What can you say? What the hell can you say?
My original plan was to write this blob on Tuesdays, but that would be like pronouncing on a 16-course banquet after you’ve only had a nibble on a bread roll while waiting for the soup.
Which is not to suggest that what’s happening in the seat of our government is currently a delicious meal. What’s happening in our Parliament is like the worse hotel buffet you’ve ever had, swimming in grease, reheated and mixed with old gristle. And every single day you’ve got to eat it, because someone accidentally locked you in the dining room and strolled off with the key.
First, I have to say that I was wrong. When I wrote the last blog, I thought May’s second attempt at her “meaningful vote” might scrape through. It didn’t.
Watching Theresa May, at her emergency press conference in Strasbourg on Monday night, it was still just about possible to think it might. Not because she looked so cheery. She looked like a hollowed out version of some former self. Huge shadows under haunted eyes. Blood-red lips in a grimace. But she did at least have something to announce.
Since the last “meaningful vote”, in January, she had been begging the EU for unicorns, or at least for a unicorn-shaped puppet she could whip out of a box and present to the ERG and the DUP. Ta-da! Here you go! OK, so it’s not quite a unicorn. It is, in fact, both a unicorn and not a unicorn. It’s a Schrodinger’s unicorn. Now you see it, now you don’t. Will that do?
It’s a Schrodinger’s unicorn. Now you see it, now you don’t. Will that do?
The EU did their best. After endless meetings with Brits saying they had to get a unicorn, they made a paper cut-out of a unicorn and said: we certify that this is a true and proper copy of a unicorn. They got it signed by lawyers, so May could say it was “legally binding”. This was Cox’s codpiece. A bit flimsy, but still a codpiece.
But then it all went a bit wrong. Cox was meant to say that his codpiece was a really rather special codpiece. It was robust. It did the job. But Cox made a quick calculation. When this whole charade ended, he would need to make some proper money, and he wouldn’t be able to do that if he shredded his professional reputation as a QC. That’s fine for politics, obviously. In politics, you have to make stuff up. But in the law people can be a bit more picky.
So he said, essentially, sorry, folks, nothing doing, and the ERG, who had been looking for ladders to climb down from their high horses, found them still stuck on them, and so did the DUP. And so, on a point of principle, because these people are all about truth and justice and principle, oh and history, because they had created a “star chamber” to advise them, and make them feel even more like part of a monarch’s inner circle, and the “star chamber” advised them that there was no ladder, sadly, oh so sadly, voted against May’s deal.
Cox was meant to say that his codpiece was a really rather special codpiece. It was robust. It did the job.
And all hell broke loose. The Prime Minister, knowing that Parliament would then move to block the “no deal” scenario that the ERG have been praying for, announced that there would be a vote on Wednesday, to allow Parliament to vote against “no deal”. But she added another clause, which said that Parliament “noted” that “no deal” was what would happen anyway, if there was no agreement on a deal. Which meant that the motion literally meant nothing at all.
On Thursday, Parliament did vote against “no deal”. As Michel Barnier said afterwards, it was like voting against an iceberg when you’re on the Titanic. Once Parliament had supported a motion that said “no deal” should be excluded in any circumstances, the Government, or what passes for the Government, swiftly changed its mind. It whipped its own MPs to vote against its own motion. The Prime Minister, who had said the day before that she would vote against “no deal”, now voted for it. Yup, you’re quite right, it is a little bit hard to keep up.
The Government lost its motion anyway. Members of the cabinet who abstained in the vote weren’t sacked. The Government appeared to be officially out of control. Even hardened hacks said they had never seen anything like it.
Yesterday, Parliament tried to take over. Knowing that Theresa May would, like some sadistic dinner lady, just keep trying to force her grease-and-gristle stew on MPs until they swallowed it, they tried to pass an amendment that would allow Parliament to see if there were any other options MPs could support. Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn tabled an amendment. The Speaker selected it. It failed, by two votes.
So, once again, we’re stuck in grease-and-gristle-stew hell.
So, once again, we’re stuck in grease-and-gristle-stew hell. Yesterday, Parliament voted for a “short extension” on Article 50, but only if May’s deal is passed. The Prime Minister is planning to bring it back to Parliament on Tuesday. Geoffrey Cox is under heavy pressure to find an international treaty down the back of a sofa that will enable him to change his legal advice. The DUP look as if they’re in the mood to bend and, if they do, so will a big swathe of the ERG.
But they might not. And even if they do, it might not be enough.
Can there be a fourth attempt? There’s talk of one, but will the Speaker let her? You’re not meant to bring the same motion to Parliament more than twice. If she doesn’t get her deal passed, May has said the alternative will be a “long extension”. If, that is, the EU grants it. Which they are only likely to do if there is a “clear purpose”.
David Lidington, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday said there will be “indicative votes”, to enable the House to “face up to the choices in front of it”. What he meant was that the ERG had better vote for May’s deal or they will end up with a long delay and a much softer Brexit or even no Brexit at all.
That’s a threat that ought to cheer some of us up. We are, of course, way, way beyond the world of what any of us wants. A softer Brexit, in other words a Brexit that allows us to stay in the customs union and with access to the single market, must be better for our economic future and for jobs. Nowhere near as good as what we have, obviously, but that nirvana appears to have gone. No Brexit now seems an impossible dream. To get to no Brexit, we need another referendum, and MPs can’t seem to find the courage to support it.
We are, of course, way, way beyond the world of what any of us wants
If May’s deal passes, we have another two and a half years of uncertainty as we start our negotiations with the EU. Yes, start. If it doesn’t, and if the EU are feeling generous, we get an extension, but it will probably be on the condition of a soft Brexit, an election or a second referendum. No Tory will allow a second referendum. With the telepathy that everyone now seems to claim, May thinks a soft Brexit isn’t what people voted for. There will probably be an election. A Tory Brexiteer will win it. And we will be back to square one.
Our best hope now is Norway, or, Common Market 2.0, soft boiled Brexit,whatever you want to call it. Indicative votes that lead to Norway and a PM who can be persuaded that it’s better to form some form of Brexit than concede defeat.
Is it likely? I don’t know. Damage limitation isn’t a sexy slogan, but it’s better than trashing the whole joint.