MPs know that crashing out of Europe would be a disaster. They simply will not allow it to happenby Jonathan Lis / December 23, 2018 / Leave a comment
In light of last week’s key political row, it is important to clarify something important about the prime minister. She is not a “stupid woman.” She is, in fact, asking us to believe that she is a politically homicidal one.
We are less than 100 days from Brexit and the time to mince words has passed. Theresa May has publicly and loudly increased preparations for the scenario of no deal with the EU. But it is impossible to prepare. We can “take back control” of Britain but not of France. Full customs and regulation checks will take place on outbound traffic across the Channel, and that means incoming traffic will grind to a halt. Food and medicine will not arrive. People will die.
This is not just idle speculation, but confirmed in countless government briefings and industry warnings. The health secretary boasts that he is buying fridges to stockpile perishable medication. The defence secretary talks of thousands of troops in the streets. New government plans revealed to the Times suggest we will have to vary our diets. Nothing says taking back control like the government itemising all the food we can’t eat.
The price for this navel-gazing orgy of self-harm amounts to £2bn. This is admittedly a drop in the ocean compared to our £39bn divorce bill, but still represents an impressive destination for a project that was supposed to save us money. That £2bn really could have been spent on the NHS at the time the NHS most needs it. Perhaps next time the campaign bus will promise something else.
Last week, the car industry released an unprecedented statement asking the government and parliament to take no-deal off the table. The prime minister will not. British employers are openly begging her not to sacrifice them, and she refuses. It doesn’t matter that she is bluffing. Companies have to believe what the government tells them, and many are already preparing to leave. Once they have gone, they will not return. Quite an achievement for the self-proclaimed party of business.
Then there is the human cost. People with chronic illnesses have written to me outlining their crippling anxiety. One leaked government document suggested that suicide rates could dramatically increase after a no-deal. Hard Brexiteers accuse Remainers of stoking up this worry. The reverse is true: I am doing my best to reassure people that it won’t happen. Because it won’t.
Why? Because no-deal is a game to May. The prime minister knows that she cannot sell her deal as it stands and cannot renegotiate it to make it more palatable, and has consequently devised a squalid ruse to blackmail her MPs into endorsing it. The cynicism cannot be understated. May is literally threatening the country with economic and social devastation in order to win a parliamentary vote. It is the most recklessly irresponsible peacetime act of any prime minister in modern history. When her colleagues promised us a “safe pair of hands” back in 2016, let’s just say this wasn’t it.
Yet even if May was sadistic enough to trigger a no-deal scenario, there are numerous actions parliament could take to thwart her. Labour and Tory MPs, including loyalists like Oliver Letwin, are preparing blocking amendments to vital legislation. Binding resolutions and contempt motions will follow. There is an effective majority to paralyse parliament. If May does choose to actively pursue no-deal, three Tory MPs have already promised to renounce the whip and vote against the government, and others are poised to do the same. If the government did lose a no-confidence motion, it would either have to abandon the policy in order to win a second motion, or there would have to be a general election. In those circumstances parliament would, without question, demand an extension to Article 50, and the government would have to comply. The EU has already signalled that it would grant it.
Many commentators point out that no-deal is the legal default. They are technically correct. But just imagine we get to say, 20th March, and we are heading for no-deal in nine days’ time. Do we really think that MPs will do nothing? That the cabinet won’t disband? That the government will win a confidence vote? That the EU will kick us over the cliff-edge when neither parliament nor the people want to jump? No-deal may be the default but in reality it is a choice.
Think of the recent Gatwick drones fiasco, an incident bringing disruption and misery to hundreds of thousands and leading the news agenda. Multiply that by a few hundred, for nine months, and you have an idea of no-deal. The government knows this. It would not survive 20 minutes. Indeed, the mere talk of no-deal has erased any lingering pretence that Britain remains a pragmatic or serious country. But while our leaders may have shed their decency, most of them are not yet prepared to throw our future away altogether.
The government is currently choosing to terrify people; and if it was ever permitted to implement its threatened policy, it would also be choosing to cut off their food and medicine supplies. It takes only a handful of Tory MPs to prevent this historic disgrace. If they do, they will perhaps save their careers. More importantly, they will be saving the country.