A former ambassador to the European Community says there is an urgent need for a change in policyby David Hannay / February 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
What can be learned from the government’s 45 vote defeat in the Commons last night on a motion so anodyne and so ambiguous as to defy analysis?
Well, first, that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy of stubborn procrastination has been holed, possibly beneath the water line. Secondly that, if loyalty ever was the secret weapon of the Conservative Party, it is that no longer; the excuse given by members of its oddly named European Research Group for abstaining is laughingly unconvincing. Thirdly, that the odds against any warmed up waffle on the Irish backstop from Brussels being sufficient to secure a majority for May’s deal have lengthened sharply. And fourthly that the policy of reaching out to the Labour Party is paying no dividends and, with the rejection of remaining in a customs union with the EU, likely never will, however evident the Labour Party’s own divisions over Brexit may be.
The government’s activities since the massive defeat in the Commons last month of the deal May agreed with the EU27 in November look humiliating and unlikely to bear fruit—more displacement activity than genuine negotiations, of which there has so far been none. A dash to Brussels to attempt to dismantle or replace the Irish backstop which was a key part of the deal the prime minister had entered into in good faith, calling it at the time the best deal that was available. To no avail. Another dash, to Belfast, to seek to assure an electorate which had voted clearly for Remain in 2016 that, whatever happened, including leaving without a deal, there would be no re-instatement of controls on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. To no avail. And, third sortie, to Dublin, to try to persuade the Irish government to put its own survival at risk in order to secure May’s. To no avail.
Meanwhile the damage to the UK’s own economy from the reckless insistence on brandishing no deal as a serious possibility has continued to mount. Inward investment has stalled, with a new project by Nissan in Sunderland the most prominent victim. Growth forecasts are being revised sharply down. Billions of pounds of government spending are being squandered in a futile attempt to lend credibility to the threat of…