To get over the initial objections to what I am to say: yes, the motives of MPs voting to seize the House last night have a mixture of motives, and many who speak claiming one motive are hypocrites of the worst sort; saying they just want to avoid a no-deal but actually wanting to cancel Brexit entirely. Others genuinely just want to avoid no-deal while accepting the principle of Brexit, but by their actions so far have made a deal less possible. Others, the majority of Labour, will just vote against anything a Tory government wants. Some Conservative (or ex-Conservative) rebels have a personal beef with Boris Johnson and have fooled themselves about their motives. They are not daft, but may be too much in their own worlds to see or want to see the consequences.
Very well then, if the motive is to ensure that a deal is done (as the ‘Ayes’ claimed yesterday), make a positive move, not a negative one: Repeal Section 13.
Section 13 of the European Union Withdrawal Act requires the approval of the House of Commons to any withdrawal agreement and political declaration. Had it not been for Section 13, Mrs May would have signed her deal in February and we would have completed Brexit cleanly on 29 March 2019 with a deal, albeit a bad one. Section 13 is therefore the main factor in causing a probable no-deal therefore, and must go.
Mrs May’s deal was rejected by a weird coalition of Labour being difficult, the ERG ‘Spartans’ and the DUP opposing the terms, and Remainiac members. With no withdrawal agreement, Britain headed for a dealless exit, hence the delay which sealed Mrs May’s political death warrant. Now the numbers are worse, but the ERG may be aboard.
The rebels of last night should be ready to sign a new deal if it emerges, and their rhetoric suggest just that. Philip Hammond laboured Boris Johnson not on Brexit as a whole but on whether there is a deal in progress and Boris responded that it is only Parliament getting in the way. Those points of view are not opposites but variations on a theme. Both Johnson and Hammond want a deal, and Hammond claims to accept the principle of Brexit. Others I have spoken to personally say the same and sound convincing.
Therefore, it is in the interests of both sides to authorise the government to sign a deal. Repeal Section 13, delegate to the government the authority it needs to do what the House has demanded.
Labour will vote against, as they always do, and the Liberal Democrats and Renainiacs will oppose because they want to block Brexit. Of the others who blocked Mrs May’s deal before, the ERG and DUP can better trust Boris Johnson and his team to get the right deal. Last night’s rebels should be content too, if they are genuine in their motives. Those who were once in the government voted against Section 13 when it was proposed as an amendment by Starmer, Grieve and the Remainers. Let them now vote against it again.
Let us put that to the test and see if they are genuine: will they move to repeal the one proven block against settling a deal? Repeal Section 13.
- Making a Success of Brexit and Reforming the EU by Roger Bootle
- Brexit: Its Necessity and Challenge by Tony Kosuge
- Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe by Denis MacShane
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley
- Brexit: How Britain Left Europe by Denis MacShane
- Beyond Brexit: Towards a British Constitution by Vernon Bogdanor