After the most amazing, unprecedented, extraordinary (supply your own hyperbole here) day that Parliament has ever known in the whole history of the world, the upshot is that everything has … well, remained pretty much the same, really. Britain is still leaving the EU (probably). It will still avoid a ‘no deal’ exit (probably). It will therefore still need a withdrawal agreement with the EU, and in due course Parliament will agree one (probably). No change there, then.
After the vote, the comment that most resonated with me came from the Labour MP Caroline Flint. It was, she said, like lancing a boil. Yes. That’s exactly what it felt like. All the pus that has been accumulating within our gangrenous MPs erupted in a bilious discharge of suppurating irrelevance. They all felt wonderfully pleased with themselves. And now, if they don’t mind, would they get on with the business of extricating us from the EU?
Another way of viewing our elected representatives is as a collection of truculent 2-year-olds at mealtime, ravenous, but refusing to eat anything that is put in front of them. “Here, darling, try this delicious piece of withdrawal agreement.” “Waaagh!” “What about a weeny little bit of political declaration?” “Waaagh!” “I’ve got a lovely slice of no deal here. You always like that.” “Waaagh!” “Shall I put a dollop of Irish backstop on it, then?” “Waaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!!”
There was something for everyone to dislike in the Government’s proposals, and everyone was very keen to show how much they disliked it, whatever it was. This was, after all, a deal that had come from the People via the Government. If there are two groups that MPs permanently detest, it is the People and the Government. Here, they had both of them in their cross-hairs at the same time. God, it must have felt good.
This main course was preceded by an hors d’oeuvre, in which MPs bravely rescued the Brexit process from chaos and took back control of it, courtesy of the preening despotism of the Speaker. Except that the Brexit process was only in chaos in the first place thanks to the MPs themselves. It has been their lack of control, and especially self-control, that has brought us to this point. I am still waiting to hear what it is, exactly, that they hated about the Withdrawal Agreement, other than the Irish backstop, which everyone hates. Every negative adjective has been applied to the Agreement, yet no further detail is supplied. It is just ‘terrible’ or ‘disastrous’. Why? Apart from the backstop, what precise provision prompts these epithets?
‘Not Invented Here’ is perhaps the principal answer. Not invented by the European Research loonies, so they hate it. Not invented by the Labour lack-of-leadership, so they hate it. Not invented by the cross-party cross-patch Remainers, so they hate it. Waaaaaaaaaaaaagh!!! Brexit belongs to everyone, so everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of it, however impractical, and entitled to veto anyone else’s interpretation. It’s amazing that Mummy May managed to get a meal on the table in the first place.
It would appear that, for many MPs, what they dislike is not the Withdrawal Agreement itself, but the political declaration that accompanies it. But that declaration is merely a statement of intent, which (unlike the Agreement) has no legal force. Whatever trade deal the declaration ultimately leads to would need to come back to Parliament for ratification. It seems quite likely, then, that when a new withdrawal agreement is put before MPs, it will look remarkably similar to the one they have just howled down. But perhaps accompanied by a different political declaration. And perhaps then pronounced ‘delicious’.
The 2-year-olds are still hungry and they don’t want ‘no meal’. Sooner or later, they will need to decide what they do want to eat. So the Government is giving them the chance to design their own menu. Now they have become very very important 2-year-olds and are puffing themselves up as they walk with their dummies into Number 10 (if they are lucky; otherwise, it’s the Cabinet Office) to save the nation.
Except for Jeremy Corbyn, of course. Because he doesn’t really give a toss about Brexit, unless it produces a General Election, which is the one option that now appears to be off the menu. So he is still sulking. And insisting that he won’t stop sulking until ‘no deal’ is taken off the table. Which would be the Brexit equivalent of unilateral nuclear disarmament, so thus entirely appropriate for him.
I look forward to the day when I can look at national politics again without unmitigated cynicism, but I fear it won’t come soon. Still, if Caroline Flint is right – and I think she is – a boil has been lanced. And, funnily enough, I have more confidence now than for many months that something tolerably sensible may emerge from this debacle.
What? How? When? I have no idea. But something. By the time the toys are back in the pram, the 2-year-olds will be starving.