So you finally get around to doing the pile of washing that’s been staring at you in the dirty clothes basket since you got back from your holidays, you make a proper dent on the housework, go to the supermarket, all those wee chores that you’ve been putting off, and while you’re doing so there’s an actual constitutional crisis. That’s the safety and stability of the UK for you, you can’t even sort out your dirty socks without British democracy receding faster than Iain Duncan Smith’s hairline.
Suspicion has been growing amongst MPs that Theresa May isn’t perhaps quite as deluded as she would like the rest of us to believe, and that despite her repeated assertions to the contrary she knows fine well that she’s got as much chance of her Brexit deal winning a majority in the Commons as there is of the DUP regaling her with a resounding chorus of Ave Maria. Theresa May is many things. She’s obdurate, stubborn, pig-headed, and a party tribalist who puts the interests of the Tories above all other considerations, but she’s not actually stupid. She can count. She can see the numbers. And she knows that she doesn’t have the votes. She’s just not prepared to admit it in public. She’s very clear about that, if nothing else.
The Prime Minister knows that she’s not going to get her deal through the Commons when it’s put to a vote next week, and so what she’s really doing is playing a game of chicken with Parliament to use up as much time as possible so that MPs will vote for her deal at the very last minute before Brexit day in order to avoid the no-deal Brexit that’s only wanted by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg. She’s risking the disaster of a no-deal in order that there will be no time for any other of the possible options to be voted on, no chance to delay or derail Brexit, and no chance for one of the much softer Brexit options which would preserve freedom of movement.
Since the main selling point of Brexit was that the British Parliament could take back control, MPs are less than impressed that the Prime Minister and her government are trying to impose a false choice on the Commons and doing all she can to reduce their opportunities to make an informed and meaningful decision. Admittedly we’re talking here of an institution which has Ross Thomson, Chris Grayling, and Hugh Gaffney in it, so it could be argued that reducing the opportunity of the Commons to make a meaningful choice is an act of prudence similar to removing a box of matches from a toddler. Unfortunately in this instance the person taking the matches off the toddler is an arsonist with a crateful of petrol filled bottles stopped with greasy rags.
Faced with a Government which is threatening arson if it doesn’t get its way, MPs have been taking steps to reduce the ability of the Government to lob its bottles at the British economy and body politic. Yesterday 20 Tory MPs voted with the opposition parties to support an amendment tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper to put the hems on some of the government’s tax powers in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The amendment was largely symbolic, but it was a humiliating defeat for the Government and demonstrated that there is no majority in Parliament for a no-deal Brexit.
Then today, the Government faced an even more serious defeat. Rebel Tory MP Dominic Grieve tabled an amendment to the Government’s business motion for the Brexit debate. The amendment compels Theresa May to come back to the Commons within three days if, as is likely, her deal fails in the vote due next week. A previous amendment introduced by Dominic Grieve and passed by MPs means that any alternative plan which the Prime Minister comes back with will itself be subject to amendments by MPs, meaning that the Commons will be able to debate and vote upon alternatives.
It had been thought that Dominic Grieve’s amendment would not be accepted by the Speaker, as traditionally government business motions are not allowed to be altered. However the Speaker ruled otherwise, much to the anger of the Government and its supporters. Over the catcalls and jeers of Conservative MPs, he insisted that his job was not to make life easier for the Executive, but to protect and defend the rights of Parliament.
How very dare the Parliament that the Brexists say they’re determined to restore sovereignty to act as though it was sovereign. Today we saw what happens when your self-serving rhetoric jumps up and bites you on the bum. It’s undemocratic for Parliament to take back control from a government that won’t listen but which says it’s working to restore control to parliament. But then this is the same government which claims that having another referendum would be undemocratic, because apparently more democracy means less democracy. The only meaningful vote that Theresa May wants is her own.
When the amendment came to the vote, the Government lost. The amendment passed by 308 votes to 297. Theresa May will now be obliged to return to the Commons with an alternative plan within three days of her Brexit deal failing to pass, instead of the 21 days that she previously had. With the Brexit clock ticking, and Brexit day looming on March 29, every day is precious. Allowing Theresa May three weeks following the defeat of her deal would have meant she could return to the Commons with substantially the same deal as before, but with time having run out on any alternatives. That’s now become far harder for her to do.
The next few weeks are likely to be every bit as febrile and rancorous. A chaotic no-deal Brexit remains a very real possibility. But so does an early General Election, another EU referendum, or some version of a Brexit deal. How’s that safety, security, and stability of the UK that Scotland was promised back in 2014 working out for you all? Forget all the cant about being a partner in a family of nations. Forget the slogans about Scotland punching above its weight as part of the UK. There’s no certainty about anything, and Scotland gets to sit on the sidelines, powerless and ignored while our fate is decided for us by people who have zero consideration for our interests or desires. This is what this so-called union really means. It means not being able to wash your socks without being a passive and helpless witness to a constitutional crisis that threatens to blight livelihoods, opportunities, and lives.
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