A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Lol just kidding, it was yesterday in the festering sewage dump of politics that is Westminster.
Theresa May called on Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) to meet with her and thrash out a deal to solve Brexit. Given that she is a life-long Conservative Party member and he is a self-confessed Marxist, this was about as surprising as Yoda and Emperor Palpatine sitting down together over tea to try and thrash out this whole “Star Wars” snafu. (That’s the last of the references, promise.)
It was an extremely tetchy day in the House of Commons, too. There were resignations, MPs both failing and succeeding to take more control away from government, and even a vote receiving a 50:50 split, which hadn’t happened since 1993.
With the Brexit deadline fast approaching (…again), developments are starting to happen at breakneck speed.
Sounds Like Yesterday Was A Bit Of A Rollercoaster…
As with all things Brexit these days, the day was a messy mix of being incredibly dull but interspersed with some big sparks of excitement.
First up, the meeting of the (rather dysfunctional) minds. On Tuesday evening, after her marathon Cabinet meeting, May had called for Corbyn to meet with her to try and find a united strategy for Brexit that the House of Commons could rally around. This heavily implied that she was turning away from her hard-right, ERG, no-deal Conservative MPs for support, and was seeking a softer, cross-party consensus instead.
As expected, a Party leader abandoning her own MPs in favour of the enemy went down like Hugo Rifkind’s hypothetical cheese submarine: very, very badly.
Brexiteers were furious, going as blue in the face as their promised passports, and two ministers resigned over the course of the day. Both were relatively junior, and May has thus far managed to avoid a high-profile resignation from her cabinet, but it can only be a matter of time. The ERG members are now plotting on how to remove May and prevent a soft Brexit, but it is worth noting that if May decides to try and grow Labour support anyway, their votes may not be as important to her – she might get a majority from elsewhere…
Regardless of what the talks did to her party, very little was actually achieved by them. Both sides called them “constructive,” but reports followed that there was some dismay at how far apart they were in terms of finding common ground. However, it was extremely unlikely for discussions to succeed at the first attempt.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons was about as exciting as a proctologist’s waiting room. But then, all of a sudden, the swashbuckling rebel MPs’ agenda, led by Captain Cooper and first-mate Letwin, was brought before the House.
Things went a bit mental.
- First up was Indicative Votes, PT. III, or at least the planning of them. The rebels wanted the House to approve another round of votes on Monday, and to achieve this by taking timetabling away from government (as they have the last two times). However, whereas the last two attempts won by reasonable majorities, this time resulted in 310 for the Ayes and 310 for the Noes – a split, for the first time in 25 years.
- The Speaker, John Bercow (the small angry man who shouts OARDURRRR), normally doesn’t vote because, even though he is an MP, his role is supposed to be impartial. In cases like this he will cast the deciding vote, but is obligated to maintain the status quo.
- As such, he voted against the motion, so there will not be indicative votes on Monday, unless something changes.
- Then came Cooper’s Bill against no-deal. Whereas many of these motions and amendments that we have seen recently are non-binding, this one was – if passed, it would be made law. The Bill made it the legal default for the Prime Minister to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 rather than leave without a deal next Friday.
- In order for a Bill, not a motion, to pass, it must go through three rounds of votes in the House of Commons, then be ratified by the House of Lords, then receive Royal Assent (sign-off from Queenie). This usually takes weeks, or even months. Cooper pushed for her Bill to have all three Commons votes in less than 6 hours.
- It passed the first two rounds of votes and various amendments that tried to limit its power were defeated. The Bill, unamended, received its third and final vote at 11.15pm. It passed by one vote.
Blimey. That All Sounds Significant.
Again, this is Brexit we’re talking about. It sort of is, but sort of isn’t.
May and Corbyn’s Talks
The talks are significant in what they represent, which is a total divergence from the usual Punch and Judy politics of British democracy. Normally, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will be naturally opposed to one another’s policies, yet here they are trying to thrash out a joint one. However, it is highly unlikely that a resolution will be found, so in terms of overall impact they probably won’t be very significant at all.
More significant is the effect on the parties – as above, the ERG and hard-right Conservatives are furious, but there are serious concerns on Labour’s side, too.
- Many Labour MPs are worried that this is a well-laid trap put down by the enemy to rip their party in two.
- Corbyn has already said since the meeting that a second referendum would only be required to prevent “a damaging no-deal or Tory Brexit.” His preference is clearly to find a deal to leave, despite the fact that Labour MPs are largely in favour of a second referendum. Emily Thornberry, shadow Foreign Secretary, wrote to all MPs last night telling them that a second referendum was party policy, though that’s not exactly what her boss had said.
- But not all MPs are in favour of a second referendum, with senior Labour ministers and MPs rebelling against their party’s instruction to vote in favour of a second referendum in the last round of indicative votes. If Corbyn forces a referendum, he will face resignations just like May.
First of all, there is a very real chance that this might not even pass the House of Lords.
- To thrash out legislation in one day is quite haphazard, and although the House of Lords cannot veto a Bill it can delay it. It is there as a safeguard, and many of the Lords themselves are highly experienced lawmakers.
- If there are any issues with the Bill like legal ambiguity or loopholes, therefore, it will be sent back to the Commons for an amendment to it. This would likely see the majority of one extinguished and the Bill be abandoned, RIP Bill.
- It needs to be passed ASAP because it is regarding next Friday’s deadline set by the EU – any delay could mean that if it did survive the Commons again, it might not be ready in time.
Secondly, there isn’t a huge amount it might actually achieve:
- May has already said she is going to ask for an extension, not crash out with no-deal;
- It is the EU who decides on whether or not to grant us an extension anyway (which they probably will do).
However, there are two significant aspects to it:
- If it passes into law, May cannot break her promise (which she has considerable precedent for).
- If passed, Parliament, not May, chooses how long an extension we ask the EU for, which rules out a possible sneaky attempt to have another short extension to force her deal through again (sneaky old Tezza), rather than a longer one to have a second referendum or, God forbid, a General Election.
Me too. Good news is that Parliament will not sit again until Monday, giving frazzled MPs (and writers) some breathing space. The only things to keep an eye on today are Cooper’s Bill in the House of Lords and ongoing talks between Corbyn and May.
I hope the Bill passes. Lord knows we need some more time to sort this out properly, but it will need all the luck it can get to pass. To the Bill, I simply say:
May the Force be with you.
(I’m not even sorry)
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