There seems little respite from controversy surrounding Brexit. How far we are from the days of 2016, and the ‘easiest deal ever’, as promised by those advocating we leave the EU, and the hopes of the Conservative manifesto of 2017, which mentioned leaving the EU in an ‘orderly manner’ a number of times.
As regular readers will know, I’ve done my best, despite voting to stay in the EU, by accepting the result of the Referendum and the votes of a majority of my constituents, voting to Leave via the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated and agreed by 28 EU states, only to be thwarted by MPs from different positions, who have placed the UK in, what I have also consistently argued, is the peril of a ‘no deal’.
The determination of the Prime Minister to Leave on 31st October cannot be doubted, and EU negotiators would have had to have spent the last three months on Mars not to know this. Threatened with a no deal which is in no one’s interest, I welcomed wholeheartedly the recent efforts of the PM in Paris and Berlin to secure a new agreement and wish him well.
But I disagree strongly with a negotiating position which appears to demand the EU simply accept the UKs position, on the Backstop in particular, and to convince it the UK means business by requiring MPs to stop doing their job of calling attention to the risks of a no deal, and just keep quiet, crossing fingers that a deal will emerge, without an insurance policy against a no deal if the tactic doesn’t work.
Which brings us to the row over prorogation currently. As always, some perspective is helpful in fevered times. This is neither the end of constitutional democracy in our times, but nor is it business as usual. Parliament is not being suspended over October 31st as had been advocated by some, and would be an outrage, but the time for Parliament to debate, discuss and take some action to insure against crashing out if the negotiations fail has been curtailed.
The Government is not wrong to say that it is new, has plans for domestic policy, and wishes to put them forward in a Queens Speech. I would expect to support such plans. But the error has been to do it now, and to suggest such a long ‘prorogation’ period. The argument that it knocks only a few days off the Conference recess is disingenuous, because the Government knew that attempts would be made next week to reduce the extent of that recess to allow more time at this crucial period. Parliament had wanted a new Government to get its ducks in a row, following the election of the new leader of the Conservative Party and PM, and see what progress had been made in his initial contacts with EU leaders, and the ordinary summer recess allowed that. But many, including myself, were ready to vote for a reduced conference recess to allow scrutiny of those efforts, and further debate, as October 31st grew closer. I think it would have been wiser for the Government to continue to explain its new departmental plans in the way it has done over the last few weeks, and hold back the Queens Speech, and its formulaic debate, which also runs down the clock.
By doing this, the Government has opened itself to the argument that it is seeking to evade scrutiny and has taken on a new fight it need not have done. This may suit the divisive campaigners of Vote Leave, now driving Government strategy, because, as they wanted, we are now spending days talking about process and Parliament, rather than the details of a no deal, as set out in the Yellowhammer document.
I despair of such ‘tactics’. The country’s divisions don’t need fuelling. These negotiations should not be a macho game of ‘who blinks first’. Peoples lives, businesses, health and so many other things are in a state of uncertainty, because Opposition MPs in general, a small number of Conservatives who reject the result of the Referendum, and a larger group of Conservatives who campaigned to Leave and then rejected the Agreement as not good enough for them, have put us in this position.
I’m with Ruth Davidson. The best way to stop no deal is to vote for a deal.
I have. I will do all I can to ensure we get the chance to do so again and leave well. I’m sorry that will not suit everyone, but I continue to believe it is the best for the UK.