In my last blog, in December, I observed the stalemate over Brexit...
Britain is trapped in a political stalemate over Brexit. We are 100 days from leaving the EU and there is no agreed treaty to settle the terms of our leaving and our future relationship with our neighbours.
There are three options: May’s deal, no deal and no Brexit. There seems to be no majority for the first two and a reluctance to ignore the referendum result and dump Brexit. Both the major parties are split on this issue and there is a lack of leadership to deliver a solution and heal the divisions Brexit has created. Where do we go from here?
A ‘no deal’ Brexit is the default option that will happen unless Parliament votes to prevent this. There are probably no more than 125 MPs who actively support a ‘no deal’ outcome. Theresa May’s deal doesn’t have majority support either. The Irish border issue is one reason for this. Nobody wants a hard border including the EU but they insist on a backstop arrangement if no solution can be found to prevent a hard border. The DUP MPs won’t accept that and their votes are keeping the Government in office.
The 2016 referendum result is the biggest obstacle to any solution. Parliament voted to give the electorate the choice and a modest majority voted to reverse the decision of the 1975 referendum and to leave the EU. Some would say that the referendum was a mistake, made by David Cameron to neutralise the hard right in his party. They had agitated against EU membership when Heath took us in and compelled John Major to stand down and seek re-election as party leader when he was the Prime Minister.
The constitutional question is whether MPs are delegates, who do what the people tell them, or representatives, who use their judgement to do what is in the natural interest for the good of the people. Most MPs see themselves in the latter role but Mrs May has adopted the former in this instance.
Talking to MPs it is apparent that most of them won’t support May’s deal. It compromises too much for the hard line Brexiteers whilst the centrists think it risks damaging the economy and causing jobs to be lost. If the latter are honest most of them don’t want to leave the EU but party discipline keeps them from voting for no Brexit at all. They advocate a second referendum as a possible way around that.
They remind us that a number of older voters, who probably voted for Brexit, have died, whilst a number of younger voters who have reached 18 since 2016, are more likely to be Remainers. Whatever the truth of this the committed Leavers would call for a third referendum because they wouldn’t support any result that stopped Brexit any more than Remainers who are not accepting the 2016 result as final.
The nation is more deeply divided by Brexit than on any issue in living memory. The issue has also divided the major parties. 117 right wing Conservatives went so far as to express no confidence in Theresa May’s leadership but failed to convince their colleagues. Jeremy Corbyn does not like the EU which he sees as a capitalist institution and hopes Brexit could be a step towards the election of a Labour Government that would introduce socialist policies challenging capitalism in Britain. His problem is that many of his younger supporters in the Momentum movement, that returned him to office after opposition from Labour MPs, are pro EU membership.
How can this stalemate be overcome? There are a significant number of MPs in both the major parties that reject both extremes. The only political way forward would be for them to break ranks with their parties to vote against May’s deal and the’ no deal ‘ options and to vote for the suspension of article 50 to give time for wider consultation and a popular vote on all the options. That may not be popular but with time running out it is the only responsible way of avoiding the divisive alternatives.
Christians have to recognise that we are as divided on these issues as everyone else. What we can do that most other people won’t is to sincerely pray that God’s will be done here in Britain as it is in heaven and to actively seek to be peace makers in our troubled nation.