So on Tuesday evening, Theresa May won the backing of Parliament to renegotiate an agreement that isn’t up for negotiation.
I have been avoiding Brexit news a bit recently — May is still pandering to the fantasists in her own party, the rest of Parliament is refusing to engage with reality and it’s all going to go horribly wrong — but Rafael Behr came up with such a good analogy that I can’t resist:
British politics now follows the tortured pattern of addiction. Inside the addict’s head the most important thing is getting to the next Brexit fix, scoring the best deal. But from the outside, to our European friends and family, it is obvious that the problem is the compulsive pursuit of a product that does us only harm. On Tuesday night Theresa May thought she had scored: a slender majority in parliament voted for an imaginary agreement in Brussels, stripped of the hated “backstop”. Tory Eurosceptic ultras and the DUP pledged conditional allegiance to the prime minister if she delivers “alternative arrangements” for a seamless border on Northern Ireland. But no one has any idea what those might be and the EU has already ruled out a renegotiation on terms that might satisfy the hardliners. The transient buzz of Tory unity will yield to the chilly comedown of Brexit reality, as it always does.
Understanding what the political class thinks it’s doing with regards Brexit has become pretty much impossible. Politicians argue among themselves over procedural manoeuvrers and clever ploys all designed to ensure that their preferred unicorn is the unicorn everyone will receive just as soon as Britain completes its trade deal with Narnia.
The press is not much better, reporting on the Westminster soap opera almost entirely in terms of who has what advantage in which party, and completely ignoring any wider consequences.
It’s not all Parliamentary fun and games. As Chris Grey points out:
Whilst all this is going on, there is some really serious damage being done. As has been planned for a while, the European Medicines Agency has moved from London to Amsterdam. With it will go not only 900 jobs but a central part of the ecosystem of the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries – which are strategically crucial for the UK and in which the UK has been a leading global player. It’s worth recalling that in April 2017 the first Brexit Secretary, David Davis, opined that there should be no reason why it couldn’t stay in Britain post-Brexit. Like so many other Brexiter claims, it was known to be nonsense by experts but their knowledge was dismissed and mocked.
We now have companies spending huge amounts of money on stockpiling goods in warehouses in case of there being no deal, and almost every day brings news of another company moving its Headquarters out of Britain. The entire P&O fleet is to be re-registered in Cyprus. A group of leading food retailers has written a letter to MPs warning in stark terms of the dangers of food shortages. In any other time that would be seen as extraordinary. Now, it barely survives one day of the news cycle. And, of course, as with every other warning it is immediately trashed as Project Fear or, with the cynicism of the unworldly, as an excuse by supermarkets to unnecessarily raise prices.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Margot Wallström sums up what is increasingly the attitude of the rest of the EU to the UK’s antics:
She called Britain’s approach to the issue “dangerous” and “badly handled,” adding “I just think that they’ve made such a historical mistake and they’ve really created a problem for all of us.”
The rest of the EU is fed up with Britain and the way in which the British political class has behaved over the past two years. They are exasperated and exhausted and are reaching the point — if they haven’t reached it already — of telling Britain to stop wasting any more time and just go.
Tellingly, the rest of the EU is also a lot better prepared for Britain crashing out with no deal than Britain is.
Whatever you think of Brexit, the way that both of the major UK parties have approached it has been both incompetent and dishonest and has reduced Britain to a laughing stock. And still, too many MPs and too many commenters are unable to bring themselves to admit that the country is wilfully rushing towards an utter disaster and that none of these Parliamentary shenanigans will do anything to avert this.
Personally, I think that Article 50 should be revoked and the whole mess brought to a halt. Alternatively, you can recognise that the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is the only deal available given the red lines that May herself has drawn.
These are the only options and Parliament needs to recognise this and make a decision. Preferably sooner rather than later.