Those of you closely following the soap opera that is the British parliament of recent times will have seen “The mother of parliaments” turn into the Lunatic Asylum of Democracy.
We’ve seen a cabinet minister plead with parliament to vote one way then vote against his own motion and the instructions of the prime minister. Huge numbers of Conservative MPs voted against their leader and government. The Labour party abstained on a vote that would have adopted Labour party policy. The prime minister voted for an outcome she herself had implacably opposed only days beforehand. Senior ministers abstained on critical matters, thus breaking collective cabinet responsibility, the centuries old convention that says cabinet ministers must all unite behind an agreed position or resign. Did they resign? No. Did the prime minister sack them? No.
Mrs May brought back to the House of Commons the same deal that parliament had massively rejected late last year. Once again she lost by a big margin, though a bit less than last year. It looks like she will try again on Wednesday 20th March.
If she gets her deal through then the UK will leave the EU on 29th March in an orderly fashion and with a two-year transition period to facilitate a smooth exit.
If she fails to get her deal through the law says the UK must still leave the EU on 29th March, but in this event without a deal. In essence, all the laws and rules that govern all the member states of EU on vital matters of trade, transport, travel, security cooperation, border and immigration controls, medicines, product specifications and a thousand other issues in the daily life of Britain will in the case of the UK simply stop being legal at 11am on 29th March.
Leaving with no deal is the catastrophic outcome feared by the great majority of MPs, many Cabinet ministers, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the Bank of England, most economists, banks and businesses, the National Health Service, universities and many other organisations of stature and expertise. Forecasters say the UK economy could shrink by some 8%, business failure and unemployment shoot up and the country enter into economic recession at best and depression at worst.
The only way to stop it happening is for Mrs May and her government to introduce a Bill in parliament suspending the UK leaving the EU. It is the threat of that happening that may bring Mrs May’s rebel Brexit extremists into line and persuade them to vote for her deal.
Brexit extremists hate and loath her deal. They see it as tying Britain to the EU while making Britain powerless in decision-making. “A rule taker. Not a rule maker.” Taking Mrs May’s deal might no longer see the UK being formally an EU member, but in the eyes of the Knights of Brexit the deal Mrs May has reached with the EU will undermine UK sovereignty, the sovereignty of its parliament, its territorial integrity (the Northern Ireland issue) and prevent the UK making independent trade deals with non-EU states.
There are perhaps 30 to 40 of Mrs May’s Conservative MPs who hold in their hands the future of the nation. Do they capitulate and give Mrs May a great victory or do they risk losing Brexit completely, perhaps for the rest of their political lives?
Their dream, in some cases for over 40 years, has been to see the UK out of the EU. If Brexit is suspended it may never be un-suspended and Britain may simply forget that Brexit was ever really on the cards.
This is where we stand now. The past though is no guide to the future. Beware of surprises and shocks, unknown events yet to happen and scandals and revelations yet to be made.
Harold Wilson, the UK’s prime minister when Britain voted pro-Europe in a referendum in 1975, said to a colleague worried that time was running out to resolve a very important matter was calmed by Wilson’s famous remark that, “A week’s a long time in politics.” He meant anything could happen and much could change in a very short time.
One of Wilson’s predecessors, Harold McMillan (and the man who has made the first application for the UK to join the European Economic Community, which became the EU) was asked by a young and aspiring politician what he should be beware of in public life. “Events, dear boy,” said McMillan, “Events.”
In the long week of politics in we are about to live through watch out for events. They may be dull and predictable. They may be shocking, amazing, troubling, laughable, chaotic or a combination of all. One thing is for sure. They will be historic and the UK will never be the same again.
Martin Roche studied at the great and ancient University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He graduated MA(Hons) in politics and international relations. Martin began his working life on a daily newspaper in Scotland. He has since written for numerous newspapers and magazines in the UK and internationally and written and presented radio programmes on business and industry. As a communications consultant he has advised political and business leaders in over 20 countries.