Mrs May’s faux-Brexit deal has been rightly smashed to pieces in tonight’s massive Commons vote.
There is now only one legitimate way forward. Parliament has passed a law committing the UK to leave the EU on March 29. Since it has not agreed to a deal with the EU on the terms of leaving, the UK must leave with no deal.
That is the legally binding default position. The fact that the majority of MPs don’t want to leave with no deal is irrelevant. The majority of MPs also want to remain in the EU. But they gave the decision about continued EU membership to the British people, who voted to leave. MPs have a duty to honour that decision, not least because they pledged to do so in the manifesto commitments which got them elected to parliament.
The people weren’t asked, and they didn’t say, whether they wanted to leave only with a particular kind of deal or with any deal at all. They just wanted to leave. There is zero justification for not now doing so.
With typical arrogance, EU Council President Donald Tusk has said that if MPs cannot agree a deal and don’t want to “crash out” without one, they should consider reversing the referendum vote.
The fact that the people of Britain voted to leave the EU does not appear even to figure in his thinking. Why should it? The EU is a profoundly anti-democratic institution which treats citizens as mere ciphers to do the will of the Eurocrats. That’s precisely why the UK wants to get out.
But many MPs are displaying a similar anti-democratic disorder. If they try to block Brexit by whatever means they are now dreaming up, they will show a contempt for the British people and for the democratic process which should see them thrown out at the next general election.
Every British citizen who cares about democracy should be telling their MP in no uncertain terms that if that MP now blocks Brexit, he or she can kiss their vote goodbye.
The fears over no-deal are in any event ludicrous. Far more preparations have been made for it than have been reported, as a civil servant blurted out a short while back. The British will weather any problems and disruption. Most who voted Leave have long factored all that in because they believe that in the medium to long term the benefits of independent self-government, both economic and political, will be more than worth it.
In any event, “no deal” won’t last very long because the EU needs a deal. As I wrote here yesterday, they will make a deal on terms congenial to the UK – but only provided the UK says it is leaving with no deal.
In the Telegraph, the former Brexit secretary David Davis (who resigned after he was shafted and sidelined by Number Ten in the Brexit negotiations) gets it right.
He writes that there is now a clear route forward
“by proposing an alternative withdrawal text to the EU, and by following it up with the full text of a comprehensive, advanced free trade agreement that draws on what the EU has already agreed, including its current and prospective free trade agreements with Canada, South Korea and Japan, and its sectoral insurance agreement with the US and its meat products agreement with New Zealand.
The EU will not accept everything we ask for, of course. But our aim now should be to maximise the strength of our negotiating position. How?
First, use our own leverage. We want a deal. We don’t want to punish EU farmers and car exporters. But the EU has a large trade deficit with us in agriculture and, if we leave without a Withdrawal Agreement, we will have to be more open to the rest of the world, in effect forcing French wine producers, Bavarian dairy farmers, and critically Irish beef farmers to compete against big non-EU agricultural exporters in order to curb food price inflation. The effect will be a dramatic loss of market share for EU farmers. We can use WTO-compliant direct payments for environmental remediation and stewardship to help out our own farmers for the limited time this situation persists, as the EU will want a free-trade agreement in these circumstances, as do we.
Second, prepare properly for exit on WTO terms. In truth, the state people call “no deal” will not be tolerable to the EU for long. The economic and political forces against it in Europe will be too strong. As we know well, preparations have been under way for over two years, but we must be clearer about them and we must step them up.
…It is still not too late. The EU has a track record of coming to the table in the waning hours and will do so if they come under real pressure. We must not take that pressure off by asking for more time before we have put an actual, serious opening bid on the table.
Their offer to us is – and has always been – a comprehensive free trade agreement. It is what we want too. It would take negotiating ineptitude on a grand scale not to achieve it.”
It’s within the UK’s grasp – but only if it now keeps its nerve, and if MPs back off from the huge constitutional crisis which they are threatening to unleash by setting parliament against the people, and against democracy itself.