Counting down the days.
With 10 days until Brexit (perhaps), Britain’s sovereign Parliament has taken back control. Speaker John Bercow has frustrated the government’s plans to bring back the Withdrawal Agreement for a third meaningful vote, which can now only take place in this session on Parliament’s terms. Although a majority of MPs voted last week against leaving with no deal and in favour of requesting an extension to Article 50, leaving the EU on 29 March remains the law of the land and the default position of Article 50, unless the latter is revoked or extended. Everything now depends on the European Council, the actions of Theresa May, and the unpredictable voting blocs of Parliament.
Elsewhere, several dozen Leavers are solemnly trudging from England’s northeast to London, having paid £50 a head for the privilege of being urged on by Nigel Farage at the outset before he pissed off and left them to it.
Having lobbied Labour against supporting last week’s parliamentary vote on a second referendum for tactical reasons which may yet backfire, the People’s Vote campaign is making its final push for its rally in London on Saturday 23 March. Will a massive turnout change the mind of the most stubborn Prime Minister in living memory?
If we do end up taking part in the European Parliament elections, who should Remainers vote for?
Based on their efforts on Twitter and elsewhere, I’d vote for Seb Dance and Claude Moraes in London, Catherine Bearder in South East England, Molly Scott Cato in South West England, Rory Palmer in the East Midlands, Neena Gill in the West Midlands, Alex Meyer in East of England, Jude Kirton-Darling in North East England, Julie Ward in North West England, Richard Corbett in Yorkshire and the Humber, Jill Evans in Wales, and Alyn Smith or David Martin in Scotland. Most UK MEP elections use the d’Hondt list system where you vote for parties rather than individuals; each party lists their candidates, though, so look for the list containing those people. Existing MEPs will be at or near the top of their party’s list, as that’s how they got in last time.
Northern Ireland is trickier as its MEPs reflect the unionist and republican divide and that alone will determine where many voters stand, but only Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson is a clear critic of Brexit; the UUP’s Jim Nicholson is talking on Twitter about fixing the backstop so that the UK can leave with a deal, so he’s no help.
Dance, Bearder and Smith (Labour, Lib Dem and SNP respectively) have been particularly staunch and stalwart opponents of Brexit throughout. Even though voting for Labour in a General Election would leave many Remainers conflicted, don’t let that put you off voting for them in the EU Parliament. I’d hate to see Seb Dance lose because of Corbyn. He’s been a model of principled, sensible opposition to Brexit throughout.
So, how are those No Deal preparations going? There’s no evidence of any government efforts to replace the Erasmus+ scheme, despite promises to do so. However, there’s a promise of funding for the 180,000 British pensioners in EU countries outside the UK who rely on the NHS to pay for their healthcare: “the government is committed to covering all treatments that began before exit day for up to 12 months afterwards in the event of no deal”. So if you get sick in the next week and die within a year, no worries. If you get sick in two weeks or last for two years, not so good.
It’s important to keep acting as if a better outcome is possible even if it looks as if all is lost, to stop it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though my head says we’re going to crash out in only nine days, and has for the past 8-9 months, my heart wants to hope that the outside chance is still possible.
I can’t make it down to London on Saturday for the People’s Vote march, for family reasons, but wish I could be in both places at once: I feel a need to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of like-minded people at this point, before it all goes south. I thought the campaign’s lobbying against the vote last week was a tactical error, but that’s no reason not to turn up: to go by the 23 June 2018 march, there will be many other anti-Brexit groups represented there. The atmosphere on that march was brilliant; I hope this time there’s still a feeling in the crowd that it could make a difference. If not to May, then perhaps to a Parliament that could force her hand.
Jonathan Lis in Prospect: Brexit has turned a self-inflicted national tragedy into a box-office global farce (published yesterday, so adjusting for inflation add 10% extra farce today).
Here’s Theresa May’s letter requesting an extension. By asking for a short extension to 30 June she’s behaving as if her deal got through. Even by her standards, that’s extraordinary. Surely she’s in contempt of parliament again? Not that that helps us much.
George Osborne called Theresa May “the submarine” in the referendum campaign because she so rarely came to the surface. Let’s not forget that only two months before the vote she was arguing to leave the European Convention on Human Rights “regardless of the EU referendum”. That article has another revealing quote: “I do not want to stand here and insult people’s intelligence by claiming that everything about the EU is perfect, that membership of the EU is wholly good, nor do I believe those that say the sky will fall in if we vote to leave.”
It all suggests someone who was pretty lukewarm about the EU and figured it would be fine either way, which is consistent with everything we’ve seen since. And now she’s got 2½ years of personal investment in Brexit Meaning Brexit and won’t revoke Article 50 to prevent No Deal unless she’s forced to. And maybe not even then. (“What, the letter didn’t arrive in time? Oh dear. Yes, of course I sent it.”)
I no longer buy the idea that the UK taking part in the European Parliament elections would mean a flood of Brexit Party MEPs. Looking at the list of sitting MEPs yesterday reminded me of the problem with the 2014 elections: because most British people who were indifferent about the EU sat them out, the results were skewed towards Euroskeptic Tories and Kippers. If we do get to take part in 2019, I don’t think low turnout of Remainers will be a problem; we could expect to see higher engagement and turnout, and results closer to the 50/50-ish split of the country. The UK would have more pro-EU MEPs, not fewer. Which is why May wants to avoid it at all costs.
