Good evening and let’s start with the really grim bit. Yes, our prime minister did today channel a comedy meerkat from an advertising campaign that launched a decade ago by way of a cultural reference.
And, yes, it was awful.
But let’s try to find out how we got here, what it all means, and whether it is, indeed, “simples”. 🤢
You may have seen reports suggesting that there have been significant developments, seismic shifts, and gigantic U-turns in Brexit this week. But are they true?
Let’s start with the Tories.
Here’s what’s happened: Theresa May today offered her Cabinet — and then the entire House of Commons — a chance to delay Brexit if she can’t win a “meaningful vote” on her deal by mid-March.
If the Commons rejects her deal on March 12, she’ll offer MPs a vote on whether to press ahead with a no-deal Brexit the following day. And if the Commons doesn’t want that, then the next day she’ll offer Parliament a chance to extend the Article 50 exit process by up to three months.
And if the Commons rejects all of them? Penalty shootout or something.
The question is how significant all this really is.
The first thing to say is that she didn’t want to do it. It’s happened because Tory Remainers were gearing up to back an amendment by Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin that would have given MPs a vote on delaying Brexit if there was no agreement.
This amendment was a serious deal. On Tuesday morning, three Remain-backing ministers were using the Daily Mail (remember how that paper used to support Brexit?) to threaten to quit in order to support it, and we were looking at mass government resignations.
It’s now, to all intents and purposes, dead.
But at the same time, we essentially have the same outcome, just with less chaos and talk of a constitutional crisis. It was already likely Brexit would be delayed — and now it’s more likely Brexit will be delayed.
And where does this leave the PM’s deal?
You know, the one everyone hates and which suffered a monumental loss the first time round?
Well, like an overenthusiastic cat with a dead bird in its mouth, May will be gleefully presenting it to Parliament again next month. It’s JUST possible the Brexiteers realise that this is as hard a Brexit as they’re ever going to get short of no deal, and don't believe Parliament will ever let no-deal happen, and that they’re joined by some Labour rebels, and —
No. It’s probably not going to happen.
You know what else is probably not going to happen? That second referendum everyone was talking about the other day, after Labour made noises about backing it.
This was one of those things that political journalists immediately said was very significant, and made a lot of front pages, but what has changed, REALLY?
The first thing to say is that it’s very unlikely a second referendum will make it through Parliament. It simply doesn’t have the numbers.
Indeed, some of the most furious responses to the news came from Labour MPs in Leave-voting constituencies.
And this fury was nothing on the rage at the top of the party over claims that Labour wouldn’t offer a “Remain” option in the referendum.
But on the flipside, it went down very well among Remain-backers, and it has likely stopped MPs defecting to the newly formed Independent Group, seen here with the most insane Nando’s order in history, including such options as salad and chips and a wing roulette for one.
In fact, it’s possible the ones leaving Labour now will be the leave-backing MPs, meaning we have the actual Independent Group, another independent group who left over Brexit, another independent group who left over anti-Semitism but didn’t want to join the Independent Group (of which there is one so far), another independent group (of two) who left after being accused of sexual harassment and might still join the actual Independent Group, and another independent group (of one) who left the party after going to prison. Got all that?
The obvious questions about all this are: What impact will all this have on Brexit, and how far is the Independent Group (actual) responsible for all the shifting in the last couple of days? And the answer is: Absolutely no idea, but we can all look forward to days of arguing on both fronts.
Anyway, all that afforded Barry Gardiner the opportunity to pat Chuka Umunna on the arm on Monday and thereby create the most awkward half a second in Newsnight’s history.
So, the tl;dr is: 31 days until Brexit (at the time of writing), and we still have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen.