This week, I actually felt good about parliamentary politics for the first time in a while. That's a novel experience. Partly, it was because something substantive happened with the biggest issue facing the nation. After months of nothing happening with Brexit - apart from a lot of talk, hot air, name-calling, insane proposals that will never happen in a million years and other things that collectively amount to nothing - there was finally something worth writing about.
In the last week, legislation has been passed by Parliament that makes it harder for a No Deal Brexit. The new act, passed by the Commons and the Lords, means that the government must get the approval of the House of Commons to enact a No Deal Brexit. In practicality, it means that unless the government can get the Commons to approve a No Deal exit, the government must ask the EU for an extension to article 50 when the clocks runs out on the 31st of October or on any future deadlines until we either leave the EU, Brexit is toppled or the act is revoked. In other words: the government in general, and Boris Johnson in particular, can't rely on the legal default of No Deal cliff edge to achieve Brexit or to bully parliament into passing his Brexit deal.
I have been really worried that we were sliding towards No Deal at the end of October, as the main obstacle to No Deal last time it loomed big in March - the fact that the Prime Minister was against it - had been removed. I thought that what divided the opponents of No Deal would prevent them from acting together and allow Johnson to Crash the UK out of the EU in the worst possible way.
It's still not out of the question. This Commons or a future one could approve No Deal or, more likely, the EU might not grant an extension when one is sought. However, I'm further away from all-out panic than I was a few weeks ago. Johnson's furious rumble towards No Deal has had a pin put in it.
It was pleasing to see the disparate opposition groups uniting around a single point: that No Deal would be a disaster, it has no popular mandate and should be opposed. The last week comes dangerously close to a sudden outbreak of common sense. I'm supremely pleased that just over half of MPs felt they were able to agree that something needed to be done to stop the No Deal madness.
My joy has been short-lived, however. No sooner was I done celebrating that something actually happened, that a realisation dawned on me. This is not an end to the Brexit mess. What needs to happen is that anti-No Deal MPs need to come up with something better than further delays to Brexit. We can't just keep extending Article 50 and not leaving, but also technically still be doing Brexit. That satisfies no one. So, what comes next?
My preference is that we should stop Brexit. It will do tremendous damage to the country, that will be felt by the poorest the hardest, and it’s sucking up all the oxygen of politics thus preventing us from tackling the problems caused by austerity. Yeah, the EU is not perfect. It has many flaws and is wrong about a lot of things, as are many of the politicians that oppose Brexit. I have always preferred Remain and reform to leave and be stuck on a damp island where the likes of Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have nothing to constrain them. Yes, I find the #FBPE crowd somewhere between slightly irritating and hopping mad, but that doesn't negate their basic point that Brexit is a bad idea.
The problem with stopping Brexit is that I can't see how this will happen. A second referendum? Well, MPs were given the chance at another referendum in the grab bag of votes that occurred after Theresa May's deal went down a second time and a majority didn't support it. I'm not sure enough has changed since then. I also think that the country is not united in stopping Brexit. Leave is likely to win a second referendum and there are any number of ways the result could be seen as illegitimate; such as lower turnout, Remains wins by less than 52%, Remain wins with less than 17.4m votes, etc.
An election might lead to a parliament that is more inclined to a second referendum. Although with the Brexit Party and the Tories doing well in the polls this seem unlikely. First past the post still means that voting for the Lib Dems and their Bollocks To Brexit slogan is likely to achieve little, whatever Jo Swinson says.
We need a plan
What then? Do a soft Norway style Brexit? No one wants that. That won't appease Leavers or Remainers. It might have once, but both sides are too polarised now to accept any form of comprise. I can't see a way forward.
We have been going around in circles on Brexit since parliament decided that it won't pass May's deal, the only deal that is realistically on the table. We can tinker with the details of that deal, but realistically our choice is May’s Deal, No Deal or No Brexit. These have been our options for six months we haven't been able to choose one. Yes, something did actually happen this week, which was refreshing, but we're not much closer to getting a resolution to Brexit either way.
I’m glad that something positive has happened. The last week has helped my blood pressure come down from the high it’s been at since Johnson became Prime Minister, a worrying sign for anyone who wanted a sane end to the Brexit situation. What is important now, is that those inside and outside parliament who oppose No Deal must come up with something more substantial than further delays. We need a plan to stop Brexit that is actually going to work.