egregious display (as the eminent historian Robert Tombs has observed here), the damage to public belief in the democratic process already done by Amber Rudd and the rest of the Remainer cabal is probably already irreparable.