Last year was so last year, lads

Tension in the Commons, procedural skirmishes, the Lords ready to pounce, rebellion on the government side of the House, all over Brexit. Yet this is not 2019. That annus horribilis was meant to be over and done with when Boris rode back to Downing Street in triumph after the Winter election.

This time the voices are as shrill but it is a matter so petty that you wonder why they bother being so emotional. Last year Brexit itself was in the balance and for all the platitudes about procedure and just securing a deal (which they then voted against) it was about whether Britain would leave the European Union at all, and the entire country knew. Brexit itself was in the balance. Then the election happened, the Zombie Parliament was driven out and Britain sailed cleanly out of the European nightmare.

Compared with all that, this local difficulty is as nothing. It does not concern the grand picture but two lines or so in the Withdrawal Agreement, and with no intention to change them anyway.

The principle of keeping to treaty obligations is generally a good one, but this phase ‘international law’ is lie in a line, and always has been: there is no such thing as international law, or rather it is not actual law, just a way of getting along. The concept is there, but there is also the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and no one has been arrested for trying to break that. The word “law” is a red rag to a Twittermob and many a foolish remark has been heard on the subject. It turns the stomach to hear an adjustment to an administrative arrangement compared to murder or to the Uighur genocide.

This site has observed before the imbalance that the EU negotiators have at every step introduced into negotiations: in several places their proposed treaty provisions have provided for heavy punishment were Britain ever to depart from points in a trade agreement, but no sanction at all for their own breaches. A glance at the EU’s practice over many years shows it to be an unrepentant, serial rule-breaker, so no one should be outraged that our government should seek to prepare for when they do it to us.

Another cause of dissent, and one more comprehensible, is that the role of the House of Commons in supervising all this seems to have been minimised, and MPs want to do the job they were elected for. In fact, the Bill as presented strikes a practical balance. It is good for the government to hear strident voices from the backbenches, and even the weird voices projected from the other side of the House, but ultimately speedy action must come from the executive.

Al this said, the whole thing has been appallingly handled in public relations and diplomatic terms, unless; unless it was a smuggling exercise, but let us pass over that – BEIS knows what that is about and it has been successful if so.

The Bill last night passed in the Commons, unamended though with assurances about the use of the powers and promises of further consultation. The rebellion was small, and the DUP voted for the Bill, as well they might as the clauses fought over are for the protection of Ulster. In the Lords, we can but wait and see what more overblown rhetoric emerges. The margin in the Commons was massive: this is not 2019.

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Author: AlexanderTheHog

A humble scribbler who out of my lean and low ability will lend something to Master Hobbes

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