Yvette Cooper’s bill, designed to kick Brexit into the long grass and passed last night by the Commons on a majority of one, is at the moment of writing going through the House of Lords on its way into law. This is constitutionally and morally deeply objectionable.
Normally only the government, not backbench MPs, can initiate bills that become law. That rule has now been torn up by a Remainer-dominated House of Commons.
Normally, bills receive weeks of scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. That’s now been upended with this bill being rushed through both Commons and Lords within 24 hours.
So what’s the emergency necessitating such unprecedented speed? Why, to break the solemn promise made by these MPs to the British people and to stop Brexit dead in its tracks instead. At the last general election, Yvette Cooper promised: “I will not vote to block Brexit”. But her bill is designed to do precisely that, and using unprecedented and unconstitutional means to do so. What a disgrace.
The Cooper bill instructs the prime minister to request an extension to the Article 50 departure date, currently set for April 12. In any event, after Tuesday’s tumultuous seven-hour Cabinet meeting and before the Cooper bill was even debated Mrs May said she would ask the EU for an extension.
But the Cooper bill gives the Commons the power to veto or amend any A50 extension request tabled by the prime minister. So MPs have now taken whatever negotiating ground that may still exist from under Mrs May’s feet.
The normal and necessary constitutional rule which gives a government the freedom to negotiate without MPs interfering in that process – a freedom without which government becomes impossible – has been up-ended by the Commons voting for the Cooper bill (presumably to be followed by the Remainer-dominated Lords – although objections there to this “constitutional vandalism” are being raised today, as well they might in a chamber one of whose duties is to make the Commons think again). What a disgrace.
In her panic, Mrs May has torn up all her red lines, indicated she will now countenance a “soft Brexit” (ie some form of Remain-in-disguise, as opposed to, er, her own Brexit-in-name-only-Remain-by-stealth deal) and initiated talks with Jeremy Corbyn to to bring this about (thus politically suicidally transforming him from a dangerous Marxist wrecker of democracy from whom the country has to be protected into a leader who can be entrusted with the fate of British democracy).
As things currently stand, the prospects for this latter-day Molotov/Ribbentrop pact look slim. So it looks like Mrs May will be begging instead for an extension from the EU.
We don’t yet know whether or not they will grant it. After all, they know it’s likely that, as a consequence of a long extension, the UK will contest the European parliamentary elections in May. And if that happens, they know they may thus become destabilised by a furious Eurosceptic backlash with Nigel Farage channelling the volcanic fury of the British public at this attempt to reverse the referendum result – resulting in untold numbers of Eurosceptic MEPs being elected to wreak insurrectionary havoc inside the EU.
But if they do grant the UK an extension, it will come with strings. Of course. As The Times (£) reported this morning:
Britain will be unable to block any increase in its payments to the EU in the event of a long extension to the Brexit negotiations. At a summit next week EU leaders will offer Theresa May a choice between a no-deal Brexit and a long Article 50 extension unless the withdrawal treaty is ratified by April 12.
A long extension, until January 1 2020 or as late as the following year, will come with conditions including guarantees that Britain will not use its EU voting weight to block key decisions.
“A long extension will be conditional on loyal membership obligations,” a European diplomat said. ‘The prime minister will be asked to make a written commitment that the government would effectively abstain on important decisions on spending or trade talks by always voting along with the majority of other member states.
In other words, this extension that Mrs May has asked for, the extension that the Cooper amendment allows MPs to try to extend indefinitely, the extension that MPs may vote for – this extension would leave the UK absolutely at the mercy of the EU which could impose upon it whatever new requirements or obligations that it liked, and with the UK unable to block any of them!
Given these suicidal conditions, how could any MP in his or her right mind possibly agree to a further extension?
This deepening mayhem is due to the refusal by MPs to countenance leaving the EU with no deal. Someone who has played a key role in further deepening this crisis is Michael Gove, the original Brexiteer whose intellect and measured approach mean he commands enormous authority among his fellow MPs. Bafflingly, he has been supporting Mrs May’s terrible deal.
By all accounts, it was his contribution to Tuesday’s seismic Cabinet meeting (along with that of fellow-trimmer Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney-General) which shifted the mood away from what had appeared to be growing support for leaving with no deal. In the Spectator, James Forsyth explains Gove’s thinking thus:
Brexit is now in danger of being cancelled altogether. MPs would vote to revoke Article 50 completely if they believed that the alternative was no deal — so if you don’t want that to happen, a way forward has to be found. This was the case that Michael Gove made in the seven-hour cabinet meeting. Tellingly, there was virtually no pushback to his analysis.
So the government ended up talking to Jeremy Corbyn before a mad scramble to try and get the House of Commons to support something that May can take to the European Council next week to justify asking for another extension.
I find that reported opinion by Michael Gove extraordinary and baffling. Voting to revoke Article 50 would indeed be to vote to cancel Brexit. Does he really think there would be a majority of MPs doing that?
For revoking Article 50 has the inconvenient virtue of being honest. Unlike the weaselly Remainer “compromises” which are all about stopping Brexit by stealth, every MP voting to revoke Article 50 would be openly voting to betray his or her election promises, voting against the Withdrawal Act they all voted for last year, voting to spit in the eye of the voters and show their contempt for democracy.
There would be absolutely no hiding place for any of them. The result would be the collapse of electoral support for both Labour and the Tories, the internal fracturing of both parties and the final nail in the coffin of public trust in democratic politics altogether.
Is that really what a majority of MPs would do?
There is now not only a dangerous level of public fury but a significant and growing number of people who want the UK to leave with no deal on April 12. In the Spectator Piers Morgan, who voted Remain in the referendum, says that if there were a second referendum he would now vote Leave. He writes:
What’s going on now is a disgrace: a House of Commons packed with Remainer MPs trying everything in its power to reverse the 2016 result or dilute Brexit so much that it ceases to resemble anything that Leavers voted for. I find this assault on our democracy far more sinister than anything that might befall us in the event of a no-deal departure from Europe… As for the patronising idea that no Leavers knew what they were voting for, I simply say this: they all assumed voting Leave meant ‘leaving the European Union’, as stated on the ballot paper, not partly staying in it. So the much-scorned ‘crashing out with no deal’ option is most in line with what people probably thought they were getting.
And all of this is because both Mrs May and the majority of MPs are determined to stop the UK leaving the EU with no deal – the irrational ferocity of opposition to which can only be explained by the fact that it is only by leaving with no deal that the UK really will regain the powers of independent national self-government outside the EU. And that, the wish of the British people expressed in the largest popular vote ever recorded, is something which the majority of MPs are determined to reverse. What a disgrace.