It has become customary to say that each week in Brexitland is the most dramatic since the last one, but the last few days have been extraordinary. The action began even before Parliament returned from its summer recess as the Prime Minister gave a speech at Downing Street saying that he wasn;t going to call an election. The following day the PM’s first speech to parliament was hamstrung at the outset as Philip Lee MP crossed the floor, literally, as he started speaking. It has been pretty much downhill for him from there. That night the Government lost control of the Parliamentary Agenda and he was forced to remove the whip from 21 of his own MPs after they called his bluff to vote against him. The 21 included recent Business Ministers Greg Clark and Richard Harrington, the MTA’s guest when we last met in parliament at the end of last year. That it also included the man who was Chancellor as recently as two months ago, Philip Hammond, is testament to how worried at the prospect of No Deal many Ministers - who have seen the confidential planning really - are.
Then the following day the Government was defeated in the vote on a Bill which aims to prevent a No Deal exit by forcing the PM to request an extension to January 31st 2020. As if that wasn’t enough, the PM then failed in an attempt to trigger a General Election and is rumoured to be facing a backlash in Cabinet over the expulsions. Then his own brother resigned on him...
So are we locked in a legislative limbo with a Government in Office, but unable to actually do anything? At one level, at least some of this is only to be expected. This is a hung parliament and getting things done, let alone things as contentious as Brexit is difficult. But we ought to be more used to this - the last comfortable majority won by anyone at Westminster was at Tony Blair’s final election, nearly fifteen years ago. The country is split down the middle over Brexit, it is hardly surprising that Parliament is too. The PM’s belief that he can break the deadlock by winning an election looks optimistic. His poll ratings have been relatively good so far but they look unlikely to be good enough to translate into a convincing win so there is every possibility that an election, when was is called, would result in a similar sort of deadlock.
The can can’t be kicked down the road for ever though. For business, there is a desire for certainty and for this interminable process to come to an end. A No Deal exit will not do that though. As soon as we leave, we will have to start negotiating a future trading relationship with our nearest neighbours and biggest trading partners. That process would be necessary even if we left with an orderly deal – doing so without one will make it acrimonious and longer. So the MTA is committed to opposing No Deal as an outcome – while at the same time helping our members to prepare for it if it happens.