MPs who cannot offer an alternative should not reject Boris Johnson's Brexit deal in the vote today, writes Brian Wilson.
Like Parliamentary parrots, Opposition MPs are queuing to denounce the latest Brexit offering as “worse than Theresa May’s” as if that clinched the argument.
Having voted something down three times and declared this is “worse”, then how could they possibly, as men and women of high principle, support it? There is, however, an alternative logic.
Since their achievement so far has been to help instal Boris Johnson as Prime Minister with a “worse” deal on the table, might a less predictable reaction have been appropriate?
Denunciation is child’s play – but even if there is another extension, what are the realistic alternatives it will lead to other than delay, division and uncertainty with no clear end in sight?
However grudgingly, Johnson deserves one cheer for ditching the Democratic Unionist Party and its all-purpose “just say no”. His motives may be entirely self-serving, but the outcome is positive.
I heard Ian Blackford of the SNP bemoaning the “betrayal” of the DUP, among others. Is this a bad thing? As a supporter of all-Ireland institutions without borders, I regard it as entirely positive – as does every other political party in Ireland.
An “Ireland-only” solution was originally advanced by the EU and rejected by Theresa May because she needed DUP votes and they would not accept different treatment from the rest of the UK for Customs Union purposes.
The logic which flowed was to keep all the UK within the Customs Union or something close to it. That was why the “Irish backstop” should have been seen as a positive rather than vilified as a show-stopping negative in a narrative Opposition parties were opportunistic enough to endorse.
So the Johnson deal may be “worse” because it breaks that link between Ireland and knock-on implications for the whole UK. However, it is a bit rich for those who denounced the “backstop” to raise that as a complaint – rather than accepting responsibility for their own miscalculation.
In other respects, there is little difference between the two deals. Near-hysterical claims about threats posed to workers’ rights and other benefits now associated with EU membership merit scepticism. There is nothing in the agreement which says that must be so.
The realpolitik is that other major EU economies will not agree to the trading relationship which the UK will need if it is based on cutting costs and environmental standards in order to compete unfairly. That is the safeguard.
However, there is a more fundamental political point. Workers’ rights in the UK were fought for and won before the EU was born. The assumption they will disappear outside the EU is both insulting to that history and predicated on the assumption of a permanent right-wing government – a humiliating starting-point for any Labour MP who votes today.
Then look at the alternatives to supporting the deal. The only certainties about a second referendum would be a huge uncertainty of outcome and the even deeper divisions that would follow – considerations which its smugger advocates seem indifferent towards.
Or a General Election? There is no need for one and Labour, in its current condition, would be off its collective head to facilitate it. There is no contradiction between endorsing the deal and saying “no” to the General Election which Johnson covets as conquering hero.
The SNP will vote against any deal because they believe their interests to be served by maximising chaos and disillusionment. The way to puncture that strategy is not by perpetuating uncertainty far less approving an election. With time, Scexit will be seen as even more complex and damaging than Brexit. But it needs time.
I voted to remain but that ship sailed in 2016. Opposition parties rightly cite the deceptions of Johnson and associates but have never faced up to their own culpability. Labour showed no leadership; the Lib Dems scarcely existed; the SNP spent more on a by-election than campaigning for the EU they now profess to love so much.
Voting today to defeat this deal will be the easy bit. No MP should do so without being able to define the alternative, of which I still hear little evidence.