Is this it, then? Is Brexit over? That depends on which pundits you listen to and which papers you read. Me, I am suspending judgement for the time being.
I’ve watched yesterday’s proceedings in the HoC and my esteem for said Chamber, for the Speaker, for the Government bench and for the MPs in general is now even below subterranean – if that’s physically possible.
Mr Lidington presented the Government’s motion. It was not just tedious, it was unorganised waffle, interrupted by a large number of interventions. Every time he said he’d want to proceed he gave way to yet another MP’s question. Not that these questions clarified the issue …
Then Sir Keith Starmer presented Mr Corbyn’s amendment, demanding a lengthy extension to Article 50. He only took interventions from the opposition benches. It was as sleep-inducing as the speech by Mr Lidington. Hilarity broke out when he said that Labour would not support the amendment by the TIGs which demanded a commitment to a ‘people’s vote’. Here’s why:
“Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, faced accusations of “fraud” and “shame” in the Commons when he confirmed Labour would not be supporting the motion. Defending Labour’s stance, he cited People’s Vote campaigner and former spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who tweeted it would be “wrong to press” for a second referendum when the main issue on the Commons agenda was extending Article 50 to delay Brexit.” (link, paywalled)
Yes, that’s right: Tony Blair, not content with counselling M Macron on how to scupper Brexit, still pulls the strings of Corbyn’s Labour Party, aiming to destroy Brexit!
Now what does this all mean? The amendments asking for a long extension, a 2nd referendum, a ‘people’s vote’, were all defeated. Ms May’s motion passed. It was to ask the EU for an extension next week as she will try to have her WA voted through for the third (!) time before going to the EU Council meeting on Thursday 21st.
Leaving the EU’s reactions aside for a moment, the focus now is on that third attempt. This hinges, yet again, on the Backstop. There were rumours yesterday afternoon that the Attorney General is concocting some reassuring phrases relating to the Vienna Convention. The ERG’s ‘Star Chamber’, led by Sir Bill Cash, made clear that this would not work:
“The lawyers rejected additional legal advice from Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, which said that the UK could use the Vienna Convention — the international treaty that outlines rules on treaties — to pull out of the backstop unilaterally. They described it as “badly misconceived”. (paywalled link)
The DT is providing more details (here, paywalled):
“In their legal opinion, the star chamber – which includes Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP – says that Mr Cox’s interpretation of the law is “clearly erroneous”. It argues that Article 62 of the Vienna Convention can only be invoked under “extreme circumstances” and highlights case law showing that the fall of the Soviet Union was not considered sufficient. The Star Chamber states: “Saying they are ‘exceptional’ does not make them so in the eyes of international law.”
I cannot resist this further quote from that paywalled article – Mr Howe QC makes some very important points:
“Star chamber member Martin Howe QC described it as a “complete non-starter” and risked turning Mr Cox’s legal advice, referred to as a “codpiece”, into a “figleaf”. Mr Howe told The Evening Standard: “The leading case in the International Court of Justice shows this requires radical change of circumstances. The fall of the Soviet Union, disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, were not sufficient to satisfy this ground. The other issue is, under Article 62, the change of circumstances has to be unforeseeable. As we are talking about this ‘change of circumstances’ now, it cannot be unforeseeable.”
Nice one, Mr Howe QC: from codpiece to figleaf …!
Obviously, Ms May has her work cut out to get her Party to support her WA. An analysis of the voting last evening indicates that this will be an uphill struggle (here) as
“Almost two-thirds of Tory MPs, alongside all ten Democratic Unionists and a smattering of Labour and Independent MPs, voted against extension.”
That hopefully may help to dispel the doom-and-gloom amongst some prominent Brexiteers yesterday evening! Also, let’s not forget that Mr Corbyn has ‘rebels’ in his ranks who, for various reasons, are deeply upset about his abandonment of their cherished 2nd referendum. Perhaps they can console themselves that the lovely ‘leaders’ in the EU may come to their aid, just as Ms May is hoping that they will help her.
But the EU has ‘conditions’. Ms May must ‘present something new’ (e.g.here), and the EU’s interference in what are matters for our Parliament could not be clearer:
“The Times understands that the prime minister has been told by senior EU officials and other European leaders that conditions for an extension to the Article 50 exit process would include the option of a second vote on EU membership. […] Unless the House of Commons has ratified the withdrawal agreement by then momentum is growing across the EU for a lengthy postponement to give Britain a “long reflection period”. (source, paywalled).
How kind of them! How selfless when they know that a long extension means having Mr Farage back in the EU Parliament!
It is galling to see how our own MPs have been selling us down the river to the EU. I agree with the DT’s Editorial (paywalled) that they have humiliated themselves by handing the Brexit decision over to the EU. I am looking at this extraordinary article in more detail separately here.
To crown it all though you ought to look at this (paywalled link):
“The decision to hold a third vote on a Brexit deal could trigger a major constitutional clash with the Speaker, as Parliamentary rules state that the same motion cannot be put a vote again in the same Parliamentary session once it has been defeated. If Mr Bercow decided to block a third vote Mrs May would have no choice but to ask the EU for a long In extension.”
Thus it’s ‘vote for the WA and get (perhaps) a short extension’, or ‘defeat Ms May again and get a long extension’ – what choice! And that choice might be made for us by the Speaker.
Happy Ides of March – but who is Caesar, who is Brutus? And where is the Oliver Cromwell for our days? Meanwhile it’s
14 days to Brexit (if we’re lucky)