“We’re leaving together,
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back
To earth, who can tell?” – Europe
We’re finally there, after delay and shambles, at the day of the “Meaningful Vote” on May’s Brexit deal. I’m about to commit that cardinal sin of political commentary and analysis and actually try to make a prediction about what happens next. May my desk soon suffer not as it has.
The Meaningful Vote
After the final amendments are debated and Westminster goes through its terminally stupid voting system which sees the members chase each other through the palace for 20 minutes PER VOTE, the final vote on the deal will take place at some point tonight.
No-one expects May’s Deal to pass. Had it been put to the vote as intended last year, it would have failed by maybe a dozen or so votes. Media sources are now expecting the vote to fail by something like 200 votes. Getting that number down below triple figures would be something like damage control for May but it would still be a major loss.
Afterwards, Labour will put up a Motion of No Confidence and try to bring down the government and May will go back to Brussels for more concessions. Both of these efforts are also expected to fail which leads us May bringing a “Plan B” back to Parliament in a few days.
Plan B is likely to be Plan A with the A scrubbed out and replaced. The only concessions that May can ask for are some more “assurances” on the temporary nature of the backstop. This is, of course, a contradiction in terms and the EU has stuck to their position – the only possible position for folk who understand what a backstop is – that the backstop will remain until and unless something else is agreed. Tories who continue to fail to understand this should resign as they’re obviously too dull to be worthy of public office.
But here’s the thing. I expect this offer to see far greater levels of support than Plan A.
A lot of May’s threats towards her own party take the form of “Remain is more likely than No Deal”. If I was a Brexiteer, this would genuinely worry me. If the UK leaves under May’s Deal then there’s still the possibility that I could take over the Tory party and the government post B-Day – especially if May resigns the day after Brexit.
From there, I could renegotiate the deal over the following years and decades or – more dramatically – I could renege on the deal and crash into the No Deal of my fetid dreams.
But if Article 50 is rescinded and we end up in a Remain scenario, I’m back to square one. Less than that even because the ECJ has ruled that a unilaterally rescinded Article 50 must be sincere and not used as a temporary negotiation ploy. That makes it harder for the UK to submit a fresh A50 negotiation in the future. The Brexiteers will fear this outcome.
But that doesn’t mean that they go gentle into May’s Deal. They’ll bare their teeth tonight and then slink back into the ranks on the second go. I think that this will hold even for the DUP.
A General Election
When the Vote of No Confidence goes in, it will be promptly voted down. The risk of Corbyn rescinding A50 is too great and anyway, the only thing that a Tory Government fears more than not getting the Brexit they want is not getting the Brexit they want AND losing power to Labour. The right-wing will close ranks and hold May in power. Do not expect rebellions. Do not expect some kind of “unity government”.
And do not expect Labour to win the general election in the event that they win the right to have one. Polling is looking grim for Labour. They simply haven’t been able to capitalise on the weakness and division of the Tories expect by using it to cover up their own weakness and division. Most polls in the last year have had them at best level-pegging with the Tories. Polling in the last few weeks has seen them slip several points behind.
A big part of this will be due to Labour’s own muddled position on Brexit. Despite overwhelming support for Remain among their members, they haven’t taken this on board, instead preferring a kind of Leave and Reform approach but without any clear idea about what kind of Reform they’d actually like. The party is facing a Clinton moment where they will go to the polls and ask their members to support the unsupportable. Remain Labour members will dutifully do so, as did Sanders voters in America, but they won’t be campaigners. They won’t be dragging friends and family to the ballot booths. And so Labour won’t win their majority. My guess is that seats will shuffle and May will end up in largely the same place she’s in now with a minority government propped up by the DUP.
The interesting part will be how that shuffle affects Scotland but that’s for another article and it’ll be interesting only in the sense that it’ll change the independence metrics. On Brexit, Scotland will continue to be ignored.
And if Labour does win? Brexit will still happen with a deal not substantially different to May’s Deal. The EU MAY offer a brief extension of the negotiation process – perhaps for a few months but certainly not past the EU Parliamentary elections in May or the recommencement of the EU Parliament in July. They have stuff to do that’s more important than pandering to a whining ex-member. If this happens, I hope Labour will have the decency to own the broken mess they will have found themselves holding rather than simply blaming the previous administration that they bought it from.
I may write further on the Lexit campaign and what I believe a Left-Exit could actually look like but I’m very skeptical here too as I don’t believe that any Left advocate can countenance the dropping of Freedom of Movement and still count themselves as internationalist. We’re living in a global world now and with global challenges like climate change requiring global solutions, I don’t think we can shy away from Globalisation. Change the face of it, certainly. But retreating to walled gardens of nation states is no longer an option.
