This article was first published in Briefings for Brexit on April 12, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.
YOU can forget all the nonsense about the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop being reopened. It is closed and final. The EU made it clear that it will not change, in a legally binding EU Council Decision. But Theresa May will still go through the motions and try to ram it through Parliament (despite saying only the other day that she thought it wouldn’t pass) with Labour backing. This is a necessary step to the next stage. Because if Labour withdraws from the talks on the Political Declaration, she can then take the opportunity to get the House of Commons to provide her with the chance to stop Brexit by other means.
The talks that May is holding with Labour are a feint. The customs union is already in the backstop and the Political Declaration. Asking for a sentence to strengthen that commitment makes no difference. If Corbyn were naïve enough to fall for this trap (and one would be foolish to believe for a minute that he is), he would be expected to whip Labour MPs to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement at a fourth meaningful vote, so the government could then bring forward the treaty (totally unchanged and not amendable) for full ratification.
There is no saying even then that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would pass. Enough MPs on all sides think it is indefensible. So ratifying it is clearly not the end game. Stopping Brexit entirely is what it’s all about.
And why would Corbyn agree to back the Withdrawal Agreement now? It would restrict most of the policies he wants to implement if he were ever elected and taint him with May’s failed policy. He would also legitimise May’s grip on Number 10, and she and Olly Robbins would negotiate the future partnership with the EU, not the Labour Party. Any textual change to the Political Declaration would be forgotten the minute they sat down in Brussels if it suited them. Corbyn would be another of May’s patsies, stuck with her until the next election, like a millstone round his neck.
So it is likely that the talks with Labour will soon ‘fail’ and then shift to preparing the way for more indicative votes on ‘a way forward’ to stop Brexit. There will be repeat votes on options that have already been rejected, like the Customs Union, revoking Article 50, and especially a second referendum. There will be no vote to honour the referendum result and leave without a Withdrawal Agreement.
May could succeed in getting Corbyn to whip his MPs to support a second referendum in order to revoke Article 50. The referendum legislation would pass at lightning speed. The referendum would be held when a lot of people are on holiday, and the question would be rigged so it is Remain or Remain.
That, one feels sure, is the real plan and has been all along.
But then again, Corbyn might ponder where this leaves him . . . still stuck with May and on the wrong side of the argument with his core voters. It is doubtful that he has any firm views on Brexit at all. He will change them at will to get a general election and a chance to govern. May, on the other hand, is a fanatical Remainer. She will stop at nothing to lock us into the EU. So Corbyn still could play along while the Tories implode, hoping that a snap election will give him his chance.
Neither May nor Corbyn will want to hang about for too long, however. Brexiteer parties are already making inroads in the polls (Tory support has dropped by 10 per cent in a week) and a strong showing at the European elections would be a useful springboard for them in any subsequent general election.
So expect a rapid deterioration in the cross-party talks, more indicative votes and government support for a second referendum, fairly soon after Easter.
If Tory MPs have any sense or gumption they will blow this strategy sky high by toppling May. If not, they will go down with her.