If Brexit were a film, it would be at the point where pages were being ripped off a calendar in a frenzy.
Tick, tock, goes the clock, as we get nearer to the day we were told was either the end of the beginning or beginning of the end. Only trouble is, March 29 is nothing but a plot device.
The fact is, Brexit is off. When the nation finally realises this is a false ending you’re going to be told a load of limp excuses about why you’ve got to sit through a load more of this tripe.
So allow me to explain.
We have had one meaningful vote, which achieved nothing meaningful. Next Monday Theresa May will present us with Plan B, which is exactly the same as Plan A but has had the ‘A’ Tipp-exed out. A second meaningful vote is scheduled for next Tuesday, in which Theresa will probably find she has negotiated her walloping, earlier defeat down to being a slightly-less walloping second defeat.
At this point, there will be fewer than 30 sitting days left for Parliament to pass all the legislation needed to Brexit with Theresa’s deal. They might be able to increase it to 40 or so if they cancel half-term and Fridays.
To Brexit calmly and cleanly on March 29, in those 40 days Parliament must pass 9 Parliamentary bills and amend 600 other bits of legislation.
Now, that’s a squeeze at the best of times. When the legislation involves things which make the whole nation argue furiously without coming to any agreement, it’s going to be near-impossible.
Added to that, passing ANY laws under ANY circumstances in just 40 days – for debates in both the Commons and Lords, committee stages for detailed scrutiny, and several votes – is unwise to say the least.
That’s how mistakes get made. They spent 6 months on the EU Referendum Bill, and cocked it up royally.
Of the 14 new bills required for Brexit – on things like animal welfare, money laundering and haulage – just 5 have been passed since the referendum.
Of the 9 remaining, the one closest to being finished is the Trade Bill – and the House of Lords just voted to shelve it because it lacked detail.
According to the government, this defeat means we are now unable to move to World Trade Organisation rules in the event of a no deal Brexit.
The government has been asked for this extra detail for 15 months, and has failed to come up with any. The chances of it doing so by a new deadline of February 25 are roughly the same as Ant McPartlin getting a safe driving award.
All the other bills are stuck in the digestive system of a Parliament still arguing about the principle of leaving. But there’s an even worse issue in the shape of 12,000 EU regulations.
The government is transferring the vast majority of them straight into UK law, but some need to be tweaked using a statutory instrument. At first there was going to be about 1,000 of them, then 800, and finally last October it was decided we could get away with just changing 600 existing rules.
The government has submitted 333 of them so far. In other words, 75% of the time available for the task has elapsed, but only 56% of the work has been done.
There’s a further problem. Last year Parliament demanded more scrutiny of these “Henry VIII powers”, in order to ensure it was done properly.
As a result, only 79 have been approved. That leaves 254 in the system, and 267 yet to be filed.
Those are the things that are needed to leave with Theresa’s deal – which is why so many politicians are now fretting publicly about the threat of no deal.
The trouble is, NOT having a deal also requires legislation.
No deal means we have to pass that trade bill that’s been shelved. It needs a financial services bill which has yet to get to the Commons for MP approval, and Parliament has also got to legislate for EU citizen’s rights.
On top of that, no deal requires 60 new processes, 25 new IT systems, a “mega-bill” of 17 new laws to be passed by the Irish government, and – oh dear – all 600 of those statutory instruments to have been filed, read, and approved by MPs.
Not going to happen, is it? Not in 40 days, not in a month of Mondays.
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