Given parliamentary arithmetic, I fear May’s deal is the only vehicle for getting out the EU

Given parliamentary arithmetic, I fear May’s deal is the only vehicle for getting out the EU

So, we finally come back to the starting point, back to square one. Parliament now faces the very same choice that the electorate faced when they placed a cross on a voting paper nearly three years ago, way back in 2016: Leave or Remain.

There is nowhere for MPs left to hide. All prevarications, deviations and diversions have failed: a second referendum comprehensively defeated; a Norway 2.0 type deal, EFTA membership and a customs union all thrown out; every attempt to derail Brexit decisively rejected. Also rejected is a no-deal departure. Bit by bit, Brexit has been stripped back to its bare bones much like a tree stripped of its branches and its bark right down to its core, its fundamental element; Brexit stripped to its beautiful simplicity: Leave or Remain.

The attempt by Speaker Bercow to prevent the Government bringing a ‘substantially same’ deal back to the Commons will make little difference. It is not the big spanner in the works that many Remainers hope it is; it will only delay a third meaningful vote to within a day or two from the default departure date which will only bring the stark choice facing MPs sharply into focus.

Theresa May’s deal may or may not be the disaster that the European Research Group say it is, but it remains the only vehicle through which the UK could leave the EU on or soon after 29th March. A delay beyond 30th June would be a betrayal for it makes no Brexit the only possible outcome. The option of voting against the deal because it’s not good enough is a kamikaze option: it serves no purpose other than keeping some MPs’ hands clean and their conscience pure.

The argument that being so close to Exit day, and that rejecting May’s deal at a third meaningful vote will leave no time for the necessary primary legislation to prevent the UK leaving without a deal, is far-fetched and reckless. In normal times, such restraints may prove effective; but we are not living in normal times. Given the will, and there is indeed a strong will among MPs, to stop a no-deal Brexit, Parliament will conjure up special emergency procedures to ensure the UK will not leave without a deal and the Speaker of the House will be more than willing to help.

A glimpse of a rethink was detected when Jacob Rees-Mogg asked the Attorney General if a different Parliament could unilaterally withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement. The reply was clear and unequivocal, a sovereign nation can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty if it no longer meets its national interest. Other eminent lawyers may disagree as lawyers invariably do, but what is not in doubt is that untrammelled powers are bestowed upon countries once they become sovereign. This may be the start of a softening of the ERG’s approach to the deal. An all-or-nothing stance is the strategy of the desperate and the defeated. But the British people are neither desperate nor defeated. They know this deal is not so much an end but a start, a new start for Britain. What is done today can be undone tomorrow and what we agree to today can be changed tomorrow as the balance of forces tilts in our favour once we are out of the EU.

Sovereignty will bring to an end the chess game we’ve been engaged in with the EU and with all the pieces back into place, we’ll embark on a new match. The electorate has been steadfast in its determination to leave the EU, and so must their representatives in Parliament, especially those who campaigned to Leave and those who were the official leaders of the Leave campaign. They must make certain that the result of the referendum is honoured and that the UK leaves the EU.

The support of the DUP is important but no decisive. More decisive is the attitude of Labour, for the deal will not pass the Commons without support from Labour. Labour has as much responsibility as the Tories to facilitate Brexit, both its individual MPs and the party leadership – and Jeremy Corbyn has the greatest responsibility of all.

So far, Corbyn has managed to ensure that when it mattered, Labour did nothing to derail Brexit. No doubt an amendment promoting an alternative basis for a deal with the EU and another calling for an affirmative public vote on May’s deal if Parliament were to agree it will be put forward. But once these amendments are defeated – as they are bound to be – Labour will have to consider its attitude towards the deal itself, the only deal on the table. It is at that point that the Labour leadership must assert its authority, stand by its promise to respect the result of the EU referendum and ensure it goes through; there is no other honourable position for the Labour Party to take if it is to keep faith with its supporters and the country at large. Enough Labour MPs, whipped or otherwise, will support it or abstain to ensure its safe passage.