Brian Monteith: Changing PM settles nothing unless we leave the EU

Are we there yet? It is a question we have all heard, parents or not. Have we left the European Union – as promised? Has the Prime Minister fallen or been pushed on her sword by her cabinet colleagues? All the while the clock keeps ticking – but whose clock? Ours in Greenwich or the one in Brussels?

Michael Gove will have his chance to lead, says Brian Monteith
Michael Gove will have his chance to lead, says Brian Monteith

Let me start today’s column by revealing a few facts that are unsurprisingly being lost in the need to make headlines and draw people to read news reports.

The first is, and this particular detail is important, that in response to a request by Theresa May to have an extension to Article 50 the EU has said that there will be a new time limit of the 22 May if the UK Parliament agrees to the Withdrawal Agreement that the EU has already signed of as its final offer. If Westminster does not agree then the new date of departure will be the 12 April rather than the 29 March.

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Before we go on, this is interesting. It had been generally accepted that to change the date of leaving the EU required a Statutory Instrument moved last Friday or today, 25 March, by a Minister of the Crown, naming a specific date – so that all the interlocking and overlapping legal requirements could fall into place on the same date.

But no; now it is being argued by some legal experts that because the UK government requested the change and then the EU agreed to that request then the EU’s law is above the UK’s statute where Westminster passed the European (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that repealed the European Communities Act 1972.

So there we have it; without having to change a law that was passed (by a huge majority) in the UK’s parliament the EU has (on the whim our Prime Minister) moved the goalposts. No one has had an opportunity to debate this date change, argue for or against it – it now simply exists.

If anyone did not “get it” before these huge matters of a lack of democratic accountability and sovereignty are precisely why the UK has to leave the European Union. By the way it also holds that if Scotland were to ever to leave the UK it could never consider independence to have been truly achieved unless Scotland’s judiciary were free of courts in London or Brussels.

There is no half way house, independence for the UK – or Scotland – means controlling your borders and taxes – and making your own laws with your court of appeal being within your own land.

The second fact that I believe needs recognition is that whether or not there are indicative votes in Westminster, or whether or not the UK prime minister suddenly becomes the egregious David Liddington, the serpentine Michael Gove, or the emollient Jeremy Hunt – all that the EU has agreed to is progressing on the basis of Westminster accepting the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. There is no other basis for progressing our “exit” from the EU on its terms.

If Westminster votes down the Withdrawal Agreement (as it surely will if it gets the chance) then we leave the EU on the 12 April unless something else becomes law.

If Westminster has indicative votes in favour of remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market (despite all Conservative and Labour MPs being elected on the basis of leaving both) then they are nothing other than indicative. They are not law. They will not even become law. What will happen is the EU will say it will incorporate these in the process of securing the Political Declaration – but that the Withdrawal Agreement must still be passed. Anyone who believes differently cannot have read the Withdrawal Agreement and the accompanying Political Declaration.

This train of events is also important in regard to who might be Prime Minister. For all the talk of changing who occupies 10 Downing Street it is being forgotten the EU shall still want one of two things: either the new PM provides a majority for passing the Withdrawal Agreement so that discussion around the Political Declaration might take place; or, that everything so far is shelved and a longer extension is agreed that must mean the UK participates in the European Parliament elections.

Any idea that a new more collegiate British Prime Minister can suddenly pull a rabbit of an agreement out of the hat and have it accepted with the EU by the 22 May is nothing other than fantasy. The reason is simple, no Tory government will last that long for any rabbit must have an EU “backstop” as its beginning and end. Thus there is no prospect that the DUP will continue its Confidence and Supply arrangement with the Conservative minority – whomsoever it is led by.

Any new Tory premier’s first priority must be to survive in government, winning Labour votes for continued membership of the EU’s ghastly Customs Union and crony-capitalist Single Market does not achieve this.

The only way the DUP will back a new “caretaker” Tory leader is if he or she is able to eliminate the backstop or, if failing to do so, exit on 12 April without a deal. For avoidance of any doubt, and to correct the stereotyping of the DUP as right-wing-nut-jobs, it should be understood that so-called “moderate” unionist politicians have been attacking the DUP for any scintilla of pulling back on their opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement.

So are we there yet? That now depends on where we want to go.

We have the continuing remain campaign in its death throws of histrionic foot stomping exampled by a demonstration with vastly inflated numbers and a petition that has clearly been infiltrated by bots with sophisticated algorithms programmed to sign up. We also have vast international funds (including those of the EU itself) flowing into the organising of such opposition – yet where’s the outcry or investigative journalism?

The next week is crucial to the UK’s credibility. If it appears, the Withdrawal Agreement must be voted down again, because it is an economic trap that, like the Versailles Treaty, the UK can never escape from other than by force. Changing the Prime Minister, while worthy in itself, will achieve nothing unless the new occupant commits to leaving without a deal. There is no going back – the alternative is remaining and having European elections.