The case for a World Trade Brexit on 29th March is now stronger than ever

The Prime Minister claims it is the ‘patriotic’ duty of MPs to vote for her non-Brexit deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. New ComRes polling commissioned by Leave Means Leave shows that by far the public think a WTO Brexit, not the Prime Minister’s deal, honours the 2016 referendum. Just 14% of the public […]

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The Prime Minister claims it is the ‘patriotic’ duty of MPs to vote for her non-Brexit deal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

New ComRes polling commissioned by Leave Means Leave shows that by far the public think a WTO Brexit, not the Prime Minister’s deal, honours the 2016 referendum. Just 14% of the public think May’s deal delivers Brexit, compared to 54% of voters who think it doesn’t (including 62% of Leave voters).

MPs are elected to carry out the will of the people – that is the most patriotic duty our parliamentarians hold.

Theresa May’s own 2017 manifesto said “No Deal is better than a bad deal”, and by now it is clear not only in MPs’ eyes but in the British public’s eyes that this is a bad deal. A senior No. 10 source dismissed this mantra when I put it to them last week, but if Downing Street were serious about delivering Brexit they would take Britain out of the EU on 29th March on WTO rules.

Our polling clearly shows that Conservative voters also back No Deal, with 66% saying they agreed with the statement ‘In order to get the best deal with the EU, ‘no-deal’ must be put back on the negotiation table’.

The most shocking figure from our polling is that 56% of Conservative voters agree with the statement ‘The Government seems to be in favour of remaining in the EU and has set out to thwart Brexit from the beginning’.

Any future Conservative leader may want think about this very carefully.

The truth is that those 56% of Tory voters have a point. The Government’s constant backtracking and blurring of red lines has created an atmosphere where trust has broken down.

That’s a major reason why the Prime Minister will struggle to get her deal through, because by trying to play off each side she has destroyed her own credibility. This is getting through to the public too.

When asked whether they agree with the statement ‘MPs voting to delay Brexit has pushed my faith in politicians to an all time low’, 54% of the public said yes, whereas just 24% disagreed.

This lack of trust in our political leaders, and our supposed representatives in Parliament, drips poison into the public psyche. The mood among Brexiteers since 2016 has been spiralling downwards as the Prime Minister continues to humiliate herself and her country on the world stage.

But it’s not just Theresa May causing the public to lose faith, it is the anti-democratic MPs who are using every trick in the book to frustrate Brexit. 2016 was the first time the people won against the establishment, and now after years of infighting and manoeuvring the elites are beginning to hold the upper hand. Whether that’s John Bercow giving direct advice to Remain-backing politicians on how to take over control of Parliament or Tony Blair advising the EU to frustrate Brexit, the Westminster elite are in full force in trying to betray Brexit.

The only way out of this is to leave on 29th March.

John Bercow blocking another meaningful vote means it is now Theresa May’s duty to go for a World Trade Brexit, which is the most popular option for Brexit voters and Conservatives.

It is time for Theresa May to fulfill her patriotic and solemn duty to take Britain out of the EU on 29th March – otherwise public trust in her party and the political system will continue to collapse.

ComRes surveyed 2,033 British adults online between 15th and 17th March 2019. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. Voting intention questions were also weighted by past vote recall and likelihood to vote and all other questions also weighted by 2016 EU Referendum results.

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Ignore the nay-sayers – here’s why we’re still on course for a clean Brexit on 29th March

The Withdrawal Agreement has been defeated twice by historic margins, for all the reasons we are all too well aware of – not least the inability to escape the horrors of the backstop. In normal times a government defeated on a major policy would show some contrition, maybe even resign, but not this one. MPs […]

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The Withdrawal Agreement has been defeated twice by historic margins, for all the reasons we are all too well aware of – not least the inability to escape the horrors of the backstop.

In normal times a government defeated on a major policy would show some contrition, maybe even resign, but not this one. MPs are going to be invited to vote again and again until, well, they sign away their right to vote to the EU27. This is an idiotic policy that is bound to fail. If you ask the same question, you get the same answer.

Before the second defeat of the ‘deal’ and Tuesday’s vote on a motion to take ‘no deal’ off the table, I wrote that the Brexit result “is already a foregone conclusion”, asserting that it’s already a certainty that we will leave on 29th March without a deal or without the backstop. So far I have not heard any credible counter-arguments.

So, following this week’s events is this still true?

Yes, and more so.

So where are we now?

  • We are two weeks away from Brexit with very few sitting days left in the Commons and Lords. This makes the Remainers’ games very, very difficult. They have to push their deal or proposition through. Opponents hold the castle, guarding the pass.
  • The Commons has just voted decisively against a second referendum – the only remotely viable way to reverse the result of the first – by a resounding 334 to 85 votes.
  • The Commons has voted to take ‘no deal’ off the table in a non-binding motion. This is obviously an affront to logic and the UK’s negotiating hand, but does not change the situation from the last time Parliament did this.
  • The Commons has rejected the constitutional monstrosity of the Benn amendment to take control of the Order Paper to allow indicative votes next week.
  • The Commons on Thursday passed a Government motion to ask for an unspecified extension for an unspecified purpose.

So will the Prime Minister bring the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration back for another try?

Quite probably; she has not shown any imagination ever since she first embarked on a secret two-year attempt to embed the UK in a permanent customs union. She did not blink at the reception Chequers received, she barely blinked when defeated by 230 votes. Honourable pro-Leave Cabinet Ministers resigning left, right and centre is all just water off a duck’s back. Yes, she will try another vote, Plan B is Plan A and C-Z ditto. She will lose.

There is a parliamentary rule in Erskine May that you should not ask the Commons to vote twice on the same subject. This was arguably broken on Tuesday, but it’s worth asking: can she now extract changes to her deal to present a new proposition? The answer is probably no.

No, because the Prime Minister does not want to change her deal. No, because when presented with the chance to vote on the Malthouse proposals for alternatives to the backstop, she refused (along with her Brexit Secretary). She has allowed her own Cabinet to sabotage her negotiating hand, because she is not proposing to negotiate. She does not support changing the backstop – so it won’t be changed.

There is a European Council meeting on 21st March, so might it be possible the EU27 throw the Prime Minister a new meaningless piece of paper for the Attorney General to opine on? Still possible, but it is already clear it will make no difference.

MPs will be asked to vote on the same deal and will give the same answer.

