Friday, 14 October 2016

The Fight-Back against Brexit began this Week

Since the vote to leave the European Union (EU) on 23 June this year, there has been a slightly unreal atmosphere in the UK, a strange kind of limbo. The feeling of shock has largely passed, but with the government seemingly not having much of a vision of what Brexit will look like, let alone a plan, and Labour and Tory politicians more interested in internal party in-fighting, the public has been left to wonder what the hell is going to happen.

This period was brought to an abrupt end at the Tory Party conference last week, in particular, the Prime Minister, Theresa May’s speech in which she shed a little light on what the government wants. All the indications from the conference were that membership of the European Single Market is expendable, and in the end will be subordinate to limiting immigration from the EU. This lit the fuse wire and this week we saw an explosion of opposition to the government’s approach to this matter.

The announcement by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, that businesses would be required to publicly display the numbers of foreign workers that they employ, likened by some to making these workers wear yellow stars, was heavily criticised by business leaders. The proposal was hastily dropped.

The Labour Party appears to have pulled itself together somewhat, and is acting like a proper opposition, after a summer of attempted coups and general tantrums thrown by Labour MPs, ending with Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as party leader, with an increased majority. Most Labour MPs appear to have reluctantly accepted Corbyn is to remain as leader, at least for another year or two, and are getting on with their jobs.

Ed Miliband, ex Labour leader, deserves some credit for holding talks with Tory MPs who are alarmed by what they heard at their conference, and a significant number of them want Parliament to have a part in deciding, when and on what terms Article 50 will be triggered. Even some MPs who voted to leave the EU, are siding with the opposition on the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.

I thought something serious was developing in the week when I read on the BBC website this quote from Tory MP Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general:

Dominic Grieve said the Commons had to be allowed to give its opinion, as this was a "very well-established constitutional convention" involving important treaties.

He added: "If a situation arises that the government at the end of the day is about to conclude a deal for the future of the United Kingdom which can't command parliamentary approval - or at least acquiescence - then it's perfectly obvious in those circumstances such a government wouldn't survive. I would have thought there would have to be an election."  

Pretty strong words, and an indication of the seriousness of Tory MPs unease with the Prime Minister trying to rail-road through decision making on Brexit terms, under the ancient pretence of the Royal Prerogative. Grieve gives the impression of being prepared to bring the government down unless they change course. With only a small majority in Parliament, the government is vulnerable to a rebellion by just a handful of Tory MPs.

Then, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, was dragged to the House of Commons to explain this decision, and inform MPs of the government’s broader strategy. All that he managed to achieve, was to push the pound into free-fall, which at one point reached an all time low against a major currencies.

Yesterday, a court case began, brought by UK citizens, to force the government to allow MPs to decide on when Article 50 is triggered. We should get a ruling on Monday, but it is likely this will be appealed, whichever way the High Court decides.

Also yesterday, we had the announcement by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, of her intention to try and hold an independence referendum in Scotland, should she deem the deal served up by the UK government, to be against Scotland’s national interest. Which, it almost certainly will be.

All of this is building into a perfect storm, which has put the government on the back foot, and has the potential to compel a change of track from ministers, and even lead to a general election next spring.

The Prime Minister’s honeymoon is over, and she swimming in deeper and deeper water on Brexit now. May really needs to get a grip of the situation and she should start by sacking those clowns, the three Brexiteer ministers, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis, and putting some sensible MPs in charge of the Brexit process and negotiations. The idea that Theresa May was a safe pair of hands with which to handle Brexit, is looking well wide of the mark now, in fact, she is looking more and more incompetent at the job as time passes by. 

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