It’s finally back. After all the waiting. The anticipating. Who knows what’s going to happen this time? The slightly mad characters. All the weird hook-ups and drama that lies ahead. I cannot wait.
No ... this not the return of Love Island – but the EU Withdrawal Bill, back to the House of Commons. Just when you thought it was safe, Brexit is back.
The Prime Minister has a habit of ruining my life. Last year, she announced a snap general election on the first day of my stand-up tour all about politics, “State of the Nation”, which I had spent months carefully crafting and honing and then had to rip up and re-write in a mad panic. Now, she’s ruined the party to launch my new book (Punch and Judy Politics – An Insiders’ Guide to Prime Minister’s Questions) by deciding to bring back this pesky Brexit Bill to the House of Commons on the very same day – Tuesday, 12th June. What have I ever done to this woman?
It’s fair to say that people other than me are upset about this. We have waited weeks and weeks and now they are ramming the whole bill through in one, non-stop marathon session. I’m sure there will be “marathon sessions” in Love Island, but they will be slightly different in nature ...
This bill is a big deal for the future of the absolute shambles known as Brexit and the absolute shambles known as poor Theresa May.
There are 15 crucial amendments which have come back from the House of Lords (God bless their wee souls) but three issues stand out.
First is a vote to overturn the Lords amendment which called for the UK to stay in the Single Market by staying in the European Economic Area like Norway and accepting free movement. Next up is a crucial vote on the Customs Union. The final big moment is expected to be the Lords demanding that Parliament gets a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal.
There is much hysteria in Westminster as you can imagine because losing any votes on this will make an already fragile Theresa May look like she’s about to politically flat-line and we know the vultures are already circling, especially from the right of her party.
And of course, she will face huge opposition from across the house with some MPs determined to be as noisy and difficult as possible especially the SNP, Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas, who often seems to make more noise on Brexit than the entire Labour leadership put together.
Labour will be united on the Customs Union and the need for a meaningful vote, but there will be trouble ahead on the EEA/Single Market vote because there is such division on this. Jeremy Corbyn has made it clear that he doesn’t think we should remain in the Single Market in an arrangement like Norway, but many of his MPs, trade union leaders and members – especially up in Scotland – take a different view and fear for jobs and growth. There will no doubt be a big Labour punch-up over the Single Market which could provide Theresa May with some respite but make no mistake, she and her Whips will spend the next seven days fighting for her political life. She will have to beg Tory Remainers including Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan not vote against her and will have to conjure up some compromises particularly on the Customs Union. But she will also feel the heat from hard line Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg.
As well as all the fun and games around what happens in those division lobbies next Tuesday, there is of course the far less fun but much more serious matter of what the **** is actually happening on big important policy matters relating to exiting the EU and the knock-on effect it will have on businesses, big and small, across the country.
Earlier this week we learned of a set of papers cheerily outlining various “Doomsday Brexit” scenarios in which the UK would run short of medicines, food and fuel within two weeks of leaving the EU. One always has to take these leaks which a rather large pinch of salt, but this wasn’t exactly soothing or confidence boosting news. I remember when KFC ran out of chicken recently and there were scenes akin to a zombie apocalypse in North London.
There is a thicket of big, difficult, important and complex issues across almost every sector to untangle and work through before we are due to leave the EU after the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 and no one, from business to the civil service, feels like they know what is going to happen.
That was rammed home to me yesterday in Birmingham when I chaired a discussion for the trade unions BECTU and Prospect on the impact that Brexit would have on the sectors their members work in, including the creative industries, science, energy and technology. The discussion was a rare thing where Brexit is concerned – calm, considered and factual. There were no hysterical platitudes and divisive screaming matches but loads of well-researched, thoughtful, sober questions about things like maintaining safety standards in areas like aviation and energy; whether vital funds would be lost for medical and scientific research; the impact of leaving the European atomic energy community Euratom; and how we could get specialist skilled workers into the UK under new immigration rules.
There were no easy answers and the takeaway message from non-partisan business leaders and trade union members was that the uncertainty cloaking all these big interconnected issues is hugely damaging for sectors which need to plan for the future. And the great irony is that when we leave, businesses may end up having to find a way of recreating all the structures we currently now have. We may have to do a lot of running to get back to exactly where we are now.
So, as much as we will all revel in the soap-opera that will unfold in Westminster and all the dodgy deals that are struck, spare a thought for the people in businesses and universities across the country who are tearing their hair out right now over what a mess all this is. And me – another party ruined by Brexit.