I WAS at the latest Spectator Brexit debate (somehow I feel not the last) yesterday evening, which was a sparkling encounter between Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart. And the audience.
The impressive and engaging Mr Stewart asked for shows of hands on firstly how people voted (out of some 300 there, all bar a few claimed to have voted out) and of those who voted out how many would prefer a no-deal Brexit to Mrs May’s fudge. He was visibly shaken when that was over 70 per cent. And then, in a colossal error that is typical of the whole process, he then proceeded to lecture the audience. Being Spectator readers, they were well-mannered and refrained from heckling but when invited to contribute made it clear that they didn’t appreciate Mr Stewart’s instruction to listen to him explain why Mrs May’s deal was the best available option. He identified eight such options currently being mooted in Parliament and, reasonably, pointed out that inevitably seven of those could not survive and the only one that that might command a majority was Mrs May’s.
Rory’s main arguments were that no-deal would make life hard for the UK automotive industry as car parts crossed the Channel four times in the process of manufacture. No idea where that number came from, but it seemed to escape him that this means any obstruction to the free movement of goods will hurt the EU just as much. By contrast Mr Raab pointed out that there remains time to negotiate a transition period for no-deal, and indeed time to stockpile those things that are vital for the nation to minimise the disruption to the nation so that such a deal is not vital. He also noted that our major export (financial services, not the lamb produced by some of Mr Stewart’s Cumbrian constituents) has already found a way round Brexit by incorporating in the EU.
Indeed the tragedy of Rory’s position was that while he stated that it was inconceivable that the UK could be trapped in a long backstop against its will, as it is the second-largest economy in the EU and by far the most militarily capable (and yes, he did liken Brexit to the Civil War), he could not see that is precisely the fact that makes no-deal, erm, no big deal. He kept beseeching us to listen to him; what he needed to do was listen to us. But he’s not that humble. Or wise.
Points made from the floor covered sovereignty and the capability of British business to generate sales internationally (a fact known to all except CBI). The best question came from a young man who asked quite how Messrs Raab and Stewart proposed to solve the complete crisis that Parliament has created for itself. Given its spectacular ineptitude why would anyone bother to vote? He refrained from adding that taxation without representation generally ends badly.
When I voted out, the options on the paper were in or out. If there had been a box labelled ‘whatever Parliament decides in its meaningful vote’ I would not have chosen it – and few others would have done either. We had a referendum precisely because Parliament could not agree. It became involved only while the Tories faffed about replacing the (disgraceful) Cameron. The moment Parliament put itself back in the process with its ‘meaningful’ vote (which is actually not meaningful, but I digress) it completely undermined the negotiators as the remain campaign and its acolytes asserted (on the basis of precisely zero evidence) that a no-deal Brexit was not what we voted for and would bring forth a plague of Frogs. So the EU has played hardball.
When Mrs May’s plan is voted down, as it surely must be, Parliament needs to look across the Channel at what can happen when governments lose their democratic mandate. Its meaningful vote will have scuppered the only deal on offer, so that’s no-deal then. It then needs to send someone to Brussels to say ‘I told you the offer was not enough. We’re now working on the basis of no-deal. Happy to talk about process for implementation, but we’re off.’
If Parliament tries to create a deal (which it can’t without the EU), or further constrain the process as Mr Grieve wants (called kicking the can down the road), or scupper Brexit completely or even just impose a second referendum and a relaunch of Project Fear 3 (or is 4 – I forget) it needs to remember Kipling’s Saxon.
The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.
When he stands like an ox in the furrow – with his sullen set eyes on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon alone.
I’ve quoted it before in this context, and make no apologies for doing so again. Mrs May and the coterie of fools in Westminster are a long way from plain dealing. Parliament asked the country what it wanted, and got a considered and crystal-clear answer. It then put itself into the process, and by doing so interrupted it. It now needs to get out of the way or be trampled by the Brexit Ox.