The one time I take a week off from bringing you a window into the world of news and all hell breaks loose. Since I last wrote, March came to an end and with it our membership of the EU… or did it? The observant ones amongst you may have noticed that we are still ‘in’ or, as Theresa May said after the (first) earth-shattering defeat of her deal a few months back, “nothing has changed.”
So how did we get here? Well, as outlined in my last column, our departure had been delayed to the 12th of April or, if the Commons agreed to May’s deal, the 22nd of May. However, when the PM bought her twice-defeated deal to the house for the third time, quelle surprise, it was shot down in flames again. This came only a few days after the Commons, under the leadership of rebel Tory Sir Oliver Letwin, wrestled control of the issue of Brexit away from May and into the hands of MPs. They held two days of indicative votes on various alternatives to the PM’s deal. These included a second referendum, an extensive customs union, a Norway style relationship (Scandinavian style is very fashionable at the moment), and even abandoning Brexit all together. So many votes, such little time.
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
And what was the result of this grand exercise of parliamentary democracy and sovereignty? They rejected everything. None of the myriad of options put forward achieved a majority and so none were carried. So, with all the ayes to the right and the noes to the left where does that leave us? The answer: right in the middle, in the middle of the biggest political mess this country has seen for at least seventy years. Parliament cannot decide on any particular path, the PM’s deal, whilst already dead in the water, is now starting to sink to the seabed and it looks like her government is going the same way.
In a bid to get her deal through on the third attempt the PM offered to stand down as soon as we left the EU on the 22nd May. Her resignation was a tempting bait as it would keep her away from negotiating the post-Brexit relationship with the EU – however, it wasn’t quite enough, she lost the vote and was forced to carry on as PM. But now she is entirely politically dead, resignation was mentioned, and the sharks smell blood in the water. The Cabinet is publicly fragmented into several different camps and so is the parliamentary party. May’s decision this week to enter into talks with ‘the invisible man’ Jeremy Corbyn has only acted to reduce her popularity with her own party and, so far, has bought us no closer to a fix for the Brexit deadlock.
As things stand, we are set to crash out of the EU on April 12th with the legal default, AKA no deal. Although a popular option with some mad hard-liners, the prospect of a no-deal has sent Westminster into a frenzy. The Parliament is in the process of legislating against ‘no-deal’ – although this means nothing without EU agreement. And May has announced that she intends to go back to Brussels AGAIN and ask for a further extension to the Article 50 period, meaning we will have to hold EU parliament elections and my column will be full of this nonsense for the foreseeable future.
But look on the bright side, while our political situation looks bleak, most other countries aren’t looking too rosy either. The streets of Paris are being smashed up by the gilet jaunes protesters every weekend, Germany has ninety-one openly far-right members of its parliament and a leadership crisis looming in the wings. Italy, Poland, and Austria all have significant and growing far-right elements of their governments and Hungary is under the effectively fascist regime of Viktor Orbán. And then there’s the US. Ah, America, land of the free, home of the brave, and politically utterly buggered.
So, while our allies and neighbours may be enjoying a certain amount of schadenfreude at the expense of the sick man of Europe that is Brexit Britain, we can take some cold comfort from the reality that, if they looked in the mirror, they wouldn’t like what they saw staring back.
Mind how you go.