Friday, 22 March 2019

BREXIT – Back from the brink?

Trixie May is still up to her tricks. (Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised - it’s in the nature of the beast.) MPs should be very wary of what the government is offering in the way of government-sponsored votes in the next week or two; they may not be what they seem to promise .

Next week, the House of Common has one final chance (and perhaps their best chance) to take control of their own Order Paper, so as to ensure that they rather than the Executive, can call the shots over Brexit. .

The ‘meaningful’ vote (MV3) may or not be brought back before the Commons next week. It certainly should be, but don’t be surprised if Trixie May tries to find some excuse for postponing this yet again. My guess is that Mr Speaker will allow the vote this time, because it involves a different end date, and so would arguably be different in substance from ‘MV2’. Present indications, however, are that May’s draft withdrawal agreement could be voted down by an even larger majority than the 149 votes by which it was rejected last time. .

Far more important than MV3, however, is that the Commons now has the chance to take control of the agenda and to assert their will over the government. The EU Council hinted strongly on Thursday night that this is what they would like the House of Commons to do, rather than allowing the PM to pursue her monomaniacal mission to ‘deliver Brexit’ at any cost to the country and its hapless citizens. .

Ministers were suggesting today that the PM would be prepared to allow ‘indicative votes’ to be held on various alternative future relationships with the EU, but it has become clear that this only relates to the nebulous ‘political declaration’ that accompanies the withdrawal agreement; Trixie May is not prepared to allow the Commons to consider an alternative to the withdrawal agreement itself. This would entirely negate the (apparently) promised free vote on a series of indicative votes. .

Members of Parliament must resist ministerial blandishments, and insist on taking over the conduct of Commons business themselves rather than relying on nebulous, and frankly dishonest, government promises to allow the House to discuss alternative forms of Brexit (but entirely on the PM’s own terms). They should not allow themselves to be bamboozled by ministerial assurances that the government will make arrangements themselves to facilitate these discussions. .

It seems to me that several things must happen. First, cabinet ministers who are frankly appalled by the course that the PM is still intent on pursuing must insist on steering a different course. A cabinet revolt involving voting for backbench motions or amendments against the PM’s wishes, daring the PM to sack them, might be tactically better than resigning (constitutionally unorthodox though such conduct on the part of ministers may be). Secondly, the Commons must pass the proposal put forward by Sir Oliver Letwin to ensure that the House does at last take control of the agenda from this very untrustworthy Prime Minister. (I am assuming that in any event the government will lay an SI next week to repeal the provision in the 2018 Act that set the 29th March exit date in stone in that piece of legislation, and that this should be approved by a large majority, being opposed only by a handful of Brextremist head-bangers.) .

Finally, the House should seriously consider the advisability of forcing the government to revoke Article 50, as the only reliable means of stopping the clock and avoiding any further risk of the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal. If the whole Brexit issue is still unresolved as we approach the new 12 April deadline, then it will become absolutely imperative to revoke Article 50, and any squeamishness about defying ‘the will of the people’ or not ‘honouring the result of the referendum’ must be firmly put aside in the national interest. I have signed the petition on the government website calling for the revocation of Article 50, and I would urge as many readers as possible to do likewise (and tell your friends to do so as well). .

As I have said before, even revoking Article 50 cannot be regarded as putting a final end to Brexit. It will require either a General Election or a Referendum to resolve the issue of Brexit once and for all. I favour the latter as a more reliable means of resolving the question of Brexit, but only after a suitable interval to allow tempers to cool and to allow a referendum to be properly and fairly organised. To my frustration, prior personal commitments this weekend will prevent my attending the march for a People’s Vote in London on Saturday, but again I would urge you to attend if you possibly can. It is only by demonstrating to MPs the strength of feeling in the country on these issues that they (and particularly the front benches of the two main parties) will understand the shift away from Brexit among the public and will appreciate the need to change course on Brexit. .


[Next week, for at least the first half of the week, I am going to be fully engaged on other matters, and so I won’t be able to pay the close attention to Brexit that I have done in the past week or two. I will try to catch up with evening news bulletins, but you may be relieved to know that I almost certainly won’t have the time to comment further on Brexit (or anything else) until towards the end of next week at the earliest. It could prove to be an important week in the Commons, and may hold the key to the future of Brexit. I shall just have to catch up with the situation as best I can in the light of developments by the end of what promises to be another eventful week.] .



  1. Is it right that MPs should wrest control of the proceedings from the government? – It breaks the convention that the executive proposes and Parliament disposes and I believe would set an unhealthy precedent. What, for example, would be the point of a political party campaigning and winning a GE on an issue particularly important to voters, only to have its’ progress through Parliament highjacked by a determined minority combining with the Opposition?
    On the more general points of either revoking A50 or having a second referendum, I’m not sure Labour or Tories would go for these - they could be political suicide for either - as each party has a significant number of Leave voters.
    FWIW, my own opinion is that – rightly or wrongly - we are still heading for a no-deal exit. The recent ritual humiliation of our embarrassing, over-promoted PM in Brussels only serves to push the finishing line further back.
    “you may be relieved to know that I almost certainly won’t have the time to comment further on Brexit ….. until towards the end of next week at the earliest”.
    Although on the opposite side of the Brexit fence, I find your comments on this issue – as with the Planning Blog generally – succinct and thought-provoking (far more so than many on the DT!) so please keep them coming!

    1. I am grateful to A Gilbert for this contribution to the discussion. In fact, I feel that his questions, and the ensuing parliamentary proceedings, deserve a blog post to themselves, and so I will answer these questions in that piece. In the meantime, however, the answer to the first question is “Yes, it is right”, for the reasons I shall explain in the forthcoming blog post.