writes DM director Stuart Coster
In a supreme irony, EU obsessive Lords and MPs look set to suffer the powerlessness of parliament under the EU treaty to which Leave campaigners, in the name of democracy, have long objected.
Though it comes as little surprise that those who are so enthusiastic about the EU seem to know so little about the real terms of our membership.
Commentators are saying that MPs, including some Conservative rebels, are plotting to approve House of Lords amendments to the Article 50 Bill requiring a “meaningful vote” on the eventual outcome of the government's negotiations with Brussels and setting a deadline to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
As I wrote earlier this month, the House of Lords has engaged in an extraordinary dereliction of duty to UK citizens - as will any MP who now supports their amendment - by seeking to turn more than a million expat Brits into EU bargaining chips, rather than allow the government to strike a fair, reciprocal Brexit residency deal.
As perverse proposals go, that's hard to top. But their oxymoronic quest for a "meaningful vote" on a future Brexit deal does it, since those backing this amendment can't even have read Article 50 itself. Had they troubled to, they would know that hopes that future votes in parliament can halt, or even delay, Brexit are forlorn.
Paragraph 3 of Article 50 says that once the exit clause is triggered, EU treaties simply "cease to apply" to the exiting country after two years. There is a provision to extend the talks, by mutual agreement, but no ability for either side to 'stop the clock' or change that destination.
So if this amendment is approved, MPs and peers may well, in 18 months or so's time, get to vote down the government's Brexit deal. No doubt that will make parliament's referendum result refuseniks feel very pleased with themselves. But guess what? Regardless of any Westminster votes, the Article 50 clock will still be ticking and, with every further disingenuous objection to aspects of the deal, Brexit with no deal at all will simply loom ever closer.
Can it really be the case that parliament's biggest EU fans haven't figured out, even yet, that under Brussels rule its not them but the EU treaty that will get the final say?
Some will no doubt be hoping that rejecting any Brexit deal might at least force the Prime Minister to extend talks with the EU and keep negotiations going indefinitely. But they are also doomed to disappointment. Theresa May will not want talks to crash the build-up to a likely May 2020 general election and has already said that no deal is better than a bad deal. A scenario, incidentally, that the EU will be desperate to avoid, with its multi-billion pound annual trade surplus with the UK and, not least, huge French, German and Italian car industry sales to the vibrant UK market to protect.
Faced with parliament's rejection of her negotiations, Mrs May is far more likely to let talks run out of time and have rejectionist Remainers carry the can for creating the very economic scenario about which they have been trying to whip up public disquiet.
Even if, somehow, the PM were minded to agree to extend talks with the EU in order to accommodate parliament's criticism of her deal, what then? Brexit Day will simply come later rather than sooner and, as it approaches, parliament will still face a 'deal or no deal' moment that they are currently hoping to weaponise.
The aim of those driving this amendment is clearly to block Brexit altogether, by creating a series of future diversions rather than one big roadblock. All the better to disguise their fundamentally anti-democratic attitudes. But they have yet to grasp the irony of how their broader support for the supremacy of EU law, including in this case Article 50's two year deadline, leaves in tatters their disreputable quest to refuse to deliver the verdict of a public vote.
Peers can afford to lay waste to their time and reputations by adding irresponsible and powerless provisions to the Brexit Bill. But can Conservative, and indeed many Labour MPs in majority Leave constituencies, really risk doing the same by supporting them?