The defeat of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement is no surprise. The scale of the defeat, 149 in total, most certainly was.
The thinking had been that she might get the margin of defeat down considerably to give her a chance to bring it back a third time and finally win approval. That now seems unlikely without Labour or other opposition parties coming to her aid, and why should they?
This is politics; just as the EU has had little incentive to provide more concessions while the UK government cannot provide proposals derived from consensus across the Tory party and Parliament – so Labour has no incentive to support the government in delivering an orderly Brexit when its primary goal is to force an early general election.
What then is to be done for the sake of British democracy in delivering the country’s choice of leaving the EU – and for Conservatives in particular, what is to be done in bringing Tory MPs together that not only delivers Brexit but does so in a manner that restores party harmony?
Surprisingly, despite all of the bitterness and rancour, the resignations and threats of resignation by ministers and MPs there is a solution that should be adopted by the government if it can at last accept the Withdrawal Agreement is dead.
Tonight’s vote on recommending whether or not the UK should leave without having first negotiated a single comprehensive deal is expected to see such a possibility rejected. Such an outcome would ignore negotiating basics. No Deal needs to remain on the table as it is key to providing leverage. To remove the option will pull the rug from under the Government’s feet in the remaining time for Brussels negotiations. It ensures that extending Article 50 is absolutely pointless, as the EU can run the clock down until the next end-datewaiting on the UK to blink first.
There is nothing to be afraid of in leaving the EU on world trade terms. The majority of the world conducts its trade in such a way and recently senior figures such as Mark Carney have indicated the effects will be mitigated.
Business wants certainty and the British people want the UK to leave the EU on time in an orderly fashion. Thankfully then, businesses and the British people in general need to be reassured there is no such thing as no deal. Yes, it is an accepted term of use, but it is wholly inaccurate. It’s a fallacy. There is the Prime Minister’s deal – or there is a large bundle of individual deals set up to handle the arrangements for different issues. This bundle grows almost daily and will grow even more by 29th March.
All those scares about lorries being stopped at the Channel Tunnel or the Dover ferries; the threat that aircraft would not be able to fly to Europe; the idea that we could not be involved in nuclear power; that tourists would not be able to go to EU countries on holiday; or that aircraft parts will not have safety certificates and there will be shortages of lettuces, medicines and avocados – it’s all tosh.
Instead there is an agreement for haulage companies, visa-free travel for visitors to EU countries will happen, aircraft will fly after all and Airbus wings made in the UK will have safety certification – while radioactive isotopes will be available for hospitals and nuclear power generation will continue. The list goes on but you get the gist. Beyond the bitter and theatrical grandstanding of remainerpoliticians, bureaucrats on both sides have seen what needs to be done to make trade and life in general continue without hindrance – and are making sure it will happen.
But if, for all that, no deal is unacceptable to a majority of MPs what could be? The amendment to the government motion advocating the Malthouse Plan B offers something for everyone. For Brexiteers, it keeps no deal on the table, t protects against any form of “cliff-edge” for those worried about leaving on WTO terms, and it offers generous terms to EU citizens.
Crucially, it is backed by MPs who voted Remain such as Nicky Morgan and Damian Green; others who voted Leave, such as Steve Baker, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Also supporting it are Simon Hart, co-chair of the loyalist Brexit Delivery Group, and Nigel Dodds of the DUP.
The Malthouse amendment fulfils Conservative manifesto commitments to take back control over borders, laws and money and to leave the single market and customs union. It also unites Tory party MPs and respects the House of Commons majority verdict on the previous Brady amendment. The amendment has been selected but not accepted by the Government – nevertheless it deserves support because it is and will remain a solution to its troubles.
Passing the amendment will stop Jeremy Corbyn taking power in Downing Street and restore trust in politics by implementing what the record number of Britons voted for in the Referendum.
The alternatives to the Malthouse amendment are more resignations, leadership chaos, the likely defeat of the PM’s Deal when it comes back a third time, Remainers taking control of the Commons, a possible general election, eventually another referendum (that justifies a second referendum in Scotland), a formal Tory split, and a very left-wing Labour Government.
What’s not to like about the Malthouse amendment? Every side now has to find compromise and this surely allows people to save face, to salvage their pride from a humiliating defeat (everybody is about to lose something) but deliver a recognisable Brexit on time and under budget. You know it makes sense.