Meet the new plan, the same as the old plan

It is as if last week never happened. Despite the largest Government in history defeat on anything remotely serious, Theresa May returned to the Commons with essentially the same plan as before.   It is an astounding act of arrogance from a Government already rightly found in contempt of Parliament. Choosing to ignore the House of Commons, Mrs May is now doing exactly what she said last week she would not do - seek to run down the clock toward 29 March.

Since the ‘deal’ Mrs May’s announced in November fell apart within a few hours and it became increasingly clear that the House of Commons wasn’t going to buy it her sole objective has been to waste time. Her objective is to get her own way by denying Parliament the means to find an alternative solution. She hopes that given the choice between catastrophe and anything else MPs will be panicked into choosing the latter. Theresa May is playing chicken with the future of the country, it is up to the House of Commons to make sure she doesn’t get away with it.

In the month wasted between pulling the vote in December to her 230 vote defeat in January the Government spun out stories to hype up the panic. We saw Mr Javid and others making a great fuss about cross channel migration because it suited their agenda. We saw the staggeringly incompetent Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, failing to organise a traffic jam in Kent, we had idiotic nonsense from the Defense Secretary about friable paintball guns at Spanish boats at Gibraltar, we are told the Army is on standby and we heard more stories of medicines running short and discussions on Mumsnet about how to stockpile food. While the consequences of crashing out should be understanded much of this is rubbish designed only to aid Mrs May’s narrative. In the event none of it helped her case.

The trouble here is when the fog clears there are real people in impossible situations. The 4.5 million real people who are EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU face the uncertainty of becoming ‘third country’ national with no deal in place or an inadequate Withdrawal Agreement that sees only limited protections that would unravel over the years to come. With my EPLP colleagues I continue to press the case that @the3million and @BritishinEurope have made in their excellent campaign (above with my Labour MEP colleagues Clare Moody, Jude Kirton-Darling, Seb Dance, Julie Ward, LibDem MEP Catherine Bearder and Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato (out of shot) at the Petiitons Committee last night - 21 Jan 2019). I urged them n to to give up (which I know they won’t) as legal challenges and judgements on the rights of citizens are inevitable following Britain’s exit, should it happen.

The likes of ‘Leave means Leave’ who, despite all the evidence, peddle the fiction that ‘no deal’ would be just fine have mixed motivation. Some, like Jacob Rees-Mogg and his hedge fund chums, genuinely wish for it because they believe they can profit from chaos. Some, like the extremes of UKIP and their far right associates long for the social chaos of no deal to persue their ambitions. Most, however, are bluffing in the hope and expectation that no responsible government could allow the UK to crash out allowing them to spin their betrayal narrative and continue their takeover of the Tory party.

Meanwhile the Brexiteer fantasists have their own tall tales to tell. The pointless Mr Fox admits that only 5 of the 40 projected ‘trade deals’ he talked up could be ready for immediate implementation after a 29 March hard Brexit. The reality is that there are exactly none. Boris Johnson, still stoking the fires of his ambition, tells us that despite all evidence, if the EU is just asked in a louder voice they will come up with a different backstop deal for Ireland (never mind what the Irish think) and Mr Rabb, who didn’t understand the importance of Dover, tells us that if the UK becomes a third country it will “hold all the cards” - spookily like something Mr Gove once said about voting to leave that turned out not to be true. Then, to put a cherry on top of this political Eton Mess, Number 10 spins that Mrs May intends to “rewrite the Good Friday Agreement” - an international agreement lodged with the UN that simply cannot be re-written unilaterally.

Labour has rightly now moved an amendment to rule out ‘no deal’. We will see what the Commons makes of it, but whatever happens Labour has a choice to make between the only two kinds of Brexit on offer:

  • Leave the EU and pull away from the EU structures, either with ‘no deal’ or with some kind of minimal free trade deal outside the Customs Union and the Single Market and accept the economic damage that entails, or
  • Stay close to the EU stuctures, minimise the economic damage, accept the rules and loss of any say over those rules and structures.

There is nothing else. That’s how it is. Unless, of course, we scrap Brexit.

In terms of its own support Labour also has a choice. Here the demographics are very clear indeed. For more than two years Labour has been more concerned with the third of the Labour vote which backed ‘leave’ in the referendum than the two-thirds that voted to remain in the EU. This is partly because of the distribution of that vote toward Labour’s northern seats and the failure to understand that a leave vote in a constituency doesn’t translate to an electoral majority against Labour. 30 months on all the polling evidence suggests that Labour voters have switched from leave to remain in greate proportions than any other segment. This is why, aside from avoiding aiding a catastrophic national act of self harm, it would be a massive mistake for Labour to assist any kind of Brexit.