The gap between what Brexit promised and what the Government can deliver is finally obvious to everyone. Westminster is in chaos. Hard line Brexiters have rejected Brexit, they promise to renegotiate without having secured any agreement from Brussels to bring to the table. They don’t care, they want a no deal Brexit that they can blame on the EU. So far, it’s all going to plan for the ERG.
Now we have had to endure the farce of a no confidence vote. The loss of a government’s flagship policy would, in normal times, signal the end of that government. However, a change of Prime Minister does not alter the parliamentary arithmetic by a single jot and even a defeat in the high hundreds will not shift the incumbent Government. The problem is that the Prime Minister is interpreting the result of the confidence vote as a signal that she can carry on “business as usual”.
So, after reaching out across the House of Commons, though maybe not meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister will go back to Brussels in an attempt to secure further concessions. A negative mandate from the rejected Withdrawal Agreement will give her a new line of argument, if nothing else. Furthermore, the conditions of the Grieve amendment – plan B within three days – would be satisfied. So, the can is kicked further down the road again.
It seems highly unlikely that any consensus will emerge. The mood in Brussels has shifted – nobody wants a damaging no deal – so pragmatic minds are moving on to the only possible alternative, the Prime Minister will have to ask for an extension of Article 50.
This is the next battleground within Parliament, it could fundamentally split the Conservative Party, and maybe the Labour Party too, but what alternative is there? Only one extension is likely to be granted so it needs to be long enough, at least a year, and this would require the UK to contest the European Elections. This throws up an interesting situation. Any UK involvement in the elections would constitute a de facto referendum and be fought on that basis. Each Party, including Labour, would have to adopt a clear unified position and campaign accordingly. Maybe new alignments would emerge, after all UKIP has only ever been a force in the European Parliament so why not a pro EU party putting the opposite view? Mrs May has been steadfastly against a People’s Vote and with this option she wouldn’t have to go back on her word (again!). The will of the people on Brexit would be clear.
I have argued for a People’s Vote since before the constitutional impasse became clear and still believe that the British people alone must decide the final position with relation to the European Union. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s obstinance and the Leader of Opposition’s refusal to listen to his membership has meant a positive People’s Vote has not yet been secured.
Perhaps, as with all things Brexit, we need to start thinking the unthinkable to break this damaging deadlock.