WHAT now for Brexit – and the country’s future – as Theresa May returns to the House of Commons to indicate how she intends to break the logjam after consulting senior political figures?
Yet, despite her apparent good intentions after she survived a no-confidence vote, the prospect of compromise and consensus appear as distant as ever as the Tories, and Labour to a lesser extent, remain hopelessly divided.
If Mrs May’s most trusted advisers are at such loggerheads – Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith, the chief whip, appears to have vetoed the suggestion from Gavin Barwell, the PM’s chief of staff, that Britain stays in the customs union – it does not bode well for the Government as it fights for its political life.
It is little better on the Opposition benches where criticism of Mrs May’s refusal to rule out a no-deal Brexit, the default position in law, is matched by the party’s obfuscation over a second referendum as Jeremy Corbyn refuses the PM’s invitation for talks.
And the electorate – whose livelihoods and jobs depend on the outcome – will have derived no comfort from the latest merry-go-round of political interviews on TV in which the same protagonists risked alienating voters even further by arguing amongst themselves.
Yet, given public engagement and participation is fundamental to any democracy, MPs from all parties – and all sides of the Brexit debate – need to appreciate the scale of disquiet and mistrust which exists amongst voters three years after David Cameron’s supposed negotiation with the EU led to a bitter referendum.
Such anxiety will only deepen still further, particularly amongst the 17.4 million people who backed Leave, if the Westminster stand-off leads to Article 50 being put on hold because a consensus cannot be reached before March 29 – Britain’s supposed departure day from the EU. However, before this possibility is contemplated at a time when MPs only appear able to agree on what they disagree, Mrs May needs to be listened to respectfully – she is still a Prime Minister who commands significant support with the electorate – before MPs bring forward a series of indicative votes on the main options which are left open to them.
After, say, five debates and votes on each scenario, it might be that Mrs May’s deal – rejected by 230 votes just last week in a defeat of historic proportions – emerges as the least worst option and, therefore, convinces the more pragmatic MPs from diehard Brexiteers to Remainers in staunch Leave-supporting constituencies to back it in sufficient numbers.
But a series of non-binding free votes – Edward Heath gave Tory MPs such freedom in 1971 when Britain was preparing to join the EEC – would, at the very least, show where the balance of power actually rests in Parliament.
And it would certainly be more enlightening than the tabling of another tranche of motions and counter-motions which appear motivated, in this game of Brexit brinkmanship, by a desire to frustrate the political process, perplex the public and make it harder for a consensus to be reached on any of the big issues facing the country.
For, while the political classes obsess about Parliamentary procedure, a country is waiting to be governed, and for a plan to be agreed, without Britain stumbling – by accident – into a no-deal Brexit, another election or People’s Vote because of the inability of MPs to honour the result of the referendum that they gave voters.
This can only be resolved in Parliament – and not in those TV studios where many of the main proponents now appear to reside because they lack the statecraft, statesmanship and support that these extraordinary times – and the national interest – now demand and require.