I’ve got good Brexit news and bad Brexit news for you. Good news: It’s not over yet! Bad news: FFS, it’s not over yet. The Brexit saga is not going anywhere soon, primarily because whatever it might be, it hasn’t happened yet. And with just days to go before the default crash-out date, MPs still haven’t been able to agree on anything. They still haven’t agreed on whether it’s pronounced Breggzit or Brecksit, so what chance do they have with the finer details? Stick with me, and I’ll do my very best to Brexplain what just happened in another truly bonkers week in Parliament, and what might happen next.
Day One: Tuesday 12th March. The Day of the Deal. Again.
Previously, on Days Of Our Brexit Lives, May’s Brexit deal was defeated then sort of amended but only in the vaguest possible way, and somehow scraped through. After this, she went to seek assurances on the Irish backstop issue from the EU. She claimed the amended deal and the new assurances ‘fixed’ the issue — at least enough to quash the objections from Tory rebels. But the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, evaluated these new ‘assurances’ and, well, take a look at this summary from The Guardian:
Cox stayed up all night wrestling with his statement and presented it to the Cabinet early on Tuesday.
Ministers took one look at what he had produced and were aghast. Cox’s statement, which he would shortly be delivering to the Commons, said explicitly that if the UK and EU failed to agree a future relationship and the backstop had to come into use, “the legal risks I set it out in my letter of 13 November remain unchanged”. In other words, the assurances that the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had demanded were not there. Nothing had changed in the pure legal sense: just the words were more reassuring.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, expressed his dismay. “He thought Cox’s advice was very badly framed, politically,” said a cabinet source. “It gave the ERG no way out, no excuse to climb down.”
A Tory minister said: “Cox has to safeguard his legal reputation. He knows he can’t lie. He can’t mislead. He is a lawyer. He wants to go and make big bucks in the legal profession after this. Who can blame him? Why have we put the whole thing in the hands of a lawyer who was never going to deliver the advice we needed? It is chaos.”
So Cox chose honesty rather than political convenience, and predictably, May’s deal was shot down again, 391 to 242. May, having lost her voice along with the vote, was livid, but somehow undeterred. Her deal has now been emphatically rejected twice. When her plan was first put forward at Chequers, Boris Johnson called it a turd; this week, Tory backbencher Steve Double described it as a “polished turd” but the “best turd we’ve got.” (Someone please explain to him that the expression is ‘you can’t polish a turd’. And if they want to talk about turds, can someone please make a ‘turd that won’t flush’ joke. It’s right there. Thanks, much appreciated.)
After Day One, literally nothing had changed. Onwards and….onwards.
Day Two: Wednesday 13th March. No to the Deal, And No to No Deal?
Just for perspective, the commentator on the Parliament channel told viewers that it was 388 hours until Brexit, and HOLY CRAP we’re counting in hours now, not days? THIS IS FINE.
The point of Wednesday was to establish whether the Commons wanted to rule out leaving without a deal, which is still legally the default option at 11pm on the 29th March as things stand, even though we already knew that the House had indicated they wouldn’t accept that. The Prime Minister’s motion was very
clear specific, and she had, at the end of Day One, promised that the No Deal vote would be a free vote on her side of the house. Then came the amendment that broke the Tories. Again.
Amendment A was put forward jointly by the Conservative MP Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, and its aim was to take the date off the motion, in order to rule out No Deal at any time. The Tories were furious and pressured Spelman to withdraw it. She tried — but Cooper, as co-sponsor of the amendment, wouldn’t withdraw it, so it went to a vote. Amendment A was passed by just 4 votes. At this point, May’s fury kicked in, and there was a desperate last minute attempt to whip her party to reject the whole motion as amended. Yes, that was originally her own motion, and in the chaos, some of her cabinet had already voted for it. Members of her cabinet who were aware of the whip but wanted to vote for ‘No No Deal’ either had to fall in line, resign their cabinet posts, or abstain. They chose to abstain. The motion as amended went through with a majority of 43.
