I’d better post something to mark our penultimate month in the EU. Since the parliamentary votes at the end of January I’ve been resigned to the worst, and too ill for most of the month to pay the daily ins and outs much attention, but here are a few things I noticed and briefly commented on along the way.
What will be noted most in Brussels & EU27 is not that the amendment passed, but that May supported it. She agreed the Backstop (twice); she proposed its form; she asked for & got their help in selling the WA; she promised she’d be able to. Then she chucked it under a bus. ¶ She, and this Cabinet, will never be trusted again by EU27 leaders. Future Relationship negotiations will be conducted in a trust- and goodwill-free zone. Requests for concessions will be dismissed. Assistance will not be forthcoming. UK perceptions ignored. ¶ Even if she does eventually get the WA through, the UK will be entering a world of pain in negotiations as a result of UKGov’s earlier conduct and breaches of trust.
Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian:
Almost everyone involved, from both main parties, showed themselves to be immersed in delusion, trading fantasies and absurdities, each one refusing to meet reality’s eye, let alone tackle it head on.
Rafael Behr, again at the Guardian:
To our continental friends and neighbours it is scarcely comprehensible. It looks like British social awkwardness elevated to the scale of a constitutional meltdown. It is the stiff upper lip chewing itself to pieces rather than name the cause of our suffering: not the deal, not the backstop, not the timetable, not Brussels, but Brexit.
Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber:
I went away for a few days last week and coming back here and reading the news felt like taking a yoke chained to a rock and placing it on my shoulders and walking up a hill not because I wanted to get to the top but because the hill was the only thing there was.
Andrea Leadsom recited a plodding bit of doggerel in the Commons on Valentine’s Day. Seems appropriate that she’d read us Vogon poetry when we’re all about to be thrown out of the airlock.
The views of parliament are now to be erased and rewritten on a daily basis, in whatever manner best accommodates what the government happens to want to do. It is to parliamentary democracy what Stalinism was to photography.
It feels like everything we’re living through right now is stuff that was being discussed—with dread—in the week after the referendum. What a waste of time, money and lives the past two and a half years have been.
How a No-Deal Brexit is shaping up. It’ll all be spiffing.
Conservative MPs now believe May's Brexit deal will pass. So that’ll be a slow-motion not-quite-but-almost-no-deal, then.
The news of the week is of Labour and now Tory defections to a new Independent Group of MPs, which has prompted calls for them to stand down to trigger by-elections (all pointless posturing, even if it had any basis in convention,† as by-elections wouldn’t happen for months). Meanwhile, we’re 37 days away from potential disaster, which will quickly lead either to the collapse of the Government, or to the collapse of government full stop. Save your by-election campaign for when you’ll have to elect your local warlord by loud shouts of approval from within the angry mob.
†This “convention” seems to be based on the recent example of the two Tories who turned Kippers in 2014. Some have been saying that if it isn’t the law that MPs should resign if they switch party, it should be, but that would achieve little: MPs would then just remain in their party in name only, ignoring the party whip and voting as they liked, perhaps jumping ship when a general election was in sight. Like, say, 37 days before an economic armageddon which would quickly lead to the collapse of the Government.
Ian Dunt points out that anything but a brief postponement of the cliff-edge means the UK has to take part in the European Parliament elections, and the mess that entails.
Some important figures in a piece in the Guardian today:
Leave voters would not punish Labour at the next election anywhere near as badly as its remain base, according to polling from the TSSA transport workers’ union that has been presented to John McDonnell and others in the past three weeks. Just 36% of Labour leave voters rank Brexit in the top three topics they care about. For Labour remainers, that shoots up to 60%.
If Britain did get an extension of 21 months, with full membership to continue until exit day, the Brexit Party would storm to seats in the EU Parliament at the spring elections and spend nearly two years working with the Putin-backed far-right to dismantle the project from the inside. In the end, there would be nothing left to remain in.
Bloomberg: No-Deal Brexit is the monster that never dies. There’s a telling graph here of bookies’ odds on No Deal, showing them leaping at the end of January from about 11% to 25%, and now sitting on 36%. Not coincidentally, the end of January was when my last hopes of a bearable outcome went out the window.
Talk from the prime minister of a possible three-month extension of Article 50 and from Corbyn of reluctantly backing a People’s Vote does little to allay fears that we’ll crash out on 29 March: it still seems far too possible for the best-laid schemes o’ mice and May tae gang a-gley.
The Put It to the People March in London on Saturday 23 March is a day after the European Council meets, which would be the last chance for any alternative routes out of this mess to be agreed by the EU27—why didn’t they choose the 16th? Will the UK government even listen? Can anything make a difference at this point? Chris Grey finds some cause for (cautious) optimism, which paradoxically is cause for pessimism: “if the analysis that another referendum is now much more likely is correct, then it is less likely to come true”.
Tomorrow we’ll be in the month when it all happens. We can start stockpiling yoghurt that expires after we crash out of the EU.
Simon Schama on the long view: When Britain chose Europe.