But that is not everything. There are some genuine fears exercising some MPs, pushed out by Number 10 and certain ambitious Cabinet Ministers, who want to vote for the deal and be Prime Minister.

Potential fears:

1. If MPs vote down the ‘deal’, they will allow Remain MPs to force through an extension?
In fact the guaranteed way to an extension is to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement as the Government has itself argued (and the Commons has passed a motion to the effect) that it will require an extension to prepare legislation to implement the deal. Therefore, MPs voting for the deal will also have to vote for an extension, otherwise the deal will time out as the passing of the legislation is a condition of ratification.

But running with the argument, we have ruled out a second referendum, and won’t extend to implement the ‘deal’ when the deal is defeated. What is left? Will the Prime Minister tear up her deal and seek an extension for something else? The EU will not allow an extension for no purpose (as acknowledged in the Government’s motion passed on Thursday), and nor will the Conservative Party or Parliament. The last deal took two years to negotiate behind the backs of the Cabinet, there will not be any new negotiation, so will the Conservative manifesto be ripped up and the UK participate in Euro-elections? No. The Prime Minister is not that foolhardy. At worst, we might see a short extension to prepare for ‘no deal’, but that itself is unlikely and hardly a reason to back a disastrous deal.

2. If MPs vote down the ‘deal’ they may get a new Prime Minister? And tidy up afterwards?
A line touted by various Cabinet Ministers, this is a fundamentally dishonest argument. Not only would any promise by the Prime Minister to stand down be ignored, it would not solve anything. In the backstop even Genghis Khan as Prime Minister would come up against the fundamentals of international law. But we won’t have Genghis Khan, we will no doubt have a Prime Minister who voted for a deal that he/she now seeks to unravel against Foreign Office and Civil Service advice. An unlikely and self-serving tale.

3. Labour will vote for the ‘deal’?
This scenario comes from the same school of thought that believed Labour would vote for a second referendum. It misunderstands the nature of opposition and the Labour leadership. Labour have no interest in taking part ownership of an unpopular deal. They want government and leaving the Tory Party in sole ownership of the deal suits them just fine.

4. The ERG and DUP will fold?
The most ludicrous and lazy of all journalist lines, spun by an increasingly desperate small group of centre-right commentators and think-thanks close to the Cabinet, is that the DUP are biddable, and the European Research Group will fold. This is rot. It should come as no surprise that the DUP are Unionists and the ERG MPs are largely life-long eurosceptics committed to the UK Parliament making UK laws. This is not going to change. Of course, there are trades in the normal course of politics, but no party or group can trade away policies that are existential to their identity. Sir Bill Cash will not agree to the EU legislating in the UK any more than the DUP will agree to separate treatment for Northern Ireland. And remember the Withdrawal Agreement cannot pass without the DUP or ERG.

So there we are. The ‘deal’ will be defeated again. It may be defeated several more times until the Prime Minister is dragged from her roulette table.

So, what of the other horror scenarios being used on MPs? They have no substance. There is no reason to vote for the deal you dislike because you fear the machinations of someone else – particularly when the machinations are ephemeral and vaporous. A miasma seeping out of Downing Street and its allied think-tanks. No MPs will not be fooled by this.

Why vote to give the Prime Minister a victory into a permanent backstop if you want someone else to negotiate the trade deal? Why believe the threats of a Conservative Government that it will act against its own and the country’s best interests to threaten its own MPs into submission? These are dark arts, practised by a particularly hapless novice wizard.

Downing Street’s last weapon is fear – fear they may do something even worse to themselves than they were already planning! To paraphrase the lesser Roosevelt, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – and MPs are not fearful of a weak unimaginative Government desperate to push through a failed deal.

Parliament does not want to re-join the EU, it does not want a referendum. It cannot ask for an extension to implement the deal if MPs don’t want the deal. And nobody could stomach another drawn-out negotiation going on for potentially years and the imminent prospect of European Elections, manifestos, campaigns and all that comes with them. Once you have eliminated all the alternatives, the conclusion is staring you in the face – the UK will leave on 29th March and take back control.

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MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit and vote down the Malthouse B plan – how they voted

MPs spent yesterday debating the following Government motion: “That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify […]

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MPs spent yesterday debating the following Government motion:

“That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.”

You can watch our video highlights of the debate here, at the end of which there were votes on two amendments then a vote on the main motion, as amended.

The first amendment put to the voted had been tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman, Jack Dromey, Sir Oliver Letwin, Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Nick Boles and others in order to oppose the idea of a no-deal Brexit full stop and remove the reference in the motion to leaving without a deal remaining the default option.

In the event, Dame Caroline did not want to move the amendment herself, so Yvette Cooper did so to ensure that it was put to a vote and it was passed by 312 votes to 308 – a majority of just 4.

312 MPs voted for the amendment (314 including two tellers), including 9 Conservative rebels, 234 Labour MPs, all 35 SNP MPs, all 11 TIG MPs, all 11 Lib Dem MPs, along with the 4 MPs from Plaid Cymru, the 1 Green Party MP and 8 Independents. The 9 Conservative rebels were Guto Bebb, Ken Clarke, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Phillip Lee, Antoinette Sandbach, Caroline Spelman and Ed Vaizey. 

308 MPs voted against the amendment (310 if you include the two tellers), including 293 Conservatives, all 10 DUP MPs, 6 rebel Labour MPs and 2 Independents. The 6 Labour rebels were: Ronnie Campbell, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer.

Excluding the Speaker and his three deputies (who do not vote) and the absentee Sinn Fein MPs, there were 11 Conservative MPs who did not cast a vote – Richard Benyon, Nick Boles, Jonathan Djanogly, George Freeman, Mike Freer, Oliver Heald, Jo Johnson, Oliver  Letwin, Mark Pawsey, Keith Simpson and Nicholas Soames – and 3 Labour MPs who did not vote – Kevin Barron, Andrew Gwynne and Mohammad Yasin – although we cannot know if they were deliberate abstentions or whether they were on parliamentary business elsewhere or ill etc.

