On Thursday the 11th of April, all of the UK’s MPs broke up for their Easter holibobs. They won’t return to sit in Parliament until the 23rd, and although some work (particularly Brexit-related) will continue over this period, the majority of our politicians will probably spend the time with their families, maybe even sneak a holiday in, and put their feet up.
It is tempting to see this news and say, “Oh, so you turn the country into a social and political quagmire then head off for a jolly before it’s fixed, eh? Thank you very much. Enjoy your sangrias in the Costa Del Sol, you bellends.”
However, this break, more than any other in recent history, is crucial. It is sometimes easy to forget that these people are human beings, flawed and imperfect (some far more than others), and the last few months have been exhausting for the public, let alone the politicians themselves.
After the EU’s ruling yesterday to extend Article 50 until the end of October, we are, finally, in a position to take a step back, take stock of the situation and regain our senses. The relentless, crushing pressure of the Brexit deadline has been eased, temporarily at least.
As things settle down, let’s take a moment to remember exactly what’s happened so far in 2019, think about why it matters and what lessons might be learned.
So What’s Actually Happened In 2019 So Far?
- The Government tried, and failed, to pass Theresa May’s deal three times, as it failed to get a majority in any of the votes.
- We have seen the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition join forces to try and create legislation.
- MPs from across the House have also joined forces to attempt to take control away from government and succeed, with both the indicative votes process and Yvette Cooper’s Bill being passed against the wishes of the government.
- We have seen the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, enforce a centuries-old rule that prevents the government from bringing the same vote back to Parliament if the motion itself hasn’t changed.
- A ‘no-deal’ Brexit has, for all intents and purposes, been taken off the table as a reasonable result of the referendum.
- And a new political party, the Independent Group / Change UK, has been formed by MPs rebelling against their original parties.
It is worth noting that every single one of these examples would, in normal circumstances, be a hugely significant political event. A new splinter party hasn’t been seen since the 1980s, the Speaker wielding so much power is unprecedented in modern times, and Parliament voting to take power away from government for the first time is a genuine piece of history.
And yet, this is Brexit. Despite their individual significance, the last few months have happened at such a breakneck speed that the true magnitude of what any of these events might mean has been lost.
Instead, the overarching push/pull tension around what is at the very core of Brexit has been all encompassing – Leave vs. Remain, 52% vs. 48%.
That’s All Very Well And Good, But What Does It All Mean?
Let’s look at the wider Brexit context. In December, May announced that she had formulated a deal with the EU and would be holding a vote for it in Parliament. Remember: before the start of 2019, it looked as though Brexit was almost a done deal.
However, things for May went so far South that she found herself in the political equivalent of Antarctica, huddled for warmth with the pompous Emperor penguins of the ERG and slowly freezing to death.
She decided to delay December’s vote after the discovery by MPs of the issues surrounding the backstop, having previously promised she wouldn’t delay it. However, when the vote was finally brought to Parliament, the issues that plagued the withdrawal deal meant that it was ripped to pieces by MPs – she lost by 230 votes, the largest defeat in modern history.
Then, she kept trying to ram it down Parliament’s throats, resulting in Bercow’s ruling to protect Parliament from what were, essentially, bullying tactics. Slowly, but surely, May alienated everyone within her own party – the moderates by refusing to make Brexit any less severe, and the hard-right Brexiteers by refusing to push for a no-deal Brexit.
Because of her disastrous idea to hold a General Election in 2017, she lost her majority – her own vision of Brexit could not and would not be passed because she didn’t have the numbers for legislation to be approved without issue. Additionally, Parliament was utterly split down the middle – to compound matters, she has endured countless rebellions from her own MPs, who vote against her and further reduce her chances of success. Even despite her offer to resign, she still failed to get the deal passed.
It’s not just the Conservatives who are split, but Labour too – many Labour MPs represent Leave-voting constituencies and, despite their reservations, many of those MPs feel obligated to see Brexit through. Others simply cannot bring themselves to vote for something that will make their constituents poorer.
