Remainers should be honest. The last week caught us off-guard. Most of us were not expecting a deal. Most did not expect the EU to agree and sign it off so quickly. Many did not think it would find approval with the most hardcore Brexiteers. And we certainly did not think that there was any way parliament could deliver the entire package by 31st October.
On most of those, we were wrong. Once Boris Johnson conceded the fundamental point of a different tariff regime for Northern Ireland—which Theresa May famously said no prime minister could ever accept—he unlocked the path to a deal which met Ireland’s red line of no customs infrastructure on the island and the hardline Brexiteers’ red line that Great Britain should leave the customs union. Preserving the British union was, it turned out, far less important than leaving the European one. On Tuesday night every single Tory Brexiteer walked through the lobbies to support Johnson’s deal.
We were, however, right on one key point. There is no way that parliament could deliver this package by 31st October. It was an outrage that the government ever asked it to.
There were two votes last night. The first was on the bill in principle. This passed by 30 votes, thanks to 19 Labour MPs—mostly representing Leave seats—who endorsed it. This should not cause undue alarm. The vast majority of these MPs will vote for a customs-union amendment, and have not signalled that they will vote for the deal if it is not amended. If a customs-union amendment does pass, the government will not be able to accept it and the whole package will likely collapse.
The second vote was far more important. This was on the programme motion for the bill, which dictated the amount of time allocated to debating it. For no other reason than to meet an arbitrary deadline, the government allotted the most important legislation of our lifetimes just three days of parliamentary debate. More time was given to the Wild Animals in Circuses Act.
This wanton act of government contempt epitomises the Brexit process. For too many in parliament (and the media), this has never been about the life-changing political substance of Brexit but political soap-opera: the power struggles in the Tory party, the leadership of May, and now the…