The shenanigans in the Westminster Parliament need little comment. We literally have a gridlock that frankly looks impossible to break.
A Government that has negotiated one of the worst treaties in history, and which has failed miserably on three occasions to get it through Parliament.
A Prime Minister who has promised to resign if her deal is successful, but who stays put now her deal has once again failed (let me know if you can think of a more ludicrous scenario).
A speaker who is having to be arm-twisted into allowing “Meaningless votes” since he won’t allow a “Meaningful vote” on the same deal as before (to be fair to him, I think he was quite right to insist that the Government cannot keep bringing the same deal back to the Commons over and over again until it gets the “right” answer, since this creates a dangerous constitutional precedent).
Parliamentarians whose instincts are still overwhelmingly Remain, but who dare not vote to Revoke Article 50 or for a “People’s Vote” lest their pesky constituents turf them out at the next election (note on the People’s Vote: I understand that it was People who voted last time) .
And a series of indicative votes, none of which were even recognised by the Government as having legitimacy, and none of which was able to command a majority in the House.
As things stand we are heading for a no-deal Brexit (or rather World Trade Organisation Brexit) on 12th April. Yet although this is the default, I put the chances of this happening at less than 5%, as I don’t think that Parliament has the stomach for it, and if push comes to shove they will somehow contrive to stop it happening.
So what now?
Well since all else seems to have failed, here’s a suggestion.
The main issue with the Withdrawal Agreement is the Backstop. The DUP have made it quite clear that they cannot and will not support the treaty whilst it includes the Backstop, or at least unless there are legal guarantees around this. In this I am in complete agreement, since with provisions within the Backstop would potentially lock the country into powerless vassalage for years, even decades to come, and with no means of exiting. It is in fact worse than our current situation, and it would serve to break up the United Kingdom, which wasn’t actually what 17.4 million people voted for.
Take the Backstop out of that agreement, and it would undoubtedly get a clear majority.
But of course the problem with this is that the EU has said that it is not prepared to renegotiate the Backstop. However, the closer we get to a no-deal Brexit (WTO Brexit), which doesn’t thrill the EU at all, and certainly isn’t Mr Varadkar’s option of choice, I remain unconvinced that faced with this stark reality they would necessarily be as hard nosed as they have been. And this for the simple reason that a no deal Brexit wouldn’t even have a Backstop at all. In other words, for all their posturing on the issue, and their apparent refusal to budge on an issue that they keep insisting is of the utmost importance, as things currently stand, they could potentially end up forcing a situation where Britain leaves and there is no Backstop at all.
This, incidentally, has been the problem with Mrs May’s “strategy” all along. At the same time as negotiating with the EU, the UK Government should have prepared for a no deal Brexit from day one, firstly in case it became a necessity, but also in order to act as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU. Had the EU known that the Government of the United Kingdom had spent two years preparing for the possibility of a no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement would no doubt look very different than it does.
So what I would suggest is as follows: an MP should propose another indicative vote, but this time on the Withdrawal Agreement minus the Backstop. Call it WA-B. This is, I believe, the only available deal that the House of Commons would pass with a reasonably clear majority. The Government could then go back to the EU and put the matter like this:
“The House of Commons has made it clear that it will not back the Withdrawal Agreement with the Backstop included. But it has also made it clear that it is prepared to support the Withdrawal Agreement minus the Backstop. In fact, this is the only deal it is prepared to back. The alternative is that on 12th April, the United Kingdom will formally leave the European Union and revert to World Trade Organisation rules. Which will mean no Backstop at all. So which would you prefer? To rethink the Backstop? Or to end up with a no deal Brexit where there is no Backstop anyway? The choice is yours.”