The Malta Independent 20 March 2019, Wednesday

After Tuesday

Noel Grima Sunday, 9 December 2018, 09:56 Last update: about 4 months ago

I spent most of the past week in Parliament - the British one.

It so happened that before I ever entered the Maltese Parliament, I attended a sitting in the House of Commons, when John Major was prime minister.

This week, as I watched the long and historic debate on Brexit in the House, I could note the differences between the Mother of Parliaments and our own.

Member after member stood up to say his or her piece. There were no interruptions, nor the 'Point of Order, Mr Speaker' which our debates seem to relish. Instead there was a custom I had never heard of: this was whenever a member interrupted a speech by asking the speaker to 'Give way' and invariably the speaker stopped and gave way to this member to have his say.

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It was all done very courteously and with style. Members called each other not by name but by the name of the constituency as the Right Honourable Member for .....

And the Speaker sat throughout it all - he did not take breaks, nor was he substituted by someone else. As one member told him, he must have a bladder made of steel.

Now as to the substance of the debate. It seems very clear that Theresa May's deal with the Commission will be thrown out on Tuesday. May's government seems resigned to this, despite sending all ministers all over Britain at the weekend to explain the deal. It even tried to introduce amendments to the Deal but the House was not taking it.

The Deal pleases no one, not the Remainers for that is not what they wanted, nor the Brexiteers for they say it is a capitulation to the EU.

Member after member rose and said "I did not get into politics to see my constituents getting poorer".

A particular stumbling block regarded the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland (Eire) and the possibility of a backstop being invoked which would see Northern Ireland come under the legislative power of the EU and the ECJ. Ideas such as establishing the frontier in mid-sea were discarded out o hand,

May has built her appeal on the premise that the Deal is better than no deal and that if the Deal is thrown out, chaos will ensue - trucks will collect at Dover and people will face long queues at airports. People are stockpiling as if a war is coming. I know people who are coming back to Malta to be out of the way (and equally others who are going back to the UK for exactly the same reason).

But many members who spoke in the debate speculated on what can happen on Tuesday when the Deal is thrown out. Will May resign, thus throwing the country into more confusion? Or will there be a general election? Will Britain ask the EU for an extension, until it sorts itself out, and will the EU be ready to grant this?

Others argued for different routes - some said Britain will survive on WTO rules but then many admitted this will be very hard on the British especially the poor. Others argued for what they called a Norway plus relationship with the EU, that is an Efta relationship but then the Norwegian government said it did not like the UK in that situation.

In short, the situation just around 100 days before 29 March is that most probably the Deal will not be approved but no one has any idea what will happen next.

Maybe some here might think Britain can go back to being an EU member, but this is not possible. First of all, the majority of British voted to leave and democracy means respecting the votes of the majority. And Britain itself has triggered the Leave mechanism.

In short, Britain has found out the EU is stronger, more inter-related than many people thought when they voted. To leave the EU is not like leaving a bus, just as joining the EU is not like getting on a bus.

The 27 member states have proved to be very united, even those states we think as Eurosceptic. At each turn in the negotiations Britain has had to retreat and withdraw until the Deal agreement was nothing more than a capitulation along the line.

They had said it at the time but maybe we did not think much of it. This Brexit debate has shown the EU is far stronger than many thought and Brexit has made it even stronger. Companies, especially in financial services have relocated to the Continent, but not many have taken the opposite route.

Britain is still a strong country and its people are very resourceful but in the short term they will suffer.

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