OVER THE EDGE
as like the old days in the House of Commons this week. I observed MPs debating till midnight, the corridors full of people, Whips working overtime. They need not have worried. The vote to take us out of the European Union was easily passed as we moved from being a representative democracy to a plebiscitary one. Perhaps next we could have a referendum on hanging. That could bring us into line with Donald Trump’s America and its position on capital punishment.
The Donald may soon be at Westminster on a State Visit if the government ignore the will of the people. Two million petition signatories oppose it, nearly the same as the margin that will take us out of the EU. But there are times to pray in aid the people’s view and times to ignore it.
There were some impressive speeches in the two-day debate that triggered article 50. The chamber was well attended hour after hour. But for me the most significant proceedings took place in a committee room on Wednesday. Sir Ivan Rogers was the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU until he resigned in January amid suggestions he was opposed to Brexit.
He faced the European Scrutiny Committee which was stuffed with arch Eurosceptic MPs waiting to get their teeth into this example of the smug European elite that have been ruling us for decades. Actually, by the end of proceedings even Sir Bill Cash, who’s devoted his life to achieve what happened in the Commons this week, had to thank Sir Ivan for what he had said.
Why was that? Well the former envoy gave a very skilful performance. He insisted he was the servant of his political masters but he also spelt out some hard truths that those who are caught up in the euphoria of triggering Article 50 need to think about.
Sir Ivan is steeped in the workings of the EU and pleaded with MPs to understand the mindset of the 27 countries as they approached these Brexit negotiations. They were alarmed, saddened and bewildered by the decision. The UK has put a bomb under the current 5 year carefully crafted EU budget. For instance, one Eastern European country would see 12% cut from its structural funding budget. Promises made to its people would be broken.
Although there was clamour to get on with it, Sir Ivan suggested talks might not get properly underway until after the French elections. Then there is the huge issue of whether the divorce talks can run in parallel with the discussions on future treaty arrangements.
There is a big agenda just separating from the EU, never mind the future. Among the issues, the status of EU nationals in Britain and Europe, the location of UK based EU institutions, the status of international treaties dependent on our EU membership and most contentious of all the financial settlement. There have been suggestions this is £30bn covering matters like our final budget settlement and pension payments.
Discussion of what comes after may have to wait till all that is settled. Then there will be the whole question of giving us a worse deal than a member of the EU to preserve its existence. This was all too much for Manchester Labour MP, the Eurosceptic Graham Stringer. He wanted to know what would happen if we quickly concluded that no deal was possible and we just walked away.
Sir Ivan said the consequences could be very serious. For instance, British medicines could not be sold in Europe because all the underpinning regulatory structures would no longer exist.
With Labour all over the place, it is only the Lib Dems offering a clear line that whatever comes out of these negotiations, must be put to the British people giving us a chance to think again.
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