The Malthouse compromise, a “managed No Deal” (as opposed to what? No Deal observed from afar? Panicky No Deal?) was rejected by the House. The Malthouse compromise was an attempt to offer something other than No Deal or No No Deal. I think that made it No No No Deal. Parliament said No anyway, which if you’re counting, made this a No No No No Deal situation.
So does this mean that we won’t be leaving without a deal? Probably but not necessarily. This was an indication of the feeling of the House, but unless/until further changes are made in Parliament, the legal default remains leaving without a deal unless something else is agreed. The options are still the same: Agree May’s deal (SEE! It won’t flush!), hold a second referendum, negotiate a different deal, or shift the deadline. With 16 days to go, the next step was to see if Parliament wanted more time. Last month, any changes to the Brexit timeline were voted down. But then came…
Day Three: Thursday 14th March. Please EU, May We Have Some More (Time)?
May’s tone had been croaky but scolding on Wednesday night. As she glowered at MPs, she warned that “The house needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.” This is especially ironic given her own refusal to see her deal as anything other than dead in the (toilet) water. Thursday was all about whether to ask for an extension to the deadline, with either a short technical extension (to keep voting on May’s deal over and over until everyone loses the last little glimmer of their will to live and just agrees it to MAKE IT STOP), or a more significant extension in order to start over with the negotiations. A few things to bear in mind here: 1) Any extension would have to be approved by EU leaders, and we would need to indicate that we’d use that extra time purposefully. 2) The EU won’t budge any more on the current deal, and unless there are different ‘red lines’, there isn’t much in it for them to start over again from scratch. 3) If the extension is for anything longer than a few months, we will have to hold MEP elections.
The principle of an extension was agreed in Parliament. What to do with that hypothetical extension is, of course, another matter. If May’s deal is approved — FLUSH, DAMNIT! — then the suggestion is a new Leave date at the end of June. But there were other suggestions too. One proposal was to hold a series of indicative votes on what sort of Brexit might get the support of the House. Irony klaxon: It didn’t get enough votes. The Independent Group made a move for a second referendum (HOORAY), but this didn’t get the votes either (BOO!).
In fact, it did worse than expected because one party abstained en masse, (almost) all of them staying seated on those uncomfortable green benches because the timing wasn’t right. Labour’s official line on Brexit is either a complicated strategic chess move or an infuriating straddling of a fence, depending on who you ask. I think you can guess what side I’m on there. In fairness, I suppose they are sticking to the script from conference: Push for a General Election, a Lexit or a People’s Vote, in that order of preference. But it’s 15 days to go, now! GET A WRIGGLE ON!
What’s next then? The week ahead should be another interesting / soul crushing one. Theresa May is off to see the
wizard EU leaders later in the week, but before she does, she’s going to push her deal for a third time because OH COME ON, TAKE THE HINT, THERESA!
The timing wasn’t right to support a People’s Vote on Thursday, but I guess a couple of days made a massive difference, because there is a Labour amendment in the works to push for a ‘confirmation ballot’ on whatever the final deal might be. I’m sure a ‘confirmation ballot’ is completely different to a People’s Vote though. Cough cough JUDEAN PEOPLE’S FRONT cough.
Let’s be honest, they didn’t vote for, uh, another vote last week, because it was the Independent Group who suggested it, not them. By the way, there isn’t a full consensus on how to abbreviate or nickname the Independent Group yet. Early suggestions were either ‘the IG’ or ‘TIG’, and I’ve seen some folks call them Tiggers, which is so cute, I’m nicking it. And instead of saying that politicians are defecting to join the Tiggers, we can say that they’re bouncing. YOU’RE WELCOME.
In other news, there was a very sad looking Leave march on Saturday, and there will be Leave and Remain demonstrations coming up on the 23rd.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve long been in denial about this Brexit thing actually happening. I’m cautiously optimistic about there being a delay but even that isn’t set in stone yet. I’ve kept the faith by leaning hard on bad jokes and silly gifs, and I don’t know how I’ll react if and when it really properly happens…
Finally, if you haven’t read this utterly savage profile of Theresa May, you are in for a treat. Here’s a snippet: “She is mean. She is rude. She is cruel. She is stupid. I have heard that from almost everyone who has dealt with her.” Ouch.
Header Image Source: Getty Images