During today’s debate on taking no deal off the table, Environment Secretary Michael Gove warned MPs that one consequence of the UK leaving the EU without a deal could be the potential imposition of direct rule of Northern Ireland from London. This was presented as a bad thing. I disagree. Direct rule of Northern Ireland from London would at least represent a refreshing change to the current position in which we have direct rule of London by Northern Ireland, via the DUP that props up the government.
I’m joking of course. There is no meaningful government to prop up. The DUP is not in charge. No-one is in charge, a point proved by the Commons this evening when amid extraordinary scenes MPs voted to reject no deal in any circumstances. This does not change the law, which is that no deal is the default, but it packs a moral punch and the government is not strong enough to resist such demands.
What the Commons is really indicating, I think, is that if there is no delay secured with Brussels then there are the votes – Labour, smaller parties, plus Tory ministerial rebels – to demand in a vote just before March 29th that the government revokes Article 50 ahead of March 29th. When May warned of the dangers of no Brexit a portion of the Commons whooped and hollered. It was a chilling moment. What irresponsible clowns. Anyone attempting the lunatic idea of scrapping the June 2016 referendum result should be doing so in a serious spirit, aware of the grave risks involved.
You don’t have to be a populist – and I am certainly not – to think that telling the voters it will not happen is hardly going to end well. Think the culture war is bad now?
Revoke and reset will also break the Tory party if it happens, and possibly Labour too.
But the Tory party is currently in pieces anyway. In the votes after 7pm tonight, all discipline broke down on the government side, with ministers abstaining against the government whip. They will face no action or punishment, Number 10 admitted afterwards.
What do the latest developments mean? The government will bring forward a motion on Thursday which will present MPs with the option of agreeing a short extension until June 30th, to do… something, or risk a very long extension. Unless MPs vote for May’s deal.
Yes, the deal lives, just. And the government plan is to bring it back next week for another go.
Weirdly, it might work if the DUP and enough of the ERG decide Brexit is at risk, which of course it is thanks to their tactics and May’s serial political bungling. In this climate, the shock of tonight might help May get her deal through after all on a third or even fourth go. But there is no guarantee of it. The most die hard of the Brexiteers have already sworn they will vote and vote again to kill the deal. They’re furious that May won’t sack anti-no deal ministers. Some ERG types seem to want a general election rather than a compromise Brexit. Typically, the purists tend to have large majorities and no experience in recent memory of fighting a marginal. Their position is destructive and nihilistic.
The purist position strikes me as quite obviously deeply dangerous, opening up the possibility of Article 50 being revoked and the Brexiteers relying on a populist, cleansing explosion sweeping away all the grinning Remainers who goad Leave voters.
It’s not that simple though. The die hard Brexiteers talk a lot about what the British people feel. History suggests they – the voters – can make fools of those predicting an uprising. They voted by a majority for Brexit but many might at an election shrug at the ditching of Brexit. Or a quarter will be furious, which is enough to let in a Labour party led by Marxist maniacs. Why roll the dice when a form of Brexit is there now to be taken?
More sensible to pocket the deal, and get out of the EU as quickly as possible. But sensible is not in vogue right now.