The ongoing struggle over Brexit is an obvious watershed period for the UK, not just in terms of what finally happens, but the tug of war between the Government and Parliament. As we warned yesterday, the press is regularly way out over its skis over what events mean. For instance, yesterday and today, there is widespread misreporting that the Dominic Grieve motion calling for more input from Parliament in the event that May’s bill is defeated amounts to a veto over a no deal. It does no such thing. Even Grieve himself has said so.
So I think, for all its portentousness, this amendment doesn’t really make it harder to avoid No Deal at all. In the end, the Commons will come back to the real options: Leave with the govt’s WA (maybe cosmetically tweaked); Revoke and Remain; and leave with No Deal. /8
— Daniel Moylan (@danielmgmoylan) December 4, 2018
Wednesday’s hot events:
As expected, the publication of the Government’s legal advice increased opposition to her deal. The part that had MPs up in arms was that the analysis made clear that the UK could be stuck in the backstop indefinitely. Even though, as Richard North pointed out, this should have come as no surprise to anyone who read the text of the agreement, May had asserted it would only be temporary. The SNP’s Ian Blackford went so far as risking suspension for repeatedly saying that May lied.
A second sore point, although it didn’t get as much press attention, was that the legal advice also confirmed that the Withdrawal Agreement crossed a DUP/Ultra red line via the backstop creating the loathed “sea border”. From this morning’s BrexitCentral on the legal advice (emphasis theirs):
And having now seen it, it’s hardly surprising the Government sought to suppress its publication. It’s arguably Paragraph 8 which contained the real bombshell regarding the relationship between Northern Ireland (NI) and Great Britain (GB):
“The implication of NI remaining in the EU Single Market for goods, while GB is not, is that for regulatory purposes GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB into NI. This means regulatory checks would have to take place between NI and GB, normally at airports or ports, although the EU now accepts that many of these could be conducted away from the border.”
That’s right: Great Britain would be regarded by Northern Ireland as a “third country” – the status of any other foreign country – and regulatory checks “would have to take place between NI and GB”. Yet in presenting the deal to the House of Commons on 15th November, Theresa May had declared:
“This deal does not create a border down the Irish sea.”
May appears freaked out about next week’s vote. The Times says that May’s troops are urging her to delay the Brexit vote:
Cabinet ministers are urging Theresa May to delay next Tuesday’s crucial Brexit vote amid fears that she is facing a defeat so catastrophic that it could bring down the government.
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, is understood to be trying to persuade the prime minister to postpone the vote, which it is thought she could lose by 100 MPs or more.
Others, including Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the home secretary, and Alu Cairns, the Welsh secretary, say she should continue to sell the Brexit deal but call off the vote on Monday if she is facing defeat by more than 70.
Note that ConservativeHome’s whip count has the vote against May at 68. And that does not include the DUP.
However, if there is no credible new Tory prime minister waiting in the wings, it seems entirely plausible for quite a few MPs to vote down the bill while still backing May when the opposition puts a motion of no confidence. Per the Financial Times, as we anticipated, that is what the DUP says it will do if the bill is voted down. However, even if May formally survived this test, she would clearly be walking wounded.
Another report conveying a sense of desperation comes from the Guardian, May tries to woo Brexit MPs with Irish backstop ‘parliamentary lock’:
Theresa May has stepped up last-ditch efforts to try to win over Brexit-backing MPs after government legal advice warned the Irish backstop could leave the UK trapped in “protracted and repeated rounds of negotiations” for years to come.
But Brexiters immediately rejected one idea mooted by Downing Street, of promising a “parliamentary lock” – giving MPs a vote before the backstop could be implemented…
With just six days to go until the vote on her controversial deal, which May is expected to lose heavily, Downing Street confirmed the prime minister was keen to find ways to offer MPs extra reassurance about the backstop, in the hope they will support her.
But Steve Baker, of the European Research Group (ERG), dismissed the parliamentary lock plan as “silly”; while Jacob Rees-Mogg said it would require the 585-page withdrawal agreement to be renegotiated – something No 10 has insisted is impossible.
When the ERG types are the adults in the room, you know it’s bad.
Article 50 extension fantasies. Consider this Telegraph headline: EU prepared to offer Theresa May lifeline by extending Article 50. Help me. The EU is not “offering” the UK anything at this point. The UK will have to grovel ask for further concessions when the EU said very clearly last month that the deal May got was the best she was going to get. Now that does not necessarily mean that the EU might not agree to an extension, but no way, no how is it making one-sided concessions.
If you still harbor delusions of EU munificence towards May, please read this tweetstorm in full:
1) While all versions of #Brexit under the sun are being thought about in Parliament there’s no whiff of the EU changing its position
— katya adler (@BBCkatyaadler) December 5, 2018
Corbyn is dialing it in. He can’t even fake interest in Brexit. I noticed the lack of any Brexit-focused questions on the Guardian live blog during Corbyn’s turn. He went off topic to discuss general economic and inequality issues. From the Telegraph:
Jeremy Corbyn was tonight accused of missing an “open goal” after he failed to mention Brexit once during Prime Minister’s Questions, just hours after Theresa May had suffered the most bruising day for any prime minister in the Commons for 40 years.
The Labour leader was expected to seize on the hat-trick of defeats suffered by Mrs May on Tuesday evening, which saw the Government found to be in contempt of Parliament and forced to publish the Attorney General’s legal advice on the proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement.
But rather than press home the advantage, Mr Corbyn focused his six questions on the problems associated with the roll-out of universal credit, accusing ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for benefit recipients. While he was cheered on by a number of Labour MPs, Tom Brake, the Brexit spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, claimed that Mr Corbyn had failed to address the most pressing issue of the day.
May is expected to call MPs to No. 10 and give them lurid pictures of how bad a crash out would be to try to reduce her margin of loss. Perversely, since there is no politically viable path in the available time to a revocation of Article 50 (save perhaps a freakout shortly before the drop dead date), the choices on offer really are her deal or no deal. But when will MPs and the press come to grips with that?