The House of Commons has rejected Theresa May’s proposed “Withdrawal” from the EU, by the largest margin ever (230).
Unfortunately, the size of the margin is explained less by the uselessness of the proposal than by May’s intransigence and other MPs’ opportunism.
The proposal was a poor attempt at withdrawal, since it allows for indefinite transition, for Northern Ireland to stay in the EU, for Britain’s financial and legal obligations to continue without any authorities as a member, for the EU to veto any British petitions, and for European courts to adjudicate.
Even if the EU were to allow Britain to withdraw from the transition period, nothing about the post-transition “withdrawal” has been agreed, except for the vague and non-binding aspirations in the “Political Declaration” (also agreed by the EU in November).
Theresa May’s policy is even vaguer. We can be sure only that she errs towards Remain: she has said that she aspires to a final relationship with the EU that looks much like the withdrawal agreement. Indeed, she has already made separate commitments to the EU that entrap Britain in parts of the current union and even the future closer union – such as the Common Security and Defence Union.
Theresa May is intent on a Brexit that looks more like Remain. That is why MPs SHOULD be voting against her proposal – as representatives of a electoral majority that voted for Brexit on the promise that Brexit would mean withdrawal from all aspects of the EU, and would not be reinterpreted by politicians or a second referendum.
Additionally, MPs SHOULD be voting against her proposal because of her broken promises: she had ruled out staying in the customs union, staying under EU jurisdiction, and splitting the British Union. She had promised a free trade agreement. Moreover, she never consulted Parliament on her government’s furtive commitment to the Defence and Security Union (a civil servant retrospectively reported to a committee that the commitment was “ad hoc” like an observer, but this is impossible).
Yet most MPs are not voting down her proposal out of democratic duties. Most MPs are Remainers (including most Conservative MPs). They voted it down because they want something more like Remain than even May’s offering.
That is why few MPs have called Theresa May to account for her blatant lies – repeated ad nausea – that her proposal “delivers on the referendum,” removes Britain from EU jurisdiction, stops Britain’s payments worth billions per year, ends freedom of movement (at least 3 million current residents have been guaranteed all current privileges), takes back control of borders, allows Britain sovereignty to make free trade agreements elsewhere, etc.
Most MPs are not holding May to account for failing to deliver the referendum result, for breaking her promises, for bypassing Parliament, for bypassing her own Cabinet, for giving civil servants executive powers, or for lieing to Parliament and the public.
No, most MPs are trying to delay withdrawal in the hope that they can use the time to stop any withdrawal or make Brexit look even more like Remain.
Some Parliamentarians have been motioning to ask the EU to delay the nominal date of separation beyond the end of March (this option would involve a request to extend Article 50’s two-year clock).
The typical fake excuse is that Britain isn’t ready, but that’s of the government’s and Parliament’s making (the government did not release any funds for readiness until late summer 2018; and this month Parliament legislated against releasing any more funds). Another fake excuse is that leaving without a deal would be a “disaster,” “crashing out,” “falling off a cliff edge.” Users of such language are deluded about how international trade works – including most MPs.
With that extra time, some Remainers hope to revoke Britain’s request to withdraw under Article 50.
Others want to renegotiate Britain’s membership to look like Norway’s (marketed dishonestly as “Norway Plus” or “Common Market 2.0”). Norway’s membership is worse than Britain’s current membership (same obligations, more fees, less powers), so for some proponents this option is a stealthy nudge of the electorate to favour revocation of Article 50.
If Parliamentarians cannot achieve any of this for themselves, they will rally around the call for a second referendum, which is falsely marketed as democratic (and a “people’s vote”), in the sense that Parliament would be returning to the people the choice that Parliament cannot decide for itself. This is disingenuous: both the executive and Parliament have chosen not to implement the referendum result; they would be telling the plebs to think again, as has happened after every referendum in other member countries.
British democracy has never looked so fake since Neville Chamberlain’s authoritarianism in the late 1930s, with the complicity of most of the opposition within Parliament and the news media without.
Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU was wrong, but don’t mistake Parliament’s opposition as right. The executive and legislature disagree on the specifications, but similarly err against the popular will for Brexit. May promised to confer with the opposition, and the opposition demanded a “true customs union” for starters. Last night’s events strengthen the political trend towards Remain.