Could there finally be a solution to the destructive drama of Brexit? In today’s Cheat Sheet, Alex Braae explains why even the latest plan to come out of Downing Street could be shot down.
What’s all this then?
Brexit was once famously described by football hooligan character actor Danny Dyer as a “mad riddle”.
“Nobody’s got an effing clue what Brexit is, yeah?” he added. Fortunately for Mr Dyer, it seems British PM Theresa May might finally have solved that mad riddle, and come up with a Brexit deal that is palatable to enough MPs to see Britain finally leave the European Union. The only problem is, it also might not be palatable in the slightest.
May has secured cabinet approval for a deal which she says wraps up pretty much everything in a neat package. Britain will exit the European Union but will still be able to trade with Europe without tariffs. Tourists and business travellers will still be able to go back and forth, but the concept of free movement will end. The rights of EU citizens in Britain, and Brits in Europe, will be protected. There won’t be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic or Ireland. And most importantly, the EU has backed the deal, with their chief negotiator Michael Barnier calling it a “decisive and crucial step in concluding these negotiations”.
Well that all sounds awesome, what’s the problem?
The problem is that most of the British Parliament hates it, and in fact it seems like most of Theresa May’s Conservative Party hates her. There are even reports that the Cabinet meeting in which the deal was passed involved up to 10 ministers speaking against it. Remember, this is the Cabinet – they’re meant to be Theresa May’s ride or dies. Her closest allies. The ones who have her back when nobody else will. And they’re in the cabinet in part because there has been such a ridiculous run of resignations from May’s government over Brexit plans.
Then there’s the rest of the Parliament for it to get through. Now, in New Zealand, it would be pretty unthinkable for an MP to vote against their party leader on something so important. It’s incredibly rare – for example, there were serious ructions when former Labour MP David Shearer defied Andrew Little and voted for the TPPA. But in the UK, it’s normal for backbench MPs to vote against party lines. The only MPs who are really duty-bound to vote with the PM are cabinet ministers, which is a major part of why so many have quit. Some might still decide to resign now. At this stage, there is expected to be a vote within the next 24 hours.
Why wouldn’t Conservative MPs want to vote for this though? Most of them want Brexit, surely this gives them what they want?
Oh no, no no no no. Not in the slightest. The pro-Brexit wing of the Conservative party, led by luminaries like foppish oaf Boris Johnson, and Victorian-era aristocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg, have become increasingly extreme in their Brexiteering since the original vote in 2016. They reckon the UK has given too much away during the Brexit negotiations, because as a bunch of upper class schoolboys in suits they appear to still be under the impression that the sun never sets on the British Empire. What they want is basically a unicorn for Christmas – the perfect Brexit deal on British terms –which is just never going to happen, because the EU will never agree to that. This deal also keeps Britain tied to some of the more contentious European regulations, like the Customs Union, according to JRM.
And they’re also open to what’s being called a ‘hard Brexit’ – exiting the EU without any sort of deal, even though pretty much every economist and sector of the British economy is warning that it would be disastrous. There have even been warnings that a no-deal Brexit could result in food shortages. In a first world country. In 2018. Food shortages.
Hang on, if Conservatives can vote against the deal, doesn’t that mean other parties can vote for it?
They can, but they probably won’t. Labour are the largest party of opposition, and even their pro-Brexit MPs are looking likely to vote against this deal. Why? Because they reckon if they can defeat it in Parliament, that will force a vote of no-confidence in the PM, which she’ll then lose, dramatically increasing the chances that an election will have to be called. And if that happens, then they’re confident they can sweep jam-making, train-loving socialist Jeremy Corbyn into power.
But there are a bunch of other parties in the UK Parliament too, and mostly they hate this deal. There’s the Scottish National Party, who say the deal will be bad for Scotland. There’s Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, who say the deal will wipe billions of dollars off the Welsh economy. And then there’s the Liberal Democrats, who have another solution altogether.
Oh? What is that?
Just have another referendum! They’re calling that proposal a ‘People’s Vote’ and say it should apply to any deal that makes it through Parliament. After all, it’s entirely possible that the electorate has changed since the 2016 vote. Young people overwhelmingly backed remain, and old people overwhelmingly backed leave, and, well, old people tend to die more frequently. In the ideal scenario for backers of the People’s Vote, a vote against such a deal would then result in Brexit not happening at all.
You mean British politicians could just pretend none of this ever happened?
Look, have you ever spent two and a half years working on an ill-advised project, with repeated failures and setbacks, that has ruined all your relationships with the people you were once close to, poisoned your reputation with your peers, and gone some ways towards bankrupting you? If you had, there’s no way you could possibly suggest that all that hard work should be abandoned. They’re too far gone now.
The Spinoff politics section is made possible by Flick, the electricity retailer giving New Zealanders power over their power. With both spot price and fixed price plans available, you can be sure you’re getting true cost and real choice when you join Flick. Support us by making the switch today.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.