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Nigel Hastilow: A complex problem as Brexit reaches 11th hour

By Nigel Hastilow | Nigel Hastilow | Published:

John Bercow once said he would not be bound by precedent or nothing would ever change – but that principle has now vanished down the drain.

John Bercow speaks in the Commons, surrounded by MPs

What do Russian President Vlad Putin and Parliament’s Speaker John Bercow have in common? They are both five feet, five inches tall and suffer from a ‘Napoleon complex’.

The French emperor was more or less the same height and gave his name to a condition where short men tend to be overly-aggressive and domineering.

Mr Bercow demonstrated the worst aspects of this complex when he did his best this week to destroy Brexit by ruling out a third Commons vote on Theresa May’s deal.

He invoked a precedent dating back to 1604 which bans MPs from wasting time debating the same proposition twice.

He did so even though in January, he over-ruled his own clerks and tore-up the rules to allow an amendment by arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve.

Then, he said he wouldn’t be restricted by Parliamentary precedent because, if he was, nothing would ever change.

This puffed-up toad changes the rules to suit his own anti-Brexit desires. He wants to kill off Brexit completely.

We know this because the little man has a bumper sticker on his car proclaiming, in distinctly un-Parliamentary language, his aversion to our departure.

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The worst part of his little ruse is that he has managed to prolong the agony.

The turmoil over Brexit will extend up to the 59th minute of the 11th hour.

Ardent Brexiteers claim Mr Bercow has done them a huge favour because, in theory, we leave the European Union on Friday, the mythical March 29 date fixed by Parliament and voted into law two years ago.

That will not be. There’s no chance we’ll leave without a deal so all those scare stories will never be shown for the abject nonsense they all were.

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There will not be queues at Tesco, there is no need to stock-pile baked beans and water, there won’t be a shortage of Easter eggs, there won’t be a spike in cancer deaths, there won’t even be longer-than-usual queues at Dover.

All that ‘project fear’ nonsense won’t get tested because, between now and Friday, the EU and our esteemed Parliamentarians will conspire to destroy a no-deal Brexit.

Mrs May will return from Brussels with a slightly-modified deal to get her Meaningful Vote 3 despite the Speaker.

And with MPs right up against the deadline, there is a reasonable chance her deal will scrape through.

Having pleaded with our EU masters to give us just a little more time, it boils down to Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit.

That’s been obvious for months but many of our dim-witted representatives are only now beginning to realise her deal is better than no Brexit.

And, assuming there is a third vote, everyone who claims to believe in their duty to honour the result of the referendum won’t have any choice.

If they don’t back Mrs May’s deal then all bets are off. Brexit will be delayed, there will be interminable talks and negotiations, eventually it will be kicked into the long grass to rust away like an old Coke can.

By then, we will have a new Prime Minister and, we can only hope, a more rational Leader of the Opposition. But neither of them will want to devote the next few years to interminable negotiations over whether or not we should leave the EU and under what terms.

For many of us, the idea that Brexit disappears over the horizon would come as a blessed relief.

We are sick of the whole business, tired of pontificating politicians and humiliated by our Parliament’s failure to resolve the question.

A clean break is not possible now but a slow, gradual parting of the ways, as set out in Mrs May’s deal, might at least start to release us from the iron grip of the super-state.

If we have to swallow a long delay, it will lead to more turmoil, if such a thing is possible.

For a start, we will have to hold elections to the European Parliament and up to 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit almost three years ago will be looking for a new home.

Many will certainly find it in Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, which has taken over from UKIP since the latter veered off into the extreme fringes of politics.

The Brexit Party might even win the election but it will be much harder for it to force the political establishment, which ratted on the voters over the first referendum, to re-rat and deliver any serious departure from the EU.

The most we might get is the ‘vassal state’ deal Jacob Rees Mogg and other Brexiteers have long feared, where we pay a tribute to Brussels, take all its orders and have no say in its decisions.

And we will end up with Referendum 2, when we will be told to abandon hope of an independent, sovereign nation.

That would be the time for the voters to take their revenge. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Nigel Hastilow

By Nigel Hastilow

Express & Star columnist

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