Archive for March, 2019

Brexit: A Failure of Governance: It Might Soon Involve the Queen.

Saturday, March 30th, 2019

So May lost for the third time, but not so big. Perhaps. But she still lost and although the Tory party governs it actually doesn’t. This is because about 100 of its own MPs routinely oppose it. Take those off the tally and May has fewer MPs behind her than Corbyn. So no wonder she is snagged up in a never ending dream of next time lucky.

Normally our constitution provides for such an event by bringing the government to an end. Unfortunately that part of it is not working. Potentially this could leave the nation being ungoverned by a combination of a unicorn executive and a legislature made up of junkies addicted to voting No. To everything.  This fiasco, now the laughing stock of the world, could go on until June 2022.

So either the government abandons the dreamland in Downing Street and enters the real world or Parliament gets a grip and starts to vote Yes at least to something. Failing either of those and in the absence of something better we cannot now foresee, such as Parliament rising to the historic challenge and organizing both an orderly Brexit and a competent cross party government, someone has to blow a whistle and bring this parliament to an end.

That someone is the Queen. Detached, impartial and above politics she may be, but in the end she alone has the power, under the constitution, to rescue her country. We must not shrink from allowing her to use it.

Brexit Crisis: Is The Constitution Failing?

Friday, March 29th, 2019

Well the answer cannot really be yes, because in the international definition of a constitution in a democracy we do not have one. We have a set of customs and practices based on precedent, or what has gone before. So if it worked last time we can do it again. Our problem today is that there has been no last time of what is going on now. So we are charting a new constitutional framework in which many of the previously tested and well trodden roads are being abandoned.

In previous posts I have referred to the Fixed Term Parliament Act and the Supreme Court ruling on Article 50. I am not going to return to these now but maybe in the future. But today is an important red letter day in our history for a whole variety of reasons which will take different forms, depending on which side of what argument you are on. Two are obvious. The first is that today was the day we were supposed, for certain, to leave the EU and the second is we have no idea what is going to happen next. Clearly things are not working.

I have also referred to the DUP gaming the system by refusing to support the government’s flag ship policy, yet blocking a successful vote of no confidence which would bring the May government to an end. If we had any rules to guide us, that would certainly break them. But in a game without rules there is no such thing as a foul.

So if the government loses tonight’s vote there is no question that in a rational set up, like ours so little time ago, the May government would be out of office and parliament would be dissolved, so that a new parliament can be elected in a general election. If this does not happen, almost anything else can and something will. And it might not be good.


Brexit Crisis: Has The Government Collapsed?

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

In any other time since GB became a parliamentary democracy Yes. But in these tumultuous political times when the constitution is flexing and stretching in every direction, No. Not yet. But it is no longer governing as an executive.

There are in the end two reasons for this. Forget about new acts and court rulings. The Tory party is utterly and ideologically split, not just on Brexit which is the issue of the moment, but upon who we are and what we are as a nation. It has no majority. Therefore it cannot govern coherently. Such a government would normally lose a vote of confidence.

This brings us to the second reason. It, actually May, constructed a majority by ganging up with the most destructive political force in our democratic store. The DUP. This party opposes everything everywhere which is progressive, enlightened, and prejudice free. It obduracy has brought power sharing to an end and crashed the governance of NI to the point where the province is on the verge of direct rule. It is now gleefully crashing the proper governance of the UK, particularly England, by refusing to support both the government flagship policy and the removal of that government through a vote of no confidence. In other words for its own selfish reasons and without a thought to the wider good, it sustains May in office while denying her power. So governance in the UK is  in a state of the most appalling chaos. We have become a world spectacle.

Parliament is now in the driving seat, having seized control of the agenda. Its mission is to chart a way forward. We must hope it does, but having listened to all the grandstanding for a huge variety of plans of what do do next, hopes that parliament can find common cause should not run too high. In my darker moments I am led to wonder whether parliament finding an answer is not the biggest unicorn of all.

But something is going to happen. It is in the air, so heavy you can touch it. But nobody knows what. Not even this blog.

Government Crisis: Some Quick Thoughts

Monday, March 25th, 2019

If May goes now she should resign only as prime minister and remain leader of the Tory party until the Brexit programme is decided and implemented. She can then resign as Tory leader in time for an election by party members to conclude at the party conference in the autumn.

A caretaker PM should be appointed now by the Queen, backed by the cabinet, to lead the Brexit process until either:

a A Withdrawal Deal is passed and put into effect

b A long delay involving EU elections is decided on

c Brexit is cancelled

d The Tory led government falls.

Meanwhile the House of Commons remains divided and in turmoil. It is not clear that anything can be agreed on unless a more scientific voting system is adopted to establish preferences, leading by elimination to a choice. These votes must be unwhipped and free. Otherwise we are, through accident and paralysis, headed for a crash out on April 12th.

