Globalism v. Nationalism – Groundhog Day

Here we are again edition

Jonathon Davies, Going Postal
A programmable robot versus Artificial Intelligence
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visits Japan, UK in Japan – FCOLicence CC By 2.0

Well, here we are again, frens. Brexit Groundhog Day. A Tory leader gets a deal, it doesn’t go through Parliament and Brexit is extended. The Tory government can’t get a majority and vote anything through. Sound familiar? It should. It is exactly the same situation that Theresa May found herself in. As with May, so with Boris. May said over 100 times we are leaving. We didn’t. Boris said we would leave at the end of October, no ifs, no buts. We haven’t (so far). So, what happened?

I wrote previously that allowing the Benn bill to pass was a massive tactical error. The Tories could have talked it out in the Lords, filibustering the bill. They stood down as Labour said they could have an election, it is rumoured. Whatever the truth of this, Labour then said no to an election. They had, and still have, no incentive to vote for an election until 31st October is passed. They are trailing in the polls and know the leave vote will be split when the UK doesn’t leave in October.

Boris had tried to goad the opposition in to an election with his rhetoric after prorogation, with Geoffrey Cox calling them a dead Parliament and illegitimate. Boris followed up with his humbug comment and calling the Benn bill the Surrender Act. He was daring them to bring a vote of no confidence. Unfortunately, they knew that with the Surrender Act in place, the Prime Minister’s hands were tied. If there was no agreed deal in place, he would be forced to ask the EU for an extension and accept the answer the EU gave. (But there’s no loss of sovereignty, you understand?)

Boris then had to look for ways around it. I said previously that I didn’t think Boris and Cummings had a masterplan, and that I expected a November/December election. (This now appears to be the case.) But how to get that election, and how to avoid the humiliation of not leaving on 31st October? Boris would need to get a deal and have it agreed by Parliament. That way he could appear as the great statesman who delivered Brexit and trounce Corbyn. It might well have worked.

Boris’ plan was to have this ready by the EU summit on 17th-18th October. He could then get his deal approved by the EU and by Parliament. It would be voted through, the UK would leave on the 31st, Boris would be hailed a hero, go on to destroy Corbyn and the Tories would be in power for decades to come. As such, Boris started to strike a more conciliatory tone in the Commons, more “Stateman” like. The rhetoric was toned down, the fiery comments shelved. He started talking about a deal and compromise. Many MPs started to come around, even former Tory rebels were sounding positive, as well as Labour MPs, especially those in leave voting constituencies.

Boris then set about negotiating, with the EU and with Leo Varadkar. The EU initially said they would never reopen the withdrawal agreement, but would perhaps be open to altering the political declaration. Boris was perhaps hoping for more than that, but his initial focus was on the so-called “backstop” for Northern Ireland, which would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union if there was not an agreement concluded in future. There was no way to unilaterally withdraw from this under May’s deal, and this in part (also because she was a dreadful PM) led to her downfall, with the ERG “Spartans” and DUP refusing to back it.

Many hoped that Boris would rip up this deal and replace it with a new one. Many, I myself included, feared we would be served up May’s deal minus the backstop.  It now appears that this is exactly what we’ve got. Instead of the backstop, we have a provision for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union and UK customs regime, post Brexit, until a deal is concluded, with the customs border moved to the Irish Sea. This in theory would be voted on every few years by NI politicians, who would give consent to renew or end it. It was designed to keep a soft border and stop any new infrastructure at the border.

The deal was put to the EU summit, who unsurprisingly approved it. All the while the details of the deal had been leaking out (deliberate and otherwise) and were starting to hit the UK press. Two reactions were seen to be key, the reaction of the DUP and the ERG. The DUP immediately rejected it, claiming it undermined the place of Northern Ireland in the UK and the union. The ERG decided to back it. Important figures such as Steve Baker and others were now saying they could vote for it because the backstop had gone. Opposition MPs once again began to make positive noises. Other, both within the Tories and amongst the opposition, pointed out that there were still what they considered to be big problems with the deal, such as with fishing rights and the rule of the ECJ.

Boris then wanted to put his deal to a vote in Parliament, in a last desperate bid to get it through so we would leave on the 31st. The “wonderful” Oliver Letwin, in his wisdom, decided to table an amendment to say that the legislation for the deal must be passed before final approval, to stop Boris pulling the deal at a later date and then going for no deal, as a way to circumvent the Surrender Act. This would not allow for a straight yes or no vote for the deal. The amendment passed, so the Tories pulled it and there was no vote. So-called super Saturday them turned out to be a damp squib. As a result Boris had been forced by the Surrender Act to write a letter to the EU asking for an extension. Many claimed he would refuse. Some said the fact he didn’t sign it made it invalid. Others that negotiations were only the responsibility of the government. Yet more expected that Dom Cummings had a tremendously cunning plan, which would be unleashed at the last minute and guaranteeing no deal. Yet write he did, and the EU duly accepted.

Boris tried one last time. He would give his bill a second reading and a vote on the implementation timetable, of three days, to try and push it through before the deadline. Rumours went around that if it was voted down, the bill would be pulled entirely. There were also rumours of another move to hold a vote for a general election. Splits started to appear in the opposition ranks. Labour would be whipping to vote it down, but MPs with leave constituencies were fraught that they would be seen voting against Brexit with a general election in the offing. In the end, the bill passed the second reading, but failed on the timetable. The bill was then “paused” in limbo. The DUP voted against. Many MPs said they required more time to scrutinise the legislation, demanding impact studies, etc. Mostly these were seen as just excuses to block Brexit, as much of it was the same as had been proposed by Theresa May previously.

