The big day is finally upon us. The build-up to this finale has been more of a dreary spin on a merry-go-round than a white-knuckle ride on Nemesis Inferno, with arguments incessantly going round and round and round and making us all feel mildly nauseous. For weeks, all we have heard is divisive conjecture, furious arguments over hypotheticals and even threats of “THE END OF DEMOCRACY AS WE KNOW IT.”
Well, the time for hypotheticals is over. Today, all of that bluster, all of that noise, furious and tribal, will be put to the test with a simple vote:
Yes or no.
No more teacups, folks. Today, we’re doing Nemesis Inferno and we’ve got Fastrack tickets.
Hold on to that feelin’…
Last night, Theresa May flew to Strasbourg to meet with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, to thrash out a desperately-unlikely last minute change to the backstop for her to take to Parliament today.
Remarkably, she actually came out with one.
The changes can be simply described as:
- A legal document signed by the UK and the EU that helps to ensure the backstop is not intended to be permanent. Alongside this is a document that ensures that, if an independent body decides the EU is negotiating in bad faith, the UK can suspend its obligations. This will even be lodged as a treaty at the UN.
- An alteration to the political declaration on how both sides will find alternatives to a hard border in Ireland – basically, the EU has conceded that it must find alternative arrangements before the end of the transition period (29th March – 31st December 2020, where the UK negotiates its future trade deals with the EU).
- A declaration by the UK government explaining why it feels like the UK will not be ‘trapped’ in the backstop – this will form the basis of the legal advice on Brexit given to Parliament by the attorney-general, Geoffrey Cox, later today.
Speaking of which…
Cox: “Bollocks.” (No, Really)
Much of today’s result lies in what Mr. Cox QC has said to Parliament this morning. As the attorney-general, his job is to pore over the finer legal jargon of treaties and other documents to ensure that they have been properly understood.
It was his legal advice on the backstop being to continue “indefinitely” that caused it to be such an issue in the first place.
For the last few weeks he has been the one negotiating with the EU (and mostly just pissing them off, according to some sources). However, it was May herself who secured these changes last night and, today, it was Cox’s decision on whether or not he can tell Parliament today that they are enough to change his legal advice.
According to The Times and the BBC, Cox was said to be “agonising” over his decision. Channel 4’s Jon Snow reported on Twitter that his first answer was that the changes weren’t enough, and that a legal team had been summoned to help Cox change his mind.
Cox’s response was, short, swift and absolutely beautiful.
So, good to see things are being handled with the nuance that the gravity of the situation warrants.
As of 11.18am, Cox has stated that the change “reduces the risk” of the UK being “indefinitely” held in the backstop.
This is an admission that the changes, while significant, may not be enough to change the hearts and minds of Brexiteers.
Jesus Christ. What Happens Now, Then?
MPs will debate all afternoon until a vote is held at 7pm tonight.
If May’s deal passes, we leave the EU, with a deal, on the 29th of March.
If it doesn’t, tomorrow will see Parliament vote on and probably reject a no-deal Brexit, then Thursday will see a vote on an extension to Article 50.
Thursday’s vote would have been likely to pass if it was a short delay, though there are rumblings from the EU that a delay (the length of which is set by them, not us, remember) could be more like a year – this could pave the way for a general election, or a second referendum, muddying the waters somewhat…
So… This is a Big Deal.
Yep. For once, Brexit isn’t just hypothetical. Today is the last real chance for Theresa May’s deal. If it fails, then Juncker has said that “there is no third chance.”
In terms of what will happen, it really is hard to say. Cox’s legal advice will simply not be enough for some Brexiteers, though hearts and minds may have changed in the last few weeks – they may think that this is now their only real opportunity to leave the EU at all. The remainers will most likely still vote against the deal, although some have wearily admitted that maybe the best thing for our country is just to accept a deal.
However, it really does fall down to today’s vote. If May fails, the second referendum campaign could gain some serious traction. Depending on how long the extension is, there is still the very real threat of us crashing out of the EU with no-deal at a later date, too.
Whatever happens, there will be a lot of very pissed off people.
But then again, that sort of is Britain these days.
Between the Lines will be live-tweeting events from the vote this evening, so if you would like to follow this historic evening for our country from the perspective of this little blog, a) thank you very much and b) follow us here:
Good luck, everyone – this is going to be interesting.