Wednesday 9 February 2018
The House of Commons got down to real business yesterday as yet another treasonous amendment was passed by MPs. The last time a no-to-a-no-deal amendment received a majority it was soon invalidated as the motion it was attached to – the notorious meaningful vote on May’s deal – was postponed, resetting the whole procedure. Not so this time, select committee chairs led by Yvette Cooper attached their limpet mine to a real piece of legislation, the Finance Bill, before making their votes and sitting back for the explosion.
As expected, the government was defeated – the first time a prime minister has lost on a finance bill since 1978 – albeit narrowly, 303 to 296. But has anything been sunk? No.
For starters, the amendment only prevents the government from emergency taxation and stimulus in the event we depart from the EU without terms, and even then, the Treasury will have plenty of wiggle room, it hardly prevents a no deal. Besides, there’s not a hope in hell of this Parliament preventing measures to keep the economy ticking along. As we’re so often lectured, jobs and growth are the priority.
Radio 4 listeners were told this morning by the president of the Calais-Boulogne port authority, a Mr Jean-Marc Puissesseau that checks would be limited only to organic goods flowing through his ports and ventured the same would be the case on the other side of the Channel. Illegal immigrants would be the other major distraction.
In well fell swoop the straight-talking Frenchmen smashed the carefully concocted myth that British manufacturing, particularly just in time production, would be hobbled if the country were to leave the single market. Countless lorries would be held up at Dover for customs checks or so the story went before Mr Puissesseau hit the airwaves. Controls over fruit, vegetables and cattle consignments may have to increase, but last time we checked, Nissans, Toyotas and Vauxhalls weren’t made out of marzipan.
The Cooper amendment is already a distant memory. Today, the House gets down to the real business of debating Theresa May’s deal. The vote itself will take place on the evening of the 15th. Dominic Grieve and his band of Tory traitors – all named in this Westmonster article – have followed up with another amendment instructing the prime minister to return to the Commons with a new proposal within three sitting days in the event her deal is defeated, which it most certainly shall be. As things stand, May would have three weeks and seven sitting days to react, part of the compromise originally struck with Grieve in order to get the EU (Withdrawal) Act through. Grieve’s amendment will drastically alter her options.
The former attorney general is trying to thwart May’s blatant strategy of running the clock down to incite panic in the Commons and bring MPs round to her deeply flawed deal just before Britain “crashes out” (to use Remainer parlance) of the EU – heaven forbid. However, there’s no sign Brussels will come back with a better offer.
“Nothing has been offered to May,” an EU official told Politico, “everybody is waiting for the vote on the 15th.”
“It is up to the U.K. to ask for concessions, not the EU to offer them proactively,” said another. “I don’t see room for a legally binding end date of the backstop.”
It remains highly unlikely that the EU will provide any legal binding assurances to the backstop, doing so would completely unravel their negotiating position, a Canada-style deal would beckon, but from the EU’s perspective it makes perfect sense to wait to see how the prime minister gets on before swooping in with a grand gesture, one lacking any legal substance.
Grieve is banking it won’t be enough, causing yet another defeat, thereby leveraging Cooper’s amendment for Parliament to come up with some unspeakable alternative. Both MPs are of course hoping to get Article 50 revoked.
Hope is the all-important factor here. Aside from the executive that sits within it, Parliament does not have the means to confect a different plan and then run it by Brussels before getting it approved by MPs. The prospect of a no deal has only been hindered on the surface, only the government has the power to take a different course, whether it’s a second referendum or untriggering of Article 50 – Ken Clarke’s latest bonkers ruse is for the latter, and then repeating the process – provided Parliament likes it. And therein lies our advantage. Parliament and the government need each other to fulfil their objectives, but for the time being at least, they fundamentally differ, meaning the default option, no deal, remains the natural course.
Fate is still on our side.