David Davis is the guy who knocked on the door and persuaded you that your roof needed fixing, when it actually didn’t. He and his mates have been half-heartedly hammering away for an hour or two and you’re a bit worried about the end result, so you insist on inspecting the work when its finished.
Once you’re up on the ladder, he’s dismissing your concerns and telling you that everything’s fine. He’d love to spend more time on it, but unfortunately the crew is off to another job. And that will be five grand please.
So as Parliament gives itself the right to ‘scrutinise’ the final deal and hold a ‘meaningful’ vote, let’s not get carried away. All the ridiculous hullabaloo over the Article 50 case in the Supreme Court a year ago demonstrates that such rights are meaningless unless you’re prepared to exercise them.
Let’s think about the likely scenarios.
Perhaps there isn’t a meaningful deal for Parliament to vote on. Some Brexiters online speculate that the insistence on this vote on the terms of the agreement makes it more likely that we’ll eventually walk away from the negotiations.
Maybe there is a deal. Now it requires a separate piece of legislation, but the government introduces a short bill that is virtually impossible to amend, referring to the agreement in general terms rather than the specifics.
Or there’s a deal and there’s a proper bill. MPs can amend the detail. But what status do their amendments have? Any changes that they proposed would have to be agreed by the European Council, European Commission, European Parliament and possibly the national parliaments of the 27 member states.
Or the ultimate spanner in the Brexit works. Parliament rejects the deal in its entirety and says the government has to go back to the drawing board. But who’s to say the EU would be interested in prolonging the negotiations? Or that they would be able or willing to offer anything else?
What if they just shrugged their shoulders in typical Gallic fashion? Or told MPs before the vote took place that those shoulders would be shrugged?
‘What you see is what you get, folks. Take it or leave it.’
My hunch is that it will be clear at the time of any vote in the House of Commons that a defeat for the government would effectively mean the end of Brexit. At that stage, opposition will be restricted to die-hard Remoaners.
As someone who voted to stay in the EU, it doesn’t give me any delight to make this prediction, but I do think some form of Brexit will happen one way or another. It may end up being convoluted, confused and contradictory. It will be profoundly damaging for UK economic and political life. But I can’t see lawmakers actually putting a stop to it.