EU Takes Control: Now we Have a Road Map: But do we Have a Servicable Vehicle?

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Having given an evasive and unconvincing performance at the EU Summit yesterday, the prime minister got her delay, but on very different terms to those expected. The council of EU leaders showed an ability to reach unanimity, make compromises and think creatively which far outshone the wooden May. One is truck by the qualitative uplift in most continental politicians compared to our own failing political class.

So here it is. We have until May 22 to pass the May Deal and bring it into law, to achieve an orderly Brexit. But if we do not pass it, or possibly the Withdrawal Agreement with a varied Political Declaration, next week before March 29th, we get an automatic extension to April 12th, when we can choose between holding European Elections and sending MEPs back to the EU parliament, or crashing out that day. If we go for the elections we get an indefinite delay until we have made up our minds what to do. The private prayer in the EU is that the first priority in that event will be either a People’s Vote or a new government or both.

There is no doubt that the whole Brexit saga now amounts to a national humiliation for the sheer practical and political incompetence revealed by the gibbering fiasco called negotiations. The grandstanding of MPs and ministers on all sides is absurd. No two speak the same when it comes to what they want. For us. Everybody is at odds with the other. The government is little better than a brawl. So here are three thoughts.

If May resigns on her own accord, the Queen could send for another Tory. But if the government loses a vote of confidence, she has to send for Corbyn.

This is the best bit. The unthinkable has, over just a few days, become mainstream. Revoking Article 50. I have signed the petition. You should too. It is at the time of posting this well on the way to 3 million. Here is the link.


Brexit Turmoil: The Heart of the Crisis is May Herself.

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Things have been made worse by the Fixed Term Parliament Act and the Supreme Court Ruling, both of which diminished the power of the executive and increased the power of the legislature, while leaving the structure unchanged. That is clearly not now fit for purpose. But it could have been managed as a problem revealed by the unique complexities of Brexit. With a different prime minister. But not with May.

She has now become the problem which will not go away while she remains in office. The fact that she does so is a systemic failure of the new arrangements, added to the desperate eleventh hour nature of the cliff edge to which the bewildered nation stumbles forward. The idea that the Tory party could now take time off to find itself a new leader while May remains in office as caretaker is plainly silly.

So in a country without a written constitution but somewhat addicted to precedent, let us go back to 1940. The British Army fell back reeling from the German assault only to be trapped by a massive attack in its rear from spearhead German forces broken through via the Ardennes. The frightened country, and believe me it was nervous and getting ready to lose the war in spite of flat caps and pitchforks lining up in the fields, turned on Chamberlain, the man in charge who had promised ‘peace in our time’ and was seen as the author of national misfortune and humiliation. He resigned.

But here is the thing. Chamberlain resigned as prime minister and advised the King, who wanted Halifax to take over, to send for Churchill.The process took hours not weeks as time had run out. But Chamberlain did not resign as leader of the Conservative party. Churchill ignored the Halifax led appeasers, reached across the House, brought Labour in, steadied the country, pulled off Dunkirk and won the Battle of Britain.

May should resign now, not as leader of the Tory party but as prime minister, and advice the Queen to send for her deputy, David Lidington, and appoint him caretaker prime minister until the crisis is resolved. He should then reach across the House, not to appease the hardcore, but to mobilise the sensible majority for a safe deliverance.  The rest is obvious. You can write it yourself.

Brexit Cliffhanger: The Hanging Questions

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

So here we are.

Still we do not know whether or what Brexit.

Nine days to go and counting.

But where to?

Would there have been a referendum if Labour had won the 2015 election? No.

Should there have been a study to determine what Brexit involved, what it meant and how to organise a smooth transition into a new status, before the referendum was called? Yes.

Was the straight Remain or Leave question, without any knowledge of what came next, fair to the British people? No.

Was this whole Brexit saga, which has already poisoned the traditional equilibrium of society at every level and for which the true cost will remain for years unquantified, all about the Tory party and its schism between raw nationalism and one nation internationalism? Yes.

At the very start of her premiership should May have ignored the Tory nationalist wing (as Churchill shunned the Tory appeasement wing in 1940) and reached across the House to form a consensus for an orderly and sensible Brexit, backed by business, the unions and the young, who will be left with the outcome? Yes.

As a consequence of all those failings are we now in a crisis? Yes.

Can we get through it? Yes.

But at what cost at every level is the question which is left and for which there is yet no answer.

Brexit: Bercow Blows The Whistle.

