In parliament and the country different Leavers clamour for different—and contradictory—outcomesby Kirsty Hughes / October 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit lies mired, as ever, in the unpredictable quicksands of shifting coalitions. Tuesday’s twin votes—one for Johnson’s deal (at second reading) and one for delay—illustrated this perfectly.
Johnson succeeded in uniting Tory MPs behind his amended version of May’s deal for now—with many of the ex-Tory rebels lending support too. But he lost the DUP in the process. Some Labour and ex-Tory rebels voted for the Bill—to have a chance to amend it—but then went on to vote, quite rightly, that Johnson’s three-day timetable was ludicrously short.
Brexit has long been a game of spinning plates—can the various coalitions needed to push a deal through be kept together, or will this only be resolved after an election or referendum?
Johnson identified correctly that the Brexiteer-ultras of the European Research Group would not support any version of the indefinite customs union that May’s deal promised. In jumping to a harder version of Brexit, necessitating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, he not only dropped the DUP plate but demonstrated that the Tories are no longer the party of business or the union. The hard UK-EU border implied by Johnson’s basic free trade deal would be even more damaging to business than May’s deal.
But Johnson got the ERG on board by this shift. And his strategy of threatening the chaotic damage of a no-deal Brexit also kept a couple more plates spinning. Tory rebels, who voted for the Benn Act (ensuring that Johnson did ask for an extension), have mostly fallen in line behind this deal, hard though it is both economically and constitutionally—any deal is now, apparently, better than no deal. Likewise, 19 Labour rebels have too backed Johnson’s deal, at least for now, rather than face no deal or no Brexit.
But whether we face an election or the next stages of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the quicksands of different Brexit groupings coalescing and falling apart will not go away any time soon. Many Labour rebels want to add amendments to protect worker, consumer and environmental rights—given short shrift in the current version of the bill. Will ERG MPs go along with that? They might to get the bill over the line—or they might not.
The ERG’s overarching goal is a Brexit nirvana on World Trade Organisation terms, the UK…