This week may have been the week where Parliament took control from the Government and the Opposition took control of the negotiations.
Since the failure of the indicative votes earlier this week, we have seen an extraordinary volte-face in the Prime Minister’s approach. The decision to attempt to deliver the Withdrawal Agreement by negotiating a shared position with Labour has raised eyebrows, to say the least. Some have, generously, suggested that by bringing Jeremy Corbyn into the process May has bound Corbyn to help deliver Brexit, or be forever blamed (especially in a snap election) for a long extension, or a second referendum. This may be a consequence of her decision, but this is no show – she needs him and his party’s votes. If they manage to negotiate a shared position and a commitment to whip in favour of the agreement, then this ‘new deal’ will be put to EU leaders at a European Council meeting on 10 April. It is important to note that changes can only be made to the Political Declaration, not the Withdrawal Agreement that it is attached to. It is likely that any deal, assuming it keeps theUK in a customs union as is being touted, will be accepted by the EU. This could then be approved by the House of Commons in time for Britain to avoid participating in the European elections.
It is at this Council meeting that the EU will also decide on whether to grant the extension that the Prime Minister has asked for in her letter this morning. May wants to avoid holding European elections at all costs, and Donald Tusk’s recommendation is that the EU grant a one year ‘flextension’ (hooray, yet more jargon) which, as soon as an agreement has been reached, could be curtailed. This might mean that Britain could avoid holding elections and still be out of theEU by the 30 June.
The ERG, who were undeniably furious at this move towards a customs union arrangement, might do well to reflect on the words of one of their most outspoken members Mark Francois – “forgive them father, for they know not what they do” (not his words of course, though there is something of the aspirational messiah about him). If the ERG had rowed in behind the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement at any of the three opportunities they had, we might have left the European Union by now. But instead the numbers and the influence are behind those who want the softest possible Brexit, no Brexit, or a second referendum.
Their dream of No Deal is all but dead, especially when you look at these four potential scenarios. As a matter of international law, the UK does not leave theEU on the 12 April if the EU grants an extension. If the Government and Labour agree a shared position, then they get a softer Brexit with a customs union of some kind or another, and the hated backstop remains. If this unlikely coalition yields no results, the Cooper Bill, which raced through the Commons in record time and is likely to pass through the Lords on Monday, forces the Prime Minister to avoid No Deal by asking for a longer extension to the talks. Finally, given that the numbers in Parliament continue to shift against the Government – the election of a new Labour MP for Newport West and Nick Boles leaving the party are but two examples – Parliament has control of the order paper. More indicative votes will undoubtedly put pay to any hard Brexit. Will they continue to let perfect be the enemy of the good? Short answer, probably.
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