Brian Monteith: UK must leave the EU on 12 April or Tories are finished

Tories now face an existential threat – the UK must leave the EU on 12 April or the party is finished.

The state of British politics could hardly be more fittingly ridiculous, more crazily bizarre and more aptly comic for this year’s April Fool’s Day. Such is the laughable behaviour of all parties at Westminster that legal action has now been instigated against the government claiming the process followed by the Prime Minister to extend the UK’s membership of the EU beyond 29 March is illegal. If the government carries on ignoring the result of the referendum it will not be the last visit to the courts for redress, with a judicial review a genuine possibility.

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We were promised by the Prime Minister over a hundred times, including her personal “guarantee”, that we would leave the European Union last Friday. Yet here we are on 1 April having been played for fools and lied to repeatedly. Had Theresa May wanted to take us out on time it was within her power to do so. Parliament could have huffed and puffed but it could not have changed the law passed previously if the government was determined to ensure “No Deal is better than a bad deal”.

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking after the government's withdrawal agreement was voted down for the third time in the House of Commons. Picture: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

On Brexit the Labour Party has twisted and turned, causing confusion and disbelief in equal measure even when up against the worst Tory government in living memory.

Meanwhile SNP MPs behave like a cruise ship contortionist act in their search to disagree just for the sake of it. Having talked of co-operating with others to find “the least worst Brexit” while blaming the Tories for intransigence, when an opportunity came to support their own policy of remaining in the Customs Union its MPs chose to abstain.

Call them all jesters or fools, the end result is the government managed to lose a vote on its Withdrawal Agreement for a third time but opposition MPs are so divided they cannot agree what they want.

When parliament held its indicative votes last Wednesday to establish what, if any, alternative proposals to the Withdrawal Agreement might find favour, it was reported all were defeated.

This was not strictly true. Yes, the proposals for moving straight towards a “No Deal” departure; for having a new referendum; for joining various types of Customs Union; and for adopting the “Malthouse Compromise” were all defeated. So too was the proposal by SNP MP Joanna Cherry that in the event of there being no agreement on how to leave being established two days before 12 April then a motion to revoke Article 50 should be put before the House to avoid a “No Deal” departure. In opposing that motion by 293 to 184 the outcome was that MPs endorsed leaving on 12 April without a deal if none had been agreed. That is quite different from defeating “No Deal” in every circumstance.

The House then passed the necessary Statutory Instrument required to change the date of exit, again affirming that in law that the UK must now leave on 12 April with or without a deal. Thus on two occasions the MPs voted implicitly to allow the UK to leave without an agreement with the EU.

Now there will be more “indicative” votes today to attempt to determine what, if any, alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement may be supported by MPs. After that process it is expected Theresa May will then seek to bring her discredited “deal” back for a fourth time of asking, threatening recalcitrant colleagues that if they don’t back her they will end up with whatever has become the favoured choice of the opposition parties helped by some remainer Tory MPs. A general election is also threatened by Downing Street to scare Tory MPs to toe the line. All of this is April tomfoolery, here’s why.

It is said there may be enough swing votes for a second attempt for Customs Union membership to pass, but it is only indicative and will not change the law.

To make a difference MPs will have to then go on to pass the Prime 
Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, as that is what the European (Withdrawal) Act requires to avoid leaving without a “deal” – and it is the only option the EU will agree to. Customs Union membership can only happen subsequently, through negotiating the accompanying Political Declaration.

No Tory will be able to claim Brexit has been delivered. There will be no independent trade deals, for trade policy will be made in Brussels without British involvement. The UK will not leave the Common Fisheries Policy. To make the Customs Union workable Single Market regulations we have had no say in will require to be adopted. Financial services in the City and throughout the UK will be at the mercy of the EU, which has long nurtured plans for new taxes and burdensome governance that will push business to New York, Hong Kong and Singapore. Supporting membership of a Customs Union will be the finish of the Conservative Party in any subsequent polls.

It is said the Prime Minister could call a general election if her “deal” is not passed, but an election needs 25 days to be held and cannot therefore take place before we are due to leave on 12 April. Theresa May would first have to obtain a long extension from the EU Council that would also entail holding the EU elections on 23 May.

The prospect of the Conservative Party going into an election that has required a long extension of membership, with Theresa May as leader arguing for her highly unpopular “deal” in the manifesto is just fantasy.

A Cabinet and backbench revolt would replace her before she could say “Brexit means Brexit”.

The Conservative Party now faces an existential threat to its very survival. The wrath of Tory voters will be like nothing experienced under Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax or John Major’s ERM and Maastricht debacles. If May chooses any path that requires a long extension there will be at the very least elections for the European Parliament or Westminster.

The carnage at the polls will be devastating. Nigel Farage will lead a large group of Brexit Party MEPs back to Brussels and there is a very real prospect of Tommy Robinson becoming a Ukip MEP.

170 Tory MPs have now signed a letter to the Prime Minister saying the country must leave on 12 April, deal or no deal – it is no April Fool joke and nobody is laughing.