LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Thursday 14 December 

To use a Star Wars analogy (apologies in advance to non-fans), after the triumph of the underdogs that was the referendum, the Establishment Empire is affirmatively striking back.

First, there was last week’s EU friendly phase I deal. Yesterday, a hand grenade was unpinned within our own barracks as eleven Tory rebels (not of the Luke Skywalker variety) voted with the opposition on Amendment 7 to Clause 9 the EU Withdrawal Bill, depriving the Government of its power to unilaterally leave the EU, the very thing the 17.4 million voted for. The amendment won by four votes, 309 to 305.

It is impossible to overstate what an own goal this is. The power now lies in Parliament’s hands. Given its strong Remainer inclinations that would be bad enough, but in terms of the structure of the EU negotiations, it places the Government in an impossible position. In her battles with Michel Barnier, Theresa May will now have to consider the interests of Parliament – namely the opposition and the Tory rebels – not just the not so silent coalition partners, the DUP.

The EU will know this of course and surely push from the off with a single market heavy trade package contingent on open borders. Full alignment was just the beginning. Brussels will now be salivating over continued access to the UK in all respects, combined with our banishment from Brussels and sacks full of cash – the bad scenario Remainers warned of, which makes yesterday’s intervention all the more bizarre, not to mention appalling.

Similarly counter-intuitive was the EU’s Brexit-basher in chief, Guy Verhofstadt tweet last night:

“British Parliament takes back control. European and British Parliament together will decide on the final agreement. Interests of the citizens will prevail over narrow party politics. A good day for democracy”. A cartel of parliamentarians voting against the public will, doesn’t sound like democracy to us, unless you apply the EU’s definition of course.

As for the Eurofanatics on this side of the channel. The Tories siding with the opposition last night were:

  • Dominic Grieve
  • Anna Soubry
  • Ken Clarke
  • Nicky Morgan
  • Jonathon Djanogly
  • Bob Neill
  • Stephen Hammond
  • Sir Oliver Heald
  • Sarah Wollaston
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Heidi Allen

The charge was led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve who sponsored another amendment on Henry VIII powers. At 5.30 AM yesterday, Tory MPs received a letter from David Davis pleading with them to vote with the Government. In media appearances during the day, Grieve insisted he would be voting against his Party.

At the dispatch box during the debate on the amendment that evening, another Tory Dominic, Raab made a final assurance that the Parliament would be granted a “meaningful” vote, sparking heated discussion over the meaning of the word meaningful – good grief.

An enraged Grieve told Raab the Government was too late, incorrectly complaining of a “dialogue of the deaf”.

The obstinate treachery of Grieve and his allies has unsurprisingly sparked discord among the Tory ranks, but it hardly amounts to the full-blown civil war it merits. May hastened to fire Stephen Hammond from his post as vice-chairman. Nadine Dorries called for deselections and Nigel Evans accused them of “treachery”, warning of a Jeremy Corbyn government. That’s it.

The Government can usually rely on 7 Labour Brexiteers to help face down opposition amendments. On this fateful occasion however, only two voted against: Brexit heroine Kate Hoey and Frank Field. Energised by the opportunity to inflict a defeat on the capitalists, lifetime Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner offered his services as an “auxiliary whip”. “Dennis was our secret weapon”, a senior Labour insider “gleefully” told Politico.

Skinner will get another chance next week when the Government’s own amendment to lock in a Brexit date for March 2019 will be debated and in all likelihood, defeated.

Seasoned Brexit blocker Ken Clarke will be voting against it, “We face the genuine difficulty that it is quite obvious that we will not be remotely near to reaching that agreement by March 2019, and we have to think through what that actually means”, he said. Yet more gamesmanship in the long anti-Brexit insurgency.

But the rot goes deeper than the usual pro-EU flotsam. Theresa May is furious with her whips for not doing enough reports the Times.

The Prime Minister heads to Brussels for the European Council today. Over coffee and chocolates she will make her usual post-dinner address to the EU 27 leaders tonight. This time of course, they will be listening as she brandishes the report/agreement with the EU containing, as it does, lots of goodies for the continent and particularly Ireland.

We can expect lots of handshaking and backslapping over the compromises and mutual understanding between London and Brussels over the past six months. Beneath the smiles however, is snail-paced EU planning towards the Phase II negotiating programme, which the EU more than anyone knew was going to occur given how weak a negotiator May has proved to be.

A negotiating partner as pro-active and helpful as the EU pretends to be would have done all this planning ages ago, opening up as much time as possible for productive trade negotiations. But no, according to a Guardian source at the EU, “The European Council is going to need until March to have its guidelines in place for Michel Barnier to negotiate phase II”.

“Member states will be extremely reluctant to negotiate before those guidelines are in place”.

This means that negotiations towards both a transition deal and a follow-up “deep and special partnership” will be limited to just eight months – it took six months to reach a considerably less expansive agreement.

Yet another reminder of why the soft language of May’s Florence speech which has come to characterise these negotiations is totally inadequate.