What next?

Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead in the water. This has been true for a while, but with no obvious mandate for the Withdrawal Agreement, however it is tweaked, the political future for the Prime Minister looks bleak. Her steel and resilience have been tested many times before and have so far survived, but the seemingly hopeless situation before her now may be the final time that Mrs May bleats out her rhetorical tangents. With a government in disarray and a poignantly undecided Opposition, the Lib Dems need to find a logical and realistic Parliamentary solution to break the impasse.

There is not yet any majority for anything in the House of Commons. The next few weeks may well change that, but it shall be a time of unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty. Mrs May was perhaps correct to say earlier yesterday that no Brexit has a more genuine chance of getting through Parliament than no-deal. Let us hope so. That said, it will certainly take some trying to turn over the referendum result in such a short period of time. 

The hard-Brexit rabble have proved themselves to be zealous and ineffective over the year, and their logistical failures in the Commons are doomed to continue. If there is a majority for one thing on the green benches, it is that against no-deal. The very notion of not having a proper and palatable relationship with the largest trading block in the world seems impractical at best and economically cataclysmic at worst. The first mission of the small yellow-striped army inside the Commons should therefore be to rally against such an eventuality. 

Although a number of amendments have been tabled over this issue, many of them may be futile and meretricious substitutes for the direct procedure needed to force and extension of Article 50 or a second referendum. I do not believe that halting Brexit now would be a pragmatic step. The people who voted in 2016 for Leave would feel extremely betrayed. Let the decision be given back to the people to decide once again. Brexit continues to envelope all of British political life, but that is not a reasonable condition for the country given the plethora of other issues that should also be crowding the agenda. 

The ‘People’s Vote’ campaign has gained impressive momentum over the last few months, having risen from a fringe campaign for those unaccepting of the first result to a crowd whose genuine concerns of the lack of democratic control in this issue are taking a large role in spearheading the current debate. 

The Lib Dems believe in Europe, not in British jingoism. We believe in a sensible and reforming level of political and economic cooperation. These issues are at threat in an off-the-cliff, car-crash no-deal Brexit. The next few days will be crucial in ensuring that such a crisis situation never becomes the disastrous reality that most predictions show. The small and valiant number of MPs in the Commons must rise above the fractious infighting and devout hardliners. Those who would say, as W.H. Auden put it, while looking around a New York bar on ‘1 September, 1939,’

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

We have a political situation of the highest magnitude before our very eyes. Let us rise above the transcendent bickering and, like Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, let this moment be one where ‘it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.’ 

* Patrick Maxwell is a Liberal Democrat member and political blogger at www.gerrymander.blog and a commentator at bbench.co.uk.

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25 Comments

  • May was trying to get her Leave MPs on board by insisting that it was her deal or no Brexit. It has not worked. What you will probably get is a new Prime minister within a month and a no deal Brexit in March. Either that or a general election. Pro EU types tend to forget May is one of theirs. The next one won’t be.

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '19 - 12:22pm

    “What next?” Well, let’s get that vote and it’s possible over with tonight. If it fails, which still seems likely, then let’s get Mr Corbyn to table his No Confidence Motion and get that out of the way. If that fails, on the basis that (Tory) turkeys don’t vote for Christmas) and, if the PM can’t produce that rabbit out of the hat by next Monday, let’s then get her to apply to the EU to postpone Article 50 for the purpose of another referendum and then, it’s over to parliament, light the blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance.

    If Parliament comes up with a deal, secured by a free vote amongst MPs, let that deal take its chances against a No Deal Brexit and Remain in a ‘People’s Vote’, where electors can, if they wish, number the three choices in order of preference. Then, if no choice crosses the 50% threshold, the preferences from the least most popular option can be reassigned until a majority view prevails (a bit like the PCC Elections).

    Too many unicorns? Pie in the sky? Flying pigs? Yes, all of those; but I could live with that. Perhaps then we could move on!

  • Bill le Breton 15th Jan '19 - 12:34pm

    Would like to see the Swire, Mann, Murrison amendments put. Voting on these would have been a strong indication to EU27 about what wd/cd get through. But think the Speaker may try to avoid these.

    If anyone hasn’t, they really really should read the Tusk/Juncker letter with its signals of readiness to compromise.

    https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/01/14/joint-letter-of-president-tusk-and-president-juncker-to-theresa-may-prime-minister-of-the-united-kingdom/

    The unicorn hunt may yet strike its quarry, cake may be had and eaten and Canada hove into sight.

  • nigel hunter 15th Jan '19 - 12:39pm

    Move on- yes. The quicker Brexit is dealt with the better. Many other problems are in the country that need solving. I note that China is having a slow down in its economy. Germany is not growing as was predicted. Is a global recession just round the corner? Where will we be (and the World) after the Brexit dust settles?

