Brexit paralysis – government and opposition in a shambles
Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. With Britain set to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, May’s ‘Chequers deal’ stands on the verge of defeat. Two years after triggering Article 50, and fast running out of time, May’s government has entirely failed to produce an appropriate withdrawal deal. Parliament has reached a standstill, the government is in complete chaos and utterly divided. This is only mirrored by the state of the oscillating opposition.
On Tuesday 11 December, Parliament was set to vote on May’s withdrawal deal. All week in the build-up, leading Conservatives appeared in a myriad of media outlets assuring the vote would go ahead. It was set in stone. But when game day arrived, with the entire world certain of her defeat, Theresa May cancelled the House’s vote in a humiliating climbdown.
Our so-called leader saw defeat on the horizon and simply ran away. The mythical Churchillian spirit is certainly not alive among the current Conservative front benches. Whilst attempting to implement the art of survival, May has instead signed her own death warrant.
It took little time for the would-be executioners in her own party to attempt to claim the bounty. The so-called ‘hard-Brexiteers’, mainly centred around the European Research Group (ERG), acted swiftly to call for a vote of no confidence in May as prime minister. The triggering of the vote required the signature of 48 Conservative MPs, which had been hard to collect in the absence of any alternative to May being acceptable to any majority of the Conservative MPs and because also of the fear of triggering a call for a general election that might result in a Labour government being elected. However, with the ERG being thought to contain around 70 members, including Jacob-Rees-Mogg, the necessary 48 signatures did in the end come together.
Consequently on Thursday the 13th, a no confidence vote was held, threatening to unseat the Prime Minister. Nominally, the PM won the vote by 63% to 37% of votes cast, but the victory is pyrrhic in nature. It is worth noting that May actually secured a lesser percentage of votes than Margaret Thatcher did in the no confidence vote in 1990 which saw her step down as PM. Yet May still attempts to cling on to office where even Thatcher admitted defeat. Such is her detachment from reality.
And if by some miracle she manages to cling on, this is not the last no confidence vote she is likely to face. Whilst, party rules mean she cannot face a vote of no confidence from her own MPs for another year, a no confidence vote can still be called by Labour in parliament. Corbyn had threatened such a vote against the government. But instead has taken the easy option of calling a non-binding vote of no confidence only in May herself. Labour had previously said they would hold off a no confidence vote in the government until they could win it. Ever the opportunists, they have called for this vote against May, feeling that they can highlight the hypocrisy of Tory MPs who have just voted that they have no confidence in May, yet are set to vote against Labour’s no confidence vote. Any future attempt at a no confidence vote against the government will depend on the support of the current kingmakers of British politics, the DUP. But any support from them will be dependent on dropping the highly controversial backstop.
‘Backstop’ has certainly become the word of the moment. MP’s and the bourgeois media constantly refer to the term without bringing any clarity to what the term actually means.
First of all we need to remind ourselves of the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, one of the terms of which was no hard border between the Irish Republic and the occupied six counties. Therefore, this has to be incorporated into Brexit, given that the Irish Republic will remain an EU member. The problem arises with one part of Ireland being in the EU and one part being out, yet there is to be no hard border in Ireland. These conditions are entirely contradictory as being in different customs regimes would require a ‘hard border’, i.e., a system for checking on goods crossing the border. The backstop is supposed to be the solution to this contradiction. It is basically a measure to maintain an open Irish border within Ireland in the absence of the settlement of the issue within the withdrawal agreement. The problem arising is that many Tories and the DUP will not accept the backstop which they see as a slippery slope to a united Ireland.
Moreover, the backstop could have the de facto effect of forcing Britain actually to remain in line with EU regulations for, with Northern Ireland being under EU jurisdiction, this would mean goods going from mainland Britain to the occupied North would have to cross a hard border on the Irish Sea, dividing one part of the UK from another, where goods passing from Britain to Northern Ireland, would have to be checked to make sure they met EU regulations. Many pro-Brexit MP’s including Boris Johnson have made the point that Britain would basically be following EU regulations without having any say over these regulations – meaning we keep all of the negative aspects of the EU but would have zero influence in shaping these rules.