Tuesday, March 19th, 2019

This Blog has been constant in recording the collapse of orderly and effective government in the United Kingdom. Well, at least some order has now been restored. It is a basic principle of Parliamentary democracy, which we invented hence all that Mother of Parliaments stuff, that if a government is defeated on its primary legislation, such as the budget, it goes. May’s government has been defeated, not once but twice, on its Brexit deal. There has been nothing more primary than Brexit in peacetime since the Reformation. Yet in spite of these two major defeats and a number of minor ones, plus the collapse entirely of cabinet responsibility to the level of farce, where it is permissible for Ministers to propose to the House a course of action which that minster then votes against, the May government is still there.

Not only is it still there in office and no longer functioning as a coherent authority in the land, but it is returning again and again with the same thing, like a child demanding another sweet, until the parents finally cave in, no longer caring whether the rest of the journey will take place as a consequence in a car reeking of vomit. So this absurd government imagines Parliament will vote for the deal, in fear of crashing out or no Brexit. In other words a unity of opposites to make a desperate majority for something nobody actually wants. It is worth at this moment recording three things.

First, the Speaker is right to stop this rubbish. Enough is enough.

Second, the Brexiteers need to remember that their claim that the mandate for Brexit from 17.5 million people is  being frustrated by a parliament unrepresentative of that majority of 52/48, is past its sell by date. The current parliament was elected AFTER the Brexit referendum and is bang up to date. Had the people wanted a crash Brexit they would have voted for UKIP, as all the other parties offered a sensible outcome that would be good for all. Instead UKIP was wiped out.

Third, unless something happens that is at present not planned, the trajectory of events is taking the country to a spectacular high noon when all May’s proposals are thrown out, including the extension, and the only options left from which MPs have solely and finally  to choose, are a crash Brexit or revoking Article 50 for No Brexit.  In that scenario, revoking Article 50 will win.

Brexit Chaos: Latest Thoughts : Is There Light Ahead?

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Let us begin with the fact. Forget the politics for a moment. In law, both domestic and international, we crash out of the EU in 14 days time. Nothing which has so far happened in parliament has stopped that. We are on track and on target to crash out with no deal and there are many in parliament who hope we do. Worse, there are some in the government who agree with them.

The threat of what business, the unions and everybody under 35 thinks would be a calamity, will cause the ERG nationalist wing of the Tory party and their buddies in the DUP, a party which positively reeks of prejudice of every sort and kind, when faced with the prospect of that fact in law driving a halt to the whole Brexit process, possibly even for ever, will cause them to fall in line behind May and back her deal next Tuesday to save Brexit. Even if in their eyes it is neither perfect nor pure. If that sounds convoluted it is, but that is the Downing Street plan. If it fails it is impossible to predict what happens next.

It is worth noting that the government motion to delay Brexit (non binding in law) last night was carried by a good majority because Labour voted with it. It is also the case that Labour’s own plan for a customs union which would eliminate the need for an Irish Backstop, was defeated once by a much smaller margin than either of the two landslide defeats which May’s deal has suffered, in spite of the fact that Labour has nearly 60 fewer MPs than the Tories.

Last of all think about this. Such is the shattered state of the Tory party in government that several members of the Cabinet no less, abstained from supporting the government in its critical vote last night, which it won with Labour’s help. But here comes the best bit. This is a real jewel. The cabinet minister who wound up the debate with a rousing speech in support of the motion, voted against it. No it was not Grayling. It was the Brexit Secretary, in charge of the whole thing. Or so it is said. He has the car and stuff anyway. I have forgotten his name.

If you can see a chink of light in all this, you certainly have sharp eyes.

Brexit: The Chaos Mounts as the Options Narrow

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

The government is now in a state of perpetual crisis. It is said that parliament has taken control. The truth is parliament is out of control. It can construct a majority against things but becomes a Tower of Babel when asked to explain what it wants. To say the EU and the world at large look on near speechless is to understate the case.

The lack of a constitutionally active political Head of State who can summon the party leaders, tell them to get a grip or face the dissolution of parliament, added to the curbing of executive power of the government with the Supreme Court ruling over Article 50 and the reduction of both the power of the PM to seek a dissolution or the obligation to resign when defeated (time and again!) brought about by the Fixed Term Parliament Act, have together produced a state of dysfunction in our system of governance.

At the moment the diagnosis must be that parliament has lost the capacity to pass Brexit legislation into law. All it can do is pass non binding preferences. But  a few days away is a law passed and in force. It mandates that this country will leave the EU on the 29th of March. The only thing that can stop that is to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether.

The one other option is for parliament to finally approve the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands, or with some compromise on what follows it, in the form of a more explicit customs union favoured by Labour, which would eliminate the need for the controversial Backstop. Whether it is called Norway Minus or Canada Plus or something else is not important. But getting it through parliament, together with a request for a technical extension to set it up, is. Failure to do that and on March 29th it is over the cliff.

For certain. Because that is the law.