As the long, hot summer drags on, we are treated to ever more lurid details about what a “No Brexit” deal will mean – shortages of food and medicine, legal insecurity for the 3 million EU workers in the UK (and for any business employing them), tailbacks of lorries miles long on the M20, a rise in crime due to international gangsters coming to our shores, a further collapse in the pound etc. These are not some mythical “Project Fear” but very real likelihoods.
However, none of that is “news”. It’s been out there in the public domain for a long time. The difference at the moment is that the government itself is stoking these fears. Which is of course very bizarre given that the government’s pitch to the EU is that “no deal” is a realistic fallback position if it can’t get what it wants in the negotiations. What’s actually going on?
The government’s problem is that it is trying to face two ways – to tell the EU that it has a viable alternative to an agreed deal; but at the same time, to frighten British MPs and the electorate into accepting whatever comes back. For benefit of the EU, Theresa May has to present the story that the UK could cope with no-deal; for domestic consumption, she has to let us know that we couldn’t. It’s a juggling act you might be able to get away with in darkened, smoke-filled conference rooms, but it’s farcical when conducted in public – EU negotiators can read British newspapers too!
And yet, and yet. Just as she has done so many times before, Theresa may get away with it. She knows she couldn’t get a massive softening of the Chequers Agreement past her rabid Brextremist backbenchers so she’s going for something simpler: a “no deal yet” Brexit. In other words, she’ll try to get at least the Withdrawal Agreement signed (though how Northern Ireland gets squared away is anyone’s guess) and leave the trade deal, absolutely vital to the UK’s future, in the “pending” box, with probably a short, non-binding Memorandum of Understanding to accompany it, setting out some pious hopes for what can be achieved about friction-free access to the EU markets, while of course respecting the EU’s fundamental principles etc etc
You might think that Parliament would simply throw that out – how could it possibly accept a situation where we pay a £40 billion divorce bill with nothing firmly agreed on the future relationship, and the possibility that the EU would then have the UK over a barrel in any future negotiations, having already got its money? Clearly, that’s exactly what Parliament should do – indeed, it would have an absolute moral duty to prevent the UK being left so powerless; but will it?
For sure, all the opposition parties will vote against it; but will enough Tories oppose it to prevent it becoming law? My fear is that they won’t. The Brexiteers will huff and puff – but the balance of probabilities is that they will accept it. Look at it from their perspective. They are prepared to accept “no deal” with all its consequences, so they clearly don’t care how bad any eventual deal might be or indeed that we might fail to get one. They are prepared to pay (no, sorry, to see the British people pay) more-or-less any price to “escape” from the EU so they would probably regard the £40 billion as money well-spent. Above all, they know that once we get to 29th March 2019, we would be out of the EU. The Rubicon would have been crossed. It would be far easier to spread their propaganda for a complete split once the EU doesn’t give in to our demands on a subsequent trade deal than it is now. They will have won. Most probably, they would immediately try to oust May and then proceed, actively, to wreck the negotiations.
To prevent the disaster of a “no deal now” Brexit, the Conservative moderates will need to vote it down. Will they? The evidence so far is not compelling. The small band of “rebels” is split between those wanting a compromise outcome like EEA/EFTA and those wanting to give the public a “Final Say” on the deal. Some are happy to vote regularly against the government; others to do it in extremis, others only to abstain. Many eminent MPs know that Brexit is a disaster and that the Referendum was stolen by the lies and cheating of the Leave campaign but are never willing to vote against the government. Many are terrified of a Corbyn government, completely failing to see that the current administration’s antics pretty much guarantee that outcome (ask John Major whose crushing defeat in 1997 was a direct result of the perception that his administration had lost its grip).
We only need about 20 Conservative backbenchers to stop the government in its tracks – so far, we have fallen agonisingly short. As MPs relax a bit after a fevered session, TAB’s plea to you is – think of the UK and its future, think of your duty as representatives of the people, not blindly-voting delegates. Come back to Westminster and do what’s right for your country.