Eurosceptic MPs have had a lot of thinking to do over the weekend. Do they hold their nose and vote for May’s less-than-perfect deal, or do they roll the dice again and run the risk of losing Brexit altogether? Some Brexiteers believe if they just sit tight Britain will automatically leave the EU next week. ERG supremo Chris Howarth – a hero of the long fight for Brexit – argues that it’s a “certainty” that so long as the ERG MPs hold their nerve that the UK is “leaving the EU on 29th March without a permanent backstop.” Guido would love that to be true, it is however a triumph of optimism over reality. Before MPs make their mind up, they need to face up to the political reality of where we are…
Let’s look at Howarth’s arguments in turn, because they are at the heart of the divide among Brexiteer allies:
Howarth argues these are certainties, Guido disputes that:-
There isn’t enough time to stop us leaving on 29th March. ‘We are two weeks away from Brexit with very few sitting days left in the Commons and Lords,’ writes Howarth. “This makes the Remainers’ games very, very difficult. They have to push their deal or proposition through. Opponents hold the castle, guarding the pass.”
Certain? This ignores the first rule of politics: you have to be able to count. There are more Remainer than Brexiteer MPs and they’ve already shown they can flex their muscles. Aided and abetted by ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ Bercow and more than half the Cabinet, they have proved so far that they can dictate this process – stretching the normal rules of Parliamentary procedure if that’s what it takes.
How secure is that castle held or that pass guarded? It is blindingly obvious that Theresa May will now do everything in her power to stop a No-Deal Brexit on 29th March. Every agony she’s gone through in the last two years of negotiations has been about avoiding this outcome, everyone knows she hasn’t prepared for it. The Prime Minister is also a stickler for parliamentary etiquette. She has now given a floor-of-the-House commitment that the UK will not leave the EU on the 29th March without explicit parliamentary approval and she will take all necessary action to honour that promise.
The Commons won’t back a second referendum. ‘The Commons has just voted decisively against a second referendum – the only remotely viable way to reverse the result of the first – by a resounding 334 to 85 votes,’ writes Howarth.
Certain? The vote this week was certainly a humiliation for the People’s Vote campaign – who ludicrously urged MPs not to vote for one – they’ll soon be back for more, and this week will see the effort led by Peter Kyle and others to get a ‘confirmatory’ referendum. By definition, these sore losers will keep asking the question until they get the answer they want.
And this is all an irrelevance when it comes to what we do on 29th March anyway. In the same evening as the vote on a second referendum, the Commons voted by an even greater margin to extend Article 50. Despite last week’s votes, MPs believe there are still three possible outcomes – Deal, No Deal, or No Brexit. If the first option is ruled out, what do you reckon this Remain Parliament will choose in a straight choice between the latter two? (Clue: see rule one above…)
The PM’s deal will never pass. ‘MPs will be asked to vote on the same deal and will give the same answer,’ says Howarth
Certain? 40 MPs changed their mind between the first and second votes – and this weekend has seen a chorus of Leavers with impeccable credentials reluctantly concluding that May’s deal is the only viable option: former Tory Leader Michael Howard, former Chancellor Norman Lamont, Vote Leave founder Matthew Elliott (now editor-in-chief of BrexitCentral), as well as Brexit campaign hero Darren Grimes.
The PM won’t want to seek a long extension if her deal is rejected a third time. ‘What is left? Will the Prime Minister tear up her deal and seek an extension for something else? The EU will not allow an extension for no purpose (as acknowledged in the Government’s motion passed on Thursday), and nor will the Conservative Party or Parliament. The last deal took two years to negotiate behind the backs of the Cabinet, there will not be any new negotiation, so will the Conservative manifesto be ripped up and the UK participate in Euro-elections? No. The Prime Minister is not that foolhardy. At worst, we might see a short extension to prepare for ‘no deal’, but that itself is unlikely and hardly a reason to back a disastrous deal.’
Certain? It is not clear why the PM will view a third defeat any differently to how she viewed the first or second, especially if the margin narrows again. She will want to convince the EU that the deal is not dead and they will want to believe her. She will win an extension for the purposes of a final push with the understanding that it will continue for a much longer period if she cannot get her deal approved ahead of the Euro elections. Her MEPs have already been told to start preparing for those. The longer the delay is, the more control the Remainer Parliament will seize over the process.
Guido doesn’t envy the awful choice – as outlined this morning by Jacob Rees-Mogg – because of the PM’s handling of Brexit or this hung Parliament full of Remainers. Dreaming of a No-Deal Brexit next week is simply putting off the decision they will ultimately have to take between May’s deal and an even softer Brexit – or even no Brexit at all…