Some had been hoping against hope that Macron would veto the extension, or at least go for a short delay. This would have put pressure on Parliament to pass the deal or risk a no deal when time ran out in a few weeks. In reality, Macron likes to talk tough for the home audience, who enjoy him appearing to dictate to les rosbifs across the Channel. In reality, Merkel had spoken and there was never going to be a different decision other than January 202. The EU is getting roughly £1 billion a month from the UK. They won’t want to turn that tap off anytime soon. likewise with Poland and Hungary, as much as they rebel against the EU they don’t want to leave because they are net beneficiaries, and the UK leaving reduces the pot.

What happens next? Most likely a general election. At the moment Labour don’t want one, they are behind in the polls and their Brexit strategy is confused to put it politely. Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliament act, usually it would take 2/3 majority vote to trigger an election. however, both the Lib Dems and the SNP smell gains to be made at the expense of the Tories and Labour, and are now shifting in favour. A bill to trigger an election with a simple majority vote is being put forward by them and by the government. Corbyn has repeatedly put it off, saying he wants the threat of no deal removed. Well, now it has been. He’s running out of excuses, especially since he has been calling for an election for two years. He is under pressure to end Tory policies like Universal Credit, so-called austerity, the NHS, public services, etc. Labour voters will be asking themselves why he doesn’t end the Tory government so he can start implementing his policies to turn the UK in to a socialist paradise. It doesn’t look good to keep running away, and there are already many who want him gone, including those in his own Shadow Cabinet.

What to hope for? If you like Boris’ deal, hope for an election, vote Troy and hope there is a Tory majority, so Boris can then vote through his deal, avoiding any wrecking amendments and passing it through all in good time before the January deadline. If you want no deal, hope for an election, vote Brexit Party and hope there is a pact or the Tories don’t win a majority, forcing them to rely on the Brexit Party to prop them up in government. Their condition will be a no deal Brexit and we leave in January without a deal. The Benn Act has now been fulfilled. Unless there is another one to replace it, a no deal has been postponed until January. It has not gone completely. This is dependent on the Brexit Party actually getting MPs. A reminder that UKIP got 4 million odd votes in 2015 but 1 MP. One hopes for a sensible leave vote alliance/non-aggression pact. Mind you, we were hoping to leave on the 31st, look how that turned out.

Is there any good news? Well yes, depending on how you look at it. I think a second referendum has been killed off. Firstly, by Boris’ deal. Before there was no alternative to no deal, meaning many would rather have a second referendum than leave with nothing in place. That is no longer the case. The bill is on “pause” and so can be brought back. There is now an alternative to vote for, which is important for the aforementioned MPs who are in leave constituencies. They can be seen to vote for Brexit without supporting no deal. Former rebels who want to return to the fold can also vote for it, rather than for another referendum. Second, the so-called People’s Vote campaign has unsurprisingly led to infighting, like rats in a sack. People have been fired, there are rumours of top level coups and walkouts by staff. They have lost any momentum and the numbers are not there in Parliament and so neither is the political will. The Speaker didn’t even select the recent people’s vote amendment.

The only party that has said openly it wants to revoke Article 50 are the Lib Dems. They are polling around 20% and in reality would need to be in a coalition with Labour to obtain power and come anywhere near this. Labour itself is engulfed in the usual turmoil. As much as the Tories are divided on the EU, so are Labour. They are a Remain party, led by a leaver. Their MPs and members are leave, but large amounts of their voters in the North, the Midlands and Wales are leavers. As such it is no surprise their Brexit policy is a shambles. They want another referendum in all circumstances, yet say they will get a better deal than Boris Johnson, from the EU that will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. They will then campaign for Remain against their own deal if they deem it not good enough. Clear? They will have to explain this policy to the voters on the doorstep as they go canvassing for what has been dubbed the Brexit Election. Good luck.

Many Tory Remainers have been purged from the party, with the whip removed and they will either not stand again or will not stand for the Tories, meaning they will be voted out. Others who left voluntarily and joined or formed new parties will face a massive uphill struggle for re-election. Remainer MPs with leave voting constituencies are going to face a backlash. I’m guessing that many will be unseated.

There is no doubt now that the leave vote will be split. I won’t tell anyone how to vote, people are more than capable of making up their own minds. Some will vote Tory because they like Boris’ deal or they keep hoping the Tories will come good. Others will have had enough, or never trusted the Tories in the first place and will be voting for the Brexit Party. Some will say that Boris tried his best, that he had no choice, that he was sabotaged by a Remainer Parliament, the establishment and the Supreme Court. No deal was taken away by the Surrender Act. I have some sympathy for this view. Others will point to Boris saying repeatedly that we would leave, saying he would rather die in a ditch, not just saying he would try his best. For them, patience is at end, there have been too many false promises. All I would say to think carefully when looking at the situation in your own constituency.

(As usual the caveat that fast moving political events may render this piece redundant and make the author look extremely foolish.)

© Jonathon Davies 2019

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file