By a long way, more of the public demonstrated for a second referendum yesterday than were threatening the prime minister in lurid language with nemesis on Wednesday. Just now though, it’s the MPs uttering the threats ( at least to journalists), who matter more. One prominent Brexiteer is making a distinctive gesture.
In a further headache for May, the former Brexit minister Steve Baker yesterday tabled a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland Bill, which is due in the Commons this week.
They would enshrine in law pledges by the prime minister that the Brexit deal would not introduce any new regulatory barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland without explicit consent from the latter. If passed, they would render illegal the EU’s planned Brexit backstop plan. The Bill removes the requirement to hold an Assembly for the next ten months and increase the authority of civil servants to take some decisions without the authority of local ministers.
As a barrier this makes three heroic assumptions. First, that any supposed Assembly “veto” on “ a border in the Irish Sea” actually exists as it has no legal force ; two, that it would survive the negotiations over its head; and if by some miracle the Assembly did a Lazarus, they’d be most unlikely to oblige. So – this one is gesture politics like all the other wheezes by individual MPs. With the Commons so fragmented they cancel each other out.
Rees Mogg knows that. He has appealed to Tory colleagues mulling over submitting a letter of no confidence in May: “If you have put a letter in, please take it out. If you are thinking of putting a letter in, please don’t,” he said. ERG sources said they did not wish to be seen as the assassins.
On the Andrew Marr show and in the Sunday Telegraph, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab made a show of confidence that a withdrawal deal could be done by the end of November. The key element is that a “break clause” ( a phrase he doesn’t use) would enshrine conditions set in law to replace the EU’s insistence “no time limit” in the backstop.
We have always been clear we cannot leave Northern Ireland in a separate customs arrangement. It would carve a line down the Irish Sea, threatening the economic integrity of the UK. That is something we will not countenance. Nor can we see any differences in regulation for Northern Ireland that threaten the UK’s internal market.
We can fix these issues, and the Prime Minister has rightly refused to rule out considering different approaches – including extending the implementation period for a limited period of a few months, as an alternative to the backstop. But we won’t sacrifice Northern Ireland, and we must have finality to any backstop – whether through a time-limit or a mechanism that enables the UK to leave, in case the EU doesn’t live up to its promise to get the future relationship in place swiftly. People understandably want to know when the Brexit process will end.
The Sunday Times story continues:
Frank Field, the Labour veteran, reveals that he will try to force a vote in the Commons. “On Friday I will begin petitioning for a binding motion that would mean if we don’t get a deal the default mode for the government is that we join the EEA and then work towards a Canada trade deal.”
Moderate Brexiteers such as Andrew Murrison, chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee, have also told The Sunday Times that this “looks like the solution”. It is understood that May’s aides have sounded out other parties, including the Scottish National Party.
Problem is, all solutions have flaws for one faction or another. Norway for withdrawal lengthens the transition and the cost to the tune of an extra of £10 billion, without any guarantee that it will lead to frictionless trade and no backstop.
Canada dry doesn’t dispose of the backstop. Both separately reduce the UK to a vassal state, if you’re drawn to that view.
The gap between them looks like No Deal.
Something like Norway for withdrawal leading to Canada plus plus for the final deal may stand a chance, combined perhaps in the joint institutional framework of the Chequers plan. But probably only if Labour ride to the rescue as a entire party or as a result of two massive party splits on either side of the aisle, and overriding the DUP veto. This looks like what May or her advisers have in mind. If not, As Andrew Rawnsley explains:
To secure another referendum, a lot of things have to happen in the right order. To be more accurate, a lot of wrong things have to happen in the right order. One of those things is total parliamentary stalemate. The likeliest path to another referendum is parliament throwing out Mrs May’s deal and also rejecting a no-deal. In other words, the situation will have to become even more deadlocked than it is now before we get to the point where a majority of parliamentarians might feel forced to return the question to the people.
My money is still on muddling through the withdrawal before Christmas.
But Robert Peston thinks he’s spotted a rat – or maybe this is dancing on the head of a pin and not as he claims “everything.”
There is now a clear split between Theresa May and her Brexit secretary Dominic Raab.She offered a transition extension as a practical measure so that the EU’s version of the Northern Irish backstop would never have to be implemented.
But she knows the EU will not countenance a Brexit deal unless their version of the backstop is written into the Withdrawal Agreement, as an insurance or guarantee that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will be kept open whatever else happens.
Raab, in the Telegraph, says an extension of the transition period is dependent on the EU abandoning its backstop – which May knows will not happen.
This policy and ideology difference – between a transition extension as a buffer to ward off implementation of the backstop or as a chip to negotiate away the backstop – is everything.
I can’t see this dispute ending well for Raab or May.
And a no-deal Brexit looks more and more likely.
And a no-deal Brexit looks more and more likely.
God help us if this confusion among the principals is typical of the inner sanctum. It’s very tempting to want the collapse of all these less than ideal options and bet the house on a second referendum.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London