A People’s Vote
I’m going to be as clear as I can here. A democracy that relies on the “Will of the People” for its instruction MUST accept that the will of the people is not static and is subject to change at any time. No referendum or vote can be held as immutable for all time and every democracy should have constitutional mechanisms in place to allow the people to express their changing will.
A referendum can be irreversible or it can be democratic. It cannot be both. There can be no time limits or caveats on this, however inconvenient this may be to the government taking instruction.
On this basis, I support the push for a People’s Vote to ratify May’s Deal or to reject it and select another option.
The People’s Vote campaign have utterly failed to organise their campaign in a manner that will satisfy a fair vote. The problem lies in the question to be put to the people.
The original EU referendum was easy. A simple binary choice on a First Past the Post ballot. The answer that received more votes than the other won.
But we’re faced with three options now. Accept May’s Deal, Leave the EU with No Deal or Rescind Article 50 and Remain in the EU.
If this is put to the people under FPTP then the “winner” could be the result that receives 34% of those who bothered to turn out and vote. This is hardly a satisfactory outcome.
I can think of two possible “fair” ways of phrasing the question.
Option 1: A Two Question Ballot.
Question A: Should May’s Deal be accepted and should the UK leave the EU under its terms?
Question B: If May’s Deal is rejected, which of the following outcomes should the UK pursue instead?
Leave the EU with No Deal.
Rescind Article 50 and Remain in the EU.
Option 2: A Single Transferable Vote.
Question: The UK can Accept May’s Deal, Leave the EU with No Deal or Rescind A50 and Remain in the EU. Indicate your preference for these options.
Accept May’s Deal
Leave with No Deal
Remain in the EU.
That the People’s Vote campaign are struggling to get this far and articulate their preferred question is a sign of weakness on their part. They’d better get cracking as their time may well be upon them soon.
But let’s say we go with Option 2 and the STV ballot. What kind of outcome could we expect?
If you’re a Remain voter, it’s likely that you’ll view No Deal with utter disgust and would vote Remain 1, May’s Deal 2, No Deal 3.
And if you are a Brexiteer, you’ll likely view Remain with disgust and vote No Deal 1, May’s Deal 2, Remain 3.
And finally, if you’re a fan of May’s Deal then you’ll vote May’s Deal 1 and one of the others 2 and 3.
The least despised option of all is a “Norway Deal” but that’s not seriously on the table at this point – neither the Conservatives nor Labour are advocating for it and if it takes the form of the UK rejoining EFTA then I seriously doubt that EFTA would go for it (nor can I see them being particularly happy about the UK becoming a “third pillar” of the EEA). Perhaps I’ll talk about this more after tonight if it looks like anyone is going to make a serious dash for it.
With the three likely options put to an STV vote it’s pretty much anyone’s game whether, after the final transfers, Remain or May’s Deal will take it but with “No Deal” being the least popular and most despised, I’d guess that it would be the first to be knocked out of the STV count and, if the logic above holds, more No Deal transfers will swing to May’s Deal than to Remain. I think that the People’s Vote would therefore vote for May’s Deal.
There is, of course, the Chaos option. Parliament could gridlock and prevent a decision. A General Election could result in a hung Parliament with no consensus thus no decision. A People’s Vote could spark civil disorder – particularly if it looks like it’ll be a Remain and fanatics on the No Deal side decide to (or are paid to) ignite tensions. A No Deal could happen by choice and then everything that follows from that could come to pass.
No sane person should hope for this outcome but it still lurks as a possibility. If it arrives then blame should be laid squarely at the feet of every politician who brought us closer to that brink starting with every single one of the MPs who voted to trigger Article 50 before a plan was in place. Resignation should be the least of their actions of repentance.
The Final Outcome
All things considered, I believe now that the UK is on course to Leave the EU under May’s Deal or something very close to it. The pathways for an alternative are closing down. Either Parliament will vote for it. Or they won’t, then they will. Or the new Parliament will vote for it (or something similar). Or the People will.
And then we’ll have to deal with the UK being more-or-less trapped in a deal which doesn’t benefit the UK, doesn’t allow it to go and find the “Global Britain” it vainly promised people and which severely discriminates against everyone who lives here either by stripping away their EU citizenship and the rights it brings or by stripping away their right to live and work here as they have up till now.
The UK’s diplomatic prowess and reputation has been squandered. Its constitutional settlement has been burned and salted. Its people will find their world a diminished place. Maybe in a few decades, the UK will learn the lessons of the other post-colonial states and try to find its place in the world as a medium sized country with regional ambitions rather than the temporarily diminished Empire suffering a minor setback.
Before then, I hope to bring Scotland into the world, back into the EU and forward as a valued partner in the global community rather than to continue slumping along as an ignored and inconvenient appendage to a rump-state.