IF anyone was looking to Westminster for reassurance in these troubled times then Tuesday night will have been a grisly spectacle. I have come to not expect much from the Palace by the Thames but even I was watching the sorry sight from behind the sofa. I don’t know how my pals in the SNP group maintain their blood pressure at a healthy level. From the messages I was getting I’m not sure many did, such was the frustration at events.
I was watching it from Brussels, as were a great many of my colleagues. Aside from the low Monty Python-esque comedy of the procedures themselves (jokingly shouting “Orrrderrrrrr” in the cantine or the bar has become a thing in Brussels) there was blank incomprehension verging on anger at events.
First published in The National, 1 February 2019
For the sake of her own party unity and another few months in Downing Street, Theresa May trashed her own deal. The deal it has taken two years of heartbreak to get to, that countless hours have been spent on by people who really would have rather been doing something else. Countless civil service discussions, expending credibility and good faith, to get to a text she threw under the bus at the first opportunity.
She solemnly agreed the backstop (twice); she proposed its form; she asked for and got help from EU27 in selling the withdrawal agreement. She promised she’d be able to. Most MPs seem to have no idea or have conveniently forgotten that the EU27 line that this is the only withdrawal agreement available, and that it will not be re-opened, was in response to May’s need to force her own MPs to agree it.
They also forget that the reason it is UK-wide is because May requested it was that rather than NI-only, as she wrongly thought it would placate the DUP and BritNat Tories.
Many of the EU27 preferred NI-only as they thought it was the UK getting future relationship concessions easily. It’s one thing for Parliament to throw concessions and assistance back in the EU27’s face like ungrateful spoiled weans. EU folks get the difference between Government and Parliament, we’re used to that.
But it’s quite another for the PM – who they gave the requested concessions and assistance to, and who promised it’d be fine – to do so. Just like David Cameron promised he could deliver and failed, then walked. May, and this Cabinet, and these UK officials, will never be trusted again by EU27 leaders. Future relationship negotiations will be conducted in a trust and goodwill-free zone. Requests for concessions will be dismissed. Assistance will not be forthcoming. UK perceptions ignored. Even if she does eventually get the withdrawal agreement through, the UK will be entering a world of pain in negotiations as a result of the Tories’s earlier conduct.
The EU27 will put options on the table. The UK will decide to take or leave them. Those MPs who don’t want this, who rightly don’t believe they will have any real say, and who know they’d have to accept whatever comes out of the process or face a new no-deal cliff-edge without the option to revoke, need to act now.
The choice for them is the deal, and a world of pain and helplessness for two to four years then swallowing whatever they’re given; a world of pain now through no deal; a way out of this through an extension and referendum; or more waiting and an emergency revocation in March to avert no deal. And even then that’s if there will be time (which there may well not be) to legislate (which may be needed) for an emergency revocation. Like David Cameron, May has proven that she will put short-term party considerations above any sense of national interest.
I do not say this lightly: the bunch of nihilists, philistines, cowards and charlatans pretending to run the UK Government have trashed the UK’s reputation. It's done, it's over.
And I’ll tell you, honestly, it makes me sad. Like everyone I’ve ever met in the SNP, I’m a nationalist because I want to see the best for Scotland and I think we can do better, not because I want to see the UK and our closest friends and neighbours have a bad time. But we cannot write this as nothing to do with us. What they are doing and the way they are doing it is sowing the seeds of the destruction of their own Global Britan ambitions because nobody is going to trust them an inch. That nice man in Lagos who keeps emailing me will in future ask for his money up front when he’s dealing with the UK Government.
I still think we can stop Brexit. It is in Scotland’s interests to do so, from an independence or indeed Unionist perspective. But it has become harder because we saw that for the MPs in their Palace by the Thames, their short-term interests matter more than us, or Ireland, or the rest of the world, and the consequences can come later because they’ll be fine. Scotland deserves better than this.