There then followed a vote on a second amendment jointly proposed by ERG figures Steve Baker, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith; Tory Remainers Damian Green and Nicky Morgan; Simon Hart of the middle-of-the-road Brexit Delivery Group; and DUP Westminster Leader Nigel Dodds which seeks to put the Malthouse Compromise Plan B into effect. This asked the Government to follow a course of action which would involve:

  • Publishing the UK’s Day One Tariff Schedules immediately [which actually happened yesterday morning]
  • Seeking an extension of Article 50 to 10.59pm on 22nd May 2019, at which point the UK would leave the EU, to allow businesses to prepare for the operation of the aforementioned tariffs
  • Offering a further set of mutual standstill agreements with the EU and Member States for an agreed period ending no later than 30th December 2021, during which period the UK would pay an agreed sum equivalent to its net EU contributions and satisfy its other public international law obligations, in a spirit of co-operation and in order to begin discussions on the future relationship
  • Unilaterally guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK

Crucially, this was a free vote for Conservative MPs, nearly 100 of whom abstained, so it saw senior ministers voting in both division lobbies, but in the event it was defeated by 374 votes to 164 – a majority of 210. 

A total of 164 MPs backed the amendment (166 including two tellers), including 151 Conservatives, all 10 DUP MPs, 4 Labour MPs (Ronnie Campbell, Kate Hoey, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer) and 1 Independent.

The 151 Tory MPs backing it were:

Nigel Adams, Adam Afriyie, Peter Aldous, Lucy Allan, David Amess, Stuart Andrew, Kemi Badenoch, Steve Baker, Henry Bellingham, Jake Berry, Bob Blackman, Crispin Blunt, Graham Brady, Suella Braverman, Andrew Bridgen, Fiona Bruce, Robert Buckland, Alex Burghart, Conor Burns, Alun Cairns, Colin Clark, Simon Clarke, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Therese Coffey, Damian Collins, Robert Courts, Chris Davies, David T. C. Davies, Glyn Davies, Philip Davies, David Davis, Michelle Donelan, Nadine Dorries, James Duddridge, Iain Duncan Smith, Philip Dunne, Michael Ellis, Charlie Elphicke, George Eustice, Nigel Evans, David Evennett, Michael Fabricant, Michael Fallon, Mark Francois, Lucy Frazer, Marcus Fysh, Mark Garnier, Cheryl Gillan, Zac Goldsmith, Helen Grant, James Gray, Chris Green, Damian Green, Kirstene Hair, Greg Hands, Rebecca Harris, Trudy Harrison, Simon Hart, John Hayes, James Heappey, Chris Heaton-Harris, Gordon Henderson, Adam Holloway, Eddie Hughes, Jeremy Hunt, Alister Jack, Sajid Javid, Ranil Jayawardena, Bernard Jenkin, Andrea Jenkyns, Robert Jenrick, Boris Johnson, Caroline Johnson, Gareth Johnson, Andrew Jones, David Jones, Daniel Kawczynski, Julian Knight, Greg Knight, Kwasi Kwarteng, John Lamont, Mark Lancaster, Pauline Latham, Andrea Leadsom, Andrew Lewer, Ian Liddell-Grainger, Julia Lopez, Jack Lopresti, Jonathan Lord, Tim Loughton, Craig Mackinlay, Rachel Maclean, Kit Malthouse, Scott Mann, Paul Maynard, Patrick McLoughlin, Esther McVey, Mark Menzies, Stephen Metcalfe, Maria Miller, Nigel Mills, Andrew Mitchell, Penny Mordaunt, Nicky Morgan, Sheryll Murray, Andrew Murrison, Neil Parish, Priti Patel, Owen Paterson, Mike Penning, John Penrose, Chris Philp, Dan Poulter, Mark Prisk, Tom Pursglove, Will Quince, Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Laurence Robertson, Mary Robinson, Andrew Rosindell, Lee Rowley, Paul Scully, Bob Seely, Andrew Selous, Grant Shapps, Alec Shelbrooke, Henry Smith, Royston Smith, Bob Stewart, Iain Stewart, Julian Sturdy, Rishi Sunak, Desmond Swayne, Hugo Swire, Derek Thomas, Ross Thomson, Justin Tomlinson, Michael Tomlinson, Craig Tracey, Theresa Villiers, Charles Walker, Ben Wallace, David Warburton, Helen Whately, Heather Wheeler, John Whittingdale, Bill Wiggin, Gavin Williamson, William Wragg and Nadhim Zahawi.

But a total of 374 MPs opposed it (376 including two tellers), including 68 Conservatives, 238 Labour MPs, all 35 SNP MPs, all 11 TIG MPs, all 11 Lib Dem MPs, along with the 4 MPs from Plaid Cymru, the 1 Green Party MP and 8 Independents.

The 68 Tory MPs opposing it were:

Richard Bacon, Guto Bebb, Nick Boles, Peter Bone, Jack Brereton, Steve Brine, Alistair Burt, James Cartlidge, Alex Chalk, Jo Churchill, Greg Clark, Kenneth Clarke, Stephen Crabb, Tracey Crouch, Jonathan Djanogly, Steve Double, Jackie Doyle-Price, Mark Field, Vicky Ford, Kevin Foster, Roger Gale, David Gauke, Nick Gibb, Bill Grant, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Andrew Griffiths, Sam Gyimah, Luke Hall, Richard Harrington, Oliver Heald, Peter Heaton-Jones, Simon Hoare, Philip Hollobone, John Howell, Nigel Huddleston, Margot James, Marcus Jones, Phillip Lee, Oliver Letwin, David Lidington, Alan Mak, Paul Masterton, Johnny Mercer, Huw Merriman, Anne Milton, Damien Moore, Anne Marie Morris, David Morris, James Morris, Robert Neill, Andrew Percy, Claire Perry, Victoria Prentis, Mark Pritchard, Douglas Ross, Amber Rudd, Antoinette Sandbach, Chloe Smith, Nicholas Soames, Caroline Spelman, Rory Stewart, Gary Streeter, Kelly Tolhurst, Edward Vaizey, Matt Warman, Giles Watling and Mike Wood.

There then followed a vote on the main motion as amended – which was effectively a re-run of the vote on the first amendment opposing the idea of a no-deal Brexit full stop since the text of it replaced the original motion.

For the Conservatives, this has swiftly become highly controversial because it was subject to a three line whip, yet more than a dozen ministers and whips abstained and do not appear to have been disciplined. One minister, DWP minister Sarah Newton, did resign in order to vote in favour of the motion as amended, which passed by 321 votes to 278 – a majority of 43.

321 MPs backed the motion (323 including two tellers), including 17 Conservative rebels, 237 Labour MPs, all 35 SNP MPs, all 11 TIG MPs, all 11 Lib Dem MPs, along with the 4 MPs from Plaid Cymru, the 1 Green Party MP and 7 Independents.

