It was poignant to hear former Prime Minister Theresa May stand up in Parliament – on what was supposed to be Super Saturday – and make clear the promise that MPs had made to the British people to deliver on the referendum they delegated to the people of the United Kingdom. Here we are today, three years on, and we’re no closer to exiting the European Union – unless something drastic changes soon. When Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative Party and thus Prime Minister, he felt like a breath of fresh air after years of agonising derision and delay and trust in our institutions declining to miserable lows.
Instead of building a consensus around the mandate given in 2016 and helping to deliver our exit, Parliament has done nothing but – yet again – frustrate and thwart our exit; the antics have reached outrageous heights. They jeered that the Prime Minister could not, and did not, want to deliver a deal. They passed the Benn Act with no money bill whilst tearing up the idea of royal prerogative, passing what is a demonstrably unconstitutional act of Parliament rammed through with the improper use of standing orders. This was done, of course, with the help of the overtly partial Speaker John Bercow, damaging the delicate ground upon which our uncodified constitution is built.
Our MPs turned out to be wrong. The Prime Minister secured a deal that cut out the backstop and gave real wind to an independent trade policy by making the UK its own customs territory. He observed the consent mechanism enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and, while the DUP may cry out in terror, the Northern Irish protocol means that there is no prospect of either a hard border, or a United Kingdom trapped within the European Union’s structures (although NI will have to follow some EU customs rules for a period, a fair compromise in my view).
So, the Prime Minister had defied the ‘doomsters and the doubters’, as he brands them, and come back with a deal that had a wide range of support in the House of Commons. The ERG was on board, a huge chunk of the Tory rebels had stepped up to the plate and brave Labour MPs put themselves forward and made the same pledge to deliver Brexit in an orderly fashion, putting the issue finally to bed. There was hope we could move on, that we could get Brexit and get to work with electing a new Parliament to begin to heal the ever-deepening wounds this process has inflicted upon our nation.
That’s when Oliver Letwin reared his head. The man behind the Poll Tax had the gall to introduce a dithering, cynical amendment to make the Meaningful Vote not meaningful at all, triggering the Benn Act and a possible further delay to this already gut-wrenching process. He stole the Prime Minister’s victory, yes, but he also stole the democratic promise given to those millions of people that turned out to vote in the referendum. There was talk that MPs were merely concerned about the time taken to pass legislation following the deal, and for some that may be genuine but to me there is only one reason to achieve further delay: to have a second referendum before an election (which of course our MPs are too cowardly to go for).
Nevermind, I thought, at least Monday could be the day. Regardless of whatever Brexit blocking amendments were tabled next, we could get that deal done and move onto the next stage: trade and a future relationship. But John Bercow, who has already shown himself to be an overt Remainer thwarting Brexit numerous times, ruled the government had their go and the deal could not be brought to the House again. This makes the reluctant (and unsigned) letter of extension the Prime Minister sent to the EU a serious risk.
A risk that the EU Council, seeing the deal cannot be passed, will approve yet another ruinous delay. We cling to the last hopes that such a delay can be vetoed, but we cannot guarantee that we will get Brexit (of any sort) at all. A second referendum and the death of trust in our politics lie before us, and I’m sure many of you know who is to blame; it’s certainly not the Prime Minister.
Whatever happens, I hope we can finally secure an election, so that we have the chance to get our own back at the ballot box, to turf out the people that dare – in their pomposity – to go back on their word. Yes, Mrs. May, this is the most egregious con trick on the British people, and we will not forget it lightly.
Photo by Policy Exchange on Flickr.