Richard North, 11/12/2018  
 


One wonders how MPs can expect any respect if they can't even show good manners in the House, and allow the prime minister to deliver her statements. But it took several (overdue) interventions to quell the rowdy crowd, the noise level from which made it very difficult to concentrate on what Mrs May was saying yesterday, when she spoke on Brexit.

The MPs just don't get it. The House of Commons is a place of work, not a kindergarten. And whatever one might think of Mrs May personally, she is still the prime minister – the leader of our government.

When she is delivering a statement to the House of the importance of yesterday's effort, she is not just speaking to MPs. She is speaking to the nation. As such, she deserves to be heard with courtesy and decorum. More to the point, since we have paid for the whole shebang, we are entitled to hear what is being said, without raucous interruptions.

Through the years, on Twitter and elsewhere, we get MPs up on their high horses, demanding "respect" from us mere plebs, the vile serfs who pay their wages and over-generous expenses. Yet they can't even accord respect to their own, the leader of our government, when she needs to address the nation.

And, even though one needs to say such things – even while great affairs of state hang in the balance - that does not mean that any of these buffoons will take the slightest bit of notice. The Westminster village, and the claque of political correspondents who service it might even think this behaviour is acceptable (and even commendable), but the outside world looking in has different views.

For decades now, we have seen the increasingly noisy and disrespectful posturing during prime ministers questions, and although no end of people have expressed their concerns about the spectacle and what it represents, these have had no impact at all. Our political masters are a law unto themselves, latterly illustrated by Lloyd Russell-Moyle seizing the mace, provoking even our lethargic Speaker into action.

For these many reasons, the very thing that MPs so often demand, they do not have – our respect. And if they do care to ignore us, they can. But nothing lasts forever. There is always a price to pay, and when the bill comes due to the noisy cretins polluting the Commons, there will be neither sympathy nor aid from this quarter. Nor, I suspect, will there be sanctuary from many others.

As to the prime minister's message, we need to turn to Hansard for that - the bleating media are not reliable sources. To capture the unfiltered nuances, we need to go to the primary source – the prime minister herself.

That today's vote has been "deferred" is, of course, now a matter of record. But it is a delay, even if no replacement date has been announced. If the government took no further action, that would mean we would drift towards 29 March and a "no deal" Brexit. For all its posturing and noise, there is little parliament could do about that. If Mrs May chose to treat the MPs with the contempt they so obviously deserve, she has the means to do so. One almost wishes she would deliver the rebuff.

Despite all that, the Speaker considers that the prime minister is being "deeply discourteous" to the House in halting the debate. This from a man who has so egregiously failed to maintain order in his own domain that the prime minister could scarcely be heard. When, one supposes, did he last look in a mirror?

Nevertheless, the game plan has changed. Mrs May is fully aware – having spoken to some of the "colleagues" over the weekend – that the EU is not prepared to reopen negotiations. If there was any doubt, this has been confirmed by a Commission spokeswoman since the prime minister's statement. And, unlike the UK government, the Commission tends to stick to its word on such matters – mainly because it has no option.

Thus, the purpose of her announcement, apart from letting MPs know that they won't be needed today, was to enable Mrs May "to go and discuss with other European leaders, the Council and the Commission" the "further reassurances that the House requires on the issues that Members are concerned about, notably whether or not the backstop, should it ever be used, can be brought to an end".

Quite what this is likely to achieve, one can only imagine. It is difficult to see any circumstances where rebel MPs will be satisfied with mere "reassurances", with no fundamental changes to the withdrawal agreement. The best she can hope for is a vague political declaration – some words on a piece of paper that she can wave at the crowds.

Even then, we do not know precisely when Mrs May will be visiting Brussels, although today she is planning to meet her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte. On the other hand, Donald Tusk has announced that he will convene a special meeting of the EU-27 leaders (the so-called Article 50 Council) on Thursday. Mrs May is not invited to such meetings, but she is due in Brussels then for the scheduled full European Council meeting.

In making the announcement, Tusk reaffirms that the EU "will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop". But, he says, "we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification". That may or may not be helpful. Rather ominously, though, he adds that: "As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario".

Nor is Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, being particularly helpful. "I have no difficulty with statements that clarify what's in the withdrawal agreement", he says. "But no statement of clarification can contradict what's in it".

Through all the uncertainly, though, the one thing that does shine through is Mrs May's determination to take us out of the EU. Despite the full ECJ ruling yesterday on the unilateral revocation of the Article 50 notification (with the judgement here), she shows no sign of taking advantage of this.

"Nobody should think that revoking article 50 is a short-term solution or short-term extension of article 50", she says. "Revoking article 50 would mean going back on the vote of the referendum and staying in the European Union". By contrast, the prime minister genuinely feels "absolutely" that it is important for the Commons "to deliver on the vote that took place in 2016".

As regards a second referendum to overturn the result of the first, Mrs May tells MPs that they need to "be honest that this risks dividing the country again, when as a House we should be striving to bring it back together".

Tackling Caroline Lucas on this, she asked her whether she honestly thought that "if we were to have a further referendum and it came out with a different result, people would not then say that we should have a third referendum to find out exactly what the result was".

And if we had a second referendum with the same result, Mrs May also wondered whether Lucas would still be asking for a third referendum. "This Parliament gave people the choice and the people decided", she declared. "They voted; we should deliver on it".

But, showing how slender a grip she has on the options available, she asserts that, if MPs "want to remain part of the single market and the customs union", this "would require free movement, rule taking across the economy and ongoing financial contributions - none of which are in my view compatible with the result of the referendum".

When you get to this level of intellectual inflexibility, you might as well be talking to a wall. The prime minister's grasp of the Efta/EEA option would shame a bright teenager but, since she is the bed-blocker currently in No. 10, her ignorance trumps mere knowledge.

For all that, she is right in telling MPs that, "if you want to leave without a deal, be up front that in the short term, this would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden".

The real crunch, though, was in Mrs May's follow-up assertion that she did not believe that any of the options apart from leaving, commanded a majority in this House. And, she added, "for as long as we fail to agree a deal, the risk of an accidental no deal increases".

"The vast majority of us", she declared, "accept the result of the referendum and want to leave with a deal. We have a responsibility to discharge. If we will the ends, we must also will the means".

Yet, while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, and none more so than Mrs May's. Finally, while still not really understanding why, she is having to confront the impossible position she created for herself in her Lancaster House speech.

Having listened to endless amounts of bad advice, she has closed off the one avenue that could have delivered her salvation – the Efta/EEA option. She is left with nothing but some empty theatricals to buy her time from a shrinking pot. She can only kick the can so far down the road before she runs out of road and has to stand her ground.

Meanwhile, the Westminster journos are having a field day. All the pre-prepared mantras are being trotted out, unquestioned and unchallenged. Now is not the time for exploring issues (not that it ever has been), when there are party politics to play and cheap points to score.

For the next few weeks, well into Christmas, the hacks can focus on what really matters (to them) – how long Mrs May will survive as prime minister and whether we will get a general election in the New Year.

Whether Mrs May's deal survives, though, nobody can even guess. But if it's her deal or no deal, she still has the whip hand. Apart from the brain-dead "ultras" and the increasingly pathetic Ukip rump, the message that a "no deal" Brexit is bad news has generally sunk in. And the person standing between a deal and disaster is Mrs May.

I just wonder how many loud-mouthed MPs are going to take it to the wire and beyond, when the reward for caving in is the status quo, i.e., the interim period, for a couple of years, compared with the certain disaster of a "no deal" Brexit. Who do we think will blink first?






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