It looked like the deal was done and Theresa May would win her Brexit votes with ease – but it seems that was only the version of events put forward by yesterday’s edition of Newsnight.
This morning (June 12), a Conservative justice minister has resigned over the government’s handling of Brexit and Downing Street has rejected Dominic Grieve’s compromise amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill – meaning nothing is certain at all.
In a statement on his website, Justice minister Dr Phillip Lee stated he had to resign because “such a serious principle is being breached that I would find it hard to live with myself afterwards if I let it pass”.
He wrote: “The main reason for my taking this decision now is the Brexit process and the Government’s wish to limit Parliament’s role in contributing to the final outcome in a vote that takes place today.
“If, in the future, I am to look my children in the eye and honestly say that I did my best for them I cannot, in all good conscience, support how our country’s exit from the EU looks set to be delivered.
“As a Member of Parliament, I also have a major responsibility to my constituency of Bracknell. In extensive consultations with local employers, both large and small, I have been warned that they expect Brexit as it is currently being pursued, whatever the negotiated settlement, will damage their business. I have spoken to people, many of whom have lived, worked and raised their family here, whose fears for their futures I am not always able to allay. Regrettably, it seems inevitable that the people, economy and culture of my constituency will be affected negatively, and I cannot ignore that it is to them that I owe my first responsibility.
“Sadly, from within government I have found it virtually impossible to help bring sufficient change to the course on which we are bound.
“I voted to remain in the European Union and have not changed my view that continued membership would have been the better strategic course. Even so, I believe that it would be impossible and wrong to seek to go back to how things were before the referendum. We cannot and should not turn back the clock.
“However, as the negotiations are unfolding, two things are becoming clear.
“• The practicalities, logistics and implications of leaving the EU are far more complex than was ever envisaged and certainly more complex than the people were told in 2016. The UK is not going to be ready in time, neither is the EU, and both would suffer from a rushed or fudged agreement.
“• The outcome that is emerging will be neither fully to leave the EU, nor fully to stay. This is not an outcome for which anyone knowingly voted. In my view, this raises the important principle of legitimacy: I do not believe it would be right for the Government to pursue such a course without a plan to seek a confirmatory mandate for the outcome. And I believe that Parliament should have the power to ask the Government to adjust its course in the best interests of the people whom its Members represent.
“In my medical experience, if a course of treatment is not working, then I review it. I also have a duty to get my patient’s informed consent for that action.
“If Brexit is worth doing, then it is certainly worth doing well; regardless of how long that takes. It is, however, irresponsible to proceed as we are, so we should:
“• recognise that the UK and EU are not ready for Brexit and pause, extend or revoke Article 50 so that we do not leave before we are ready.
“• re-engage with our European and international friends to talk about how to achieve the aims that we share for the future in ways that respect individual countries’ interests and sovereignty. Since 2016, electorates in many countries across Europe have expressed similar concerns to those that we expressed in the referendum and so much is changing, and will continue to change, across the whole of our continent.
“• empower our Parliament so that its role is not limited to making fake choices – such as between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’. Our Parliament should be able to direct our Government to change course in our interests. In all conscience, I cannot support the Government’s decision to oppose this amendment because doing so breaches such fundamental principles of human rights and Parliamentary sovereignty. A vote between bad and worse is not a meaningful vote. And I cannot bring myself to vote for it in the bastion of liberty, freedom and human rights that is our Parliament.
“When the Government is able to set out an achievable, clearly defined path – one that has been properly considered, whose implications have been foreseen, and that is rooted in reality and evidence, not dreams and dogma – it should go to the people, once again, to seek their confirmation.”
But Downing Street, in a statement that seems to have been planned to contradict Dr Lee, has rejected an amendment by Dominic Grieve that would have given Parliament more control over Brexit.
The intention appears to be to force exactly the kind of “fake” choice “between a ‘bad deal’ and a cliff-edge ‘no deal’” against which Dr Lee warned in his statement.
Mr Grieve’s amendment would have given ministers until the end of November to get agreement on the final Brexit deal and then given parliament full control of the next steps if there was no final Brexit deal by mid-February 2019.
But Tweezer is insisting on an amendment where the only promised outcome following a rejection by Parliament is a statement within 28 days.
Brexit secretary David Davis is now trying to tell us that to give parliament any further control over the negotiation process would put the UK at a disadvantage in negotiations: “You have to maintain alternatives that the other side may not want as well. Europe does not want no deal.”
Whatever happened to the principle of negotiating a deal that is mutually acceptable, then?
It seems that, once again, Tweezer is relying on tribalism to win the day – setting up a false confrontation that will benefit nobody.
But how many Conservative MPs will see through her ploy, as Dr Lee has?
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