Monday 16 September 2019

John Downing: 'Numbers simply don't add up to get deal through UK parliament'


Palace of Westminster. Photo: PA
Palace of Westminster. Photo: PA
John Downing

John Downing

Let's play an old children's game called "supposing - supposing". Let us suppose that British Prime Minister Theresa May gets her Brexit proposals through her Cabinet and she cuts a deal soon in Brussels.

Those are two big suppositions - but they are within the rules of "supposing - supposing". And they help us get to the real crunch question that has curiously preoccupied the EU negotiators in Brussels as much as anyone else.

That crunch question is this: Is there a snowball's chance in hell that Mrs May could drive a deal through the Westminster parliament and avoid the carnage that would be a crash-out Brexit?

Anyone with a smidgen of political nous would simply say: No. The prime minister would go into such a contest with a working majority of just 13. Mrs May's party has 315 out of the 650 seats at Westminster. She is reliant on 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs. But these have already sworn to vote against what looks like the emerging Brexit deal.

This is because the North looks set to be treated differently from England, Scotland and Wales, and that could undermine the union that is the United Kingdom.

For the past month, ardent ultra-Brexiteers have been boasting they could muster up to 40 Conservative MPs to vote against Mrs May's would-be deal. Even allowing for 100pc exaggeration here, that would make short work of the remaining majority of three MPs available to Mrs May.

Equally, that does not take into account the irate pro-EU members of Mrs May's party. This grouping has been forcefully brought to our attention in recent days by the resignation of minister Jo Johnson. Yes, he is the brother of the radically anti-EU former foreign minister Boris Johnson. It says a lot about the current chaotic state of English politics that the prospective Brexit deal can allow pro and anti factions to find common ground in their antipathy towards it.

Where else would Mrs May look for support? Scotland returns 59 MPs to the London parliament and their voters voted 60:40 in favour of Remain in that June 2016 referendum. There are 35 MPs from the Scottish National Party and 13 from the Conservative Party, which has enjoyed a resurgence over the past 20 years.

The so-called "Scots Nats" have been speculated upon as potential May saviours for some time.

But that idea has been dented by complications over fishing rights in the Brexit draft deal, which have raised questions about the assent of even the 13 Scottish Conservative Party MPs.

So, just what prompts supporters of Mrs May to say a deal could somehow be put through the British House of Commons. Well, it is simply a pumped-up version of the Remain strategy in the 2016 referendum which turns on frightening the daylights out of everyone about the economic carnage following no deal.

It didn't work then - why should it work now?

Irish Independent

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