It is worth noting how abysmal Labour’s strategy has been – those Labour MPs who are torn could have been brought into line by any kind of decent leadership and a real opposition could have been formed. Any coherent opposition party could and should have seized power from this calamitous Conservative government long ago, yet Corbyn’s total refusal to take a definitive stance on Brexit has only contributed to the deadlock.
So, something had to give. Thankfully, the EU granted us two extensions to Article 50 to allow us to sort our issues out. But the formation of the Independent Group was the first retracing of our footsteps back to reason and rational debate, rather than increasingly extremist views holding all the power.
After TIG’s creation in February, if moderate MPs in both Labour and the Conservative Party were told to vote in a way they didn’t want to, they had a viable alternative. They could just defect. Their parties’ leaderships had to start to cater for them, as opposed to kowtow to the more extreme wings. TIG’s creation marked the beginning of the worst levels of conflict in Parliament over the last few months, where tensions were at their highest, but also revealed the first signs of optimism.
May, for some reason, continuously favoured the views of the ERG (probably because they were the ones who had already tried to depose her once before), which gave legitimacy to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Mark Francois, the Dick Dastardly and Muttley of British politics. However, after TIG’s formation, she was slowly pulled back into the centre by a new, stronger, cross-party group of moderate MPs.
As time has progressed, the far-right fuckwits have slowly demonstrated how tunnel-vision their vision for Brexit is and how little they will concede – May’s third and final attempt to pass her deal was their last chance to vote for a hard-ish Brexit in all likelihood. Most ERG members decided it was still too soft and refused to budge.
This was the turning point for May – she realised that her deal would never be passed because of the zealots at the fringes of her own party. The last couple of weeks have been largely about trying to find concensus, even turning to the Labour Party to find common ground (much to the self-righteous fury of the ERG dafty brigade). There is nothing for her in the ERG anymore – the only way she can find a solution is to abandon them.
It seems as though, at long last, she has done.
As MPs leave for their break, they leave with a glimmer of hope waiting for them when they return – a lifeline granted by the EU, and a Prime Minister who seems to be actively seeking a way to move forward, now that she knows that her deal is dead and buried.
RIP deal. At long last.
So… Bearing All That In Mind, What Happens Next?
When MPs return, Brexit will begin anew – despite the new deadline being just under six months away, the dangers of running down the clock are now all too apparent. Brexit will be back with a vengeance.
However, I think things will be different. The spirit of compromise is the new order of the day. While we may not see anything actually come of the cross-party talks, the feeling from both sides is that something constructive is being sought.
If the talks do fail, May has said that the government will hold its own form of indicative votes, but this time they will be binding. There are caveats to this worth noting – they might not be free votes, and the government will set out the agenda of what gets voted on. They could decide to not put ‘Remain’ options like revoking Article 50 or a second referendum on the voting paper.
However, amendments would probably change that. The momentum behind a second referendum is gathering pace, with some very prominent Brexiteers like Nick Ferrari and Peter Oborne recently switching sides to Remain. Even if May felt she couldn’t table a second referendum, an amendment might bring it before Parliament anyway.
As time has dragged wearingly on, a truth seems to have been slowly revealed: the Brexit that Leavers want is unachievable, but an achievable Brexit (like a soft Brexit) is completely undesirable.
Remaining in the EU is, for the first time, as likely as leaving.
Local elections are being held in early May and European elections in July. These will be the first time the British people has had the chance to vote on their politics since the 2017 election. They may well end up showing both Labour and especially the Tories how deep the hole they have dug themselves has become.
Before all else, however, is this: the last few months have been the worst, politically, in a generation. Many governmental processes have failed, disastrously, and there will be an inquest at the end of all of this that could very well see criminal convictions handed out.
But, for the first time in nearly three years, something close to a positive plan seems to be formulating.
If a holiday can help nurture that sentiment, then to all the MPs on their breaks I simply say: Put your feet up. We’ll need you rested for the months to come.
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