Those 17 Conservative rebels were: Guto Bebb, Richard Benyon, Nick Boles, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, George Freeman, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Sam Gyimah, Phillip Lee, Oliver Letwin, Paul Masterton, Sarah Newton, Mark Pawsey, Antoinette Sandbach, Nicholas Soames and Ed Vaizey.

Only 278 MPs opposed the motion (280 including two tellers), including 267 Conservative MPs, all 10 DUP MPs, 2 Labour MPs (Stephen Hepburn and Kate Hoey) and 1 Independent.

So it was the abstentions that were most eye-catching here. Excluding the Speaker and his three deputies and the absentee Sinn Fein MPs, there were no fewer than 29 Conservative MPs who did not cast a vote, along with 4 Labour MPs – Kevin Barron, Andrew Gwynne, John Mann and Graham Stringer – and Independents Frank Field and Kelvin Hopkins (again with the proviso that we cannot know if they were deliberate abstentions or whether they were on parliamentary business elsewhere or ill etc.)

Those 29 Tory absentees included numerous ministers, whips and parliamentary aides, including Cabinet ministers Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Mundell and Amber Rudd.

The full list of Conservatives abstaining was as follows: Bim Afolami (PPS), Robert Buckland (minister), Alistair Burt (minister), Greg Clark (minister), Alberto Costa, Stephen Crabb, Tobias Ellwood (minister), Vicky Ford (PPS), Mike Freer (whip), David Gauke (minister), Richard Graham, Damian Green, Stephen Hammond (minister), Richard Harrington (minister), Oliver Heald, Peter Heaton-Jones (PPS), Simon Hoare (PPS), Nigel Huddleston (party vice chair), Margot James (minister), Jo Johnson, Jeremy Lefroy, Anne Milton (minister), David Mundell (minister), Claire Perry (minister), Victoria Prentis (PPS), Amber Rudd (minister), Keith Simpson, Caroline Spelman and Gary Streeter.

Photocredit: ©UK Parliament/JessicaTaylor

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The announcements Philip Hammond should make to prepare the country for a no-deal Brexit

With deadline day only weeks away, the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal cannot be ignored. It would be irresponsible not to think seriously about what the impact of that would be, and what the appropriate response should be from government. If we really did leave without a deal, the Government would need […]

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With deadline day only weeks away, the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal cannot be ignored.

It would be irresponsible not to think seriously about what the impact of that would be, and what the appropriate response should be from government. If we really did leave without a deal, the Government would need to take immediate action to maintain confidence and steady the ship.

With that in mind, the Centre for Policy Studies has published a new paper, A Budget for No Deal, setting out some ideas for how best to manage that scenario and make the most of No Deal. This is not to play down the potential shock the economy could face in such circumstances, or to suggest that there would not still be significant challenges even if the Government responded with sensible measures. But government policy can play a significant role in cushioning the impact for businesses and consumers, and smoothing the transition to life outside the EU. As Philip Hammond has made clear, the progress the Government has made in reducing the deficit means he has fiscal policy levers at his disposal if a deal is not forthcoming.

The first important issue to address would be the need to maintain business confidence and support investment. While the economy has in some ways defied expectations since the 2016 referendum – especially on employment – investment has been noticeably slow. In the event of no deal, the danger is that many of those businesses which have been putting off investment decisions may opt to put their money elsewhere. In order to combat this, the Government will need to send a decisive message that Britain is the best place in the world to do business.

One of the key proposals from the CPS paper is to make the Annual Investment Allowance unlimited, allowing companies to write off all investment in plant and machinery for tax purposes. That provides a significant incentive for businesses to boost their capital expenditure and make the sorts of improvements the UK economy needs if it is to solve its perennial productivity problem. Alongside this, bringing forward the planned reduction in Corporation Tax by a year, plus a one-year 25% cut in business rates and employer’s NICs bills for small businesses, would help companies through a difficult period following a no-deal exit. The Government could also take steps to boost construction, fast-tracking key infrastructure projects and planning permission for new housing.

Sterling depreciation would also push up prices in the near term, hurting the real incomes of working families. To cushion that, the Government should raise the National Insurance threshold for employees to £12,500 per annum, the same level to which the Income Tax personal allowance is due to rise. This idea of a combined ‘Universal Working Income’ was proposed by my colleague Tom Clougherty in a paper in November, Make Work Pay. It would mean the average worker paying £620 less in tax next year compared to today.

Of course, higher inflation would not only hit working families, so welfare benefits and pensions should also be taken into account. In particular, it would not be fair to maintain the freeze on working-age benefits if inflation is running substantially above the level that was expected when the policy was initiated. In addition, the Government should make the funds available to councils to allow all Council Tax bills to be frozen for 2019-20.

Finally, the Government should also look to make the British economy as open and global as possible, and support trade flows. The first step should be a well-funded and easily accessible ‘one stop shop’ to help exporting businesses deal with new trading arrangements post-Brexit, plus a £2,000 voucher which firms could spend on legal and professional advice related to Brexit.

The Government should take the opportunity to abolish as many tariffs as possible, to deliver lower prices for UK consumers and businesses, while recognising the needs and unique circumstances of some domestic producers who might face problems if all protection was suddenly removed. The Government should also look at establishing a new generation of ‘free ports’, providing targeted incentives to boost trade, investment and job creation, including in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

Many other ideas, along with lots more detail, can be found in the report itself.

Most ministers are crossing all of their fingers and toes that a no-deal Brexit can be avoided. But as things stand, it is only right to start thinking about what to do if things don’t go to plan.

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MPs be warned: a bad deal or delaying Brexit would destroy voters’ faith in mainstream politics

I have noted before that here in Kent, we in the Canterbury Conservatives find ourselves on the electoral and geographic ‘front line’ of Brexit. Hundreds of local voters, activists and party members have asked me to describe our situation, in particular for the benefit of Conservative MPs in advance of today’s votes. The Conservative Party’s […]

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I have noted before that here in Kent, we in the Canterbury Conservatives find ourselves on the electoral and geographic ‘front line’ of Brexit. Hundreds of local voters, activists and party members have asked me to describe our situation, in particular for the benefit of Conservative MPs in advance of today’s votes.

The Conservative Party’s goals are exactly in line with the national interest. Defending and winning our target seats is key to keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street. Grassroots Conservatives given the opportunity to reinvigorate local campaigns are stepping up – we have one of the largest doorstep operations in the country and party members (myself included) have donated as much time and money as they can to the national effort, too.

