The final gallop towards a Brexit deal is following the pattern many of us have been predicting for a couple of years or more. Those charged with the negotiations are at loggerheads. We are told that the fault lies with the EU who are intransigent and, indeed introduce last minute additional demands to frustrate the doughty British.
Bold Johnson charges in at the eleventh hour to fix a deal.
We can expect this to be announced within the next couple of weeks. Whatever it is will be hailed as a triumph. The Tory press will laud it to the skies, overlooking the fact that the UK will have diluted if not ignored most of its so-called red lines.
The deal will be lean because it is impossible to achieve what was promised: "All the benefits of membership without being members."
The question then arises: how should the opposition parties vote on the deal?
Labour, poor things, are already locked in an unproductive squabble. Sir Keir Starmer seems anxious to support the deal. He presumably has his eye on the former "red wall" areas which are assumed to have deserted Labour because they, the "Northern left behind," were predominantly pro-Brexit and regraded Labour, quite accurately, as being less than enthusiastic about staying in the EU - instead sitting on the fence. Starmer thinks that supporting the deal will re-assert Labour's dedication to the so-called "will of the people."
Pro EU Labour MPs, by far the majority, feel they could not possibly support a deal which will be so damaging to the British people, though some take the pragmatic view that any deal, however lean, will be less damaging than no deal. Their spokesperson Rachel Reeves plays for time, saying that the party should not decide until the contents of the deal are known. Their former leader Neil Kinnock calls on the party to abstain.
A similar dilemma faces the tiny band of Liberal Democrats in the Commons. As a party we could vote for the deal on the grounds that it is better than no-deal. We could vote against it on the grounds that it is nowhere near as advantageous to the UK as the deal we had when we were in the EU. On the other hand, voting against the deal, if sufficient others support this line, leads to no-deal which is even worse.
Better to abstain.
In truth, however the opposite parties vote will have few practical consequences, since the decision is unlikely to be uppermost in voters' minds when the next election comes in 2024. Things will have moved on.
Nevertheless I believe it is important for all the opposition parties, including the national parties and Greens, to abstain. Indeed, if Labour could be persuaded, it would be better for all the opposition parties not even turn up for the debate. Let the Tories fight it out among themselves.
It is important to nail this debacle entirely on the Conservatives. It is their shambles. They must be seen to own it. Starmer's ploy of voting in favour means that Labour can be forced to share the responsibility.
It was never in the national interest to hold a referendum on EU membership. There was, until the late noughties, no popular call for it. In spite of the efforts of the Euro-sceptics and their supportive press, opinion surveys showed that EU membership came about 16th in the order of voters' concerns, way behind the top concerns of employment, education and the health and care services.
The Conservative party itself did, however, have a problem, in that their votes were haemorrhaging to the maverick UKIP party led by the populist Nigel Farage. So Prime Minister Cameron made a promise that he did not expect to keep: that if the Conservatives won the 2015 election there would be a referendum. He did not expect to keep the promise becasue he did not expect an over-all majority, so would have to continue to rely on the Liberal Democrats, who would veto the idea.
Alas that didn't happen and so Cameron was forced to keep his promise. The result was that in a referendum without the usual safeguards for a critical decision,an underwhelming 37% of a highly restricted electorate, fed on lies and distortions amplified by illegal expenditure voted to leave, whilst 34% voted to remain and 27% didn't bother to vote at all.
This 37% was then magnified as "the will of the people," efforts to minimise the damage by remaining in the customs union and single market, options which were put forward by the Leave campaign itself, were abandoned, Prime Minister Theresa May chose to demonstrate her macho decisiveness by triggering Article 50 before her government had any idea of what they actually wished to achieve, the die-hard Europe Research Group with their poster-boy Jacob Rees Mogg made the running from there on, and so we approach the pending national self harm.
The Tories should be made to own it and seen to own it.