HOWEVER much Theresa May protests that her previous statements to the House of Commons encapsulated Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice on her shabby deal to leave the European Union, no-one should fall for this line.
Cox’s bald statement that EU insistence on a backstop agreement, to which May acquiesced, “does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK-wide customs union without a subsequent agreement” ought to scupper the May-EU deal.
Her only defence against the charge of agreeing to confine Britain indefinitely to the rulings of the EU customs union, its internal market and the European Court of Justice is that it won’t happen because it would be politically undesirable for the EU27 and the EU Commission.
This is nonsense and she knows it. As long as the backstop exists — were it ever agreed — it would prevent Britain from implementing trade deals with other jurisdictions without EU permission.
It would place an albatross round the neck of British officials negotiating a future relationship with the EU because the commission could simply refuse any development it deemed inferior to the backstop.
This wouldn’t be a problem for May — as a loyal servant of corporate power, especially the banking sector, her first preference was always to remain in the EU and her second was for withdrawal in name only.
That second choice is, according to MPs’ already declared preferences, all but certain to be defeated next Tuesday.
In ordinary circumstances, a government incapable of getting key legislation through Parliament would either have to accept that the leader of the opposition should have a crack at it or recommend dissolution of the Commons and a general election.
Labour is correct to demand either of these scenarios, which can no longer be guaranteed in consequence of coalition conspirators David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s political jiggery-pokery to bring in five-year fixed parliamentary legislation.
There is already a mood of triumphalism among some opposition forces in the House, but, rather than being based on the possibility of a change of government, it is narrowly focused on thwarting the June 2016 referendum result.
Whether achieved through pushing through a rerun of the ballot or simply short-circuiting the Article 50 process seems less important than the political elite’s reassertion of its right to determine key policies and to “save” the electorate from the consequences of their wrong decisions.
Tory MPs who support leaving the EU portray May and her acolytes of having being bullied or fooled into undermining Britain’s popular sovereignty.
On the contrary, in common with Irish, French and Dutch leaders who, in light of previous inconvenient popular votes, worked with the EU Commission to mitigate or replay their electorate’s decisions, May has been batting for the other side.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has clearly decided that the best form of defence is attack, trying to whip Tory MPs into backing May’s withdrawal in name only by accusing the House of Commons of seeking to “steal Brexit from the British people.”
That isn’t a difficult case to build when the likes of the Liberal Democrats, nationalists, Greens and various pro-Brussels zealots in Labour and the Tories have made no secret of their insistence on remaining within the walls of institutionalised austerity.
Labour must remain true to Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to honour the referendum decision.
And honouring it can only mean complying with the electorate’s instruction to Parliament to take Britain out of the EU and all its institutions.
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