Getting Brexit wrong would undo our hard work. Endorsing a bad deal or delaying Brexit would be a hammer blow to activists’ morale and voters’ faith in mainstream politics. People believe that if a Brexit date is removed from the European Union (Withdrawal) Act of 2018, then this House of Commons would never put it back. The dismay would be felt in the forthcoming local elections and at the next general election. Whatever happens, the public thinks the Conservative Party is ‘the Brexit party’ – so, rather than trying to wish it away, we have to deliver it.

Conservative voters follow the Brexit debate. Most believe the risk of short-term economic disruption is dwarfed by the threat of long-term political trauma. People know that no-deal temporary status quo arrangements are already agreed in areas like financial services, the Common Transit Convention, energy interconnections, haulage, data transfers, cross-border rail, aviation, visa-free travel and others besides. They also believe that during an ‘Implementation Period’ the Commission would force MPs to present the British public with growing financial obligations to the EU, a restricted electricity Capacity Market, reduced tax relief on London’s service economy, limited third country trade and so on – all while the Commons has no say in the EU institutions.

It is daunting to imagine that from next month MPs might have to tell people they must obey instructions from the very EU institutions they have voted to leave – and even more daunting to then ask voters to re-elect those MPs. People do want a good and new relationship with the EU after Brexit. A bad deal or a delay would make that harder. So to Conservative MPs I say: please keep faith with the voting public, your activists and members.

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A WTO No Deal Brexit is now the only way to honour the referendum result

As Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s attempts to procure a legally-binding change to the backstop appear to have proven futile, the last hope for Theresa May’s deal is slipping away. Reportedly, the Cabinet already anticipates another crushing Commons defeat when the vote is held tomorrow. As with the earlier vote in January, the Prime Minister will be outflanked […]

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As Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s attempts to procure a legally-binding change to the backstop appear to have proven futile, the last hope for Theresa May’s deal is slipping away. Reportedly, the Cabinet already anticipates another crushing Commons defeat when the vote is held tomorrow.

As with the earlier vote in January, the Prime Minister will be outflanked on both sides. Firstly, by Remainers of all stripes who seek to press home the huge advantage May ceded to them: following the rejection of her deal, in two subsequent votes, these MPs will be able to rule out a No Deal with World Trade Organisation rules, and then seek an extension to Article 50 in the hope of bringing about a second referendum.

On the other hand, the eurosceptic Conservatives of the European Research Group, led by Jacob-Rees Mogg, have made it abundantly clear they will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement without real movement on the backstop. In line with their ‘three tests’, the ERG rightly demands a temporary arrangement from which Britain could unilaterally exit, replacing the potentially indefinite one which would turn Britain into a vassal state. Geoffrey Cox, however, is getting nowhere fast; and for the second time, May’s deal seems doomed. 

In terms of leverage over her divided party, May can no longer use the threat of No Deal to bring Tory Remainers round to her deal, after sanctioning the 13th March vote – however hard she tries. Clearly, the Government still thinks it can use the opposite threat of ‘No Brexit’, or ‘No real Brexit’, to whip the troublesome eurosceptics into line. Accordingly, the Prime Minister used her speech in Grimsby on Friday to frame her deal as the last chance for the ERG – and Brexiteers – to get something resembling what they want.

Another key player, Philip Hammond – the anti-Brexit Chancellor, as Get Britain Out has previously written about here – could hardly have been clearer about this when he warned last week:

“For those people who are passionate about ensuring that we leave the European Union on time, [the prospect of a vote to delay Brexit] surely must be something that they need to think very, very carefully about now because they run the risk of us moving away from their preferred course of action if we don’t get this deal through.”

Rightly however, the ERG are showing resolve in the face of this tactical threat. Jacob Rees-Mogg argued last week that even if her deal is rejected and MPs vote for an extension to Article 50, these votes are not legally binding. It still remains in the power of the Government to deliver Brexit on time given ‘votes in the House of Commons cannot override the law’. May could choose not to request the extension from the European Union. It is therefore possible to oppose both the current deal and the efforts to delay the satisfaction of the referendum result beyond 29th March.

Despite the tumult of the past few weeks, we must not forget that in law, following the passing of Article 50, the UK is set to leave the EU on 29th March – with or without a deal. If May is truly determined to deliver Brexit on the 29th, then there is a clear and legal route for her to do so following the likely defeat of her deal.

A WTO No Deal Brexit would ensure Britain leaves the European Union on time, in accordance with Article 50. Yet pursuing this course would not merely be an exercise in damage-limitation. The course remains attractive in and of itself. The economic case for No Deal has been made by Get Britain Out here and here.

What’s more, a WTO No Deal Brexit would firstly deliver on most of the Leave platform and, secondly, present major improvements to the Prime Minister’s deservedly unpopular deal.

Firstly, the repatriation of control over laws, money, borders and fisheries would be secured by a WTO No Deal Brexit. Only a free trade deal with the EU would be missing. On the other hand, precisely such a trade deal with the EU27 would become more likely in the event of No Deal. It has proven so elusive during the negotiations because Britain’s bargaining power has been continually squandered by the Government, ably assisted by the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn has not only come out in favour of a second referendum, but has long advocated Customs Union membership post-Brexit. Whether it is attempting to tie the UK to EU regulatory standards indefinitely, or reverse Brexit completely, such measures can only have given succour to all those on the continent who have never taken Britain’s decision to Leave seriously.

However, if Britain simply Leaves the EU on 29th March, and pursues the radical free trade programme of tariff cuts on up to 90% of imported goods – as leaked from Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade last week – we could call the EU’s bluff by daring to prosper outside its institutions.

Under this ‘hard but smart’ Brexit, as recommended by the IFO Institute in Germany – one of the leading economic research institutes in Europe and regularly quoted in the German media – costs for consumers and businesses would be cut whilst Britain’s negotiating hand would be strengthened. So far, the Government’s unwillingness to present No Deal as a viable option has tied its hands in Brussels. Ironically, this lack of belief in Brexit has made by a WTO No Deal Brexit more likely.

Secondly, the significant advantages of a WTO No Deal Brexit over May’s Deal must not be overlooked, although Geoffrey Cox’s failure to secure a meaningful alteration to the backstop so far will be seen as the central reason for the Government’s likely defeat in Parliament on Tuesday. We should remember the backstop – absolutely unacceptable though it is – was never the only problem with the deal, as Get Britain Out has documented in full here.

