A Valentine’s Day Defeat For Theresa May

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

What a Valentine’s Day in Parliament. One would think Britons have fallen out of love with liberty. This after the Government lost another vote — its tenth, according to BBC bean-counters — on its Brexit agenda. Yet it’s no time to lose heart for those who stand with Britain’s desperate, heroic dash for independence from Europe.

The Government defeat came on a more-or-less status quo motion: To stand by the Withdrawal Agreement, during ongoing lobbying efforts with Brussels to alter the Irish backstop, by inserting binding text introducing a sunset clause or allowing unilateral termination. The EU is rebuffing both overtures.

Government opponents have also been thwarted in their attempts, after voting down Prime Minister May’s withdrawal proposal in January, to derail Brexit. Such ideas as extending Article 50 and postponing the March 29 exit, or holding a second “People’s’ referendum,” or taking Brexit from the Government and giving responsibility to Parliament, or removing the possibility of a “no deal” Brexit.

All have gone nowhere.

The Valentine’s day “massacre,” so to speak, lost the Government its support of backbench Conservative Brexiteers. The motion’s intent was to press on with Irish backstop talks so as to remove the possibility of leaving with no deal; Brexit purists feared that if passed, a “no deal” Brexit would be off the table.

That would have weakened the Government’s negotiating strategy — and removed what some, such as The New York Sun, see as the ideal outcome. All in all, though, these are votes indicating what parliamentarians do not want. They leave on the record, though, two signal pieces of legislation saying what Parliament does want.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act, ratifies the 2016 referendum decision of “the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU,” which under Article 50 of the Treaty of European Union, “shall notify the European Council of its intention.”

This was followed by sister legislation, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. According to a Parliamentary briefing note, the Act “cuts off the source of European Union law in the UK” while “removing the competence of European Union institutions to legislate for the UK.”

These two Parliamentary Acts, passed by a majority of MPs, confirm the referendum decision to leave. As far as it goes, the democratic will has been asserted. And, as Brexiteers and the Sun’s own reporting make clear, nowhere was it promised that Britain would not leave until a trade deal was agreed. The question was clear: To “remain a member of the European Union or leave.” So was the people’s choice.

Curiously, Prime Minister May was not at her place on the Treasury Bench when the results on the Government motion were announced. In her defence, Mrs. May argues the only clear direction she’s received from Parliament is to remove the Irish backstop. What’s Brexiteers’ excuse?

Boris Johnson has said he would support Mrs. May’s agreement, provided the backstop is amended to include “a time limit that falls before the next General Election” and “an exit route that we are capable of exercising on our own.”

Meanwhile Jacob Rees-Mogg and his European Research Group of MPs telegraph similar compromise to Downing Street, putting their support behind the “Malthouse compromise” that, if agreed, will safeguard the March exit but extend the transition period by one year, allowing both parties to come to a free trade or applicable agreement that avoid the Irish backstop conundrum.

This is too much of a retreat for our taste. What happened to the initial, inspiring call for independence? Leading Brexiteers staked their position that leaving with a good deal is better than leaving with no deal, that “no deal” is better than a bad deal, and that a “no deal” Brexit, meaning World Trading Organizations rules, has significant benefits over Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

Like £39 billion of them, which is the amount Britain would save by keeping the settlement fee. Those would be funds it could use to, say, boost borderless customs technology with the Irish Republic and the rest of the Continent. Another benefit of a “no deal” Brexit would be an open field to to fast-track global trade agreements.

Given recalcitrance in both London and Brussels, the only way going forward, keeping faith with Brexit, is the WTO Brexit. So why don’t Messrs. Johnson and Rees-Mogg and their cohorts come right out and say this? They’re wasting time, energy, and good will by going along with the Withdrawal Agreement pretence.

So while St. Valentine Day saw the Government agenda held up to ridicule, the status quo obtains. Mrs. May still pleads with Europe. Remainers still try to frustrate Brexit by any means possible, while Leavers still weaken their message by ignoring the fact that only a “no deal” Brexit delivers on one referendum and two Acts of Parliament for Britain’s independence. And the countdown to March 29 still clicks forward.


Mr. MacLean maintains the weblog The Organic Tory.

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