From the Daily Mail front page to calls for deselection, the response to Wednesday’s vote shows that hardline Leavers are rattled. This is whyby Alex Dean / December 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
On Wednesday, Theresa May’s government suffered its first defeat in the Commons, on an amendment to the Brexit withdrawal legislation. Parliament will now in effect be given a “meaningful vote” on any final Brexit deal the government eventually returns with from Brussels, before it is ratified. The fury the next day was grimly predictable, most of it directed at Conservative MPs who had defied the party line, and who stood accused of trying to undo the result of the referendum. “Proud of yourselves?” asked the Daily Mail, under pictures of the offending MPs. The similarities with the Telegraph‘s “Sabateurs” front page a few months ago were obvious. This is the humiliating fate that awaits anyone caught subverting “the will of the people.” It wasn’t just the papers; prominent Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie called for the rebel Tories to be deselected. Nadine Dorries, currently a sitting MP herself, joined him. The anger failed to dissipate as the day went on and come 10pm, Isabel Oakeshott was attacking “sanctimonious” Remainers on Question Time, and making the case that in voting to give themselves a say, MPs were trying to undermine the principle of democracy.
Tonight, the Tory rebels have put a spring in Labours step, given them a taste of winning, guaranteed the party a weekend of bad press, undermined the PM and devalued her impact in Brussels. They should be deselected and never allowed to stand as a Tory MP, ever again.
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) December 13, 2017
This doesn’t really hold water. The rebels, for their part, insist they are not trying to undo Brexit at all.
As Dominic Grieve, who tabled the relevant amendment, went to pains to explain on Newsnight immediately after the vote, this was, for him, a procedural matter.
Parliament had been sidelined throughout the Brexit process, and it was high time this great institution reclaimed its rightful place at the centre of British politics. This line of thinking is reasonable and deserves a fair hearing. But whether some Remainer MPs were trying to thwart Brexit or not, there’s something else worth discussing here: the deeply unpleasant tone of the political debate. The sheer intolerance in the Brexit camp for anyone of an opposing view.
— Ole Ryborg (@OleRyborg) December 14, 2017
Consider the following: Leavers won the vote in June 2016. Theresa May has triggered Article 50. We are, barring a most unlikely upset, on the way out. So even if Wednesday’s vote represented a setback, why are Leavers so angry? This is perhaps the most important question to come out of the past few days in British politics: why is it all so nasty? The obvious answer is that when you’ve spent your life fighting for an outcome, as some Leavers have, you’re bound to have strong feelings on it—and strong dislike for anyone who disagrees with you. But I think there’s something else at work here. It’s just a theory, but perhaps the paranoia of the Brexit camp is filling the place where the argument—or the plan—should be. The fact is, despite minor successes here and there, Brexit is not going very well. Halfway through negotiations, the economic forecasts look grim: the UK’s trend growth rate has been hit hard. Inflation is beginning to bite. The National Institute of Social and Economic Research reckons each household is already £600 worse off thanks to the effects of the Brexit vote. There’s more. Britain’s long-held hope of doing a quick trade deal with the US looks increasingly in jeopardy as a rogue president puts “America first.” While the withdrawal deal May struck with the EU27, held up as a success by her own party, contains multiple contradictions and on crucial issues, such as the Irish border, only kicks the can down the road. Worse, Britain is still to even begin negotiating a future relationship with the European Union, and it has no idea what it wants. Canada, Norway, or something inbetween—as Philip Hammond admitted recently, the cabinet is yet to even discuss the end state. The coming negotiations will get nowhere until that conversation is had—and may get nowhere even after it is. Consensus seems unlikely, round the top table or in the Tory Party at large. Perhaps the truth of the matter is this: Brexiteers are becoming increasingly shrill as the folly of the Brexit vision is exposed, and the hollowness of their arguments laid bare. The process is faltering on every level. Britain will not be better off outside the EU. The more that fact becomes apparent, the angrier you can expect them to get. When their arguments falter, they demonise those who notice. But this clearly isn’t good enough. The challenge at hand is immense. Now more than ever, as Britain tries to chart a way forward, sensible dialogue is needed. As is a plan for the next stage of negotiations. Brexiteers must step up and start putting forward some solutions. This was their doing—it’s time they settled down and set about sorting it out.
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