Friday, 18 October 2019

Handling a slippery customer

The 'victory' which the PM has secured in the revised agreement with the EU reminds me of the one secured by the trade union leader who, after negotiating at length with the employers, came back to tell his members “I’m afraid that I haven’t been able to get us a pay increase – in fact, I’ve had to accept a pay cut.  But the good news is that I’ve got it backdated”.  Boris Johnson has indeed managed to get rid of the infamous backstop, but, as the Irish Times put it, “The price Johnson has paid for killing the backstop is his acceptance, as the default position, of the very thing – Northern Ireland in the EU customs union – that the backstop would, if activated, have produced.”  He’s taken a solution which was designed to be temporary (until such time as a trade deal was agreed with the EU) and made it a ‘permanent’ one, thereby obviating the need for the temporary solution.  (The ‘permanence’ of the arrangement is, of course, subject to a periodic vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the EU is theoretically taking a gamble in depending on that.  However, given that the decision is to be taken by simple majority and given that demographic change is moving slowly but inexorably in one direction – against the DUP – the bet is a fairly safe one.)
The question is why he has given so much ground so suddenly; it’s a complete turnaround from what he has said in the past.  There does seem to be an outside chance that enough Labour MPs will have been bought out by the promised reductions in workers’ rights, environmental regulations etc. (compared with the better protection that they were offered by Theresa May) to be willing to support the deal this time round for him to be able to get it through parliament in principle tomorrow, potentially freeing him from the requirements of the so-called Benn Act, but then what?  There is a great deal of very detailed legislation that needs to be passed, and if parliament rejects that after agreeing to the deal in principle, we are left facing no deal.  For those who suspect that ‘no deal’ is still the PM’s preferred option (not because he believes it best for the UK, even he isn’t that stupid: it’s all about minimising the vote for the Nigel Farage plc Party), getting agreement and then seeing the legislation fail might be exactly what he wants.  People are quite right to have their suspicions about his motives.
There is also another possibility, raised by Craig Murray, who suggests that “Legal Advisers have been asked about the circumstances constituting force majeure which would justify the UK in breaking a EU Withdrawal Agreement in the future. … The situation that Johnson and Raab appear now to contemplate is agreeing a “backstop” now to get Brexit done, but then not implementing the agreed backstop when the time comes due to “force majeure””.  In ordinary times, with an ordinary Prime Minister, I would find it incredible that any PM would sign an international agreement with the advance intention of then breaching it almost immediately afterwards, but with Johnson, who knows?
For all of Johnson’s display of confidence that he has the numbers, none of us know what will happen tomorrow, least of all him.  But given his long-standing proclivity towards dishonesty, MPs can and should make sure that they ensure, in as watertight a means as they can, that they tie his hands in such a way that he cannot frustrate the will of parliament, whatever that turns out to be.


Anonymous said...

Why should his hands be tied? He is doing what the vast majority of the British (and UK) public want, getting the matter of BREXIT sorted as quickly as possible.

I voted REMAIN but, like so many others, including all the other REMAINERS' I know, agree we must implement the result of the first referendum. If we subsequently find ourselves victorious in another referendum, perhaps even on the same subject, we would rightly expect the same courtesy to be reciprocated.

Who are all these people these people that want to wash away democracy just because of a few percentage points of economic growth? Idiots that's who, just listen to the climate change folk, we need to drastically cut back on our 'lavish' lifestyles (and that includes the colour television owning, can't and won't eat sandwiches every day 'poverty' stricken poor, or put more correctly, 'relatively poor' compared to the the rest).

We need to take a good long hard look at ourselves. I doubt many will like what they see.

John Dixon said...

"He is doing what the vast majority ... public want, getting the matter of BREXIT sorted as quickly as possible". I tend to agree that the majority want it sorted, but the problem is that they don't all want it sorted in the same way. The other problem is that he isn't actually 'sorting' it at all - he's just ending the easy phase before starting on the hard one. This saga is going to run for at least 10 years yet.

"Why should his hands be tied?" Because we live in a parliamnetary democracy in which the majority voted to leave but left the details and timing of that to parliament to decide. It is entirely right that parliament should seek to ensure that the PM complies with parliament's decisions on those matters.

"I voted REMAIN but, like so many others ... agree we must implement the result of the first referendum." that is, actually, exactly what has been happening. Parliament voted to give notice of departure and to open negotiations, but those negotiations have not to date - perhaps things will look different tomorrow - produced a result which parliament considers acceptable. That is what implementing the result of a referendum to leave without specifying the destination means.

"Who are all these people these people that want to wash away democracy just because of a few percentage points of economic growth?" In what sense do you call parliament doing the job it was given 'washing away democracy'? Parliament debating the detail is exactly what it was expected to do. You seem to be working to a much narrower definition of 'democracy'.