Right, so for those of you still desperately trying to keep up with what’s going with Brexit in the House of Commons, the government lost another vote last night. This has become so commonplace as to not qualify as news on its own anymore (remember when a government defeat was really newsworthy? I look back with bliss). Anyhow, trying to explain where that leaves Brexit now is too impossible to try and explain. As in, I could give it a try, but by the time I was 1,000 words in, all of you will have given up already.
Instead, I’m going to analyse what Number 10 put out as a press statement following the government defeat last night. Even in this age of terrible government and even worse opposition, this one’s a doozy. Breathe in, deeply. Ready for it? Are you sure? Okay, here we go, word for word:
“Jeremy Corbyn yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest – and yet again, by voting against the government’s motion, he is in effect voting to make no deal more likely.
“While we didn’t secure the support of the Commons this evening, the prime minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage.
“The motion on 29 January remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want – and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop. The government will continue to pursue this with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29 March.”
Calling that word salad would be to overly praise it – at least gobbledygook could be considered art by some, whereas there’s no way you’re applying that description to the above. We’re at an important junction in history, however, so let’s try and be sensible here and break down what the government is actually trying to communicate here in literal terms.
By whipping Labour to vote down the government motion last night, Corbyn has made no deal more likely. And that is clearly bad by inference. Got that? Good. Even though if the ERG members who had abstained had instead voted with the government, the government would have won, so it actually had not all that much to do with Corbyn, really. Oh, but remember, the vote tonight made no deal more likely and that would be terrible. That much is clear from the first paragraph of the statement. So, just bear that in mind for where we’re going next.
The second paragraph makes no sense whatsoever. Best as I can interpret: Theresa May believes in, and the House backed her up on this (even though it voted against her amendment, so one statement here completely contradicts the one that directly follows) , that securing changes to the backstop isn’t a bad idea but taking no deal off the table is. Okay. So, now I’m confused: does the government think no deal is bad or good? If it’s bad, why is taking it off the table not good? If it’s good, why is Corbyn making it more likely bad? Both of these notions cannot be simultaneously true.
Onto the third and final paragraph: the only thing the House has agreed upon so far is securing legally binding changes to the backstop, which the EU has already rejected as an idea and won’t happen. On the flip side, it has, however, stonkingly rejected May’s deal by 230 votes – yet the Number 10 press release strangely fails to mention this point. Nevertheless, the government is committed to leaving the EU in six weeks time, no matter what – and let’s take you right back to the start now, and it’s Corbyn who is making no deal more likely, remember? That won’t stop the government promising to do just that anyway, even though the whole logic of the initial statement was that Corbyn wanted no deal and that this was a really bad idea. Like all terrible writing, the press statement is ultimately circular in nature, arriving not just back where it started but at a mirror image of its genesis.
I look forward to the next Number 10 press statement. I doubt it will top this one, but I guess you never know.
There does seem to be fundamental problem with conducting the debate over our negotiating position in public.