Monday, 26 November 2018
Brexit, even bluer
I have been tempted several times in recent weeks to comment again on Brexit, but the position was becoming so chaotic that it was difficult to make sense of the constantly shifting situation as negotiations came to a head. But now that the PM has cobbled together a compromise deal with the EU (which seems to satisfy almost no-one) things really are moving towards the final crunch, when the Commons votes on it on Tuesday 11 December, after a 5-day debate.
I took some time out today to watch May’s statement in the House of Commons. The Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, Jacobus Rees-Mogadon, congratulated May on another ‘Boycottian’ innings at the dispatch box (the third in 10 days), but like her cricketing hero, she played nothing but blocking shots and, in yet another laborious innings scored very few runs, simply hanging on to her place at the crease, at least for a little longer. Like many a timid batsman, she let a number of balls go past her, if the questions raised by MPs were simply too awkward to answer.
As the session dragged on, there was a pathetically small measure of support for the ‘deal’ which the PM had brought back from Brussels. I counted very few Tory MPs who were prepared to give an uncritical welcome to the draft withdrawal agreement (and the first did not come until at least an hour into the 2½ -hour session). There were, on the other hand, numerous members on all sides of the House who urged the PM to hold a People’s Vote in light of the terms that have now been agreed, which bear little resemblance to what was promised on the ‘Leave’ side before the referendum of 2016.
There are many people, both inside and outside parliament, who cannot understand what the PM and others have to fear from a properly conducted referendum on the basis of the terms that have only now, at the end of long and weary negotiations, become clear. It is obvious that no-one wants to crash out of the EU with no deal, and that neither the government nor the Commons as a whole would seriously contemplate such a possibility. Veiled threats by the PM that this is a real risk if her deal is rejected are not to be taken seriously. The true alternative to the present deal is for the country to remain in the EU. This is the question which should now be put to the electorate as a whole, not least because it may be the only practical means by which the apparent impasse in parliament could be resolved.
The PM desperately clasps the result of the 2016 referendum to her bosom like a fig-leaf, entirely ignoring the indications from several different strands of research that there has been a change in public opinion, not least in the areas that voted for Brexit in 2016, now that the manifold disadvantages of Brexit compared with our continued membership of the EU are becoming clear to them. The inescapable fact is that there is no possible deal that could be more advantageous than our existing membership of the EU.
It was none other than the former Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis (the first of no fewer than three of them in a little over two years!), who once observed, specifically on the subject of a European referendum, that democracy is not democracy if people do not have the freedom to change their minds. If that were not so, why should we have any more General Elections? If May were right in her assertion that she is bound to give effect to the will of the people as expressed in a referendum more than two years ago, then it could equally be said that the ‘People Have Spoken’ in the General Election of June 2017, and the present hung parliament should be allowed to sit for the indefinite future, because that was what the People decided in 2017. Merely to state this proposition is to expose the absurdity of the Prime Minister’s position.
It is now becoming urgent to stop Brexit. The European Court of Justice will hear a referral from the Scottish Court of Session tomorrow, which seeks to establish that a country which invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty can withdraw from the Article 50 process if it so chooses. The UK government went all the way to the Supreme Court in an unsuccessful attempt to stop this. Why? What were they afraid of?
Theresa May is implacably determined not to be deterred or diverted from the course she has so doggedly pursued for the past two years. But for the sake of the country, she must be stopped – first by the Commons on 11 December, then by irresistable pressure from the public, applied through their Members of Parliament. MPs must be told by their constituents that they must vote for a Referendum on either supporting May’s deal, or abandoning Brexit, in order to settle the issue once and for all.
[And in case you are wondering what ‘Remoaners’ (or ‘Remainiacs’) like me would do if the vote in this first and only referendum on the terms that have now been negotiated is still to leave the EU, the answer is that at that point we would have to admit defeat, and leave the country to its fate. But then, if Brexiteers are confident that they would still win, then what objection could they possibly have to a People’s Vote being held to determine whether we should leave the EU on the basis that has now been negotiated, or whether we should after all remain in the EU?]
© MARTIN H GOODALL