MPs must heed Theresa May’s call on Parliament to hold its nerve

MPs must heed Theresa May’s call on Parliament to hold its nerve

The EU’s negotiating tactics are those of a bully: bullies are weak, hence the need to bully. Their approach is to take negotiations right to the wire and force the other side to give in by the shear fear of the consequences of not reaching an agreement in time.

They practised this on Greece to great effect. Bailouts were only agreed a few minutes before the deadline set by the previous bailout; Greece had to accept the terms laid out by the EU; they had no choice, for they had thrown away their strongest weapon – the threat of abandoning the euro and leaving the EU. They were the perfect hostages and the EU revelled in that and pressed their advantage. Greece had everything to lose, far more than the EU if a bailout was not agreed in time; the EU had little to fear from a collapsed Greek economy.

But the UK, the fifth largest economy in the world, is not Greece, the fifty-second in the economic league table. The EU has as much – if not more – to lose from a disorderly Brexit.

That’s why Theresa May’s call on Parliament to hold its nerve should be heeded. The Brexit negotiations will go to the wire. Fears that such a scenario would risk a chaotic exit by accident are part and parcel of Project Fear.

When Theresa May comes to Parliament next week, she may well not have much to report, no new developments on changes to the Withdrawal Agreement – something for which she is continually criticised – but changes will be coming and everyone must hold their nerve.

Her call will fall on deaf ears for those whose mission is to stop Brexit; they recite fear of a no-deal Brexit to try and make the Prime Minister bring forward a meaningful vote on a final deal prematurely in the hope that it will be voted down, forcing Parliament to seek an extension of Article 50. But for those MPs who wish to honour the decision of the people to leave the EU, holding their nerves is what they must do – not least Jeremy Corbyn.

The departure from the Labour Party of eight hard-line Remainer MPs last week is a testament to the success of Corbyn’s policies and a vindication of his approach to Brexit; they have one thing in common, their pathological hatred of Brexit and although they espoused several reasons for deciding to jump ship, had Corbyn supported a second referendum, none of them would have left. They saw the writing on the wall: Labour will respect the referendum result as promised in its manifesto and Corbyn is determined to ensure that it does. If they hoped that their departure and the threat of others following would force Corbyn to change his policies, they will be disappointed; far from weakening Corbyn, their departure has strengthened him.

Similarly for Theresa May, the resignation of three Tory MPs from her party, hard-line Remainers each one of them, is evidence of the success of the Prime Minister in honouring the result of the referendum. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, each in their own way, must hold their nerve in the face of opposition from their own ranks. Never have two people, political opponents tearing lumps off each other, week after week, had their paths so closely aligned as they are on Brexit. Their strength, their tenacity and determination to deliver Brexit on the specified date is derived from the British people who are calling on Parliament to get on with it; but the people, the rest of us, we, too must hold our nerve.

The EU is acting in a predictable way; they are refusing to countenance any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that has been rejected by Parliament and they will continue to do so until the very last minute. The Prime Minister is right to dismiss their attestations and press on. The danger of accidentally overdoing the brinkmanship and stumbling over a cliff-edge is implausible.

As we get within touching distance of 29th March, a form of words will be arrived at, compromises will be made. It’s of course possible that such compromises are left to such a late stage as not to leave enough time for the necessary housekeeping activities such as the formal endorsement by relevant bodies or making necessary legislative arrangements. In such a case, the UK will leave the EU as planned on 29th March – that date is enshrined into the EU Withdrawal Act thanks to the foresight of David Davis when he was Brexit Secretary, and we’ll seamlessly slip into the two-year transition period.

Such a process will be at odds with EU rules, but it won’t be the first time that the EU turned a blind eye to breaches of its rules, like when France exceeded the deficit to GDP ratio specified in the stability and growth pact or Germany’s contravention of state aid rules.

Parliament will have its meaningful vote, although it may take place after the fact – after the fact that we have already left the EU.