by Brian Monteith
THE HOUSE OF COMMONS has voted by a large majority of 498 to 114 votes to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and thus start the official process of making Brexit a reality. It is a small step but an important one; there will now be the Committee Stage where opponents will try to have amendments passed and the Bill also has to pass the House of Lords, but with each small step Brexit is coming into reach and the national mood to ‘just get on with it’ mounts.
The bitterest opponents of Brexit are still fighting a rearguard action – 47 Labour MPs, including 12 front bench members, voted against a three-line whip to oppose the Bill and the nationalists of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the two Greens continue to vote against Brexit simply because they would rather be in the European Union than the British Union. The only Conservative to vote against was Ken Clark who – apart from being possibly the rudest Member of Parliament I have ever met – has become a parody of himself. Unsurprisingly Tim Farron, Nick Clegg and other Liberal democrats who advocated previously a referendum continue to be in denial and unable to accept the verdict of the British people.
More dangerous are former elected members of this same anti-democratic group who, over time have been elevated to the House of Lords and, with no-one to account to, will try their damnedest to stop the Bill’s progress. Even so, the feeling in Westminster is that the Bill will pass as there are enough Lords that do not wish to bring their institution into public disrepute and thus hasten their own demise. Self interest for self preservation will in the end prevail.
The Bill will then go back to the House of Commons and should clear in time to receive Royal Assent and become an Act of Parliament so that the Prime Minister can trigger Article 50 at the EU’s Malta summit on 9th March. It will by then have been a week short of a year since David Cameron came back from Brussels with his fudged package of reforms that sealed the fate of the remain campaign.
It was at that point that the Brexit campaign started in earnest for it was then that Government Ministers had to decide if they would put their principles before their own interests or their loyalty to the government and prime minister. Once Cabinet ministers took their own small steps other individuals and a kaleidoscope of campaigns followed, and so week by week, month by month, the momentum became unstoppable.
The route towards an outward-looking, sovereign, freely trading Global Britain was always daunting, but like Mao’s Long March each step has been important. We only need to hold our nerve and we shall soon, together, reach our destination.