Brexit – the Battle for Britain
by Stuart Millson
Despite enormous opposition from unreconciled pro-Remain MPs, Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry from the Conservative benches and practically every Labour MP – save for principled, free-thinkers such as Frank Field and Kate Hoey – the Prime Minister succeeded in steering the EU Withdrawal legislation through the House of Commons, sidestepping along the way a brazen attempt by the Lords to paralyse the Bill. With Parliamentary ratification of the Referendum result and the all-important withdrawal date of the 29thMarch 2019 enshrined in statute (a clause which Remainiac campaigners had worked hard to expunge from the final Act), Britain is now set to end 40 depressing years of provincial status within the European super state.
A year-and-a-half ago, Remainist litigants, led by investment manager Gina Miller, attempted to thwart the Government’s Brexit strategy by bringing a case to the High Court – which argued that only Parliament could possibly authorise our EU withdrawal. After a subsequent Supreme Court hearing (its judges, incidentally, unable to pass a unanimous verdict), the Government was instructed to take the matter to Parliament. Having won in the courts, Gina Miller and her would-be constitutionalists now hoped that Parliament – considerably Remainish in its outlook – would veto any attempt to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the obscure small print by which a state can give notice to the bureaucrats of Brussels that it wishes to be sovereign once again. Her scheme, however, backfired, as MPs by an approximate 4:1 majority gave the Prime Minister the authority to proceed – parliamentarians understanding, on this occasion, the laws of physics – or at least, the laws of politics – that no legislature in the world would set its face against a 17.4 million-strong referendum vote.
The Government is currently faced with yet another difficult test: how to conclude an arrangement with the European Union on how we deal with the bloc in relations to trade, citizens’ rights etc – post-March 2019. Despite proposing numerous ideas, including the most recent plan devised over a weekend at the PM’s country residence, resulting in the resignation of both the Secretary of State for EU Exit, and the Foreign Secretary, the European Union seems set on rejecting as “unworkable” Theresa May’s suggestions. There is also the vexed question of avoiding a “hard Irish border” – although quite how a man with a clipboard making random checks upon lorries at the boundary with the EU-zone Irish Republic constitutes a “hard border” is unclear. EU negotiators should remind themselves of the Berlin Wall, or the Iron Curtain: two well-known examples of what a “hard border” really looks like.
Frustrated by EU commissar Michel Barnier’s constant “non” to each Downing Street initiative, the British Government is looking increasingly weak – and desperate. The weakness lies in the image of the Prime Minister having to shuffle back to the drawing board, the EU apparently unmoved by threats to withhold our £39 billion “divorce” payment – and the desperation is exemplified by our rush to think up new “structures”, “partnerships” and systems with which to cling on to some aspects of EU trade, with the much-vaunted Single Market and Customs Union.
Having endured another rebuttal at M. Barnier’s hands, and with time ticking away before the deadline of the withdrawal agreement with Brussels, the Government’s response is to go on holiday! Instead of being galvanised by the game-playing of the Eurocrats – instead of regrouping in order to devise a final negotiating offer (with some in-built pain for the EU if it does not agree), the Cabinet treats the matter as just another part of the political and parliamentary schedule.
At the time of writing, Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Frank Field face “deselection” and “votes of no confidence” – organised by pro-Corbyn cadres. Brexit and the final deal with the European Union will shape our country for a generation. It will mean the difference between a resurgent Conservative Party and Government – confident enough to take hold of the exit process and to call Barnier’s bluff – or the appalling scenario of Theresa May (for all her faults) failing and ushering in a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Stuart Millson is QR’s Classical Music Editor