In covering Brexit, as I did yesterday and numerous recent days before, I consistently hope the next day the news from it will die down for a twenty-four hour period and then I can cover some other foreign event. Then I read the latest headlines and I feel like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather III“: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
No doubt the British people feel the same way about the EU.
However, today’s news eclipses past developments by a mile. Last night the British government effectively fell. To further clarify: in the most important question for the United Kingdom since the Second World War, There is no government.
For the first time since the beheading of Charles I in 1649, Parliament has seized control of the government’s executive power. Whips, those in charge of rounding up votes for the government, have no one to tell them what to round up. And if they did? No one is listening. They are rudderless, as is every government minister in Cabinet. As such, the British nation is in deep and uncharted waters as chaos reigns and Prime Minister Theresa May may also fall with a moment’s notice.
Though somewhere, Oliver Cromwell is snickering.
This boondoggle happened by a vote in Parliament last night to take control of Brexit away from PM May and Her Majesty’s Government and give it to themselves as a whole. As the government is comprised of members of parliament, it was not the coup against May we had been expecting and still may happen. It was a coup against its own members. Almost, at least tactically, a Valkyrie scenario.
Though as PM it is May, not parliament, who will still ultimately negotiate with the EU if she retains office. So the PM will get back the wheel. But right now the entire parliament has the only say on where she goes.
The usurping measure, the Letwin Amendment, passed 329-302, with 30 Tories breaking ranks with their own government to pass it. Three of those Tories were just hours previously government ministers and resigned office to vote against their own PM and boss. One of the 30 is the grandson of Winston Churchill.
It’s as if Ben Carson, Mike Pompeo, and Bill Barr told the president before a vote in Congress, “We side with Pelosi on this one. Sorry Chief,” and then quickly resigned. Yesterday I predicted the May government would fall within two weeks. At this point I don’t see how she goes on for two days.
As Parliament has seized control of the question, on Wednesday they will likely vote on these seven possible solutions: No Brexit, a second vote, May’s deal (that already has been turned down twice), soft Brexit (where the UK stays in the EU customs union and cripples the UK’s ability to cut trade deals with other nations—the last one add membership in the single market and continued open borders with the EU) no Brexit in almost everything that matters, actual Brexit, and finally, no-deal Brexit (where the UK just leaves).
Though the PM says she will not feel bound by any of these “indicative” votes and may be hoping all fail. That would buttress her argument that this snafu is not her fault, but that of the rest of Parliament.
The British public voted in 2016 for actual Brexit, which means leaving the customs union, leaving the single market, and ending unrestricted movement of anyone to and from the UK to the EU. It’s pretty much free trade and hard borders. It’s the same arrangement Canada has with the Brussels Dog and Pony Show. There might be a problem with a hard border in Ireland. That could be worked out directly with the Irish. There are members of parliament who remain true to the vote of 2016. But it doesn’t look like they have the numbers to prevail.
The smart money says the political class, as represented by a majority in parliament who hates Brexit and wants done with a debate that shows them to be drooling idiots, will go with the soft option. This will sell out the British electorate while maintaining a miniscule fig leaf of false propriety. They may not even go for that and instead just drop the mask and revoke Article 50. Which will mean no Brexit at all or the postponement of the question with a mulligan vote. Then the Remainers pray they win in the second round.
And where is Her Majesty in all this, if anywhere? After all, it’s her government. She has more practical experience, institutional memory, and political savvy than all of her parliament combined. She also has a rep for influencing things sotto voce. We’ll see. Methinks, probably through proxies, her feelings are known. I doubt she is very pleased.
At any rate, no matter what happens, a good bet is that Britain leaving the EU will be delayed, perhaps severely. Perhaps forever.
It is not a result that Michael Corleone would have tolerated. But unfortunately for the United Kingdom, Fredo Corleone has served as Prime Minister and still does.
At least for the earlier parts of this morning.