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And so the Brexit circus continues. The big-top tent has been firmly erected in the middle of Parliament, and Theresa May is not so much The Greatest Showman as she is a clown that’s constantly smashing cream pies into its own face.
We’ve been granted a reprieve, for sure, and the pressure has been eased, but there are some absolutely frantic days coming up in the Brexit tent.
Roll up, roll up.
So, what happened this week?
Bercow’s Big Show
Following on from last week’s pandemonium in Parliament, it looked like Monday would be a nice, quiet day to ease in to the week and gear ourselves up for yet another meaningful vote fiasco on Tuesday or Wednesday.
In stepped the ringmaster, John Bercow, to change the tune entirely. He announced, with zero warning to relevant parties, that Theresa May would not be able to bring her deal back to Parliament unless it showed “substantive changes” to the deal that came last time.
Furious accusations were hurled at the speaker, claiming that he was trying to derail Brexit, but in reality all he was doing was upholding Parliamentary law and doing exactly what the rule, written in 1604, was created to do – prevent a government from bringing the same motion back, again and again, until it passes. This ‘war of attrition’ style of governance is pretty pathetic, and Bercow clearly took a dim view of it.
And so, the meaningful vote was cancelled. With a very important trip to Brussels looming on Thursday, May was quite clearly pretty bamboozled as to what to do next.
What Did She Do Next?
She got incredibly angry and insulted everyone except her, that’s what. This, despite her being the real architect of this farce.
Clearly stewing for most of Tuesday, PMQs on Wednesday were fruity, to say the least. She accused Parliament of “indulging itself” over Europe, inferred that MPs were all useless for not sorting out exactly what the next stage of the Brexit process should be despite not giving them a real opportunity to do so, and even suggested that they were traitors.
This, despite the point of Parliament being to hold government to account and not allow a totalitarian regime to run roughshod over democracy.
Rather than show any kind of contrition, she doubled down, and doubled down hard.
On Wednesday evening, she gave a speech to the nation from inside number 10. She told the people of the UK what they thought, with messages that varied from “You are fed up of Brexit,” “You want this all to end,” to “This all the MPs fault – I’m on your side.” Some political writers have thought that this might have been to try to push MPs over the edge and finally support her deal, at long last.
Instead, it drew an apoplectic response. MPs felt like it was trying to incite hatred against them from the people at a time where they already receive daily death threats over Brexit, and it led Dominic Grieve, by all accounts an honourable and respected politician, to say that it was the moment when he was most ashamed to be a Conservative.
The backlash was massive, and many MPs who said that they were slowly but surely coming round to the idea of voting for her deal said that now, she could stick it firmly up her arse.
Good one, Theresa.
Only EU Can Save Us Now
And so, with the country united back in the UK (although only in condemnation for her outright stupidity), May went to Brussels to ask, begrudgingly, for an extension to Article 50.
In a fitting demonstration of the UK’s diminished global influence post-Brexit, May gave a speech to the other leaders, and then had to wait outside while they deliberated on what extension to give her.
Reports came out of extreme tension within the room, as some like Emmanuel Macron of France suggesting that this was our mess and no-deal would teach us a lesson. Some of the smaller nations that rely more heavily on UK trade like the Netherlands were more keen to see a longer extension. Dates were being bandied about and discussions went on far longer than had previously been planned.
In the end, a result was announced – Britain had an extension until the 22nd of May if the PM’s deal was passed, or the 12th of April to demonstrate what we’d be doing instead if it wasn’t. In the words of one EU official, according to the BBC, “May didn’t seem to have a plan, so we gave her one.”
All things considered, this ruling by the EU is about as fair as it possibly could be, allowing May one more (and surely final) roll of the dice, but also giving us a clear deadline to find an alternative route. Given the absolute pig’s ear we’ve made of the process up until now, it is quite generous of them to give us the time it has.
However, this means that we now have to explore other options such as a second referendum or a general election, something that May has explicitly said she will not do. So, expect the Cooper/Boles amendment, where MPs will wrest control from government, to rear its head again, and this time it probably won’t fail.
May calling MPs traitors will have seen to that.
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