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '19 - 1:14pm

    Problems again with my iPad! That second sentence should have read “Well, let’s get that vote and its possible amendments over with tonight”.

  • Peter Martin 15th Jan '19 - 1:24pm

    Looking back, would Lib Dems now say that the choices on the EU referendum ballot paper should have been:

    1) Remain in the EU
    2) Try to negotiate an acceptable Leaving Deal with the EU. If this proves not to be possible we Remain in the EU.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jan '19 - 2:19pm

    @Peter Martin
    Looking back, I think Lib Dems would now say that the choice on the EU referendum ballot paper should have been:
    1) Remain in the EU

  • Peter Martin 15th Jan '19 - 3:40pm

    @ Peter Watson

    And EU-ophiles wonder why the comparison is made to the USSR. Even in Stalin’s time there would have been at least one other name on the ballot paper even though it might have been a serious health risk to put a cross next to it!

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jan '19 - 4:09pm

    Peter Martin
    Do get your fatuous historical comparisons right even when replying to clearly light-hearted remarks. In the Soviet Union you didn’t get a choice of candidates to vote for even in theory – you were presented with a list of candidates to whom you could vote yea or (if you were very brave) nay, and that was it. A bit like a referendum, now I come to think of it…

  • Personally, I suspect Europhiles would have demanded a three question referendum called the Peoples Democratic Vote, with the following options.
    A)Remain
    B)Stay
    C)Not Leave

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '19 - 7:22pm

    Can we get away from the idea that ALL Lib Dem members favour Remain? Even if they did, that wouldn’t, in terms of numbers as a whole, amount to a hill of beans, would it? Anything other than Remain will undoubtedly make us poorer in economic terms, at least in the short term; but this may be a price we might have to pay to get some form of agreement both here and with the EU.

    I would like to agree with Nigel Hunter. In an ideal world we do need to move on; but that won’t be possible if both Remain and Leave are the only show in town. There has got to be another way that acknowledges the economic argument that a closeness in terms of trade to the EU is the best bet for us in present circumstances, while many of us do not want to buy into the kind of federalism that at least some of the EU member states appear to want to encourage and which, despite opt outs we have negotiated in the past, may not be possible for any full member state in the future.

    I must admit that the idea behind ‘Common Market 2.0’ appeals to me. I certainly voted for ‘Common Market 1.0’ back in 1975, as did around two thirds of those who voted with me. Despite what Ted Heath and other Federal enthusiasts claimed thereafter, that it was made clear what we were actually committing ourselves to, I would bet that, for most of us, it was the economic argument that won the day. I suppose that it will not go down well with the purists on either side of the argument; but in this case, half a loaf is better than none.

  • David Evans 15th Jan '19 - 7:25pm

    I must admit it is reassuring to find that there are still a significant number on LDV who can clearly set out a Lib Dem vision for our place in Europe and the world, based on a realistic assessment of what could come about in these uncertain times, but they are so often in response to initial articles that while great on vision, are sadly far too blinkered in their assessment of our ability to influence matters and naive in the extreme as to the abilities of our opponents.

    One thing that decades in politics teaches you is that it is far too easy to pretend that the Conservatives (and Labour) are somehow hugely inferior to us (bleats, rabble etc), while we possess a massive advantage in being wise and logical, and only need to step forward with our big idea – ‘find a logical and realistic Parliamentary solution;’ ‘The first mission of the small yellow-striped army … should therefore be to rally…’ – and all will be well. Quite simply the power of the Prime Minister and the government machine is massive and to underestimate it can only end in failure.

    Even in coalition with 57 MPs, Cameron, Osborne, May etc rang rings around us much more often than we did to them, and so got their way much more often than we got ours. Now we have only 11 or 12 MPs in a jungle of over 600. Life just doesn’t work that way, however much you wish it could.

    Putting it simply, Theresa May still holds most of the cards – the Democratic Unionists hold a few, Labour hold a few, but have a leader who doesn’t really want to play them yet (ever?) and the Conservative Remainers may be more One Nation than arch Tories, but they are still Conservatives first and foremost.

    Things may look bad for Theresa May, but she can still peel quite a few extra votes from Labour with more promises of protecting workers rights, membership of the Customs Union etc; from Conservative Remainers with requests to abstain, collapsing markets, and appeals to loyalty against the risk of a Labour Government, and finally from the DUP with any last minute face saving reprieve the EU might give her.

    She will almost certainly lose tonight, but in a few days her one saving grace may be “Brexit means Brexit,” a masterstroke of a slogan that simply means “Brexit means what I tell you is Brexit.”

    We still have a huge battle to win.

