Monday, 21 January 2019
Brexit - what next?
In a post in August 2018 I argued that, although a People's Vote on Brexit would be highly desirable, an even better step would be for the party whips to be taken off and our MPs to be free to debate the merits and demerits of every conceivable option and then, perhaps having narrowed down the viable alternatives to two or three, make the final decision themselves.
If they decided not to leave the EU after all on the grounds that no deal which involves leaving, on whatever terms, is anywhere near as good as the one we already have, then there would be a lot of harrumphing and perhaps even some French-style riots on the streets but we'd get over it and could, from that stronger position, begin to tackle the real problems facing the country - and not least the genuine grievances which led to the Brexit vote.
The idea did not receive much traction. Nor did a letter in the Guardian the following month (26/09/18) arguing that if MPs took this step than the whole mess could be sorted out before Bonfire Night.
Fiends with whom I discussed the matter seemed to take the view that I was probably right but "it ain't gonna happen."
Happily, I now feel opinion is moving in that direction.
Having spent two and a half years devising a plan that has been rejected by a bigger majority than anything else British Governments have attempted in modern times, Mrs May carries on as if nothing has happened, and is expected to propose the same plan with minor variations this-afternoon. The Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, refuses to participate in cross- party talks unless the game is played according to his own rules.
It is perfectly clear that, since the Brexit issue seems to have split both major parties equally, the traditional party structure is incapable of resolving the issue.
The prominent Tory Remainer and former cabinet minister Dominic Grieve has proposed that MPs should be allowed one day for free discussion and "indicative votes" on the various options. Amazing that the body in which our sovereignty lies has to ask permission!
More boldly, Sir John Major, the former conservative prime minister who designated the Brixiteers in his cabinet as "the Bastards" has called for the whips to be taken off and some free discussion and "indicative votes" to take place. Major points out that Edward Heath, under whose premiership, after several rebuffs, we actually joined the EU, allowed Tory MPs a free vote, so these free votes would not be dangerously innovative.
I'm not sure if Major goes as far as asking MPs to make the final decision. but he seems to allow the possibility of a People's Vote if MPs can't make up their minds.
In the wonderful words and music of Gilbert and Sullivan: "quite calm deliberation disentangles every knot."
Rather than further weeks of Mrs May trying to foist her unacceptable deal onto a reluctant parliament, with an Opposition too timid to propose any alternative (other than a General Election, which would be absurd at this stage). we need several weeks, if necessary, of calm discussion form our MPs to enable them, fully informed, to make the most serious decision of their and my political lifetime.