Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for April 2nd, 2019

Britain’s Brexit Quagmire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019

Ken Clarke in parliamentLast night MPs once again failed to find consensus around a serious of options regarding a way forward on Brexit, though Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU was defeated by only three votes. The highest indicative vote was actually in support of a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, though a larger number of MPs voted against that. There were many abstentions throughout the voting process, not least from government Ministers; had all of them taken part, on a free vote, it would have highlighted just how divided the Cabinet is on Brexit, running the whole range from Hard Brexiteers who just want the UK to crash out of the EU on 12 April with No Deal to Remainers who are moving towards the idea of a People’s Vote, reportedly nudged on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. The Cabinet is meeting this morning to try to thrash out a common position, with the Prime Minister still wedded to the idea of bringing her Withdrawal Agreement to the House for a fourth time, though the indications are that it would be defeated yet again, even if the the Speaker allowed it to be voted on once more. Never in modern times has government been bogged down in such a quagmire.

MPs will have the chance to have another go at identifying a way forward tomorrow, but as the LibDem MP Norman Lamb said last night, they need to work with a greater spirit of compromise. However, indicative votes are not legally binding, so Theresa May could chose to ignore the outcome even if one proposition did manage to squeak through. Meanwhile the EU leadership is worried that a No Deal Hard Brexit is increasingly likely, which would be disastrous for both sides. But the only way the EU would agree to a further extension — perhaps to the end of 2020 — would be if the British government comes up with a coherent strategy of what it wants to achieve and how. That could include a general election or a further referendum, and if there is any sort of extension beyond 22 May, there would have to be participation in the European elections. No wonder so many MPs are running round like headless chickens, while others are seething with frustration. Nick Boles, the Conservative MP who was the architect of one of the options rejected by his colleagues last night, which would keep Britain in the Single Market and closely aligned to the customs union, was so infuriated by his fellow Conservatives that he resigned the whip in disgust. Meanwhile, the SNP, the LibDems and other smaller parties and groups still hold out hope that there can be a People’s Vote that might deliver us all from Brexit completely. But that outcome is far from certain as both the government and Parliament flounder about in the mud.

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