Plan C: The Malthouse Compromise

Lara Spirit

The Conservative party lives on at the expense of the nation. We are told that Theresa May had a very rare moment of triumph last night: all but one opposition amendments preventing No Deal failed, while the Brady amendment – backed by her government – passed. The Brady amendment calls for ‘alternative arrangements’ to be found on the Irish border, in effect removing the backstop in its entirety. Parliament simultaneously passed an amendment which signals that Parliament does not want No Deal, but, unlike other amendments on offer, has no legislative backbone to ensure crashing out is avoided.

What does this mean? May, emboldened by evidence that the allusive parliamentary majority may lie in removing the backstop, will head back to Brussels armored with the Brady amendment from last night. There are reportedly three possible changes to the backstop which the Prime Minister now believes could garner a majority – an exit clause, a time limit, or swapping the backstop for a trade deal as proposed in the so-called Malthouse Amendment.

An exit clause and time limit have been discussed before, but the ‘Malthouse Compromise’ is merely a day old, and has been heralded as the means to glue the bitterly divided Conservative party back together. This latest pie-in-the-sky plot was hatched by Conservative MPs who span the entire spectrum of the Brexit divide. The covert talks included Nicky Morgan, famously opposed to a No Deal departure, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who isn’t the slightest bit afraid of one. It has two parts: ‘Plan A’ would involve negotiating a new backstop and an extended transition period through to December 2021; if that is rejected by the EU, ‘Plan B’ envisages the UK entering an extended transition period anyway and paying the divorce bill while offering ‘no tariffs’ at the end of the transition period.

There had not even been a cursory effort to communicate what this plan might mean to the public: a serious possibility of No Deal, with jeopardised peace in Northern Ireland and the potential to decimate our agriculture and manufacturing industries; a £50 billion divorce bill for no certainty of a lasting deal and still no clear destination. But since its leak it has been celebrated by many Conservative MPs as the compromise this nation so desperately needs.

Far from it. At best, it is a compromise capable of papering over the worst wounds of the Conservative party. At worst, and most likely, it is a compromise hatched for the good of a failing party at the nation’s expense.

Why? Since this entire Brexit process began the European Union has been careful to intervene as little as possible in our domestic political wranglings, lest it be labelled a pernicious meddler intent on frustrating our democracy. The past few days have seen no divergence from this, merely an exasperated effort from EU leaders to clarify what they have repeated time and time again. They will not reopen the withdrawal agreement. There is no transition period without a withdrawal agreement. And there is no withdrawal agreement without a backstop. 

All of this makes the new proposal, and any proposal which seeks to reopen the withdrawal agreement and change the backstop, impossible for the European Union to accept. I should repeat: the EU will not accept no backstop. They could not have been clearer or more unified on this, and yet the events of last night mean we are stuck entertaining Conservative fantastic for weeks longer. When we are less than 30 sitting days from crashing out without a deal, the prospect that we will spend it justifying why peace in Northern Ireland is so important fills me with sadness.

Evil meddlers, the Brexiteers cry, how could European leaders possibly get away with interfering in our politics any longer? How could they possible deny a sovereign nation its final wish? When key EU negotiator Sabine Weyand said two nights ago that the EU are ‘not going to reopen the agreement’, it is worth remembering that she was merely repeating what she and, until recently, the Prime Minister herself had maintained: this deal is the only deal on the table. The withdrawal agreement could not be reopened.

Ed Vaizey – once a Remainer, it should be said – was asked on BBC Politics Live to explain why he believed the Malthouse plan had merit. His answer? It has been endorsed by Morgan and Rees-Mogg – once diametrically opposed on how to solve this nation’s great crisis – which apparently equates to a perfect, meet-in-the-middle compromise. Little mention of the substance. All that we, the public, need to know is that they’ve sorted themselves out. We can rest easy in the knowledge that if the Conservative party’s MPs agree then we must be on the cusp of a resolution Britain can live with.

This could not be further from the truth, but moderate Conservative MPs are reportedly seriously countenancing the idea that ‘alternative solutions’ to the backstop can be found, when two and half years of negotiations to find them proved futile. And they are willing to risk a No Deal departure which they had once deemed intolerable on us finding them. 

Young people are disgusted. They might be moving away from Corbyn in their droves in response to his own shameful triangulation on Brexit, but you can be assured this latest show of dangerous Conservative inertia will have put many more off the party for good. Over 80 per cent of young people now wish to Remain in the European Union but still Conservative party politicians limit their horizons to cake-and-it-eat conceptions of Brexit, all of which either have no basis in reality or leave us poorer and with fewer opportunities.

I can think only of two explanations for their behaviour, both as concerning as each other. Either they assume that that young people will quickly forget them selling our futures down the river – for a project most of us oppose – and will vote for them in the future. Or they believe that our votes are not worth worrying about: they’d never be our choice anyway. They can win elections without our generation, the thinking goes, so why placate us at the expense of achieving their grand Brexit vision?

But we will not forget this disaster. We will not forget that we inherited it from ideologues who have hijacked the Conservative party and who care little for our futures. We will not forget that we pleaded with our politicians to listen to our concerns and act to protect our environment, our economy and our rights. And, when we are picking up the pieces of a dream long dead, we will know it was the Conservative party who forced it upon us when there was always another way.

Young people have a vision for a better future. We believe in a radically reformed European Union and we don’t think it is utopian to fight for one. We know that the future will demand collective, collaborative and imaginative solutions to the world’s pressing problems. The way to tackle these issues is not to spend decades obsessing over a Brexit which has never made sense for Britain. It is to accept that the only possible route to solving this country’s crisis for good is to hand the decision back to the people. Nobody voted for this mess, backstop or otherwise. The gridlock will continue unabated and, in the elections that come, it will be the Conservative party who will take the fatal hit.


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