As Sir John Redwood has recently made clear in an open letter to Geoffrey Cox, the proposed ‘transition’ period of up to 45 months marked out in the Withdrawal Agreement would turn Britain into a rule-taker with no power of reply.

This would be a fundamental challenge to Britain’s independence. The wide-ranging nature of this threat encompasses everything from business regulations and trading relationships to taxation. Moreover, the UK taxpayer would be paying at least £39 billion for the privilege.

On the other hand, a WTO No Deal Brexit would save Britain from this unnecessary expenditure, which could be better spent on domestic priorities. This Brexit dividend would also include the money saved following the immediate cessation of budget contributions to the EU. Under May’s deal these would continue.

Provided Cox was successful in his renegotiation of the backstop, leading eurosceptics were prepared to accept May’s deal. Rees-Mogg was prepared to back it because if the backstop became time-limited, and Britain could unilaterally leave the EU if no trade deal was struck during the transition, then all the above problems with May’s deal would be time-limited too.  

A spirit of compromise was in the air. A willingness not to make the best the enemy of the good. Now a legal change to the backstop seems impossible – and tomorrow, barring some cosmetic alterations – exactly the same deal which was rejected by an historic 230 votes in January will, in all likelihood, be put to Parliament again.

Eurosceptics must not make a very bad deal the enemy of the best deal now available. Let’s Get Britain Out with a WTO No Deal Brexit on 29th March.

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A Withdrawal Agreement remains the only practical path to Brexit on 29th March

In the same way as a centre back, with his team 1-0 up at the dying seconds of a football match, concedes a corner to avoid the build-up of an attack, Theresa May agreed to a sequence of votes in mid-March that includes a vote on No Deal followed by a vote seeking to extend […]

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In the same way as a centre back, with his team 1-0 up at the dying seconds of a football match, concedes a corner to avoid the build-up of an attack, Theresa May agreed to a sequence of votes in mid-March that includes a vote on No Deal followed by a vote seeking to extend to Article 50 if the deal she brings back from Brussels is defeated.

On the other side of the House, Jeremy Corbyn had to concede some ground as well. He ’embraced’ a second popular vote with very scant details of what the options would be. No matter how this is spun by a fumbling People’s Vote campaign, his embrace is destined to suffocate not resuscitate. Even if Labour proposed such an amendment, and that’s highly unlikely, the chances of getting a majority of MPs supporting it is nil.

The threat of No Deal remains regardless of any vote to remove it; No Deal is the default condition of Article 50 and as the Prime Minister explained with impeccable logic, the only way that threat can be removed is to revoke Article 50, a route that only the likes of Chuka Umunna and Vince Cable would be prepared to entertain.

By setting up a panel of nine lawyers to examine what the Prime Minister comes back with is an indication that the ERG is willing to accept an addendum, a statement, a protocol rather than an actual change to the wording of Withdrawal Agreement. The insistence on legal guarantees that the backstop would be temporary or could be brought to an end is a posture that will have to be abandoned if Brexit is to become a reality. The prize of re-gaining sovereignty is far too precious to be held hostage for a few words in an agreement, an agreement that can be changed by mutual consent or unilaterally once we’ve left the EU. As to the question of why chain ourselves to something if we intend to break out of it soon after; it’s purely practical – this is the only path to Brexit.

In the next few days, Parliament will be faced with a stark choice: agree the deal the Prime Minister brings back or delay Brexit through an extension of Article 50, which is a euphemism for no Brexit. A no-deal outcome is not on the cards and Parliament will take whatever steps necessary to stop it. The idea that some legal niceties would prevent Parliament from doing so is fanciful. It will become clear to any Brexit-supporting MP – or MP with a Leave-backing constituency who does not wish to alienate their electorate – that the Withdrawal Agreement is the only mechanism by which the UK can leave the EU on 29th March.

Those who argue that the Withdrawal Agreement is ‘Brexit In Name Only’ should reflect on the fact that Brexit is a single binary act, much like a divorce; there is no such thing as divorce in name only, even if the divorcees keep a very close relationship afterwards. Neither is the Withdrawal Agreement a ‘Brexit deal’ as it is often portrayed. Rather, it is a post-Brexit deal; it lays out what our relationship with the EU may look like after we’ve left, a relationship that we are at liberty to shape the way we wish once we are out of the EU. Similarly, there is no such thing as a Tory Brexit or a Labour Brexit or for that matter a People’s Brexit. As important as the Withdrawal Agreement is, it’s secondary to the actual act of leaving, an act which immediately restores our sovereignty and changes our relationship with the EU from being a subservient member to an independent counterpart.

Regardless of how the ERG or the DUP decide to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week, Theresa May will need Labour support. With workers’ rights and environmental protection guaranteed by Theresa May as far as any Prime Minister can, bearing in mind that no Parliament can bind a future one, the difference between Labour’s current policy of a ‘customs union and close alliance with the single market’ and those of May’s ‘dynamic alignment’ and ‘level playing field’ is minuscule. For Labour, there is very little in the Withdrawal Agreement to object to unless your intention is to derail Brexit altogether. Indeed, if Labour’s customs union was to be road-tested through rigorous negotiations with the EU, it would fall apart as it collides head on with Labour’s policy of economic regeneration through state aid and public ownership and control of key utilities.

Whatever the official line is, enough Labour MPs will either vote for or abstain when the Withdrawal Agreement comes back to Parliament – enough to ensure its safe passage through Parliament, if not at the first time of asking, then certainly on the second. That has nothing to do with the Government’s £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund meant to heal some of the wounds of those areas that felt left behind. The driving force has always been and remains that of workers who demand that their vote to leave the EU is respected and acted upon.

Hemmed in by vitriolic attacks from within and an orchestrated onslaught from without, Jeremy Corbyn has to tread carefully as we approach the end game. The Labour leadership knows of its responsibility to deliver Brexit on the specified date: theirs is not a late nor convenient conversion to a cause but a lifelong belief, a belief not motivated by a fear of a backlash from working class communities, but a genuine opposition to what the EU stands for.

A free vote for Labour MPs has been floated. For a national party to have no policy on the most important issue facing the country since the Second World War, for that’s what a free vote means, would be an abdication of responsibility that would reflect badly on it in the future. Better for Labour to whip MPs to abstain, explain that this is the only way to enact Brexit on the agreed date and vow to re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement when in power.

