Watching British parliamentary debates used to be sleep-inducing occasions. Not so nowadays when the shape of the nation for generations to come is at stake. Insults abound. Tempers flare. Lawmakers accuse the speaker of bias. They have harangued Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for what they deem to be a defamatory sexist muttering targeting the prime minister and some risk being verbally assaulted by demonstrators. The once staid parliament has sadly emerged as a candidate for the National Reality Television Awards.
Roll up on Tuesday when finally members of parliament get to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s much-maligned Brexit deal, generally considered to be a no-hoper. The prime minister has spent two-and-a-half years negotiating a deal with which hardly anyone is satisfied.
Yet, despite the avalanche of criticism she has stubbornly stuck to her guns — declaring it’s my deal or no deal, despite the consensus that a walkout would be catastrophic for the planet’s sixth wealthiest country where, according to the United Nations, there are more than 14 million living in poverty. Her critics say she is wielding the sword of Damocles over parliamentarians’ heads using fear tactics to force them into line.
I do have some sympathy for the lady. She inherited an almost impossible task from her predecessor David Cameron who agreed to a referendum to pacify his Conservative colleagues before doing a disappearing act. In my view, such a monumental life-changing decision should have been left to parliament to make on the advice of economists, think-tanks, banks, company CEOs etc. The results of that referendum have bitterly divided the country, kept Britain in a limbo for years and has created a maze from which there is no beneficial exit.
Quitting the European project was designed to be a convoluted exercise, the constraints ironically drafted by Britain in the good old days. May still declares that she hopes her European Union (EU) counterparts will come to her aid by tinkering the wording on the Irish backstop, even though EU states have ruled out any change in the withdrawal agreement.
One of her greatest errors
Frankly, who can blame them! Early in the negotiations, strident with an abundance of confidence, she had refused several of the options then on the table for which she now clamours. Arguably one of her greatest errors of judgement was to call for a general election, resulting in a minority government reliant on an alliance with the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) holding ten parliamentary seats.
Tuesday’s session will be a cliffhanger. In the unlikely event she can pull a rabbit, given the rebels in her own party and the DUP’s pledge to vote down the deal, she will be placed in the proverbial stocks. One DUP MP calls it “a hanging”.
If Corbyn has his way, he will be the hapless prime minister’s hangman. He is planning to table a vote of no-confidence if the deal suffers heavy rejection, which dependent on the outcome could trigger a general election. That is a recipe for chaos when March 29 is Brexit’s D-Day that can only be postponed with the consent of 27 EU member-states.
Making a mockery of democracy
Corbyn imagines he can charm EU decision-makers into reopening the file — a doubtful proposition. Besides, his own leadership role is precarious. This life-long Eurosceptic who voted against EEC membership in 1975 is turning a deaf ear to calls from party members to back a people’s vote. Neither the PM nor her rival are willing to give voters another say on the grounds that doing so would make a mockery of democracy, not to mention inflame Brexit hardliners into rioting.
Things are at the stage where there are no positives to be gained. A people’s vote could well be the best of the bad. The deciders were blasted with propaganda and outright lies. They had no clue what repercussions would ensue. A second ballot would be an affront to democracy! I would say just the opposite. Surely, people have the right to change their minds when circumstances change.
In the meantime, the UK is preparing for a doomsday scenario. The police are advising stores to hire extra security guards fearing panic-buying of food and medicines. Some 40 per cent of fresh produce is currently imported from the EU. Companies are laying off workers, others consider relocating to European capitals. Politicians are guilty of gross incompetence. Can anyone put the ‘Great’ back to Britain at this late stage? As a Briton myself, I can only witness this fiasco and weep as I struggle to hope that common sense will prevail.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.