Parliament still wants to bury Brexit
The MPs who voted for Rishi Sunak’s anti-democratic EU deal made clear whose side they are on.
Last night, UK MPs overwhelmingly backed Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak’s revised Brexit deal with the EU, by 515 votes to 29. Labour and other main opposition parties all voted with the government’s proposal to revise the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
The only votes against were cast by the six Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs from Northern Ireland, just 22 rebel Tory MPs and one independent, defying rumours that Sunak might face a ‘major rebellion’ from Brexiteers in his own ranks. Even some former ‘Spartans’ from the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteer Tory MPs backed it.
The overwhelming endorsement of a Brexit deal might suggest to some that the UK’s independent status outside the European Union is now accepted across parliament. Does Labour leader Keir Starmer’s strong support for Sunak’s Windsor Framework really mean that the Remainer establishment has now finally become reconciled to Brexit as a fact of political life?
Some of us might draw the opposite conclusion. Sunak’s Windsor deal could win cross-party support precisely because it does not enable a real Brexit. Labour and the rest could back it without compromising their desire to bury Brexit and quash the democratic spirit of the Brexit revolt.
As I wrote on spiked when Sunak was first hailing his Windsor Framework as the real deal, what it really represents is the sort of zombie Brexit that the Remainer establishment can live with. A Brexit that still exists on paper, but has no independent esprit of its own, and has lost the lifeblood of the popular democratic spirit that first brought it bursting into life. Little wonder it has been well-received by Remainers in the House of Commons and the Lords.
The Windsor deal between Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen might smooth some aspects of trade between Britain and Northern Ireland. But the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU was never truly about such technical matters.
The two big issues which prompted 17.4million people to vote Leave were the desire for greater national sovereignty and democracy. Both of those principles are undermined and effectively neutered by Sunak’s zombie Brexit deal.
In terms of sovereignty, Johnson’s deal left Northern Ireland – part of the independent United Kingdom – effectively still under EU rules. Sunak boasted that his new Windsor Framework would resolve that.
But a new study by lawyers linked to the ERG has found that claim was ‘not correct’. Sunak’s plans would mean the Northern Ireland Protocol ‘remains intact’, with Northern Ireland still largely subject to EU laws and courts and not fully restored to its place within the UK.
Worse, the study warns that the deal ‘risks incentivising… future [UK] governments to copy future EU rules’, in order to avoid further trade disputes with Brussels. This is, of course, the Remainers’ fallback dream – to draw Brexit Britain closer into the EU orbit. The risk is that we end up, as some of us have warned since Theresa May first proposed her surrender deal in 2018, with all of the restraints of EU membership but with no vote or veto.
No, say supporters of Sunak’s deal, Northern Ireland and the UK will still have a veto on EU laws through the Stormont Brake. The idea is that, if the DUP agrees to re-enter the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont Castle, local political representatives would be able to stop intrusive EU laws, with the UK government having the ultimate veto.
But the much-vaunted Stormont Brake would not offer a real veto. Instead, as the ERG lawyers’ report summarises, it is beset with so many conditions that it ‘is of very narrow application in theory and is likely to be useless in practice’. Little wonder one Tory rebel described it as looking more like ‘a brake without brake pads’. The one thing Sunak’s deal will put a hard brake on is any idea of a clean-break Brexit.
As for democracy, if the Windsor provisions weren’t bad enough, the way it has been imposed is worse. It was cooked up in private meetings between officials from Whitehall and Brussels and announced as a done deal at a press conference where arch EU imperialist von der Leyen announced that she had ‘so much in common’ with ‘dear Rishi’.
Then, this week, MPs were permitted to have one quick debate and vote on just one provision of the deal – the Stormont Brake. Not that these supposed democratic representatives seemed to mind the abrogation of democracy, seeing as almost all parties were happy to take Sunak’s word for it and nod it through. Not for the first time, we are in a situation where the small, provincial DUP is left looking like the sole parliamentary party representing the will of 17.4million Leave voters.
Without needing to risk another public vote, the Remainer establishment has now taken back control of reshaping the UK’s relations with the EU. The same anti-democratic impulse that was behind the recent secret Ditchley Park plot to ditch Brexit runs through the government’s manoeuvring around the Windsor Framework.
After the ridiculous ‘Partygate’ hearings this week, it was widely reported that Boris Johnson’s political future is ‘in the balance’. We all know that the Get Boris crusade is not entirely motivated by high-minded objections to lockdown transgressions. At root, it is another Remainer plot to take revenge on the politician who symbolises Brexit to them – and, more importantly, on the millions of Leave voters whom the establishment fears and loathes.
The future of Brexit is also hanging ‘in the balance’. But we can be sure that, despite their bloodless victories in parliament this week, the elites will find it harder to get the genie of popular democracy back into the bottle than to get Boris out of Westminster.
Mick Hume is a spiked columnist. The concise and abridged edition of his book, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?, is published by William Collins.
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