There are two main points of interest today, Day 44 to B-Day. One is Ms May’s announcement in the HoC yesterday, the other is … Olly Robbins. A minor item is that the Director of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said that Brexit could restore faith in democracy and free trade – but a no-deal Brexit could ‘spark economic shock’ and should be avoided (here). That is certainly interesting, but before we open the English Prosecco, think: this is not a conversion of a Remainer and leading Project-Fear manufacturer to the joys of Brexit, it is a very clever step to prepare us for Ms May’s WA ‘deal’ which is BRINO.
That Ms May is doing her utmost to get this WA/BRINO deal can be seen by yesterday’s HoC performance.
Isabel Hardman, in her email Newsletter for the Spectator, writes:
“[…] we return once again to reassuring normality, with the Prime Minister delaying any kind of crunch point on Brexit for as long as possible. Yes, that’s right: May brought forward a statement in order to announce that she was pushing everything else back. It’s a neat summary of her premiership.” (my bold)
Ms Hardman explains that Ms May
“… will update MPs once again on 26 February, and if there is still no deal by then, she will allow the Commons to express its view on what should happen next through more non-binding votes.”
We are left with the impression that our PM’s “Plan B” is to get the HoC to demand an extension from Brussels, thus allowing her to keep her hands clean: it’ll not be her fault when the ‘orrible EU and the ‘orrible MPs fail to support her WA. She knows full well what an extension to Article 50 means: stay in the EU for longer, the ‘transition period’ to be dragged on and on – that’ll help Big Business which was unable to prepare for Brexit during nearly three years! – and on top of that she seems to hope that the EU will somehow accommodate her by keeping this extension period to the minimum and never mind the advice of Martin Howe QC (see yesterday’s column).
Ms Hardman concludes:
“This second update means May is delaying the Commons confrontation that was supposed to take place this Thursday. […] Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles have said they won’t bring this amendment back until the week of the 26th, and so the drama is starting to leach away from what was being billed as the ‘Valentine’s Day massacre’.”
However, this morning Jonathan Isaby in his email newsletter for BrexitCentral reports on a stunning development last night:
“A big row is brewing this morning over the motion that the Government has tabled for tomorrow’s full day of debate on Brexit in the Commons. With MPs having expected a neutral, anodyne (albeit amendable) motion to be tabled, instead the Government yesterday tabled a motion that endorses the approach to Brexit as agreed by the amendments passed by the Commons on 29th January. […] A senior ERG source tells me: “This is clearly not a neutral motion, as it effectively endorses the Spelman amendment – which ruled out No Deal – which is explicitly contrary to the Government’s own policy and which would completely destroy our leverage in the critical negotiations with the EU. If they supported this motion on Thursday, the Government would effectively be voting against their own expressed policy, as repeated in the House, including by the Prime Minister, on numerous occasions. This is utterly chaotic, bordering on farce. We told the Government very clearly last night that we will not support this motion and in fact we urged them, indeed pleaded with them at senior level, to withdraw it yesterday – but they took absolutely no notice. Frankly, we despair.” (my bold)
That looks as if there will be blood on the floor in tomorrow’s HoC Debate – it’s surely now worth watching!
Allow me to repeat myself: I don’t think that Ms May’s aim is to ‘run down the clock’. I believe that she’s delaying because she wants the HoC to vote for the extension, with no blame attached to her. My reason for this assessment is the extraordinary news of her “Chief adviser”, that is her Chief Brexit Negotiator Mr Olly Robbins having been overheard in a Brussels bar … telling ‘colleagues’ that we’re in ‘for a long delay’ unless Ms May’s WA (which he negotiated, don’t forget!) is voted through. For Mr Robbins, surprise surprise, the legal “No Deal” is not an option.
Here are some quotes:
“Oliver Robbins was overheard in a hotel bar by an ITV reporter telling colleagues that “in the end” Brussels will “probably just give us an extension” to Article 50. He suggested the Prime Minister will try to win support for her deal by warning MPs that if they fail to vote for it the delay to Brexit is likely to be a “long one”. His comments appear to rule out a no-deal Brexit, despite the Prime Minister’s repeated insistence that it remains on the table.” (DT, paywalled)
And this one:
“Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator has contradicted the prime minister’s position on Brexit. Olly Robbins was overheard by an ITV News journalist in a Brussels hotel bar suggesting that MPs would be confronted next month with a “significant” delay to Brexit if they did not vote for the prime minister’s deal. This suggests that Mr Robbins believes that backbench moves led by Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles to stop a no-deal will succeed. In public Mrs May has vowed to try to prevent MPs from taking control and rejects the idea that Brexit will not happen on March 29. But Mr Robbins appeared to warn that any extension may last longer than expected. “Extension is possible but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one . . . ”, he was heard to say. “The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension. In the end they will probably just give us an extension.”(here (paywalled) (my bold)
I do not agree with Robert Peston’s analysis who seems to think it’s about a possible amendment to the Backstop. I think that Delay-May will delay until her BRINO gets the nod in the HoC because MPs are frightened of a No-Deal Brexit, with the ‘palatable’ alternative that she’ll get an extension and can thus delay Brexit to her and Olly Robbins and the EU’s hearts’ contents.
We’ll see if she can get away with this!