Writing in his memoirs the French wartime leader Charles De Gaulle said about la perfide Albion and his distrust of the British establishment which led to his refusal to permit the UK to join the EEC in the early 1960s,
Pour l’Angleterre … il n’y a pas d’alliance qui tienne, ni de traité qui vaille, ni la vérité qui compte.
For England … there is no alliance which holds, nor treaty which has worth, nor truth which counts.
We’re now witnessing De Gaulle’s words come true. Today in the Commons Theresa May argued for a change to her deal which the EU has already said, repeatedly, that it’s not going to accept. She’s arguing for the renegotiation of a deal that she herself said that wasn’t up for renegotiation that was the only deal on the table. But that doesn’t matter to this government. All that matters is that she can get the Conservative party, or at least most of it, to agree with itself, and the only party in Northern Ireland whose wishes need to be respected or taken into account is the DUP.
After Theresa’s deal went down to a historic and humiliating defeat, she could have reached out. She could have erased her red lines and sought some form of compromise. She could have tried to build a cross-party consensus. But she did none of those things. Instead she’s trying to placate her own right wing and playing Brexit chlorinated chicken, running down the clock in the hope that MPs will back her deal because time has run out. It is spectacularly cynical and grossly contemptuous of what passes for democracy in the UK.
Now the Prime Minister has announced that she’s backing the so-called Brady amendment. Because this vague hope of a renegotiated deal is her new deal that’s the only deal. This amendment would replace the Irish border backstop with some nebulous “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border.” The EU has already said that this is unacceptable, but Theresa is only interested in whether it’s acceptable to her own hard line Brexists and the DUP. Reality for this government is merely a serving suggestion.
The SNP tabled an amendment of its own. When SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford got up in the Commons to speak about it he warned of possible food shortages and price rises in the event of a no deal Brexit. A voice from the DUP called out that Scots could just go to the chippy. Because you know, much loved and respected partner in a family of nations and all that. Not that Theresa May was listening. She had already scuttled out of the chamber. The amendment called for Article 50 to be extended and Scotland’s remain vote to be respected. It demanded that the House should recognise that the UK is a “partnership of equals” and no nation should be dragged out of the EU against its will. It didn’t pass. It was defeated on the back of the votes of Tory MPs from elsewhere in the UK. Labour abstained. What a surprise. There’s that partnership of equals for you. Are you feeling the respect?
Most attention was focussed on the other amendments. The Cooper amendment, the Grieve amendment, the Reeves amendment, the Spelman amendment, and the Brady amendment. The Cooper amendment was put forward by former Labour front bencher Yvette Cooper and would extend article 50 to the end of this year if Theresa May is unable to secure a deal by the end of February. Labour agreed to back it officially, and so did some remainer Tories. However the amendment didn’t achieve sufficient support and was voted down by 321 votes to 298. 14 Labour MPs voted with the Tories.
The Grieve amendment would have allowed MPs to take control of parliamentary business out of the hands of the government and allowed votes on alternatives to either Theresa’s no-go deal or the no-deal. The amendment was also defeated, this time by 321 to 301. Seems the Tories aren’t that keen on the sovereignty of parliament after all. The Reeves amendment sought to ensure that Article 50 was extended if there was no deal. It was also defeated. Even now, even with the stakes so high, some Labour MPs were prepared to vote with the Tories or to abstain.
The Spelman amendment simply stated that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal. It has no legal force, it would not tie Theresa May’s hands in any way. It would not force her to take no deal off the table. It narrowly passed by 318 votes to 310, but it’s cold comfort. It won’t make any difference to a Prime Minister who is so cavalier in the way she ignores binding votes. A non-binding one won’t even register with her.
The Brady amendment is a key part of what the Conservatives like to call The Malthouse Compromise, which sounds like a cheap airport thriller, only it won’t fly and is unlikely to come to a satisfactory ending. It’s called a compromise because it involves the Tory party compromising with itself, but not with anyone else. That’s a bit like the British government unilaterally deciding to undermine the devolution settlement and calling it a compromise. Oh wait. That’s not a simile.
Before the Brady amendment had even come to a vote, it was reported that an EU official had informed the press that a response was being readied stating that the EU will not reopen negotiations on the withdrawal agreement. The Guardian was reporting that Jean Claude Juncker had told Theresa May the same during a phone call on Tuesday afternoon. It was being reported that the EU prez had said that there was no point in Theresa May coming back to Brussels if she got the Brady amendment to pass. After her phone call Theresa traipsed off to the Commons to plead for the Brady amendment and claim that she’d been listening. Not long after she got back to Number 10, the news was reporting that the French President Emmanuel Macron had also stated that the withdrawal deal was not open to renegotiation.
Despite its proposal already being ruled out by the EU, the Brady amendment narrowly passed by just 317 to 301. Within a few minutes there was an official statement from Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, saying that the Irish backstop was not going to be renegotiated.
On a recent episode of what I like to call the Poor Life Decisions Show, otherwise known as Tattoo Fixers, there was a guy who had got “Will you marry me Michelle?” tattooed across his chest. Then he showed off his tattoo to his beloved in a grand gesture of proposal only to find that she said no. Which must have been doubly painful. What the Brady amendment has done for Theresa May is the equivalent of getting “Will you renegotiate with me EU?” tattooed across the UK’s collective chest even though the EU has already said no.
Tattoo guy said he was gutted when his now ex-fiancee said no. “I genuinely had not considered the possibility that she might turn me down,” he said. Theresa doesn’t have that excuse. She’s already been turned down, but she seems to think that if she goes ahead with the tattoo anyway, the EU will reconsider since it’s clear that getting the tattoo is the will of the British Parliament, or at least the will of the Tories and the DUP. That’s the level of idiocy we’re dealing with here. She’s branding the UK as the eejit of Europe, where poor life decisions are official policy and we are all permanently scarred.
Supporters of Brexit insist that the UK survived WW2, so it can survive Brexit. Which is grand, except for the fact that the closest most of them have ever got to WW2 is playing Call of Duty on PlayStation 4. The British Parliament is now mired in delusion and lost in a dreamlike fantasy that makes a video game seem like hard headed realism. The government is unmoored from reality. The closest that the UK is going to get to the promises of the Brexists would be to get a unicorn tattooed on Jacob Rees Mogg’s backside.
So there we have it. The choice facing the UK is now Theresa May’s deal without the Irish backstop, which the EU already, repeatedly, said that it will not accept and will not renegotiate. Which means she’ll have to come back to the Commons next month with the same deal that was so resoundingly rejected a couple of weeks ago. Or it’s crashing out with no deal. The chances of a second EU referendum all but evaporated tonight. All we have left is the red white and blue unicorn tattoo and a wilful refusal to respect Johnny Foreigner. No wonder De Gaulle vetoed UK membership of the EEC.
Scotland has another choice. It’s time we took it.
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