Former French MEP Jean-Louis Bourlanges once said that the British “have one leg inside the EU and one outside”. That has been true from the beginning. Brexit is the formalization of the British position as an outsider.
It’s all very convenient to rationalise where things have ended up, but other EU countries have had their Euroskeptic moments. What about Denmark? What about Italy, or Greece? What about the Dutch? Their opinions on the EU were almost as evenly split as British opinion in 2016—it’s just their good fortune that they didn’t have a referendum on it that year.
It’s a bit like saying “that bloke has one leg inside the balcony and one leg outside, so let’s throw him over”.
The article itself is fine, in the same vein as some of Fintan O’Toole’s (excellent) book Heroic Failure. But I get a bit antsy about historical analyses of UK attitudes to the EU that don’t account for the fact that they’re historical. Yes Minister was made over thirty years ago. Things change. Generational attitudes change, as this referendum more than any other showed us, with its sharp dividing line at age fifty, with those above it (in 2016) predominantly Leave and those below it predominantly Remain. Those below the line grew up with the EU, and came of age at a time when they could experience its benefits for study, work and travel—or just accept it as part of the landscape. David Cameron was under fifty in June 2016. Had he been sixty, and a Remainer who knew that his peers were largely Leavers, would he have so blithely called the referendum?
Unfortunately, the referendum came just before the shifting balance of opinion in the overall population could have tipped it decisively for Remain. So I’m unconvinced by this:
Let us suppose the Remain camp had won the referendum in 2016. How long would the UK have lasted in the EU, before fresh demands for Brexit would resurface? Two years? Five, maybe?
It’s entirely possible that we would have been looking back on 2016 as the year of Peak UK Euroskepticism, with the chance of a repeat referendum receding further every day.
My worry now is that generational attitudes can shift again, and that the whole Brexit process is creating a new generation who’ll ensure that we stay out for good. This awful story of a Romanian woman attacked by teenagers outside her home shook me, to think of the sorts of attitudes those kids are absorbing that would allow them to do that. This is going to take years to turn around.
Jim Felton: “Nine days to go, hoping that 27 countries that May said would be crushed if they didn’t offer her a good deal are kind enough to all let us stay a little longer if we beg.”
Last night I switched on BBC News to watch Theresa May’s scheduled 8 p.m. address to the nation, which some were speculating might be to announce her resignation, or else a general election. It had been bumped to 8.15, but 8.15 came and went. As 8.30 approached, I had an overwhelming feeling that it would be a damp squib, and couldn’t bear the thought of watching her repeat the same old Brexit Means Brexit platitudes. So I switched over to BBC Scotland and watched a documentary about the A&E in Shetland, which was far more satisfying.
My instincts were right, except with the extra twist of May blaming MPs for a parliamentary mess entirely of her own creation. Wes Streeting MP tweeted:
I’ve thought long and hard before saying this, but Theresa May knows that MPs across the House are subjected to death threats—some very credible. Her speech was incendiary and irresponsible. If any harm comes to any of us, she will have to accept her share of responsibility.
A petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU was at 150,000 signatures when I signed it at 10 p.m. last night, and quadruple that this morning—just before it crashed the Petitions website. If you haven’t yet, show Theresa May that she doesn’t speak for you by signing it.
New Dunt. I hope he’s planning to collect these in book form.
One of the hateful things about this moment is that the focus on the immediate dangers of No Deal to supplies of food, medicine, and anything else that has to pass through Dover has taken attention away from the worst aspects of No Deal, which are that it throws the right of 5 million people to keep living in their homes into doubt, removes 65 million other people’s right to freely live and work in 30 other countries, and puts 1.5 million people at risk of a return to civil war. It’ll suck to be eating out of tins and paying through the nose for them, but all of that is far, far worse. Although the immediate risk to people denied life-saving medicines is also awful.
Brexit is the stupidest idea since radium toothpaste.
Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has suggested that the petition to revoke Article 50 can be ignored until it reaches 17.4 million signatures.
Over three years of Brexit, I’ve read some
Annoying things MPs have said, some
But there’s nowt like the guff
That gets spouted by Andrea Leadsom.
Jolyon Maugham: We have one shot at revocation.
Another Theresa May quote for the ages (as relayed by Vince Cable): The people voted for pain.
The European Council has cut through May’s bullshit. The UK now has an extension to 22 May if it passes Meaningful Vote 3, which isn’t likely, or else to 12 April to figure out if it really, really wants to crash out. This prevents any risk to the EU that the UK will still be a member with the power to revoke Article 50 at a point too late to take part in the European Parliament elections.
Parliament has to amend the 29 March exit date that’s enshrined in UK law, but as far as Article 50 is concerned, the new date is 12 April. But next week might be 22 May. Or ???
Sign that petition, folks.
I added some of the later paragraphs here as Wednesday progressed, and the last few this morning to round out that momentous day. We have a stay of execution, but not for long.
Added by Rory on 23 March 2019.
Based on how MEPs just voted on the Digital Copyright Directive, I would make a few amendments to my list above of ones worth voting for. David Martin just lost my hypothetical vote.
Added by Rory on 26 March 2019.