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What's the opposite of premature withdrawal?

Editorial Staff

Seriously, it's becoming difficult to be serious about the farce that is "brexit." Last night, eight options for brexit were put before the UK House of Commons. The plan - it had one of those stupid names that the Blair government with its PR-driven actions would be proud of - was to put a series of "indicative votes" to the House and then, depending on what happened, to have a third "meaningful vote" which even has its own acronym: MV3. Behind the scenes (which is made of some kind of sheer fabric so we can all see what's happening) there is a backstage drama being played out with May's Faustian bargain with the EU being behind an Ides of March moment: so many members of her own party are...

Stop the press: Theresa May opened the day by saying she would resign as Prime Minister if the deal she has done with the EU is passed. Bye bye Madam President, well, not exactly. While Parliament is furious that she, like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (who approved the Lisbon Treaty which is at the heart of the difficulties in negotiating withdrawal) before asking Parliament to approve it. Such presidential behaviour is going down like a lead balloon (hence remembering Blair whose majority was so large and his party so weak he could act in such a manner with impunity). But she did not say when. It was, however, enough to satisfy some of her own party who said they would back the deal as it. However, even if that happened, it still would not pass: the Democratic Unionists Party remain opposed to the deal because of the Irish Backstop position.

Damn, she must be thinking, I can't even do falling on my sword properly.

In fact, there was almost agreement on one of the proposals - to restate the UK's membership to that which was originally sold to the people for the 1974 Referendum (when, if UK had voted to leave would have been a rather simpler affair). In short, that the UK and the EU continue with the customs union with certain freedoms of movement of people and capital. That plan had broad cross-party support and, crucially, support from both "leavers" and "remainers." It was defeated by the slimmest of margins: For: 264 Against: 272. Conservatives (not Labour) members were given a free vote (which is not to say that the Whips didn't note who wasn't being helpful). Labour in fact used the whip to order its MPs to back that proposal but ten shadow ministers abstained and one resigned so she could vote against. Had they done as they were told, the proposal would have been passed and the UK would have had something concrete to go back to the EU with.

There was substantial support (For: 268 Against: 295) for a "confirmatory referendum" which, given the recent vote in the Commons should be for deal or no deal and not to re-put the question of leaving.

Labour put forward its own plan - arguing for "close alignment" with the single market but adding in wholesale protection of workers' rights as defined by the EU was roundly defeated. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the huge majority against revoking the UK's Article 50 notice, so allowing both the EU and the UK to learn the lessons of this débacle and start again, with at least a chance of doing it properly. That failed: For: 184 Against: 293

There was no surprise that Parliament is strongly against a no-deal exit on Exit Day 2 i.e. 12 April. For: 160 Against: 400.

The reason that the vote on revoking the UK's Article 50 notice is said to be "perhaps the biggest surprise" is because there was another candidate. The proposal that the UK join the European Free Trade Area and the European Economic Area, the so-called Denmark option, was not merely beaten but violently done to death: For: 65 Against: 377. It's not a terrible option, really it's not and it's a lot less bad than no deal at all and the vote is, perhaps (that word again) to be seen as a strict reinforcement of the vote not to leave without a deal.

There was another option, known as the "Malthouse Plan B" which, we must make clear, is not a funny name designed to suggest that the PM couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.

The Malthouse Plan B has some support outside the House: political commentator Brian Monteith wrote last week in Reaction (reaction.life) "What’s not to like about the Malthouse amendment?" He described it as "The Malthouse amendment fulfils Conservative manifesto commitments to take back control over borders, laws and money and to leave the single market and customs union. " It's that "leave the customs union" pledge that is the rod with which May keeps beating herself and to which the EU is more than happy to add weight.

That is why the Clarke proposal, so nearly successful, was so useful. it may not have passed but here's the thing: nothing about last night's voting was capable of making policy. It was and was always intended to be "indicative." It provided a way for Members to show their thinking. It's what May should have done before telling the EU a deal was done. And the indications are that the manifesto pledge over the customs union was a mistake, that more rational minds than have been present for several decades in relation to Europe are saying "we were sold a concept in 1974, we voted for it, and we got something different. Let's have the product made to spec."

If May ignores the Clarke proposal, she's making an enormous error of judgement - and if the EU turns it down out of hand, so is the EU. Somewhere between the Clarke proposal and the May deal there is a good plan which will benefit both sides.

And no drama.

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