I am writing this at 10:30 pm on Tuesday evening in the House of Commons library. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal agreed with the EU has just been annihilated, smashed to smithereens by MPs. Tomorrow the House will hold a vote of no confidence in the Government.
Assuming the Government has survived that vote, by the time you read this Theresa May will be holding cross-party talks to settle on an alternative Brexit plan.
Not before time in my view. Ever since the result of the 2017 General Election came in, it has always been blindingly obvious to me that a cross-party approach was required. As US President Lyndon Johnson said, “The first rule of politics is that its practitioners need to be able to count”. A hung parliament, where the Government does not have a majority of MPs, puts the Prime Minister in an impossibly weak position. Add in Brexit, where passionate political differences make rebellions likely, and a crisis at some point is inevitable.
So this nettle should have been grasped long, long ago. I argued for it in 2016, when Theresa May had just become Prime Minister and was at the height of her powers.
But we are where we are. Parliament is now going to have to work out extremely quickly what it can agree on, probably through a series of votes. Those should be free votes in my view. And Parliament needs to start by facing some cold, hard facts: there is no majority amongst MPs for ‘no deal’, ‘no Brexit’, or a second referendum.
So I anticipate Parliament will instead reach for an alternative to the PM’s deal - most likely a more 'off-the-shelf' solution, such as EFTA or the customs union. Both have serious shortcomings. No one is going to be deliriously happy at the end of all this. But unless MPs can re-learn the art of compromise and cross-party working I genuinely fear for the future of our democracy.