Richard North, 28/03/2019  

At least there is no need to take anything back. Last night, parliament decided to vote stupid, demonstrating to the world that it is an utter waste of space. It voted down every Brexit option presented to it, in an egregious display of negativity, declining to point a way forward out of the mess it had helped create. 

The only way of ranking the eight options voted is by referring to the number of negative votes, the one with the least votes coming first. Thus, first in the rankings, on the basis of the least overall negative votes, was a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU", tabled by Kenneth Clarke. This got 264 votes against 272, giving it a score of -8.

This confirms the utter fatuity of the House of Commons, which has managed to favour most (or disfavour least) an option that would turn the clock back to 1957 and the Treaty of Rome (or 1973 if you prefer), before the advent of the Single Market. It would not provide "frictionless" trade and would not solve the Irish border problem, essentially offering not very much more than a no-deal Brexit.

Seriously, that is the considered view of the House – an utterly vacuous option which some probably think takes in the Single Market, many MPs seemingly having trouble telling the difference between it and a customs union.

Coming second was the option calling for a referendum to confirm any Brexit deal. This was not another in-out re-run, but simply a vote on any deal which was agreed by parliament, rendering it rather moot if parliament (as on current form) is unable to agree any deal. Nevertheless, this was "only" voted down by 268 votes to 295, scoring -27.

Third was Labour's "alternative plan", taking us firmly into unicorn territory with a permanent customs union, "close alignment" with (but not membership of) the single market and commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, which are not within the gift of the UK government. This got 237 with 307 against, scoring -70.

Fourth was the Boles/Kinnock fatuous plan called "Common Market 2.0", bizarrely combining Efta/EEA and a customs union (but with no provisions for bilaterals). This took a mere 188 votes, with 283 voting against, scoring -95 and consigning it more or less permanently to the dustbin.

Revocation to avoid a no-deal took fifth place, getting 184 votes as against 293, scoring -109, demonstrating that there was no particular appetite for staying in the EU.

Yet, in sixth place we see the no-deal "option", which got 160 votes for and 400 against, scoring a pretty decisive -240. Thus, the MPs don't want to revoke the Article 50 notification to avoid us leaving with a no-deal, but they don't want us to leave with a no-deal either. However, the powdered unicorn horn option was not voted on.

Seventh in the ranking came the so-called "Malthouse compromise", officially known as the "contingency preferential arrangements", which involves buying a two-year transitional period "for the payment of sums to the European Union in amounts equivalent to the UK's current net annual financial contribution to the EU". Unsurprisingly, this got a mere 139 votes with 422 against, a net score of -283.

Last and least came George Eustice's Efta/EEA plan, a late-comer which was competing against the Boles/Kinnock plan but without the hype. Even though it was better than CM 2.0, having shed the idiotic customs union, it only gained a pitiful 65 votes, with 377 against, giving it a score of -312.

That rather tells you a great deal about the voting dynamics of the Commons. Given a choice between two bad options, they unerringly choose the worst, even if they actually favour neither.

The overall performance of the House rather confirms Jean-Claude Juncker's observation that the MP's know what they are against (i.e., everything) but have no idea of what they favour. Nothing gets a positive vote and the lead option is something which could only come after the Withdrawal Agreement ratification and would not meet the UK's needs.

Effectively, rather than "Bollocks to Brexit", the House has, in the words of John Crace, opted for "Bollocks to everything". He, nonetheless, pens a delicious demolition of Rees-Mogg. "The Grand Wizard of Mogg", he writes
…has always resembled a boy in a suit. Now he's just a homunculus trapped inside a boy’s body, mewling at the moon to distract everyone from his own sense of entitled inadequacy and profound misjudgement, and unable to even own that it was partly down to him that the government had temporarily lost control of Commons' business. If nanny had been around, he’d have been sent to the naughty step. For life.
Some have remarked on how poorly the two "Norway" options have fared, especially as it has been held by their proponents that the "soft" Efta/EEA option was the solution that would be most favoured by the House. Voting was undoubtedly tactical, as Labour had endorsed CM 2.0 while the Eustice option was very much seen as a Tory plan.

However, neither group of advocates provided a credible plan. Thus, it cannot really be said that the MP collective has rejected a workable Efta/EEA option. There hasn't been one on offer. The mood on this, therefore, has yet to be tested.

As to where we go next, Mrs May – who seems to have attracted the acronym LINO (leader in name only) – was not in the chamber. Represented by Sir Oliver Letwin on this occasion, he thought it a "very great disappointment" that the House has not chosen to find a majority for any proposition.

In the manner of recalcitrant children refusing to eat their dinners, the MPs were to be "allowed" to reconsider the options on Monday, after the voting deadline for Mrs May's deal, unless they "see fit to vote in favour of a Government motion between now and close of play on Friday". This would obviate the necessity for a further set of votes on Monday.

The anonymous Stephen Barclay followed, rumoured to be the Brexit Secretary, although no-one is quite sure why. He thought the vote demonstrated that there were no easy options, and no simple way forward.

On that, I suppose he his right, although he forbore to say that we had arrived at this impasse because of the prime minister's rejection of the Single Market in her Lancaster House speech, although we have no means of knowing whether a government-sponsored Efta/EEA approach would prevail.

That notwithstanding, such matters can only now come into the frame after the Withdrawal Agreement, something pointed out by Barclay. The political declaration gives us enormous scope but only takes effect once the MP collective has agreed the deal negotiated by LINO.

Assuming that the deal is now to be put to the House on Friday – in an altered form, at the insistence of the speaker – we still have no idea of whether it will pass muster, although that looks unlikely as the DUP is not relenting in its opposition.

Mrs May having told the 1922 Committee, in effect, that she will resign if she gets her vote, still doesn't seem to have tilted the balance, even if careerists such as ex-foreign secretary Johnson are now suddenly in favour of it, alongside Rees-Mogg and some others of the ERG, but not all of them.

One wonders whether, in the event of the House refusing to ratify the deal, Mrs May will stay on to supervise the wreckage or whether, as an act of revenge, she sneaks an e-mail into Brussels on 11 April revoking the Article 50 notification, using her Crown prerogative powers.

However, a point that might have escaped the MP clusterfuck is that, despite their voting against a no-deal, this is still the default option. All that needs to happen for it to take effect on 12 April is for the MPs to vote against the deal on Friday and for Mrs May to do nothing thereafter.

LINO's last revenge could be, in fact, to put two fingers up to the House of Commons and drop us out of the EU without a deal. She could then hire a furniture van for Number 10 and steal away in the middle of the night, taking off for a walking tour in Switzerland, leaving her resignation letter on the doormat for her successor to find.

The party created the mess, she might say, so it can clean it up, as the lorries stack up on the M20 and the economy goes down the pan. And in truth, although she will have contributed much to the disaster that would follow, a saner parliament could have stopped it happening.

On Twitter, yesterday, I asked why it was that, if a supermarket delivered substandard goods, it got prosecuted but if MPs deliver useless toss on Brexit, there are plenty of clapping seals ready to line up to applaud them for "trying". I also mused whether, as a nation, we ever really got over being a feudal society.

When, I asked, will people realise that, if we continued to accept low-grade toss, that's all we will be given by our masters. But then, the fare we have been dished out yesterday might finally make the difference. If a train-wreck Brexit is all the MP collective can offer, we need to offer something suitable in return.

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