The power struggle over Brexit and between the legislature and the executive steps up a gear tomorrow, when we will see both May’s response to her massive defeat last week and publication of the Cooper/Boles/Grieve cross-party measures to take control of the Brexit Process from May’s government. At the same time steps are being taken to promote the idea of a second referendum both within the Labour Party and with the government.
Major party paralysis
It was very evident last week that PM May was not capable of negotiating with other parties and building a cross-party coalition to steer through a compromise version of Brexit such as a permanent customs union. Reports were that she was still attached to her negotiated deal and was simply sounding out possible support for tweaks to the deal so resoundingly defeated last week. However some ministers are discussing quietly the Liberal Democrat proposals for a second vote. Moreover, there are no signs from the Leader of the Opposition of a compromise either. Mr Corbyn remains firmly attached to his idea of trying to force a general election. However pressure is becoming so great within Labour, which is itself mainly pro-Remain, that something must give. Other frontbenchers in Labour are talking about a second referendum or Remain as the only options given that a No Deal Brexit appears ruled out by the lack of Parliamentary suppport and May’s deal has failed.
Thus attention must inevitably turn to Parliamentary moves by backbenchers and the cross-party alliance that has been quietly building for a number of months.
The Cross-party Parliamentary alliance and taking control of Brexit
As I understand it, the Parliamentary alliance discussed previously in this blog is about to try to seize the initiative and take control over Brexit away from May’s government. Tomorrow will see the first steps in this process.
There are two steps invoved. First there is an amendment proposed by Dominic Grieve, a pro-EU moderate Tory and a former Attorney General. This would temporarily change the rules of the House of Commons to enable bills to be initiated by others than the government, in preference to those of the government. In itself this is a legal revolution, since historically the government controls legislation under Standing Orders, a set of procedural rules endorsed by the House. The change would allow a cross-party group of backbenchers to table legislation to break the Brexit deadlock.
Second would be a bill drafted by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and the Conservative Nick Boles, both former ministers, to take a no-deal Brexit off the table until towards the end of the year, to give time for other solutions to be agreed and thus break the Brexit deadlock.
The signs are that the Labour Party will support this cross-party initiative.
Speaker Bercow makes a stand for democracy
Speaker Bercow will be central to allowing this. In fact he has now signalled that he not going to resign after Brexit, and has indicated that he is resisting Tory efforts to remove him. In case people think he’s biased, as the Tories are trying to make him out, he isn’t. He’s acting as “servant of the House” in defense of its rights and privileges against executive abuse.
If the Grieve and Cooper/Boles efforts succeed, an important step will have been taken to frustrate the kamikaze Brexiteers who want to undemocratically drive the UK off a cliff on 29 March and have acted for so long as a blocking minority in the House against compromise solutions on Brexit.
This is presented in the hard-Brexit-supporting press as a “coup” against democracy when it is in fact the opposite, an attempt to give power to the widest possible coalition of elected representatives. The Cooper/Boles bill will enable MPs to choose between whatever “improved” deal Theresa May can offer and the option of postponing Brexit in order to hold a referendum.
One must hope that these brave Parliamentarians succeed, not just to frustrate the extreme Brexiteers but also in the cause of representative democracy.