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Don’t believe claims that Brexit threatens the peace in Northern Ireland

What follows is an open letter from the authors to Theresa May… Dear Prime Minister, We understand the future of Northern Ireland weighed heavily in your decision to agree an Irish backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement and remains a factor in your continuing support for the backstop, albeit now on a temporary basis. Your concerns are […]

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What follows is an open letter from the authors to Theresa May…

Dear Prime Minister,

We understand the future of Northern Ireland weighed heavily in your decision to agree an Irish backstop in the draft Withdrawal Agreement and remains a factor in your continuing support for the backstop, albeit now on a temporary basis. Your concerns are said to include maintaining a peace widely seen as fragile, sustaining the Union and protecting jobs.

We fully agree, of course, that peace is vital. Your undertaking on no new infrastructure on the border in Ireland is wise. No-one wants the police or others to come under attack erecting, repairing or maintaining barriers, cameras or anything else. Expert opinion given to the Northern Ireland Select Committee suggests that infrastructure is no longer needed since modern electronic procedures can do the job, so we hope that this is not an issue.

On your trips to Northern Ireland some will have told you in all sincerity of a more general danger to peace from disaffected Republicans. However, in the over-heated context of Brexit many arguments are self-serving and cannot always be taken at face value. Sinn Fein themselves say there will be no return to violence. Indeed, sacrificing their hard-won electoral position in the Republic of Ireland would be an illogical thing for them to do.

Gerry Adams also asserts that dissident Republicans have negligible support in the Nationalist community. A few dozen dissidents may always be capable of criminal activity as the recent Londonderry car bomb showed, but the security services have managed the dangers with admirable skill and will no doubt continue to do so.

Nor is there much evidence that Brexit puts the union in any real danger either from Nationalist disaffection or because Protestants would prefer Irish unity in order to remain within the EU. Reliable evidence shows little rise in support for Irish unity following the 2016 referendum. While some polls have indicated support for Irish unity in the high forties per cent range, more reliable polls have it down closer to the traditional 20%.

Polls showing higher support for Irish unity use samples drawn from voluntary panels and these seem to biased away from working class people and especially from the Unionist working classes. The gold-standard polls are undertaken for the Life and Times Survey funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council using face-to-face interviews.

The latest LIFT survey from 2018 showed that support from both communities for Irish unity was around 20% and only a little above pre-referendum levels. Support for Irish unity among self-described Protestants remains minuscule and of course the DUP made major gains at the 2017 General Election in reaction to claims that Brexit meant growing support for Irish unity. Even among Catholics, Brexit has not led a majority to support Irish unity. Sinn Fein’s calls for a
border poll have become Augustinian – a border poll yes, but not yet.

The correlation between Catholicism and support for unity is weaker than many assume. The 2011 census showed that only half of Northern Ireland’s Catholics identified as ‘Irish’ and fewer than half had an Irish passport. The Life and Times Survey shows that even in 2017/18 the proportion of Catholics who support eventual Irish unity is 41%. Only 7% express a desire for immediate unity.

Professor John Fitzgerald of ESRI in Dublin has recently calculated that living standards are 25% higher in Northern Ireland compared to the South. Although wages are generally higher in the South, higher taxes and fees and inferior levels of public service provision mean that northerners do better even before we take cheaper housing into account.

Some argue that the rising share of Catholics in the Northern Ireland population will continue, leading to a majority in a few decades. There is no evidence for this. The 2011 Census clearly shows that the percentage of the population who described themselves as Catholic had peaked among those born almost two decades ago and has subsequently slowly declined. Since Catholic birth rates are now close to those of Protestants, it seems likely the trend will continue.

Migration is also important and here there is major new factor. One in twenty of Northern Ireland’s Catholics are now from Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and the Philippines. The future constitutional preference of these immigrants and their children is hard to predict but it would be wrong to expect them to support Irish unity.

Nor do we believe that jobs are greatly at risk in Northern Ireland. Studies which purport to show economic damage from No Deal are self-contradictory and fail to take into account obvious opportunities. The main challenge would face the dairy industry, but the large potential loss of markets in Great Britain by southern food producers in the event of No Deal would open substantial opportunities for Northern Ireland’s farmers to fill the gap in Great Britain.

All in all, we believe the dangers facing Northern Ireland are much smaller than you may have been led to believe. You face difficult decisions on the UK’s future outside the EU. We do not believe that these decisions should be dominated by groundless fears about Northern Ireland.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Lord Trimble
Kate Hoey MP

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MPs handed the Brexit decision to the people – they must not now be allowed to overrule us

We live in febrile times, but in many ways it is just the calm before the next storm, each one battering at the very foundations of the edifice we know of as the United Kingdom. We as Britons are very fortunate to have managed to build a system of government envied by many in the […]

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We live in febrile times, but in many ways it is just the calm before the next storm, each one battering at the very foundations of the edifice we know of as the United Kingdom. We as Britons are very fortunate to have managed to build a system of government envied by many in the rest of the world for its stability; a stability given to it by the careful balance between the power of the individual and the state.

We owe this to Magna Carta, the Glorious Revolution, the Common Law, the Acts of Union, Simon de Montfort, John Wilkes, suffragettes and many other events and people in our history. However, over the last 45 years the EU has come like a bull through this and has not just upset it, but as we try to leave is threatening to destroy it.

We, the people, elect representatives to Parliament to run the country on our behalf, yet over the last 45 years they have increasingly delegated this responsibility to Brussels without declaring in many cases that this is the case. They have in many areas been reduced simply to ciphers for the Commission in Brussels. Nearly four years ago Parliament voted to put this situation to a referendum and give the people the decision as to whether the UK and its institutions should be fully independent of the EU. Three years ago it was decided quite clearly that this was so and all decision-making that had moved to the organs of the EU should return to the UK.

Now, nearly three years later, due to EU intransigence – with, one can only assume, a certain complicity on the UK side – a Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration have been proposed that is not Brexit. It is Remain with a Brexit wrapper, converting our membership to that of a colony that can be asset stripped with impunity by the EU without repercussions. It is a disgrace and epitomises a deep low point in British statecraft.

We have got to this point because MPs and the Government have consistently taken the easiest option. They voted for a referendum, thinking it would be won by Remain, and then backed the triggering of Article 50 because they knew they could not look the voters in the eye if they didn’t. In voting through Article 50 and then the EU Withdrawal Act they set a deadline of 29th March to leave with or without a deal with the EU.

