Richard North, 21/12/2019  
 


I didn't like the term "Brexit" when it was invented and, as time has passed, it has become less and less appropriate. The point is that we are not leaving the EU, as such, but changing our relationship with it. That is the real purpose of Brexit.

Therefore, Brexit ain't over until, at the very least, we have concluded an agreement with the EU on our future relationship. For Johnson to be crowing about the country being "one step closer to getting Brexit done" is an irrelevance.

Even Johnson's fanboys in the Telegraph allowed their resident sceptic, Michael Deacon, to observe that yesterday's Brexit debate "turned into a festival of Tory gloating… while Labour looked feebly on".

"It was, in a way, completely pointless", says Deacon. "Five whole hours had been set aside to debate the new version of the Brexit bill, but five minutes would have been more than enough. Boris Johnson's election landslide had rendered today’s debate a formality, a walkover, a stroll in the park".

"So, instead of argument, dialogue and scrutiny", we are told by Deacon, "what we mostly got was Opposition moping – and Tory gloating" – followed by a vote which delivered 358 "ayes" and 234 "nays", a majority of 124 in favour of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.

For once, it seems, the Telegraph and the Guardian were almost on the same page, with John Crace describing the debate as "characterised mostly by absence. An absence of thought and an absence of personnel. All the true one nation Tory MPs who used to expose the flaws in Boris's Brexit have been erased from the Commons".

And now Johnson goes unchallenged, Crace observes that he appears at best only half interested in his own arguments, having long since taken for granted that he would win.

During the debate, "he looked like a man who was phoning it in and could scarcely be bothered to even acknowledge the concerns of the Scottish National party and Northern Irish MPs. It now feels like almost an inevitability that the union will break up at some point in the next 10 years".

When it came to Corbyn, he too was operating on low power mode, with some excuse. There was literally nothing he could say to make a difference:
There were faintly despairing speeches from Labour’s Hilary Benn, Matthew Pennycook and Keir Starmer but the Tory benches were almost a total IQ-free zone. As Owen Paterson, Mark Francois and Liam Fox were only too happy to prove, since they are too stupid to remember that this was a Brexit deal to which they too had been vehemently opposed for more than three years.
But, to the victors went the spoils. And, says Crace, "the amnesia". Johnson "stood triumphant, surrounded by sycophants and crowned in laurels. He was Caesar. The autocrat, disguised as a man of the people, whose prescription for blue-collar Conservatism was old-fashioned, establishment paternalism".

Whatever else, this is not a pretty sight and, as Pete observes, it's a grim day for the remainers not only watching the bill pass but also reflecting on what they could have leveraged had they voted for May's deal. Both sides had been playing all or nothing and now "remain walks" away with nothing. But both sides get a dog's dinner of a Brexit.

For life-long leavers, such as myself, this should have been a sweet moment of victory, the point at which the "remain" case was finally rendered obsolete and we can finally kiss good-bye to those tedious attempts to re-run the referendum and push for another.

Thus, Johnson himself is not far wrong when he says this is the time when we move on and discard the old labels of "leave" and "remain". To him, the words seemed "tired" - as defunct as "big-enders" and "little-enders" or as "Montagues" and "Capulets" at the end of the play.

But, if we're all "leavers" now, one doesn't have to agree with Johnson that it is "the time to act together as one reinvigorated nation, one United Kingdom, filled with renewed confidence in our national destiny and determined, at last, to take advantage of the opportunities that now lie before us".

In fact, we aren't all "leavers". There are some, no doubt – even if they are currently stunned into silence – who harbour ambitions of rejoining, once we have left, of course. And the worse the Johnson version of "leave" becomes, the more voluble they will become.

But there are those, including myself, who embrace the prospect of terminating our membership of the European Union but reject Johnson's version of "leave", and his determination to avoid extending the transition period.

Johnson himself does not appear to understand that the terms of extension, that it is a one-time unrepeatable offer where, by the end of June, the government can choose to extend either to the end of December 2021 or to December 2022. But, whatever period is selected, that is it. There is no going back for more.

Yet Johnson yesterday was telling the Commons that, "there would be nothing more dangerous than extending the implementation period". He equated it with "a torture" that "came to resemble Lucy snatching away Charlie Brown's football" or Prometheus chained to the Tartarian crag, his liver pecked out by an eagle and then growing back, only to be pecked out again, with the cycle repeated forever.

The Withdrawal Bill, he claims, "learns the emphatic lesson of the last Parliament and rejects any further delay. It ensures that we depart from the EU on 31 January, and at that point Brexit will be done - it will be over".

But it will not be over. Not until we have forged a new relationship with the EU (and the severed links with third countries) will Brexit be over. And if Johnson insists on terminating the transition period at the end of December 2020, he then condemns us to a long, drawn-out process of post-transition negotiations to deal with all the issues which were not addressed during the transition phase.

Far from getting Brexit "done", the triumphal prime minister is taking us down a path where it will take years to restore some sense of equilibrium with the EU, where we will be able to deal with its institutions and the 27 Member States on anything like a sound basis.

Unrestrained, though, there is no limit to prime minister's rhetoric. While the Tory manifesto and the Queen's speech were notable in that they refrained from embellishing the objective of securing a free trade agreement, Johnson asserts that our future relationship with our European neighbours will be based on an "ambitious" free trade agreement.

In the same breath, he tells us there will be "no alignment on EU rules" with, he claims, "control of our own laws, and close and friendly relations". And prior to the vote he told his compliant MPs that "this vision of the United Kingdom's independence" is now "only hours from our grasp", adding: "The oven is on. It is set at gas mark 4; we can have this done by lunchtime - or a late lunchtime".

I really don't know about lunchtime, but this is a prime minister who consumed king-size portions of bullshit for breakfast. And, if this is the way it is to be, we can kiss goodbye to any rationality from our government.






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