There was yet more Parliamentary drama this week, as MPs backed two amendments to Theresa May’s latest Brexit statement, one with the blessing of the Prime Minister and without. The Graham Brady amendment, supported by the Government, stated that the backstop should be ‘replaced with alternative arrangements.’ Meanwhile, Dame Caroline Spelman’s amendment, opposed by Government, stated that the UK will not leave the EU without a deal.
Both of these amendments are rather puzzling and unlikely to lead to anything tangible. The Brady amendment, as well as being spectacularly vague, was immediately slapped down the EU who will not budge on the backstop, and aren’t exactly going to be swayed by a vote in the Commons telling them what to do. Similarly, MPs ‘rejecting’ no deal is a bit of a nonsense. A no deal scenario is simply the default option if no other arrangement is reached. It doesn’t matter if Westminster declares it isn’t going to happen, it is not just up to them. What happened in the Commons this week was symbolic, advisory. Perhaps even grandstanding.
And whatever your views on Brexit itself, we suspect that you will agree that having Brexit suck up every moment of political headspace is a really bad thing. Of course it is important, perhaps the most important issue in a generation, but there are consequences to the fact that we’ve had two and a half years of pure Brexit – namely, that other things get overlooked. This week, Sajid Javid has announced new plans to tackle knife crime, which basically amounts to resurrecting the ASBO. A controversial response to a huge issue, but drowned out. There have been question marks over Boris Johnson’s behaviour this week as well, with revelations surfacing that he was less than transparent about a private jet trip to London he accepted from a somewhat questionable Tory donor, as well as accepting a huge in-kind donation from Saudi Arabia just weeks after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. In normal times that would be a huge story, but not while Brexit is going on to distract us all.
Brexit has presented a million and one problems over the last two years. But its most subtle effect is also a highly significant one. While we are all thinking about Brexit, no one is thinking about anything else. And that is not healthy.