Is it too much to hope that Commons’ sense might actually prevail at Westminster in this whole nightmare that is Brexit?
Certainly, given the ramifications of what happened last Tuesday evening in the Commons, there now seems to be at least the prospect that United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May may indeed be forced to pull the emergency handbrake on the prospect of crashing out of the European Union (EU) on March 29 in a no-deal scenario.
As it stands now, the full legal text of 585-page withdrawal agreement — along with a namby-pamby political framework that’s warm and fuzzy and full of promises that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on between the EU27 and the UK — is supposed to be put to a formal Commons vote on either next Monday or Tuesday, the latter being more likely.
You will recall, of course, that these are the same documents that were to have been put to a vote at Westminster last month but weren’t — because May realised she couldn’t scrape together enough votes from within her own party, never mind the wholly impossible prospect of relying on the 10 Democratic Unionist members of parliament from Northern Ireland for support, or indeed votes from within the ranks of the Liberal-Democrats, Labour, the Scottish Nationalists of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh independents, to get that EU withdrawal agreement passed. And that triggered a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership of the Conservative party, a vote she won by 200-113 — not exactly a ringing endorsement for her strong and stable form of government, but more of a pat on the head and a false smile from her colleagues that they haven’t got a clue what to do and don’t want to replace her just yet.
At least May got to enjoy Christmas, knowing that her job as leader of the Conservatives was secure for another 12 months — which is sort of knowing that she has a stay of execution even if she’s not physically on Death Row.
The week before May postponed that vote, her government was also censured by the House of Commons for failing to turn over full legal advice it had been given by its own Attorney General – the top law official at Westminster on the effect of the EU withdrawal deal. That’s a pretty damning rap on the knuckles, one that says that the vicars’ daughter who currently lives at No. 10 Downing Street was trying to pull a fast one, playing fast and loose with parliamentary procedure by ignoring a ruling from the Speaker of House to make the full text of that legal advice readily available.
May spend the rest of last year writing Christmas cards and sending seasons’ greetings to the 27 European heads of government and to the European Commission itself with a plea to please try and give her something — anything — that would make give a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine of the withdrawal agreement go down in a most delightful way. But Mary Poppins Theresa May is not, with the result being that the parliamentary maths has changed not one iota from those in mid-December, and come Tuesday, when the withdrawal proposal is put to a vote, it will sink like a brick in the River Thames that flows next to the Palace of Westminster.
The reality is that time is well and truly ticking on. Under the timetable laid down, if that withdrawal deal is voted down, May has to return to parliament within five days to explain what will happen and to lay out plans in detail for a no-deal withdrawal from the EU.
The timetable does allow for the approval vote on the withdrawal deal to take place as late as January 21, with the no-deal statement coming by January 26. Sure, there’s a small chance May might once more postpone the vote and its inevitable defeat until that January 21 deadline, but that’s unlikely as the embarrassment and ridicule would be immense — but at least the no-confidence issue wouldn’t be raised again.
Last Tuesday night, May’s government lost another crucial vote — this time by 296 to 303 of the combined opposition — on a finance bill amendment. Normally, any defeat on a finance bill is a most basic and fundamental issue for any government: It is treated as a confidence motion. However, since the adoption of the fixed-term law, that lays down when general elections can be called, that is no longer the case. But the amendment does tie May’s hands in tax issues should there be a no-deal scenario.
The vote shows there is a grand centrist coalition forming from all parties who believe that a no-deal Brexit scenario must not happen. Effectively, when May’s withdrawal deal is voted down, it seems as if this coalition will have enough votes to be able to force the government to push back or stall that March 29 deadline.
Realistically, it’s all very difficult. The EU 27 are set to hold new European Parliament elections between May 23 and 26, and they can’t be postponed. Nor are there provisions for the UK to participate then either.
Simply put, it’s another twist in this entire Brexit mess. But maybe, just maybe, Commons sense might just prevail.