Theresa May’s deal is in deadlock – only a Final Say can release the bind
The Commons does not like the deal, and will not be persuaded by fresh ‘assurances’; the EU is not prepared to go any further. Despite pushing the vote back, the stalemate is effectively unaltered
At around 4pm on Monday afternoon, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in the Commons, Nigel Dodds, killed the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. If the text remains unchanged, it will remain “unacceptable” and her position is “impossible”. Her policy “incredible”. In saying this so bluntly, and in holding her majority in his hands, he may well also have finished off her political career. It is rare for such a moment of assassination to be broadcast live on rolling news and the web.
Having – at an extraordinary late moment – pulled the vote she was going to lose, and lose heavily, on her Brexit deal, Theresa May was even reprimanded by the speaker, John Bercow, for her “deeply discourteous” attitude. She was ridiculed by Jeremy Corbyn, scorned by the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman, and patronised by Liz Kendall. Like the dismembered Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, she shrugs off such blows as mere flesh wounds and carries on. It is getting self-parodic.
She pledged to MPs that she would fly to Brussels in order to win “reassurances” and “assurances” on the so-called backstop.
Join Independent Minds
For exclusive articles, events and an advertising-free read for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
Get the best of The Independent
With an Independent Minds subscription for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
She concedes, implicitly, that there will be no renegotiation of the deal. There will be no new legally enforceable clauses inserted into the UK-EU withdrawal agreement. The European Union has stated, repeatedly, that the deal is the only deal, the best deal available given the UK’s red lines, and that they will, in the words of Guy Verhofstadt, president of the European Parliament, stand by the Irish.
So Ms May will return from Brussels, Neville Chamberlain-like, with a piece of paper, upon which the EU and UK will append appropriate signatures, and solemnly declare that the backstop is indeed only meant to be temporary, is uncomfortable for both sides, and that both sides will seek to supersede it with a new trade deal that honours the existing political declaration as soon as possible. Unlike 1938, the pledges will be sincere – but the hard men and women of Brexit will find it unconvincing. They have already said as much.
So Mr Dodds, as did many other members of the House, told her pre-emptively that whatever she comes back with, short of a new agreement, will simply be not good enough. Her deal, in other words, is still heading for defeat in the Commons. Perhaps the majority by which it will be lost may be a little slimmer, depending on how resounding the words on the new document prove to be, but defeat still seems inevitable.
Ms May, in other words, has yet again kicked the can down the road, except she is now running out of road. Sooner or later there will have to be a vote. The House of Commons does not like the deal, and will not be persuaded by fresh “assurances”; the European Union is not prepared to go any further. The stalemate is effectively unaltered.
If Ms May says to Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, Leo Varadkar and Jean-Claude Juncker that if they didn't help her, they will get a chaotic Brexit and Boris Johnson in No 10 – will they blink? Do we have to go to 21 January – the legal deadline for a “deal” – for this game of poker to end? Even if we did, the deal would lack democratic legitimacy without a fresh mandate.
The Europeans may not oblige in any case.
Kenneth Clarke, father of the House who lived through the European arguments of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, brings the weight of experience upon matters when he tells us that parliament is not only divided by party and within party, but by and within faction: and thus there is no predicable majority for any option, and that some form of backstop is inevitable if the Irish border is to stay seamless.
And so the truth that has stalked Brexit for some time now is making its presence ever more volubly known. Time and again in the Commons, MPs appealed to the prime minister to ask the people what they want. They realise that the only way to resolve the issue, morally and politically, is to allow the people to do so, via a Final Say referendum, which The Independent has campaigned for consistently.
Ms May has, unwisely, given the number of U-turns she has had to execute, repeated her reluctance to hold such a people’s vote, with similar arguments to those deployed by her environment secretary and other ministers.
It is said that those who want a fresh national vote want to dishonour the verdict of the last referendum. Not at all. The verdict of the last referendum was, if anything, marginal. In any case; its authority was eroded when Ms May called her snap election to win a “mandate” for her Brexit policy and she was denied it; and it was a vote on whether to leave. One of the few things that all sides agree on is that the deal the prime minister has achieved bears no relation to any of the variations on the Brexit theme that were paraded in 2016. At the very least, the terms that have been agreed should be approved by the British people. Distrust and discontent about those terms are widespread and apparent – and reflected in the parliamentary deadlock.
It is not possible for MPs to deny the people their wish if they defer, once again, to the people for a decision. Democracy cannot be denied by another exercise in democracy. It is not a question of MPs disdaining the public for being “too dim” as Mr Gove mischievously puts it; it is, rather, treating the voters with the respect they deserve by asking them not to vote for something that is clear and concrete, as a final act of assent. Mr Gove is also wrong to say that no one has changed their mind about their leave vote. Many now fear what is being done in their name is without their consent.
The British people are intelligent enough to see through such sophistry. Those who want the UK to enjoy absolute sovereignty, or restrict immigration, or believe in the glittering prizes in front of “global Britain” can vote leave once again. They will suffer no impediment as they make their way to the polling station in the Final Say vote. No one is “betraying” Brexit or “stealing” it by asking the British people to approve it on the basis of one person one vote. In fact, the undemocratic approach is to deny people the ability to express their final say on this most important of issues – one that will affect generations to come. Democracy is not broken, even if party politics, as ever, is unable to rise to the challenge of Europe. A Final Say referendum remains the only workable solution to this problem. Once settled, Ms May can stop kicking the can down the road.
The people are sovereign, and they will be heard. The European question will not be fixed by the elite. It will be settled by a “Final Say” by every voter. Final Say is the democratic way forward.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here