From top: First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon (right) with Irish actress Saoirse Ronan at the Scottish premiere of ‘Mary, Queen of Scots‘ in Edinburgh last night; Derek Mooney
Today is the day we find out just how truly batshit crazy some Tory and Labour MPs are.
Later tonight, probably around 8.30pm/9pm, we will know the results of the House of Commons meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
I should probably say the first meaningful vote on the deal as she will likely resubmit the deal to another Commons vote in the hope that the looming approach of the Brexit abyss will compel MPs to switch.
At the time of writing (Tuesday 11am) it is certain that Theresa May will lose the vote, though is it possible that the margin of defeat will not be as great as her detractors hope, and probably not as great as it would have been if she had proceeded with the vote as planned last December.
Not that any of this speculation matters. Tonight is not the last we will hear of Brexit. The uncertainty that it has brought to politics on both these islands and the damage it has inflicted to relations between them will continue.
Brexit will continue to dominate the headlines on both sides of the Irish Sea and fill the opinion and comment pages of this and other media outlets.
British politics is in virtual freefall and almost anything is possible, including a slow break-up of the UK’s traditional two-party system and ultimately a break-up of the United Kingdom itself.
The determination of arch conservative and unionists to leave the EU in pursuit of an exceptionalist vision of a Britain that ceased to exist over a century ago may yet result in breaking up their precious union of English, Scotland, Wales and parts of Northern Ireland. Oh, the irony.
According to the pundits and the more sensible MPs there is no majority in the House of Commons for no Deal Brexit. This, they argue, means that it is yet possible that a hard, no deal Brexit can be avoided on March 29th next.
But the problem is that a no Deal Brexit is the default position. MPs do not have to vote for a No-Deal scenario, it is what happens next unless they take clear steps to avoid it.
So far, instead of any clear steps, all we see from the leadership of both the Tories and Labour is a series of stumbles – not all in the same direction.
Avoiding a No-Deal will require the concerted effort of a majority of MPs voting for a single alternative – and right now there is no clear majority for any of the alternatives to a no-deal.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that the component parts of any no-no-deal majority are scattered between the Tories, Labour, SNP, LibDems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the sole non-DUP NI Unionist.
This is why it is hard to see the withdrawal or revocation of Article 50. It is the most sensible option, one advocated both last week and again yesterday by Tory grandee, Sir Kenneth Clarke who urged Prime Minister May:
“…to be flexible on some things, so if she loses the debate next Tuesday, will she consider moving to the obvious step in the national interest of delaying or revoking article 50, so that we have time to consider what the British actually want?”
However, the atmosphere in British politics is so febrile and fraught that the mere suggestion of seeking some breathing space and postponing Brexit is seen as treachery.
The other alternative is that of the #PeoplesVote second referendum, something I said some weeks ago here was clearly in Ireland’s best interests. While support amongst the public for the idea of a second referendum as a way to break the logjam is steadily growing, that is not enough.
There could be a succession of opinion polls showing a clear public majority in favour of a second vote, but until there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for passing the legislation required to hold one, never mind to agree the question to be asked, then I, regrettably, cannot see it happening.
I still hope it does and perhaps the attempt by Tory MP Dominic Grieve to reframe the choice that MPs must make as being between Theresa May’s Deal or No Brexit, perhaps via a second referendum, will work – but it’s still a long shot.
So, with the most sensible alternatives seeming like non-runners for now, it looks like we will have several more weeks of watching a succession of previously unheard of and obscure backbench Tory MPs appear on television to tell the British people, without a scintilla of evidence, that their default, no-deal Brexit will work out just fine and that it would all be jam and Jerusalem.
Indeed, I heard one of them argue on BBC2 TV last night that the No Deal default position would prevail as the most democratic option even though it was only the position of a minority of MPs because Britain has a first past the post system.
While the biggest immediate consequences of a no-deal Brexit for Ireland will be on the economy and trade with the border region’s agri-food sector being the first to take the hit, there will also we be political ramifications with the cohesion of United Kingdom itself coming into question.
I am not just talking here about the position of Northern Ireland – a question I have discussed here in before – but also that of Scotland.
As the UK political establishment stumbles its way through the next days and weeks you can rest assured that the Scottish government, led by the formidable Nicola Sturgeon, will not be stumbling.
It will, indeed it already has, started concrete work on moving towards independence from Westminster, within the EU, learning not just the lessons of the last Scottish independence referendum but also those of Whitehall’s crass lack of preparation for the Brexit vote and its aftermath.
While the Irish government has doubtless already started planning for how it manages bilateral relationships between London and Dublin and trilaterally between Dublin, Belfast and London in the future, I hope that somewhere in the marbled halls of Iveagh House there is also a unit preparing for the forging of deeper and more abiding relations with Edinburgh – as Scotland could well up as our newest and closest EU partner before long.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney
Top pic via Nicola Sturgeon
Earlier: Once More Unto The Breach