These absurd plots won’t stop Brexit - and they’re destroying public trust
Fiery former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson explains why MPs manoeuvring to stop the plan will fail - and what Theresa May needs to do next
Don’t be fooled. In the next few days and weeks we are going to be treated to such an ecstasy of parliamentary plotmanship that the ordinary punter is going to start wondering who the hell is prime minister of this country: Theresa May or Erskine May?
What price the Boles proposals? Whither Grieve? Will minister for the cabinet office David Lidington be asked by some conclave of parliamentary cardinals to depose the prime minister and assume supreme power in the land?
Already the office of the speaker is starting to silt up with complicated wheezes from our legislators, and in the coming weeks there will so many amendments, feints, ruses, motions that the voter will ask himself or herself: just what do our MPs think they are doing?
So I will tell you. It’s simple. Whether they talk about staying in a customs union, or delaying Article 50, or a People’s Vote, or a speakers’ convention, the purpose of these parliamentary manoeuvres is ultimately the same.
There are large numbers of MPs (though not, I think, a majority) who want to stop Brexit. They want to frustrate the will of the people, and there are three giant facts that mean – or so I hope and believe – that they will fail.
The first is that this country must leave the EU, by law, on March 29. That was not just what the people voted for in 2016; it was what parliament voted for overwhelmingly. We have had ample time to get ready. We have devoted more than two-and-a-half years to the negotiations, when there are plenty of other urgent priorities for government. If we are now so feeble as to say to the British people that we can no longer go through with this, and that we must delay or extend Article 50, I believe that the reaction would be a vicious and unparalleled contempt for the whole political class; and the same point should be made to anyone so fatuous as to suggest that the answer is a general election.
What is the Irish backstop?
Effectively an insurance policy in Brexit talks, it’s meant to make sure that the Irish border remains open in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal. It is a position of last resort.
Source: BBC, fullfact.org
The second giant fact is that the prime minister’s deal has been not just thrown out, but kicked into orbit – rejected by the biggest margin in parliamentary history. It is an ex-deal. It is dead, defunct, deceased. It has shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to the great Valhalla of irrelevant and superseded international agreements that includes the League of Nations, the constitution of the Soviet Union, and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It will never get through Parliament because it is fundamentally anti-democratic, and would mean that the UK would come out of the EU but end up being very largely run by the EU – unless we were willing to surrender control of Northern Ireland, which no British government could, would or should even contemplate.
The deal is not capable of getting through: keep that in your head, and then focus on the third giant fact, which is that the answer does not lie in Parliament, but in Brussels.
In so far as it is necessary to do a deal to leave the EU, that deal cannot be done with our legislators, mighty though they be. The relationship is with the other 27 countries. There is no point in these delectable disputations about the deal in parliament, and no point in these endless wrangles between MPs about the rival merits of Norway, Switzerland, or Canada – as though it were all a discussion of which skiing holiday to book. It is our friends and partners in the EU who are – at least in theory – so obdurate about the Northern Irish backstop, and there is nothing MPs can do, no matter how brilliant their amendments, to change that text. It is not their text.
The most important thing now is for the prime minister to go back to Brussels – armed with the mandate of 432 noes – and tell Michel Barnier that the backstop is, as they say, caduque (void). Take that backstop out, or at the very least give us a legally binding change – within the text of the agreement – that allows for the UK to come out of its own accord, and then we will be able to say that the agreement is imperfect but at least tolerable. Take out the Irish backstop, and the deal, on balance, is better than staying in the EU, and it should be seized in the hope that we can make a better fist of the next phase of the negotiations.
That is the way ahead, and I believe that if the prime minister goes back to Brussels with real take-it-or-leave-it determination she will not only get what the country needs, but she will also unite her party; and the national feeling of relief will be astounding.
There is a moment in the film Apocalypse Now when someone says: “Some day, this war’s gonna end.” That’s how we are all starting to feel about Brexit. Some day soon, if we go down this route and stand up to Brussels, we will be able to devote all our political energies to the main concerns of this country – our housing, our productivity, our wages, our environment, you name it.
I woke this morning with a bristling quiverful of ideas for columns: about why Prince Philip should carry on driving and Polly Toynbee’s hateful views about older people; about the ludicrous proposal for a ban on wood-burning stoves, and my idyllic childhood trying to keep warm by feeding wet logs to the fire. I wanted to write an angry column about crime, and the way we are burdening the police with so much nonsense that they are finding it hard to fulfil their primary task to keep our streets safe.
All these subjects seemed fresher and newer than Brexit – and then I read of these absurd plots in parliament.
They won’t stop Brexit. They won’t even succeed in delaying it. But by seeming so blatantly to go against the wishes of the electorate, they will contribute to a very damaging feeling of a gap – and a growing gap – between the public and the political elite. Did you see Question Time on Thursday, and hear the roar of audience approval for the suggestion that no deal might now be the best option? There is a sense in which the public are braver – and wiser – than their MPs.
– © The Daily Telegraph