  • Bless the brave Brexiteers are raving tonight. Make it hard they cry, without understanding the consequences, but then they voted for Brexit without any idea of the consequences. We are over two years after they voted open the box, bad things have happened, the reputation of the UK has been trashed, small minded xenophobes feel enpowered, nothing good has come from it and still the standard bearers of Brexit cry make it hard and they wonder why they get dismissed as delusional fools.

  • Don’t open the box they where warned, but they did. Now all they can cry is “We must have Brexit”, bless they still don’t get bad things will happen and no amount of “Tis the fault of the EU” will change it, when the fault of this is actually those that opened the box. So man up Glenn and Co it’s your mess, revel in it.

  • John Marriott 15th Jan '19 - 8:37pm

    Right. First hurdle is overcome. Now for that No Confidence Motion. Then it’s over to the PM to react. So next week could see the next piece of the jigsaw in place, namely the possible postponement of Article 50. Then it could be over to Parliament to make the next move. Exciting but dangerous times.

  • Contrary to what some people seem to have convinced themselves of most Leavers did not support Mays deal. so yeah fairly chuffed . The compromise phase is coming to an end. There will be a week or so of more wrangling before the next bill is defeated. But I seriously doubt there will be a People’s vote . Labour want a general election and the Tories will be too busy having a leadership battle. So WTO seems most likely.
    Frankie
    I can’t remember anyone warning me not to open a box. What I do remember is that there was finally a vote on membership of the EU and IMO the right side won it. But I do find your woe , woe and thrice woe soothsaying act amusing, although I’m pretty certain it’s not your intention.

  • Glenn,
    Amusing I might he, but I don’t have to claim I’ve been hacked when a comment of mine gets pulled up. Are you a veggie or a meat eater today, just asking for a friend. Someones using My account, I rather think not, unless you are actually just a handy peg for Brexiteers to use!

  • Frankie
    That really was not me. I didn’t say I was hacked. I think it’s just someone who types in different names of regular commentators because it’s happened to a few other people on here. It’s quite an old school open forum. No log in, just Name, Email address and post comment.
    I really am a vegie and really do have zero interest in beef or any meat, for that matter.

  • David Evans 16th Jan '19 - 9:45am

    Last night was indeed the day of the Tory backbenchers, making their presence felt. Today is Labour’s turn to make their point. However, all it will achieve will be to drive those backbenchers back into the hands of Theresa May, and at the end of it, all we will be is two days closer to crashing out.

    The important work must then begin, and our MPs have to get themselves to the heart of it all and help bring people together to solve this crisis. However, judging by the behaviour of Richard Burgon towards Jo Swinson on TV last night, it is clear that many MPs still put petty short term party interest ahead of the need to bring people together. There is still a whole lot of work to be done to reach out across the country while making it clear that those who have the country’s interest at heart will not simply roll over to serve one of the two major parties’ local interests.

    While Theresa May continues in her Mission of Mayhem trying to get something to bring to the House of Commons next week, we need to do something momentous to take the initiative. My suggestion would be for us to get together with the SNP, Plaid, the Greens, Conservative and Labour Remainers, plus the Alliance in NI and make a clear public announcement that we stand together on this and will not allow the people of this country to be bounced into a disastrous Brexit simply because the major parties still insist on playing their petty political games while the clock runs out.

    I hope our senior figures and those of other parties have laid the groundwork for something like this because a positive result will not just emerge out of nothing but will need clear leadership and courage, so that the British people can have confidence that this will work and that we can save Britain from a Brexit disaster.

  • Peter Watson 16th Jan '19 - 11:02am

    @frankie “I don’t have to claim I’ve been hacked”
    @Glenn “That really was not me. I didn’t say I was hacked.”
    See also:
    “Martin” at https://www.libdemvoice.org/59705-59705.html#comment-488614 and “a very different Martin” at https://www.libdemvoice.org/59705-59705.html#comment-488605
    Frankie, I sometimes fear that your approach of ad hominem attacks on individual Brexiters and Brexiters as a whole risks undermining your arguments and driving away wavering voters whose support the Remain campaign needs.

  • Joseph Bourke – Indeed we can all agree on what you have said. The problem is that “Not the best of days for Mrs May” is not the same as “A good day for the people of Britain,” and a whole world away from “A great day for Liberal Democracy.”

    We (or more correctly our leaders) have to find a way to exploit all the good work done by our members and all the other remainers on the ground in order to bring the good ship UK safely to port. That is a battle that has to be won against Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and all their supporters who insist on putting their party political careers ahead of the needs of the people of this country.

    This is the difficult bit.

  • Paul Barker 17th Jan '19 - 7:53pm

    It feels to me that a Peoples Vote & a postponement of the Brexit date are becoming more likely with every passing hour.
    I also think that if a New Referendum is called, a big section of the Leave movement will call for a boycott.

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