February 09, 2017
The Lords have a choice - risk abolition or vote for Brexit
After yesterday's final Article 50 Brexit vote in the House of House, which went 494 against 122, the bill now goes to the House of Lords where we expect it will be passed in time for Theresa May to trigger the process on schedule before the end of March. As we have argued before, this is it. The scenario under which this process can still be derailed, even under a string of very negative assumptions, is looking increasingly remote.
We thought the following tweet by Nicola Strugeon (@NicolaSturgeon) sums up the exasperation of an intelligent pro-Remain politician about the illogical and duplicitous position taken by the Labour Party, whose leader decided - for tactical reasons - to support the bill and to impose a three-line whip on his MPs.
She is right. The real fight does not start now. The real fight has been lost. In our view this is due to the inability of the Remain team to unify around a common position post-Brexit, for example, to seek an EEA-type membership. When asked by a Scottish MP whether she would risk a break-up of the UK, May answered in the parliament:
"He constantly refers to the interests of Scotland inside the European Union - an independent Scotland would not be in the European Union."
We fear, sadly, that this is true. Spain has already said that it would veto such a move for domestic political reasons, and several other countries, such as Belgium, would happily hide behind a Spanish veto. The latest opinion polls, in the Glasgow Herald, shows increasing support for Scottish independence, from 45.5% to 49%, but still short of a majority. More importantly, most people do not want another referendum.
The House of Lords could theoretically delay - but not stop - the Brexit bill. It could propose amendments that would need to be voted on by the House of Commons. The bill would then go to-and-fro between the two houses, with the Commons ultimately prevailing. Importantly, the government is now putting not-so-subtle pressure on the Lords according to the BBC, which quotes one government source as saying that the Lords would risk abolition if they opposed the will of the people. The Lords are overwhelmingly pro-EU but they also realise that it is not their job to mount an opposition.
One of the more interesting developments is the future turn of the British Labour Party. The party has suffered badly under Corbyn's leadership, and over his unprincipled flip-flopping on Brexit. But the party has also given up any expectations that they could oust him in a leadership election. There is a scenario, however, where he may step down voluntarily. As this article suggests, the hard left of the Labour Party seeks a rule change that would make it virtually impossible for the party to elect a moderate leader. The shadow business secretary, Clive Lewis, resigned yesterday after he decided to oppose the Brexit bill. He is seen as a potential successor to Corbyn because he is on the left of the party, while pro-European at the same time. In any case, once the parliamentary process is over, it is hard to imagine a single scenario in which Brexit could be undone - which requires the parliament to instruct the government to abandon the Article 50 process, and for this to be accepted by both the British government and every member of the European Council.