There is no impasse in parliament over Brexit. There is no stalemate. There is no need whatsoever to delay the date the UK is to leave the EU. There is no need to look for alternative ways forward.
MPs themselves mapped out the next step when they passed an act of parliament last year committing the UK to leave the EU on March 29 2019. They did so in full realisation of the fact that, if no deal could be negotiated with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure, the UK would nevertheless leave regardless. That’s what that law means.
And that remains the case. Nothing about that has changed. The only thing that has changed is that many of those very same MPs now want to pretend they never voted for the UK to leave the EU whether or not a deal had been struck.
But they did. And yet now they are feverishly plotting and scheming to reverse the decision they themselves made, in order to reverse the vote for Brexit by the British people in the 2016 referendum which delivered the largest popular vote in British history.
Their behaviour is unconscionable. Last night’s crushing defeat served to fire the starting gun for the final, most desperate, most unprincipled and squalid all-out attempt by these MPs to tear up the act of parliament they themselves passed, betray their own manifesto pledges to honour the referendum result on which they stood for parliament, and spit in the eye of the British people.
What they are saying is preposterous and ridiculous. There must now be a delay to Britain’s exit date produced by triggering Article 50, says Labour MP Yvette Cooper.
Even if that proved to be possible in practice, how on earth would it resolve anything? It would merely mean a further period of ruinous delay, with MPs revisiting all the arguments they have so painfully rehearsed for the past two years but with no prospect of any settlement between them.
The real reason for this proposed delay is to allow more time for MPs to cook up a scheme to reverse the referendum decision on which Remainers can agree.
There is no need for more time to re-open negotiations with the EU, since the EU has repeatedly said there can be no further negotiation. Moreover, with MPs loudly urging a delay the EU would have zero incentive to give any negotiating ground at all. As I wrote here yesterday, the only way to get the EU to shift its position is by announcing the UK will leave with no deal, a situation the EU cannot tolerate for very long.
Then there’s parliament’s very own Robespierre, the arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve, urging a second referendum because “there’s no appetite for the government’s deal and indeed there is no majority for any other version of Brexit either. We must bring the people back into this discussion by legislating for a final say”.
Why? On what possible grounds? The people are no better informed about the consequences of Brexit than they were two years ago. Grieve conveniently ignores the majority in parliament that passed the act committing the UK to leave the EU with or without a deal. And astonishingly he has also said that, in such a second referendum, the people shouldn’t even be offered the choice of leaving with no deal. For Grieve, it seems, the democracy he deploys as his shield of political virtue is to be allowed only on the terms he himself will dictate.
Meanwhile, Mrs May herself is doubling down on precisely the error that led to last night’s catastrophic defeat. She has offered cross-party talks on “ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House”.
Oh dear. She still doesn’t understand, does she. There can be no negotiated compromise over this because there is no common ground whatsoever between those who want to leave the EU and those who want to Remain.
There is no “moderate” or “soft” Brexit, or being out of the EU but still a little bit in, because being a little bit in is to Remain in. The UK is either in or out; either it Leaves the EU or it Remains.
What is called “common ground” – a customs union, the Norway option etc – actually amounts to nothing other than Remain. These are all proposals being advanced by Remainers who want to conceal their intention to reverse the Brexit vote by dishonestly pretending they are proposing a “moderate” kind of Brexit. They are not. They are instead attempting to stop Brexit in its tracks.
Downing Street tried to gloss her remarks by insisting she was not resiling from any of her red lines. In which case, her reference to “genuinely negotiable” ideas made no sense at all. And she doesn’t seem to grasp that the deal that has just been defeated itself crossed some of those red lines.
Mrs May’s flaws – her inability to grasp the big picture, her profound sense of personal insecurity which closes her mind to alternative and wise advice, her blinkered failure to realise that her aim to bridge an unbridgeable issue in British politics would necessarily end in disaster – are painfully obvious for all to see.
ut she also reportedly possesses one great virtue. She is said to have an overriding sense of duty as a public servant. She has said repeatedly she intends to honour the referendum decision to leave the EU. She believed her deal would do that; in doing so, she was badly mistaken. But what she must do now is clear.
She must fulfil her stated duty to honour the referendum result and to honour the stated intention of parliament by announcing that the UK will now leave the EU with no deal. She must defend parliament against its wrecker MPs and save democracy itself from a potentially fatal alienation of the people.
If she does this, she will redeem herself as the prime minister who faced down the MPs’ attempted coup against the people, and who finally recovered instead the independence of Britain’s island nation for which its people have fought so indomitably and for so long.
Melanie Phillips is a British journalist, broadcaster and author - you can follow her work on her website HERE.