Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more farcical, yesterday happened. Government ministers spent the weekend assuring us the vote planned for today would go ahead. Some were even claiming the PM might win it (it’s nearly Christmas after all, the season of miracles). Even late yesterday morning the Downing St press office were still telling us the vote was going ahead, while the PM was huddled with her aides and getting the Cabinet together for a phone conference. Within a few minutes it was clear she’d changed her mind. Again.
The vote is postponed. Until when, no-one knows. The PM came to the House of Commons and was frank – the only reason she’s delaying the vote is because she was going to lose. And lose badly. Once again this is all about her trying to hang on to power and sort out her own party rather than doing what’s best for the country.
The government had two choices for how to go about delaying the vote. The speaker, John Bercow, was very clear that the democratic and fair thing to do would be to move to adjourn the debate and let the House vote on whether or not to agree to stop the debate and vote. The debate had, after all, already lasted for three days with over 100 MPs taking part. I was one of them in the wee hours of last Wednesday morning (you can watch it here). The other option was for the Government to decline to move the day’s business. No vote needed. So that’s what they did. It may be discourteous but it’s legitimate and I guess that’s the benefit of being in charge. Even without a majority. You can do this sort of stuff.
Not that it stopped a real feeling of anger in the chamber and beyond. The reality is that Theresa May isn’t going to be able to renegotiate this deal. And by not telling parliament when she was planning to bring back the deal for a vote I can only guess she’s playing for time. The closer we get to the 29th March, the more pressure she can put on her backbenchers – and Labour rebels – to back her deal in fear of there being no deal at all.
It’s clear this is a government and a Prime Minister crashing out of control. The logical thing would be for the PM to step aside and let someone else form a government. The SNP has been clear that we’ll back Corbyn if he puts forward a no-confidence motion. Both Plaid, the Greens and Lib Dems have said the same. No-one has confidence in the current government. So far Corbyn hasn’t stepped up to the mark. And just to be clear, whilst the SNP itself could table a motion of no confidence the Speaker has made it very clear that this is unlikely to even be discussed unless supported by the official opposition.
And, in case you missed it, it’s now legally clear that we don’t have to continue down this Brexit path. Thanks to six Scottish parliamentarians, including my colleague Joanna Cherry QC MP, the European Court of Justice confirmed yesterday morning that the UK can revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU on our current terms of membership.
As I said last week, when you’re in a hole you should stop digging. Now is the time to stop.
Four weeks ago I was worried about writing this column on the eve of the last major parliamentary debate on Brexit. Anything could have happened, rendering my speculation obsolete by the time you read it. I shouldn’t have fretted. Anything could have happened but nothing did.
Here I am again. Groundhog day. It’s Tuesday. There’s a big debate tomorrow.
Tuesday. Another day spent discussing Brexit. Another day of my life I’m not getting back.
We are no further forward. As the clock ticks down to exit it’s only fair to ask: What the hell is Theresa May playing at?
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP
Leader of the Labour Party