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Scaredy-cat Parliament can’t face Brexit


PARLIAMENTARIANS overwhelmingly voted last night to delay Brexit. They are increasingly decisive and ignorant at the same time. They use a consensus of false terms and scary judgments to avoid Brexit both intellectually and practically. Britain’s Parliament is the nursery rhyme’s scaredy-cat – it can’t learn what it’s looking at.

Last night’s vote is a literal avoidance strategy – a delay by at least another three calendar months, as if the previous 33 months since the referendum were not enough. Three months is a minimum delay, conditional on Parliament approving May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement in a week’s time, on its third motioning. In that case, Parliament would be confirming a delay before implementing an agreement that itself provides for delay through 2020.

Don’t forget that May’s proposed ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ is mis-termed. It is not a proposal for withdrawing from the EU, but for a transition period of at least 21 months, while the government ponders how to withdraw from the EU (because the previous 33 months were not enough). The correct title for May’s proposal should be ‘transition agreement’.

The false terminology doesn’t end with the title ‘Withdrawal Agreement’. May has got the elite talking about her proposal as a ‘deal’. Thus she can offer a false choice between her ‘deal’ and ‘no deal’, which scaredy-cats spin as apocalyptic: ‘crashing out’ and ‘falling off a cliff edge’ without trade, medicines, travel, food or allies.

Reasonable Parliament overwhelmingly voted down May’s proposal twice during four months of deliberation, but scaredy-cat Parliament is scared less by indefinite purgatory than a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Parliamentarians’ consensus about a scary ‘no deal’ Brexit proves their ignorance of international relations. Most nations relate without any ‘deal’. Most of Britain’s trade and travel is conducted without the EU. If Britain were to leave on 29 March, as currently legislated, the UK-EU relationship would revert to several UK-EU guarantees that have already been confirmed (eg current air traffic regulations), without prejudice to wider international agreements and World Trade Organisation rules. Parliamentarians are even more ignorant today than when they peddled ‘Project Fear’ three years ago.

Against a scary ‘no deal’ fiction, May offers her proposed transition agreement as the only alternative. That too is a lie: she could have negotiated a better deal. Ignorant Parliamentarians bought the false choice between her proposal and ‘no deal’, and voted on Wednesday to rule out ‘no deal’.

By voting against ‘no deal’, Parliamentarians have effectively accepted the myth that May’s proposal is a ‘deal’, but May’s proposal is for a transition period during which we would be outside the EU nominally, but not in effect. Although May has repeatedly promised that Britain will ‘leave’ the EU on 29 March, Britain would retain all obligations, including billions per year in fees, although it would lose members’ rights.

Imagine that Parliament approves May’s transition agreement next week, third time lucky. We would then wait through June until the nominal separation date, then the transition period would kick in, through at least 2020. We cannot be sure when it would end, because her agreement allows for the EU to veto Britain’s exit. May claimed in the wee hours of Tuesday to have addended ‘legally binding changes’ allowing Britain to withdraw unilaterally, but her lie was obvious to me within ten minutes’ reading of her addendum. Hours later, her own attorney general told Parliament that her addendum did not affect the EU’s veto, although now parliamentarians are claiming that with more time he could be persuaded of the opposite. Scaredy-cats coalesce around self-delusion.

Even if we know when the transition period would expire, we would still be uncertain of what is supposed to follow as a permanent deal – the government still has no policy.

If Parliament next week were to reject her proposed transition period, last night’s vote authorises her to seek a ‘substantial’ extension of Article 50. A substantial extension would certainly be longer than three months – some within May’s cabinet are plotting an extension by two years.

At current rate, scaredy-cat Parliament wouldn’t achieve in two years what it failed to do in three years. Extension likely would be followed by transition, which could last as long as May’s current transition proposal (minimum 21 months). On these estimates, Britain wouldn’t be leaving the EU until 2023, or nearly seven years since the referendum.

Of course, you should bet that such an enormous delay would be used to frustrate Brexit further until it never happens at all.

Parliament has proved that it cannot be trusted on its commitments to honour the referendum. Don’t forget that last night’s motion to extend Article 50 was a government motion, and thus a government U-turn – in contradiction of May’s repeated promises to leave the EU on 29 March with or without a deal, without extensions.

Scaredy-cat Parliament is supported by the wider scaredy-cat elite. Journalists and corporate lobbyists generally sighed with self-satisfaction at the votes against no deal and for delay, but didn’t admit that indefinite purgatory without a negotiating position is the scariest thing yet. At the time of the vote last night, BBC Radio 4 news was reporting on video game awards and a primary school’s rejection of single-use plastic red noses. The BBC did not interrupt these reports with the breaking news. Then BBC journalists reached for their usual platitudes (‘a clear win . . . BUT’ tweeted Laura Kuenssberg) and rhetorical questions (‘So is the Brexit tide turning?’ asked Norman Smith).

The loudest classes are the most ignorant classes, which is why they’re scared, and scared people don’t deliver change. Scaredy-cats can’t deliver Brexit, because they can’t face it. It’s time for the un-scared masses to get loud.

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Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome
Bruce Newsome is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas Permian Basin. He is also the author of the anti-woke satire "The Dark Side of Sunshine" (Perseublishing, 2020).

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