March 29th is getting closer and closer and where there ought to be clarity, there’s more confusion, expertly manufactured by vested Remain interests. Forgive me, but to me it looks as if we’re inhabiting a political landscape that is more akin to Alice-in-Wonderland than reality.
Also, since it’s the weekend, some more Top Guns had to be wheeled out to give their opinions. In today’s Times these are Sir John Major and the former head of the civil service, Lord O’Donnell. In today’s (paywalled) DT, Lord Trimble writes about his judicial intervention on the Backstop. His article deserves a full expose and I hope to do so later.
Today we also read that a couple of cats have been let out of their respective bags in an instant of highly ironic timing. The first big cat is that the new Brexit Party has been formally recognised by the Electoral Commission. It’s all over the news, and Nigel Farage has endorsed it. He writes in the (paywalled) DT:
“The party was founded with my full support and with the intention of fighting the European elections on May 23 if Brexit has not been delivered by then. I have made it clear many times that I will not stand by and do nothing if the referendum result is betrayed, so should this election need to be contested, I will stand as a candidate for the Brexit Party and I will give it my all.”
The other cat that has leapt out of the bag is related to the extension to Article 50. It’s the aim of that group of Labour and Tory MPs who posted their ‘Cooper Bill’ in the HoC last month as amendment to Ms May’s WA deal. It got defeated at that time, but they are trying it on again (see e.g. here). While we’ve heard noises from ”Cabinet sources” that this new Cooper Bill will have ‘no chance’, I do wonder. Anything is possible, after all. So today, thanks to The Times (paywalled) we learn how this Bill is supposed to work:
“The alliance, led by Yvette Cooper, the Labour chairwoman of the home affairs select committee, and Nick Boles, the former Tory minister, is expected to ask MPs to vote to put parliament in charge for three days at the end of this month. That would give Mrs May two weeks to get her deal through the Commons before MPs forced her to delay Brexit by asking the European Union for an extension to Article 50. Under parliamentary rules only the government can propose the legislation needed to extend Article 50. The Cooper amendment would suspend those rules for three days. […] Another cabinet minister agreed that it was not yet “high noon”. That will arrive on February 26, 27 and 28 if the cross-party amendment is passed. Pro-EU ministers believe that Mrs May is acutely aware that she will need to ask for an extension regardless of whether a deal passes before March 29 but wants parliament to force it on her so that she cannot be blamed. “She knows it will need us to resign to push for the extension she needs but will claim she opposes,” one minister said.” (my bold)
Please pick up your jaws from the floor now! Yes, it’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ time. Our PM is not leading, she is begging others – Juncker, Tusk, Barnier and now Cooper, Boles and other MPs and her Remain ministers – to please get her BRINO through, but in such a way that she looks good, principled and blameless: “they made me do it”. Strong leadership, that!
But might the Cooper-Cat and all who support her think again, now that the Farage-Cat is out? After all, as we saw yesterday, the EU doesn’t want Nigel back in the EU Parliament at any cost …
The Article-50-Extensionistas have received support fire from two Big Guns who both bewail the situation they helped to create. That Sir John Major (The Times, paywalled) bemoans Brexit in general and the current situation in particular is not exactly news, but hey – he was PM so we surely must believe him! The other item is more interesting. The Times (paywalled) writes:
“In an unusually direct intervention, Lord O’Donnell criticised the prime minister for failing to tie down terms of Britain’s future relationship with the bloc at the end of the transition period. He warned that MPs were being asked to take a “meaningless” vote with no idea how it will impact on the UK’s “economy, society and government”. Lord O’Donnell, who served as cabinet secretary under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, added that it would be “irresponsible for any government to even contemplate embarking on such a perilous journey without giving us a clearer idea of the eventual destination”. (my bold)
It may be an ‘unusual’ intervention because it’s made public – but anyone who thinks this former Head of the Civil Service hasn’t spoken to a certain Mr Olly Robbins “en coulisse” (I nicked that expression from Ambrose Evans-PrItchard’s article) during the past months probably pulls up their pants using pliers …
So those are the “Brexit News”. For the rest, we need to look at the reports on Ms May’s meeting the Irish PM, Mr Varadkar, over dinner in Dublin (here, here and here). We were told there would be no Brexit ‘negotiations’ over dinner, but now we read that they did talk about it. Of course they did – just look at who accompanied Ms May:
“The Prime Minister was having dinner on Friday night with Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, in an attempt to break the deadlock in negotiations. They were joined for the private dinner at official state guesthouse Farmleigh House by the UK’s Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins and her chief of staff Gavin Barwell.” (my bold)
Of course one takes one’s chief Brexit negotiator and one’s hard-core Remain chief-of-staff to a dinner where one won’t talk about Brexit and Backstops, of course one does! Only in our Alice-in-Wonderland political landscape …
For the required dose of sanity on Backstop and Ireland, just read today’s Diary entry by the inevitable Sir John Redwood. I wish he were our PM.