Few can say what will emerge as Britain is forced to improvise its constitutionby Jonathan Lis / January 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
The greatest government defeat in parliamentary history strikes when you draw mutually incompatible red lines and pretend you haven’t. When you spend three years lying to the faces of your colleagues and the voters who elected them. When you vastly overestimate your power and political capital and dismiss the interests and negotiating strength of your closest allies. When you behave as though a minority government is an absolute monarchy. When, through a combination of hubris and ineptitude, you fail to engage in even the remotest dialogue with your opponents on the country’s gravest political debate of the last 75 years. Tuesday night’s result, above all, is what happens when you pretend something agonisingly complicated is in fact painlessly simple. Theresa May could have lost the vote on her Brexit deal by a majority of 600 and it would still not have delivered the humbling she deserved.
History will deal with the prime minister, but history must wait until after 29th March. Parliament is now locked in a race against time to assert its power over the government. It will first attempt to ensure we cannot leave the EU without a deal. Then it will attempt to force the government to request an extension to Article 50. The prime minister is all but guaranteed to cave on both. Parliament is in the end a question of arithmetic, and May no longer has the numbers to continue blackmailing her colleagues with the threat of economic oblivion. She will therefore have to declare an explicit policy not to crash out, and recognise that there is no time to approve all the relevant withdrawal legislation before our departure date—not least because the first task is to secure approval for a deal which parliament just rejected by 230 votes.
The EU will in all circumstances approve an extension if the government knows why it is requesting one. No individual member state wants a no deal scenario that will hurt its own economy and citizens. More to the point, no member state will be prepared, at the last minute, to abandon Ireland. If our government requests an extension, the Irish government will ask any wavering colleagues to agree to it.
And so we must determine the reason we are seeking such an extension: ratification of a deal, second referendum or general election. The…