The Brexit chaos has rumbled on for so long, that I fear I am starting to run out of Brexity jokes and analogies. I know. Will the horror never end?
Short answer: Probably not. But I’ve still got a few jokes in me for now.
Last week saw extraordinary developments in the Brexit saga, whilst simultaneously, no movement at all. What is evident is that the stalemate has only become more painful. I mean, there’s some entertainment there too, in that watching the Tory party self-destruct is popcorn-worthy, but even then, the satisfaction is rather hollow. As I said in my last update a few weeks ago, unless something changes, we’re all losers here.
After the ‘soft Brexit’ Chequers plan was first announced, May survived an attempted mutiny and returned to the negotiating table. As Brexit Day loomed ever closer on the horizon, like a shuffling zombie that will definitely get you in the end, we’ve been waiting with baited breath for the Big Reveal of Theresa May’s Very Clear And Strong And Stable Brexit Deal. It finally arrived with a metaphorical fanfare: Ta-Dah!
Everyone knew that it wasn’t going to go down well. It couldn’t possibly go down well. First of all, Brexit is toxic, and all sides are digging their heels in with greater viciousness than before. Secondly, Brexit — within the red lines and six tests that the parties are insisting on — is impossible. We can’t have the (alleged) opportunity without the (very plausible) hardships. We can’t have control and independence as well as free access to EU benefits. We can’t split the four freedoms. And most importantly, we can’t have a border that is and isn’t a border. Say it nice and loud for those in the back: We cannot change geography! We must not sacrifice the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland on a whim! In trying to leave one Union, we run the risk of breaking up another!
Those aren’t the catchiest of slogans, admittedly. But then the truth is rarely a snappy sound-bite.
Now, you know what my preferred solution to all this chaos is: The People’s Vote. Though I am by no means confident that the result would be different, it would be a useful way for government to double check that they are doing what the people want. What they really, really want…
For now, this is the only deal on the table. And it’s a stinker.
Imagine that there was a referendum on what people wanted to have for dinner. 52% voted for trifle, and 48% voted for shepherd’s pie. Here’s exclusive behind the scenes footage of Theresa May putting her ‘compromise’ plan together:
Rachel’s Thanksgiving trifle: an abomination borne out of sticky pages in a recipe book and a profound misunderstanding of what British people are prepared to swallow. And May is determined to make us all shut up and eat it. She tells us, it’s this, or no food at all.
It’s an impasse at the dinner table then. Tummies are rumbling. But will anyone cave in and eat meat and bananas? Even with a honking squirt of whipped cream on the top, you know it’s going to taste like feet.
She served it to her cabinet first. Some of them forced it down and made a fake yummy noise. Some refused. Even the person whose job it was to help her make it — Dominic Raab — quit before committing to a mouthful. Then she served it up to the House of Commons. There are fewer Friends in the Commons, and they have no qualms telling her it’s inedible. In fact, MPs from across the House spent three hours telling her in vivid, almost excruciating detail, how inedible it was. But again, she insists it’s this or nothing. She is determined that this meaty, custardy monstrosity fulfils the terms of the vote.
For once, there is some agreement: This is bollocks. It’s a trifle in name only. People who voted for trifle didn’t vote for a meat trifle. It’s a betrayal of the fundamental principles of trifle. People who voted for shepherd’s pie aren’t appeased by the inclusion of meat in what is, to the observer, clearly and irrevocably, still a trifle. Especially when it’s ruined a perfectly good shepherd’s pie.
May’s Brexit plan, she assures us, “brings back control of our money, law and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union” and “delivers on the result of the referendum.” But there are a lot of sticking points, chief of which is the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement, which led to the plan being dubbed the Hotel California Brexit by one MP. It is the allegedly temporary arrangement to avoid a hard border, which will only change once a suitable alternative is reached and agreed jointly by the UK and the EU. Newsflash: there isn’t a way for us to leave the customs union and avoid a hard border between NI and ROI at the same time without creating different customs zones within the UK which we absolutely must not do. And to share a customs territory with the EU, we have to have their rules but we will no longer have voting rights, because we will have left the EU. For a summary of the key points, check out the Guardian’s piece here, or take a look at the full document here via CNN.
May’s deal can’t be accepted without approval from the House of Commons. This won’t happen: The Tories aren’t all behind it, and even if they were, they rely on a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP to pass key votes. The DUP are against it. The other parties are (pretty much) all against it. It isn’t going to happen.
So what could break the stalemate? Well, it depends who you ask. Hardcore Tory Brexiteers are once again submitting letters to the 1922 Committee to push for a vote of no confidence and a change in leadership in the party. Even if that were to happen, the composition of the House would remain the same, and opposition to a harder Brexit is likely to be even more vocal. At the time of writing, not enough letters had been submitted to trigger a leadership contest.
If a majority of MPs in Commons push for a vote of no confidence in the government, then they could force a general election. For this to happen, it would require around 100 Tories to turn on their own government and possibly vote themselves out of power. This could break the stalemate, though there is a possibility that the same MPs would be re-elected and we would be in the same position as we were when we started. It would also involve requesting an extension on the Article 50 deadline from the EU, which the member states are not obligated to provide, and a full renegotiation of the Brexit terms, which they are not willing to commit to.
May has ruled out a People’s Vote, but this is the easiest way to break the stalemate, and might start to seem more appealing the longer this goes on… If you can’t change the composition of the House or the deal, then perhaps you can change the decision, or at least share the responsibility of making that decision with the people again.
Because many of the key players in this political melodrama are viewing this as an opportunity to feather their nests. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are vocal critics, and are responsible for bringing the term ‘vassal state’ back into political discourse — even though they are thereby tacitly admitting that the UK wasn’t as powerless within the EU as they claimed while campaigning. The ever-slippery Michael Gove is reluctantly standing by the Prime Minister, though he has made it clear that this is under duress, and he’s not-so-secretly working with other cabinet members to see if they can renegotiate the deal themselves. May might accuse Corbyn of playing politics with Brexit, but she’s got plenty of foes on her own side of the House.
And what of Corbyn? Opinion is mixed. As a pro-EU person, I found him an unenthusiastic Remain campaigner, and a (disappointingly) non-committal presence on Brexit ever since. Has he been biding his time? It’s no secret that he’s not a fan of the EU, and that he is cautious of alienating Leave and Remain Labour voters. Was this just a tactical ambivalence all along? He would prefer a Brexit on his terms via a general election over a People’s Vote. But there’s no guarantee the EU would renegotiate those terms, remember. We might find ourselves facing the same trifle, but from a different chef. And guess what? No matter who serves this up, I’m still not going to eat it.
Image sources (in order of posting): Warner Bros. Television, NBC