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A soft Brexit now looks more likely than ever

Over recent weeks, we’ve gone from despair to relief to despair again watching the Brexit process. At long last the UK and EU have agreed an exit deal bringing to an end the first stage of Brexit. The exit deal, along with the divorce bill, mean we can now move on to trade negotiations. With less than 16 months left, while it takes an average of 18 months for the United States of America to negotiate a trade deal.

We have seen government ministers fail to understand that deal or what it means since it was agreed. David Davis did his best to de-rail it by claiming that it was not enforceable (leading to outrage from his EU counterparts, and an embarrassing climb-down). David has also been a bit vague on impact assessments. Boris Johnson has already declared that Brexit has to be sufficiently hard for him to be happy, in what seems a cynical ploy for support from the Europe-is-the-Centre-of-all-Evil brigade. It seems that the government really doesn’t have a plan- something many of us assumed was a joke or the ramblings of angry tweeters a few weeks ago. The cabinet is only now sitting down to figure out what Brexit should look like, and some cabinet members don’t seem content with letting the cabinet make that decision.

Yet the hard Brexiteers haven’t managed to derail Brexit yet. By all accounts, there are positive signs beyond an exit agreement. Talk of a no-deal Brexit is diminishing. Government has to default to regulatory alignment with the EU. And EU heads of government are starting to make positive noises about May.

The power, in parliament at least, is shifting too. The hard-line Brexiteers no longer have the government by the throat. The soft-Brexit moderates do.

A relatively pointless amendment to the Brexit bill passed last week. That amendment would give MPs a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal at the end of the process. Sadly this meaningful vote is likely to only mean a choice between accepting whatever deal the government brings back or rejecting a deal and crashing out with nothing- where some who voted for it suggest that it would give parliament the power to send government back to the negotiating table, by the time a deal is presented to parliament it’s unlikely that there will be enough time for government to go back to Brussels before the deadline. That amendment has a huge symbolic impact, though.

When a government doesn’t have a majority, its backbenchers have the power. When a government walking a tightrope through a controversial process that polarises its own MPs doesn’t have a majority, its moderate backbenchers have the power. It would seem that, for the first time, moderate Conservative backbenchers have realised that they have the power now.

These Tory rebels, through a symbolic amendment, have provided many with hope that Brexit might not be the unmitigated no-deal disaster it looked like it could be only months ago. That those Brexit supporting MPs and campaigners, like Farage and Johnson, won’t be able to push us into a no-deal disaster through lies and misleading soundbites. 

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