In my last blog, in December, I observed the stalemate over Brexit...
Last Sunday the Brexit process entered a new phase when the EU Council of Ministers approved two documents. The first was the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the second an outline framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Practically, this was merely a start to the process because both documents have to be formally approved by the UK Parliament and the EU Parliament and fleshed out in more detail
The draft Withdrawal Agreement is a compromise. Both the UK and the EU have made concessions. The UK side doesn’t get all it wanted but nor did the EU side. Theresa May claimed that it would give the UK control of our borders and end free movement of labour. It would be good for our economy and protect jobs. It will free us, once the separation payment has been made, from having the pay large sums of money into the EU every year. It would free us to make trade deals with non-EU countries and it would also free us from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and restore our Parliament as our sovereign law maker.
However, all this depends on the two key documents being approved by Parliament and the signs are that this will not happen unless lots of Opposition MPs ignore the Whips and vote for it. The initial responses in the House of Commons suggest there is neither a majority in the House for the draft Agreement nor for a ‘no deal’ Brexit or for no Brexit at all. That said the ‘no deal’ Brexit is the default option. It requires no legislation so if the Commons has no majority for any alternative that is what will happen possibly without any of the concessions the EU has offered.
Formal Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft Agreement will commence on 11thDecember and will begin by debating a procedural motion to establish the timetable that will lead to the “meaningful vote” and when and how far amendments can be proposed and voted on. Once that is established the debate on the content of the two documents will be debated as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
For that to become law it must secure a majority in both Houses of Parliament. That would require at least 320 MPs to vote for it. That figure seems unobtainable at the moment. At least 58 Conservatives seem likely to vote against the Bill together with the 10 DUP MPs. There are approximately 244 Conservative loyalists expected to vote for the Bill. Jeremy Corbyn has rubbished the draft deal so the Opposition is likely to be whipped to vote against the Bill making Theresa May’s priority to persuade a significant number of Labour backbenchers to rebel and vote for the Bill. She has even considered a live television debate with the Opposition Leader.
She has already invited potential Labour rebels to a briefing and will remind them that the other 27 EU leaders made it very clear last Sunday that the deal they agreed is the only one on offer. They think they have made all the concessions they are willing to make. Mrs May will point to the gains made in the talks and plead that they would all be lost in a default ‘no deal’ departure.
However, if Parliament does vote against the Bill there is one last minute emergency compromise to avoid that outcome. The Government could seek temporary membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) for the duration of the transition period, giving the Government time to search for a way out of the mess. Those calling for a second referendum or for a people’s vote might then persuade a sufficient number of MPs to ask the voters to resolve the impasse.
Opponents of a second vote are mindful of the demographic changes since 2016. Research reveals that 120,000 Leave voters have died since 2016 whilst 1.4 million youngsters have passed their 18th birthdays. In 2016 90% of the over 65s voted but only 64% of the 18-24s. 60% of the older cohort voted for Brexit whilst 70% of the 18-24s who voted backed Remain. A second vote is unlikely to be welcomed by the older voters but the youngsters could argue that they have to live longer with the consequences of a bad Brexit.
The Brexit debate had divided the nation more deeply than any other political decision in living memory. Whatever is decided a new vision for Britain’s future is needed that re-unites us. That is something for which all people of faith can surely pray.