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The Great British Brexit Showstopper May Yet Be To Come

media misleading Brexit
Written by Caroline Bell

An anonymous civil servant argues that the PM may use executive powers to agree the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and then ram it through parliament.

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Meaningless vote after meaningless vote, a Withdrawal Agreement that locks us forever into the EU as a second class state. Spin and counter spin: the misdirection in Theresa May’s Brexit betrayal is far from the slapdash affair it might seem. Her bosses in the EU should be thrilled with her clinical execution of their plan to stop Brexit. But even their eyes might be popping at her decision to ignore her Cabinet and most of her party, as well as the law (which still says we leave on 12 April) in order to get a far left opposition leader to help her deliver the punishment beating that, at all costs, they want administered to the UK.

It has always been a binary choice. Anyone (like most people in Whitehall) who thinks we’ve been negotiating with the EU27 and not France would have realised that long ago. Michel Barnier has done a sterling job for the EU. Give him a medal. He has been clear and rigorous, as an educated Frenchman always is, and delivered as promised – a superb ‘deal’ for the EU. It is such a pity he wasn’t on our negotiating team.

The EU’s aim has always been entirely aligned with May’s – to stop Brexit. That’s exactly what the Withdrawal Agreement does, which is why it was so eagerly snatched up by Theresa May and why she has clung on to it – doubtless on the orders of Brussels and the resident fifth column in Downing Street – as though it were the last life raft on the Titanic. But its terms are horrendous. To Leavers, it is not Brexit, but vassalage. To Remainers, it is not Remain, but vassalage. And it has therefore, quite properly, been thrice voted down by the House of Commons by historic majorities.

This has brought us, quite deliberately, to the scripted dénouement of a false ‘à la carte Brexit’ menu to be decided by (take your pick): another meaningless vote (so popular it now has its own acronym, MV4), a backbench Bill to extend Article 50 that could commit us to £39 billion of budget contributions to the EU without normal Finance Bill procedures, or repeat ‘indicative votes’ by MPs which have no force of law, but which the government will use in defiance of the actual law as the authority to demand a longer extension while they develop further plans to stop Brexit.

Most commentators were so gobsmacked by May’s offer to Jeremy Corbyn that they do not appear to have noticed exactly what she proposed in her speech after Tuesday’s marathon Cabinet meeting. She claims that there is an impasse in Brexit. (Well, actually there isn’t. What 650  MPs in the Commons now say they want is neither here nor there – they have passed legislation to say that we leave the EU on 12 April 2019, and that is the letter of the law, not an impasse.) To break the false “logjam” she is inviting a man whose Marxist policies fall foul of most Single Market and Customs Union rules to talks on how to get membership of the Customs Union into the Political Declaration. Misdirection again – it’s already in there.

But this ploy is required to get to the showstopper, the final trashing of parliamentary democracy and British sovereignty in pursuit of the European Project. Because Theresa May is proposing to bring forward – completely unchanged – the very Withdrawal Agreement that Parliament (and not least Jeremy Corbyn) has so resoundingly rejected. But not for MV4. She cannot get another MV. So she’ll just skip over that step. She is going to table it as primary legislation, as though it had already passed a meaningful vote

Here are her very words:

“Any plan [reached with Corbyn] would have to agree the current Withdrawal Agreement – it has already been negotiated with the 27 other members, and the EU has repeatedly said that it cannot and will not be reopened.

What we need to focus on is our Future Relationship with the EU. The ideal outcome of this process would be to agree an approach on a Future Relationship that delivers on the result of the Referendum, that both the Leader of the Opposition and I could put to the House for approval, and which I could then take to next week’s European Council.

However, if we cannot agree on a single unified approach, then we would instead agree a number of options for the Future Relationship that we could put to the House in a series of votes to determine which course to pursue. Crucially, the Government stands ready to abide by the decision of the House.

But to make this process work, the Opposition would need to agree to this too. The Government would then bring forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. We would want to agree a timetable for this Bill to ensure it is passed before 22nd May so that the United Kingdom need not take part in European Parliamentary Elections.”

It is worth reminding readers here that Theresa May both accepted and signed the draft Withdrawal Agreement without the approval of her Cabinet and without weighing up the risks flagged by the Attorney General. She sought the Article 50 extension using executive powers and presented it as a done deal, tidying up the legal position afterwards. There is still some question as to the legality of this extension. Lastly, she refused to follow a Cabinet majority for a WTO Brexit on 12 April, and instead engineered the opportunity for a further extension and another crack at ramming through the Withdrawal Agreement by enlisting the support of Jeremy Corbyn.. Whether he is duped by the May plan is another matter. But from all this it is not unreasonable to suppose that we have yet to see the final sleight of hand in the Prime Minister’s scheme to stop Brexit. As just demonstrated, she and her kitchen cabinet have form.

She enforced the current Article 50 extension, obtained using executive powers, by claiming that international law trumped domestic legislation setting Exit Day, and therefore the extension applied regardless of any provision to the contrary in UK law.

So could it be that the Prime Minister is going to ratify a ‘final’ Withdrawal Agreement (as opposed to the ‘draft’ issued in November) in Brussels on April 10th using executive powers, and then claim that Parliament has no option but to pass the ratifying primary legislation because the agreement with the EU is made under international law and international law is supreme over UK law?

Even if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill eventually falls, we would be immediately locked into the vassalage terms of the transition period while legal challenges and parliamentary mayhem followed.

This is no idle speculation. Members of Parliament who still respect our democratic system need to act – ACT DECISIVELY –  and fast.

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About the author

Caroline Bell