This week’s revelations show just how broken our democracy is, and it’s not over yet
In an historic ruling on Tuesday, the government was deemed to be in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history for refusing to publish the full content of the Attorney General’s legal advice on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
At every stage of Brexit, May has kicked and screamed against offering any sort of transparency or accountability in the negotiation proceedings, even seeking unilateral powers as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the so-called Henry 8th powers to effectively pass and amend laws without reference to Parliament.
As minister for Brexit, David Davies blew hot and cold on the existence or otherwise of impact assessment studies that he’d either seen or had never existed in the first place. This gave an early inkling of the way the government has proceeded on trying to achieve Brexit at any cost without reference to those pesky experts dismissed by Michael Gove during the Leave campaign.
It portrays a truly staggering level of amateurism in trying to achieve an impossible deal that would satisfy all parts of the EU-sceptic spectrum and hope to salvage something of Britain’s economic future.
It’s now clear that this cavalier attitude goes right to the top.
In her desperation to achieve some sort of outcome, May cobbled together a plan to suit no one with the single goal of getting something, anything, on the table in time to meet EU deadlines for a deal.
Throughout the months this has taken there has been obfuscation and what looks like deliberate avoidance of usual democratic procedure. Having apparently been given a legal assessment of the deal by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, May then fought tooth and nail to avoid making this advice public. Everyone wondered why, not least MPs who voted back in November to force the government to reveal the full text.
Even so, May twisted and connived to avoid doing so until it was too late. Finally, after Tuesday’s monumental ruling Parliament showed it had had enough. The full text of the Attorney General’s advice had to be published or else.
Even then there had to be questions as to when this would happen. Andrea Leadsom got to her feet and confirmed it would be the following day. Quite why it should take that long is anyone’s guess. It was already available in digital format and could have been published without further delay. Perhaps it needed a little ‘polishing’ first.
Leadsom had already previously defended the government in not releasing the full document. In her inimitable style as bullshitter-in-chief she made a frankly pathetic claim that “no one could be in doubt” that Mr Cox had answered Parliament’s questions in full during a session where edited highlights were revealed through the lens of our Brexiteer AG.
But everyone was in doubt. Despite Leadsom’s perfunctory grasp of reality, Parliament had voted to see the full text. Not just the bits that didn’t conflict with Theresa May’s agenda.
When the document was finally released it was apparent why there had been so much effort put into trying to keep it secret. Contrary to the spun titbits of text released a few days before, it was obvious that May’s deal was on even more shaky ground than even the most ardent Remainer suspected.
The full horror of the situation regarding the backstop and the position it would put Northern Ireland in is yet another example of the recklessness with which the May and her cabinet have pursued a deal at any cost.
Cox’s full advice was that the backstop would “endure indefinitely” leaving Northern Ireland in a perpetual state of limbo which would most likely lead to a gradual dissociation with the rest of the UK. It’s not difficult to see where that would inevitably lead. It seems that Theresa May was prepared to risk the peace, security and stability of Northern Ireland just to get her deal across the line. A situation that Cox had previously described as a “calculated risk”.
There was one other salient fact noted by Green MP Caroline Lucas. The date on the letter from Geoffrey Cox to Theresa May suggests that the Cabinet did not get any formal legal advice from him before 13 November – the day MPs first asked for it to be published.
And the *really* weird thing is that the date on the Attorney General's advice suggests that the Cabinet did not get any formal legal advice from him before 13 November – the day MPs first asked for it to be published … 🤔 4/4 #Brexit #Art50 pic.twitter.com/88ZY8Dju31
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) December 5, 2018
Cox’s advice highlights many other potential pitfalls that seem to have been ignored or overlooked in Theresa May’s haste to get a deal agreed. It also appears that in their arrogance, the cabinet didn’t bother to get any of it checked out before pushing ahead with it. They approached the whole thing with less thought than one would give to applying for a credit card. The idea that “your country is at risk if you fail to follow usual democratic accountability procedures” seems to have been lost on them all. If Lucas’ assessment is correct, they only asked for legal advice after the question was raised in The House.
This is a scale of negligence that must surely rank with the Chernobyl technicians who thought it would be a “calculated risk” to switch off all the safety systems while they popped the reactor into meltdown mode. Whilst the fallout from May’s doomed deal is unlikely to be as devastating to the rest of Europe, it seems it could certainly do as much damage in some areas of the UK.
It’s clear we’re through the democratic looking glass now. Ruled by a government with about as much appreciation for parliamentary procedures and accountable democracy as Donald Trump has for 14th century renaissance art. A Tory party stuffed with self-interested, poorly equipped half-wit entryists like Leadsom, Davies and Raab trying to do their best impression of statespersonship, but looking instead like losers on a TV talent show. I’m a Parliamentarian – get me out of here.
In other news today it was revealed by Libdem MP Layla Moran that May has wasted thousands of pounds of taxpayers money on a social media campaign intended to sell her Brexit deal to the people. Quite why she bothered escapes me, as she is firmly against giving any of us a say on it. What does it matter what we think?
My Parliamentary question has revealed the PM spent over £52,000 publicising her Brexit deal on social media. Why is she throwing our money down the drain promoting it online when she knows its dead in the water? https://t.co/qQeleJuCH2
— Layla Moran (@LaylaMoran) December 5, 2018
But perhaps here we have the crux of her and her government’s approach. Give us the smell of democracy, but none of the substance. Bang on about ‘the will of the people’, yet ignore them when that will may not align with yours. It’s arguable that both of the major party leaders have a similar take on the matter, if Corbyn’s recalcitrance over a People’s Vote is anything to go by..
On the positive side, Parliament does at least seem to be jerking the chain of these jerks so perhaps there is some hope, and MPs get to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on May’s deal on the 11th December. Just how meaningful remains to be seen, and just how much more remains to fall out of the Westminster woodwork in the meantime is anyone’s guess.
But it seems that whatever the outcome, many of our supposed representatives will do their best to avoid having to bother themselves with the tiresome job of referring anything to the rest of us or even making sure that the decisions they take on our behalf are truly in our best interests. Apparently this is ‘taking back control’.
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