It appears that Theresa May is attempting a desperate, dishonest double-bluff – or more accurately double-dealing – to try to create the impression of a win in the ‘meaningful vote’ today on her Brexit deal with the EU.
MP Edward Leigh has proposed an amendment to today’s motion stating that the UK has the unilateral right to exit the ‘backstop’ arrangement for the Ireland/Northern Ireland border after 2021.
The actual Withdrawal Agreement, of course, gives the UK no such right – so the amendment would mean Parliament approved a different deal, not the actual deal. The version agreed by Parliament would be meaningless in international law.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has issued a statement saying that the government will not accept the Leigh amendment for that very reason:
But at the same time, it seems that the government’s ‘whips’ are trying to gather support both from Tories supportive of Mrs May and from ‘ERG’ Brexit rebels to vote for the deal on the basis of the amendment:
It appears that the government is trying to get a short-term ‘win’ – one it knows to be completely fallacious and illusory – by getting enough MPs to back a fictitious version of the deal, while pretending not to be in favour of the amendment.
The Murrison agreement – which would have set a hard end date for the backstop on 31 December 2021 – and the less obvious Swire amendment would both have similarly breached the UK’s international legal obligations, but the whips were openly supporting them until the Speaker ruled them out, presumably an effort by Bercow to prevent just such chicanery.
Presumably May is clinging to some false hope that she can use the amended motion – if it passes – as leverage to persuade the EU to incorporate such an amendment into the actual agreement.
Which it will never do because a unilateral UK right to abandon the backstop would betray its commitments to the Irish Republic, which will of course be an EU member long after the UK isn’t, as well as making the whole backstop arrangement pointless from the outset.
Even if May entertains no such false hopes, then today’s dodge is just an attempt to disguise her kicking the can down the road yet again in a desperate bid to gain more time.
Tory Brexiteers and the DUP should be unwilling to be the dupes for the sake of May’s reprieve. But to run down the clock further toward a hard Brexit – and for the DUP, no risk of an ‘Irish Sea border‘, they just might.
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