Having survived the vote of no confidence on Thursday, May was off to Brussels on Friday to meet with European leaders. Unable to get the withdrawal agreement through parliament she sought assurances over the temporary nature of the backstop. This futile journey was doomed from the offset, with a host of European leaders including Macron warning that there would be no further negotiations. And so it proved to be another day of humiliation. Jean Claude Junker declared during the visit: “Our UK friends need to say what they want, instead of asking us to say what we want… because this debate is sometimes nebulous and imprecise.”
It was unrealistic of May to expect the EU to change its mind. With Britain leaving the EU, the remaining 27 member countries were concerned, above all, to protect it, and not accelerate its disintegration by allowing Britain to cherry pick.
Following this not unexpectedly disastrous trip, the next step for May was to report back to the house on Monday 17 December, with nothing from Brussels to report. And so she was back to where she started last week. With no change to the terms of the deal, a divided party, and no chance of getting her deal passed. The one and only outcome of this entire debacle was the further humiliation of the Prime Minister and the country. As Conservative backbencher Philip Davies said during May’s report back from Brussels:
“The way the she has been treated by the European Union in these negotiations is embarrassing for the Prime Minister and humiliating for the country. If she were to go along to the EU now and tell them in the face of their intransigence and tell them to get stuffed, a huge proportion of the British people would be right behind her”.
What May did announce was that the parliamentary vote on the doomed withdrawal agreement will now go apparently be held on the week beginning 14 January. With parliament going into recess from 20 December until 7 January, vital time is being lost. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. These are extraordinary times, yet parliamentarians will disappear on a 3-week holiday, three months from the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. Whilst no deal may not necessarily be the worst possible outcome, it is certainly presented as so by all parliamentarians. But barely a finger will be lifted to prevent it. Shouting about doomsday whilst fattening themselves up and glugging mulled wine – these turkeys voting for Christmas should not be surprised when the people decide to carve them up!
As well as calling a non-binding no confidence vote, Jeremy Corbyn accused May having led the country into a national crisis, and rightly noted that a month will have been wasted by the postponement from 11 December to 16 January. He added that this was done with “not a single word renegotiated and not a single reassurance given. The deal is unchanged and is not going to change.”
Whilst his criticism is valid it might hold more weight coming from a leader who was not, if it is possible, leading a party even more divided than the Tories on Brexit. Labour policy has been a complete mess during the entire Brexit affair. They have their nebulous 6 tests and a split parliamentary party. Whilst they are officially in favour of implementing Brexit on the loosest of terms, they have many MPs backing a second referendum, the so-called ‘people’s vote’. Even John McDonnell has said Labour could back a second referendum. “Our policy is if we can’t get a general election, then the other option which we’ve kept on the table is a people’s vote” (See Jessica Elgot and Heather Stewart, ‘Labour will inevitably back second Brexit referendum, says McDonnell’, The Guardian, 28 November 2018). He also added that the withdrawal agreement “fails to provide for a permanent UK-EU customs union and strong single market deal.”
What is so amazing is that for all the splits and divisions in the big two parties, they are arguing over very little. As McDonnell’s latter comment reveals, the intent is to remain as closely aligned with EU rules as possible. This is the driving force amongst the mainstream political spectrum whether Brexit or Remain. This will firstly keep us tied to EU rules without having any influence on these rules, at which point, what is the purpose of leaving? More importantly it reveals the political will is in direct contradiction with the public will. The public voted to leave the European Union and that is what must be delivered, not some kind of Brexit light.
What we are observing across the political spectrum is merely the appearance of disagreement, all disagreement eing merely part of a show, a part of an illusion. All wish to maintain close ties to the EU, maintaining some form of customs regulations, basically sticking to EU guidelines: the single market at all costs – the same single market which the people voted to leave. Politicians are playing a dangerous game with the people’s righteous discontent. Whilst most are attempting to camouflage their deeds, others are much more shamefaced, so we have the likes of Tony Blair continually calling for a second referendum.
Of course there is previous for this. Every time a people has rejected the EU, they have had their voices ignored or been bullied into retreat. So it was with Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon treaty. As were French and Dutch voters ignored on this issue. When imperialism does not like a result, it seeks to circumvent it. This is what we are observing in the process playing out before our eyes. The British people should not allow themselves to be duped by such anti-democratic machinations. The EU is, was, and will remain a bosses club and imperialist project. It does not protect workers’ rights, it tramples upon them. It must be abandoned at all costs.