Richard North, 06/05/2019  

Things are getting serious. The tempo of the May/Corbyn tryst is speeding up – and the details are leaking.

Supposedly, the prime minister is prepared to offer concessions to make it all happen, starting with a temporary customs "arrangement". Her second concession is to agree to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU on goods, to maintain some sort of access to the Single Market and, for her third trick, she will guarantee to uphold the EU's package of workers' rights.

The customs "arrangement" – by which is probably meant a customs union - would last until the general election, whence the Tories and Labour would set out their competing visions for the next round of negotiations and each go their separate ways.

Needless to say, there is a significant group of Labour MPs who dislike this, alongside an unspecified number of Tories, who have their own reasons for opposing it. The outcome then is a matter of arithmetic – whether there will be enough loyalists on either side to outnumber the rebels.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is said to be extremely unhappy about the temporary customs plan, dismissing the cross-party talks as like "trying to enter a contract with a company going into administration" – an allusion to the internal strife in the Conservative Party, which could mean that Mrs May won't be leader long enough to deliver on her promises.

Apart from that, not a lot has changed since yesterday, or the day before that, and the day before that. Those MPs who are working up to dislike anything on offer, will have their rejections standing by, while the ebb and flow of sentiment keeps everyone on tenterhooks and the legacy media in business, with plenty on which to speculate.

The whole thing is expected to go into high gear on Tuesday but whether we will see a conclusion is anyone's guess. The tedium is almost overwhelming to the extent that driving nails into my head with a club hammer would be more entertaining. Much more of this and the nation's mental health will take an even greater dip than it has already.

Perhaps the only thing of interest to emerge from the whole of the weekend is Mrs May's apparent intention to use a general election to resolve issues, with the two parties standing on their own platforms on Brexit, allowing the electorate to make a choice. If accepted by Labour, that would actually tend to rule out a "confirmatory" referendum.

That in itself could be another reason for some MPs to dislike the deal, to add to the reasons they have already decided upon, sufficient perhaps for some of them to have an entirely fresh set of reasons for not ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement.

But even if Labour MPs don't support the deal, this will still be a Tory issue. In the final analysis, Mrs May is only turning to the opposition because she can't get the support of her own MPs. But if the "ultra" tendency in the Tories want to throw a strop and split the party, it will be hard to find anyone outside the Westminster bubble who actually cares.

With all that, one really does wonder what motivates the rebels, except that we are fully aware of the propensity of MPs to temper their ignorance with a thick layer of self-delusion. And those who believe that the "WTO option" is a credible solution will never be induced to take seriously the perils of leaving without a deal.

But even the thickest of these must be aware that, if the outcome of a mass rebellion is a no-deal Brexit, voter retribution will be merciless. Many of them will lose their jobs at the next election, and the Tories will be unlikely to see government again for a generation. One can only hope that that, plus the likelihood of being humiliated by the Farage Party at the European Elections, will be enough to dissuade them from going to the wire once more.

The problem for us as observers, is that we are really running out of things to say. There is virtually nothing that can be said which hasn't already been said, and until a decision is made one way or another about the Withdrawal Agreement, there is little more to add.

Nor can one look to the future with any confidence or enthusiasm, when the outcome of the Brexit process is so uncertain. The only sensible thing to do is to retreat to a bunker as far away as possible and wait it out. But that, in itself is an outrage. People and businesses have decisions to make and should not be expected to put their lives and enterprises on hold, awaiting the pleasure of their political masters. 

The political process is about decision-making, rights over which the low-grade denizens of Westminster jealously guard. But, if they themselves cannot exercise the functions for which they have been appointed - with so many wanting to hand the Brexit decision to the "people" - we have to ask what they are needed for.

Bluntly, if parliament can't do its job, then it needs to move over and let those who can take the reins. If the people must make the decision here, then they can make all sorts of other decisions. The precedent for greater direct democracy becomes very powerful. 

If removing the middle man in the political system is what it takes, then the sooner the better. We can close down the Houses of Parliament and turn their building into a museum of democracy, while the people get down to the work at hand, work which MPs are failing to address.

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