MPs are trying to make Brexit as difficult as possible – but without actually voting against it

MPs are trying to make Brexit as difficult as possible – but without actually voting against it

Parliament has been as much use in our protracted Brexit negotiations as a pet poodle, biting Theresa’s bum while she fends off an intransigent mugger. So useful, in fact, that devout Brexiteers wonder whose side MPs are on.

The answer is their own. The referendum showed that the people want out. Most MPs want to stay in. They’re affronted at being overruled by an impertinent people, and angry that they can have no influence on whether it’s a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. So they’re doing everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen by making departure as difficult as possible, without actually voting against it for fear of losing votes.

The second reason is that the party system which normally drives British politics is broken. If it worked, one party – probably Labour, concerned at the drain of jobs and money – would support Brexit while the other – the Tories, in sympathy with a neo-liberal organisation – would oppose it and the votes would decide.

With the parties split and neither having the guts to tell the electorate it’s too difficult to do what they want, that doesn’t happen either. So MPs are in the frustrating position of having no role but having hours of time to fill.

They do it by displacement activity. Parliament negotiates with itself and thrashes about having no influence on the negotiations – except to help the other side by demonstrating British disunity but generating enormous excitement among the media and the punditieri, who don’t like Brexit anyway.

The first distraction is to attempt to stop a no-deal departure. Parliament can’t do this. The Government can’t either. Only the EU can produce No Deal, by refusing to accept concessions to help the Government get its pathetic proposals through. But it’s fun to sound virtuous by denouncing it.

The second is to demand a new referendum. What’s wrong with that, apart from the fact that Tony Blair, the EU’s ambassador-at-large supports it? It sounds democratic, but in fact is impossible unless there is an agreement to vote on. Labour could ensure it by voting for Theresa’s proposals for leaving while staying, when they come back to the House. My guess is that they won’t, though a few Northerners might vote for them to get the spending their constituencies deserve. They’d be denounced by Labour’s metropolitans but probably not produce enough support to cancel out the Tory defectors.

This produces the third displacement effort. Parliament has no control over what it gets. It’s divided on what it wants. So it is suggested that Britain must ask for an extension to sort ourselves out. This would boost the EU’s negotiating strength and encourage it to protract things even more. Uncertainty would drag on forever and fear creation would rise to a crescendo, with the EU hoping the Brexiteers will give up and crawl back to their ghettos.

That’s the game. A futile one, but at least it keeps MPs off the streets. The trouble is, it keeps Britain’s negotiators wandering the streets of Brussels looking for a way out.