Congratulations Theresa May for stopping Brexit. The big problem for her is that people noticed, chiefly the millions who voted for Brexit and secondly a few of the public servants whose job was to make it happen, notably members of her Cabinet who saw the binary choice on offer and resigned. You are either in the EU or out of it. May’s withdrawal Bill is a deal to stay in. Over 17 million of us voted out. The two things don’t tally. Sign the deal and Brexit has been stopped.
Brendan O’Neill argues in The Spectator, “If we kill Brexit, we kill democracy itself.” May’s deal “will strangle British sovereignty and reduce us to a craven vassal state that not only has to abide by EU rules but will also lack any mechanism for unilaterally withdrawing from them. A ‘Brexit deal’, they call it. Do not insult our intelligence. Voters are not as dim as you think.” (Has anyone checked?)
Calm down, dear, says Jeremy Warner in the Telegraph. May’s deal is better than no deal or no Brexit, the other two offers on the table. The Withdrawal Agreements is not an end, rather a “staging post on the journey to a more complete form of Brexit”. Sure, Britain can only leave the Customs Union on the EU’s say so. But if the arrangements are seen to be “very much against the national interest, then they will eventually unravel, even if that means breaking the treaty”. May’s deal begins the path to Brexit in “an orderly and manageable manner”. Yeas, it’s got more holes that a Donald Trump damp dream but it is very British.
Leave it to Westminster, then, a place Marina Hyde likens to “a sort of middle-management Westeros, where mostly terrible actors obsess over court politics, and the electorate are just CGI casualties in the Battle of the Bastards.”
Brexiteers remain in Cabinet. Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt and Chris Grayling are all there to tell May how wrong she is. An unnamed source told the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman, Gove is staying “to get this in a better place”. Or maybe he and the rest of them just want a few more days to measure No.10 for their own choice of curtains. Is May prepared for a leadership challenge? Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis said: “I think the prime minister is ready for anything.”
The big issue with the deal is that backstop. The UK and the EU want to avoid a hard Northern Ireland border. So they’ll be a “backstop” – or back-up plan as trade negotiations continue. The backstop leaves Northern Ireland more closely aligned to some EU rules than the rest of the UK. Got a problem with the UK being broken up? The UK would not be able to leave the backstop without the EU’s consent. Sound like Brexit to you? But not to worry. Things will work out.
If the EU doesn’t take the hint, well, we can always go to war. Last week German chancellor Angela Merkel opined: “A common European army would show the world that there will never be war between the European nations.” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative in the Brexit negotiations, tweeted: “I am very pleased that both #Merkel and Macron are now fully behind a European army. We fought for this for many years. In the world of tomorrow, we have to take our destiny into our own hands!” And French finance minister Bruno Le Maire added: “Europe needs to become a kind of empire like China and the USA… technological power, economic, financial, monetary, cultural power will be decisive. Europe can no longer afford to shrink from exercising its power and being an empire of peace.”