Theresa May didn’t speak in the Commons on Wednesday as the House debated whether to rule out a no-deal Brexit. Her voice had given up on her, which is what happens when you say nothing repeatedly for over two years. The quality of a what a person says is proportional to the amount of time that person listens to the opinions of others, and Theresa May has never knowingly listened to another opinion in her entire life. So instead Michael Gove made the government’s case for her, because he’s possibly the only person in the entire Conservative party less capable of consensus building than Theresa.
Michael habitually adopts the lofty tone of a man who firmly believes he occupies the moral high ground even though he’s stuck in the glaur at the bottom of a cesspit of his own creation. There is not a second which goes by without Michael managing to project the impression that he is so very very pleased with himself and all his works. There’s only one opinion which is important to Michael Gove, and that’s Michael Gove’s very fine conceit of himself. As the Victorian intellectual John Ruskin once remarked, a man who is so wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.
The gist of the speech was that fault of the failure of Theresa May’s deal lay with everyone except the Brexiteers and the Conservative party. It was the Labour party’s fault, it was the SNP’s fault. It was the fault of remainers and the EU. The only people whose fault it wasn’t were the people who had created the disaster in the first place and that Conservative government which had consistently ignored all other opinions except Conservative and DUP opinions and which had set out from the outset to pursue a hard Brexit based on Theresa May’s inflexible red lines and her fixation on immigration.
After spending much of his speech oozing the slimy snideness which is his main selling point and insulting everyone on the opposite benches, the man who along with his Conservative colleagues bears much of the responsibility for the mess that the UK is currently in called on the other parties to work together with the government to clear it up. It speaks volumes about the character and quality of this sorry excuse for a government that at a time when cross-party engagement is vital, they chose a man to speak who only knows how to insult, belittle, and sneer. At one point he refused to give way to the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, who was doubtless about to correct him on a point of fact. It’s because Michael said people had had enough of experts that we’re in this mess.
Unsurprisingly, he failed to make any on the opposition benches warm to the government’s position, but then that was never his purpose. Michael Gove’s purpose is now and always was the furtherance of Michael Gove’s career prospects within the Conservative party. He was playing to his own back benches with an eye on the Tory leadership election to come.
The motion put forward by Michael Gove on behalf of Theresa May says that says the Commons will not approve Brexit on 29 March if there is no deal, but it notes that no deal remains the default legal position unless both the UK and EU ratify an agreement. It’s a sign of the weakness, indeed chaos, of the government and its abject loss of authority that Theresa May has signalled that she will allow the Conservative party a free vote. If she succeeds in getting her motion passed by the Commons, there are, unbelievably, even at this late stage, suggestions that Theresa’s deal could be brought back to Parliament a third time, like repeatedly watering a dead plant in the hope that it will blossom. That’s why she is still refusing to take no-deal off the table. She’s still playing the same game as before, trying to run down the clock in a game of Brexit chlorinated chicken.
The Speaker accepted two amendments to the government’s motion. Both are as mired in confusion as the Government. One amendment is the so-called Malthouse Compromise, which calls for a short delay to Brexit in order to give the government time to prepare to leave without a deal. It would then offer the EU a “standstill” agreement until 2021 while a magical solution is worked out and some unicorns can be recruited to staff the cake shops along the Irish border. The EU has already ruled this out. The fact that this amendment is even being considered tells us just how divorced from reality Brexit has become. The Tories like it because it’s the only amendment that both wings of their divided party could pull behind. Speaking in favour of the amendment, Damien Green said that the House should just ignore the fact that the EU has already ruled it out. Because unicorns and cake.
The other amendment is the Spelman amendment, put forward by the Conservative remainer MP Caroline Spelman. This amendment would rule out a no deal Brexit under any circumstances and at any time. However late on Wednesday afternoon and under pressure from Conservative whips, the Conservative MP announced that she was going to withdraw her own amendment. An irritated Speaker then replied that it had already been tabled and other MPs could move it instead, but Labour didn’t seem that keen. The Conservatives don’t want this amendment to be voted upon as it will split the party and could lead to the resignations of cabinet ministers. The fact that it’s the only amendment which has any basis in reality is a secondary consideration to the party political interests of both Labour and the Tories. This nasty little episode all by itself illustrates how unfit the two main political parties are as parties and as a government.
Meanwhile there are reports that certain Brexiteers in Leave.EU and Ukip are lobbying right wing governments in Italy, Poland, and Hungary in an effort to get them to use their veto against any extension of Article 50. According to reports a group of Conservatives went to Poland last week in order to lobby the far right Polish government against any extension. So much for “We want the British parliament to be sovereign.” Now we have Nigel Farage and the Brexists begging the EU for help to leave the EU. There’s a word for conspiring with foreign governments in order to damage the interests of your own country. It’s not a pretty word.
The Brexit debates overshadowed the Chancellor’s Spring Statement. The SNP’s Kirsty Blackman intervened to emphasise the damage that a no deal Brexit would do to the economy. She asked the Chancellor for full Barnett consequentials for Holyrood in order to help Scotland cope with the Conservatives’ ruinous policies, and she raised concerns about financial sector assets being moved abroad. Finally she asked for an easing of visa constraints in order to help Scotland attract the immigration it needs. The Chancellor sniffily retorted, “Scotland gets its fair share, and precious little thanks we get for it.” Westminster takes Scotland’s money, gives us some of it back, borrows for things we don’t want or need and lands us with the bill, then demands that we’re grateful for their kindness.
In the end the Commons voted narrowly in favour of the Spelman amendment that Spelman rejected. Even though the Conservatives were furiously whipping against it, by 312 votes to 308 the House voted to take no deal off the table under all and any circumstances. By a majority of four votes the Commons voted to take something off the table that will remain on the table. By itself this amendment won’t change the law, but it’s yet another blow to what little remains of the authority of a Theresa May who is doggedly persisting in watering her dead plant.
We then saw the ludicrous spectacle of the Prime Minister voting against her own motion because she refused to accept the amendment. Despite all the attempts from the Conservatives to strongarm their remainers into voting with the Prime Minister, she lost by an even bigger margin than before. Then she stood before the Commons and said that nothing much had changed.
The next step is for an extension of Article 50. We have a government which has lost all control, but which is continuing as though nothing has happened. How much longer can this farce go on for?
There’s precious little thanks for Scotland remaining in the UK. There’s precious little thanks for Scotland sacrificing its future and its opportunities on the altar of British nationalism. All we get is contempt, disdain, and a complete ignoral of our needs, our desires as expressed through the ballot box, and our future. We can either keep watering Theresa’s dead plant of British nationalism, or grow some fresh green shoots in a new Scottish state.
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