1. Theresa May’s draft Withdrawal Agreement fails in the UK House of Commons by a vote of 432-202, the largest government defeat since the 1920’s.
2. But all is not lost as most of those voting against the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) were voting against tiny portions of it. Were those paragraphs to be changed the draft Withdrawal Agreement would pass in the House of Commons with flying colours as much of the draft agreement was already acceptable to British MP’s.
3. I don’t blame Theresa May for wanting to put the draft Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament for the simple reason that when both sides have negotiated in good faith (and they have) when one side agrees a deal (the EU27) it’s understandable for them to expect the proposal will be offered up for a vote on the other side (the UK House of Commons) It’s simply a case of showing the proper diplomatic respect they’re entitled to as a good faith negotiating partner — nothing more, nothing less.
4. Of course, British MP’s have every right to politely refuse such a deal and they did just that on January 15, 2019 by an almost unprecedented margin of 230 votes.
5. But had it passed in the House of Commons, the draft WA would’ve instantly become law in both countries and all problems relating to Brexit would’ve been solved — save for the highly contentious Irish backstop arrangement, and possibly some minor points contained within the otherwise excellent draft Withdrawal Agreement.
6. So, instead of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ the government should offer the proposed Withdrawal Agreement for examination in a paragraph-by-paragraph debate in the House of Commons. This could be done very rapidly. Each paragraph takes only a minute to read aloud and MP’s could then vote on each paragraph or block of similar text in a matter of minutes. I haven’t counted how many paragraphs or text blocks are in the draft WA, but within two days MP’s would’ve approved most of the draft WA — and the sections that weren’t approved by British MP’s would be by then clearly identified.
7. Having clearly identified the offending paragraphs of the draft WA the government would then be tasked with finding solutions to those offending paragraphs — and each successful solution would need to be voted up in Parliament and added to the draft Withdrawal Agreement as amendments.
8. Finally, the House of Commons having approved each paragraph of the reworked deal would need to vote on the entirety of the amended Withdrawal Agreement and pass it with a simple majority; Shortly thereafter, Theresa May would present the amended Withdrawal Agreement to the EU27 for their approval, comments, or counter-proposal.
9. All this needs to occur in January as time is against both the UK and the EU with only 73-days left until the automatic default kicks in; A No Deal Brexit. (And many of us are fine with that and think that any claims of economic Armageddon are grotesquely overstated and based on irrational fear instead of fact. Where are all the detailed studies showing that the UK would sink beneath the waves never to surface again? Hint: There aren’t any) Nevertheless, if British MP’s on both sides of the House want a negotiated Brexit deal, good on them. That’s just them being responsible. But remember, it takes two to tango. They can’t order the EU to accept a negotiated exit agreement.
10. Any talk about extending Article 50 is irresponsible as it stirs the public towards civil conflict and causes citizens to lose faith in all elected officials.
11. Any talk about extending Article 50 by the government side of the House is silly because if Theresa May and her ministers couldn’t get a deal with Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk (who have been sweet and patient with the British side) what makes Theresa May and her ministers think they’re going to get a deal with whomever replaces Juncker and Tusk at the end of May 2019, after the EU elections? That’s not saying that I agree with Mr. Juncker or Mr. Tusk on certain points regarding Brexit. Understandably, they’re in business for the EU27 not for the UK. But the UK government has wasted precious time ‘playing it’ seemingly for political purposes over the past 2 1/2 years and now they’re in bigger trouble than they know — because whomever replaces the soft and fuzzy crew of Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk won’t be as accommodating as those two gentlemen. In short, the grass won’t be greener on the other side of May 29th. To put it mildly.
12. Almost no one wants to leave the EU without a deal. No Deal fears are wildly and irresponsibly overblown. However, British MP’s and most Britons say a negotiated deal is a better pathway forward. Therefore, it’s imperative to get a deal even if the fears that drive us toward a negotiated deal are greatly exaggerated. (Doing the ‘right thing’ for the ‘wrong reasons’ can still work for Britain) Theresa May’s draft WA (which was already approved by the EU27) forms the basis of, and the best chance for, a negotiated agreement. Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel at this late stage, it’s better through a series of paragraph by paragraph amendments to improve only the paragraphs that need improvement and after approval of the whole amended document by a majority of MP’s, Theresa May can present the Amended Withdrawal Agreement to Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk for their kind consideration. Let’s hope that works, because then both sides can finish with Brexit and get back to the important work of governing their respective people.
13. Perhaps the most important point of all is that British MP’s of all parties should continue to support Theresa May’s government, as the quickest path to a negotiated Brexit is an amended Withdrawal Agreement. Theresa May should remain as Prime Minister, and the entire Conservative Party, the entire DUP, and MP’s from other parties should vote to keep her on the job.
14. As bad as the optics of it are, all that’s really happened is that British MP’s were offered the opportunity by Theresa May’s government to vote on a draft Withdrawal Agreement that the EU27 previously approved. And as the EU27 has negotiated in good faith they deserved to know the answer to their proposal. Not allowing the EU27 to receive an answer to their proposal would’ve been extremely disrespectful. And that’s not the way to begin a new relationship with an important trading partner with whom we share so much history.
Written by John Brian Shannon