Thursday 20 June 2019

John Downing: 'Blow to 'Plan B' may shorten the endgame - but increase the risk'


Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May pictured during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: HO / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May pictured during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photo: HO / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP
John Downing

John Downing

Brexit good news in any form is very scarce - so let's lead with a potential positive. The latest parliamentary reverse for Theresa May could speed up the Brexit end-game. Since we have been obliged to listen to this dreary and complex guff for almost three years, that is surely not bad news.

Alas, as always, it's not entirely that simple. The downside is that Mrs May's second parliamentary defeat inside 24 hours again lessens her chances of somehow bundling her unloved EU-UK Brexit divorce deal over the line in the coming weeks.

Stay with me for a quick explanation. British MPs have voted by 308 votes to 297 in favour of a measure which obliges the London government to reveal its 'Plan B' within three sitting days of a vote next Tuesday or Wednesday, which will very probably see the draft EU-UK deal not getting the necessary ratification.

This vote was the focus of a huge procedural row and is further evidence of parliament asserting itself against the prime minister and her cabinet. Mrs May and colleagues were confident that the theatrical parliament chairman, the speaker John Bercow, would rule the motion out of order.

He did not and yet again the Conservative Party's pro-EU wing proved Mrs May's undoing as it broke ranks. Before that vote, the government effectively had some three weeks to come up with another Brexit proposal after her expected defeat first time out. It was patently obvious that Mrs May's plan was one of parliamentary brinkmanship, running down the clock and leaving MPs with a choice between her deal or the economic carnage of a no-deal Brexit.

Late on Tuesday, the pro-EU Tories had done their work also helping defeat Mrs May with a vote which effectively limits the government's ability to raise taxes to fund provisions for a no-deal Brexit. Again, you could choose to see that as good news, as it may limit the chances of a no-deal outcome.

But one more time, this one is not all it seems. The reality is that it further reduces the chances of Mrs May just about fluking a pass for her deal.

There was no semblance of good news in the rest of the day's doings. In a hapless effort to woo the 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs who prop up her minority government, Mrs May published plans which would give the North's assembly a say in shaping the North's status in post-Brexit EU-UK relations. She said it would give Stormont a voice in whether the backstop would or would not be invoked.

That one faces three major obstacles. From the blindingly obvious department, the North has not had a power-sharing parliament or government for two full years. Follow that with the unsurprising news that the DUP said - wait for it - "No".

And the combined majority of those in Stormont take a different view of the North's status under Brexit. Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party, and probably the Ulster Unionists, all want the North as close as possible to the EU in a post-Brexit world.

Irish Independent

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