Now that the choice is between a No Deal exit on WTO terms or the Prime Minister’s flawed deal, many MPs and ministers are trying to backslide on their previous commitments. They quote business as being the reason, the need to avoid chaos or the devastation that will be caused by No Deal etc. I write this as someone in business importing assemblies and components from all over the world and exporting more than two-thirds of our turnover to more than 120 countries around world. Whenever I ask who it is that is going to cause all these problems, no one can tell me; initially it was going to be due to delays at the Channel ports due to extra checks, but the port operators, Border Force and HMRC all say “Not us, Guv”!

With any changes, such as applying new procedures to almost anything, there is always an element of disruption – but it will be small in the overall context and in a few months’ time we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. However, what we are witnessing is a groupthink bubble that has been inflated to such a size that those propagating it have to keep inflating it, because if we do leave on WTO terms and it is as I expect a relatively straightforward change, they will be shown to have been crying wolf.

I can understand that ministers and MPs are continually buffeted by the professional lobbyists of the CBI and others who are looking at any way of preserving the status quo. For them the fear of sudden change is paramount; they can happily cope with the drip drip draining of sovereignty and they may whinge about bad regulation, but they find it hard to handle change that might adversely affect their vested interests and the status quo.

However, ministers and MPs have been charged by the electorate, who under our system are ultimately sovereign, to take back control. They seem reluctant to take on the extra responsibility that this entails; they appear to think that they are not able to do it. How do the other 165 non-EU countries of the world cope? Instead they wriggle and fidget in every way possible to try and thwart the wishes of the people, using every sort of excuse from the downright arrogant – that Leave voters are stupid – to telling us that if we had known it was so complicated, we would not have voted Leave. It is only complicated because they have chosen to make it complicated. Instead of carping, they all need to concentrate on making departure under WTO on 29th March as smooth as possible. The irony is that because it is the only option we in business can plan for, it is the only one we are prepared for.

It is worth remembering that these are the same MPs who say that we must increase voter participation at elections. Yet when we had the highest turnout in a generation for the EU referendum, they attempt to ignore it!

There is considerably more at stake here than just leaving the EU, there is the whole fabric of what makes Britain what it is and that is worth more than a possible temporary shortage of lettuce. The problem is that at each stage the Government and Parliament have made the mistake of never seriously addressing our relationship with the EU – in part because our membership is based on a lie, that it would not affect sovereignty, over which politicians have always been in denial. An ever-increasing proportion of the population, meanwhile, have smelt a rat especially as whatever the politicians say we have seen more and more areas of policy drift out of our control.

Now in theory in the departure lounge, we see the same pressures coming into play because what has been presented as a Withdrawal Treaty plainly is not, so the only escape is to leave on WTO terms. As the date for departure was set two years ago, this has become a totem from which any slippage will be seen by the voters as betrayal.

The time for kicking the can down the road has come to an end and MPs – especially in the governing party – have to look over the edge at the train of events that they are going to set off if they don’t hold out for No Deal and leaving on 29th March.

The first thing is that the Conservative Party would be finished for at least a generation, if not ever; and secondly, the UK would probably be finished: the SNP-run Scottish Government say they will call a referendum in the event of a No Deal. They are looking for any excuse, but the likelihood of them winning it is probably higher in the event of No Brexit, a delayed Brexit or even under the terms of the proposed treaty. Thirdly, society would become ever more polarised between Leavers and Remainers. Fourthly, the very roots of British democracy, envied around the world, would have been cast aside, and the votes of 17.4 million people disregarded by an arrogant elite.

The EU has behaved just as Yanis Varoufakis predicted and in turn the UK has fallen into the traps he predicted. There is only one way out and that is to go WTO on 29th March, otherwise the conversation between MPs and voters is going to go something like: “Sorry old boy, I am afraid your vote didn’t count but mine did so we are staying in”. That would set off a chain of events over which politicians of all parties would have little control.

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MPs are trying to make Brexit as difficult as possible – but without actually voting against it

Parliament has been as much use in our protracted Brexit negotiations as a pet poodle, biting Theresa’s bum while she fends off an intransigent mugger. So useful, in fact, that devout Brexiteers wonder whose side MPs are on. The answer is their own. The referendum showed that the people want out. Most MPs want to […]

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Parliament has been as much use in our protracted Brexit negotiations as a pet poodle, biting Theresa’s bum while she fends off an intransigent mugger. So useful, in fact, that devout Brexiteers wonder whose side MPs are on.

The answer is their own. The referendum showed that the people want out. Most MPs want to stay in. They’re affronted at being overruled by an impertinent people, and angry that they can have no influence on whether it’s a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. So they’re doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen by making departure as difficult as possible, without actually voting against it for fear of losing votes.

The second reason is that the party system which normally drives British politics is broken. If it worked, one party – probably Labour, concerned at the drain of jobs and money – would support Brexit while the other – the Tories, in sympathy with a neo-liberal organisation – would oppose it and the votes would decide.

With the parties split and neither having the guts to tell the electorate it’s too difficult to do what they want, that doesn’t happen either. So MPs are in the frustrating position of having no role but having hours of time to fill.

They do it by displacement activity. Parliament negotiates with itself and thrashes about having no influence on the negotiations – except to help the other side by demonstrating British disunity but generating enormous excitement among the media and the punditieri, who don’t like Brexit anyway.

The first distraction is to attempt to stop a no-deal departure. Parliament can’t do this. The Government can’t either. Only the EU can produce No Deal, by refusing to accept concessions to help the Government get its pathetic proposals through. But it’s fun to sound virtuous by denouncing it.

The second is to demand a new referendum. What’s wrong with that, apart from the fact that Tony Blair, the EU’s ambassador-at-large supports it? It sounds democratic, but in fact is impossible unless there is an agreement to vote on. Labour could ensure it by voting for Theresa’s proposals for leaving while staying, when they come back to the House. My guess is that they won’t, though a few Northerners might vote for them to get the spending their constituencies deserve. They’d be denounced by Labour’s metropolitans but probably not produce enough support to cancel out the Tory defectors.

This produces the third displacement effort. Parliament has no control over what it gets. It’s divided on what it wants. So it is suggested that Britain must ask for an extension to sort ourselves out. This would boost the EU’s negotiating strength and encourage it to protract things even more. Uncertainty would drag on forever and fear creation would rise to a crescendo, with the EU hoping the Brexiteers will give up and crawl back to their ghettos.

That’s the game. A futile one, but at least it keeps MPs off the streets. The trouble is, it keeps Britain’s negotiators wandering the streets of Brussels looking for a way out.

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