Of all the things that have happened in the run up to, during and a consequence of Brexit one really stands out as exceptionally surprising. Leaving the EU was blocked in the House of Commons by the Conservative Party.
This was unexpected enough. Most surprising of all is that the main drivers behind this were the most anti-EU grouping, the ERG. It's had a profound effect.
I can well remember the feeling of despair looking at the options just after the vote. There was no real strategy available to block Brexit. And even if there were, what is the justification for doing so? The people had spoken and there was the answer. So there was no way to oppose it, and I don't think many people had the stomach to. All we could hope for was that it should be as soft as possible so at to make it easy to reverse in the future when public opinion had changed. Even that seemed a forlorn hope. After all, if Brexit was soft enough nobody much would notice. So how do you motivate people to reverse something that makes little difference in the short run?
To make matters worse the Brexit policy seemed to be giving the Tories a boost - they enjoyed huge polling leads and spectacular local and by election gains. They were already that way inclined. If it was also working very directly to keep them seats in the Commons they were hardly likely to drop it or even moderate it.
With some pundits tipping a majority for the Tories bigger than Mrs Thatcher's 1983 landslide, it was pretty much the darkest hour for remainers. The Labour Party not surprisingly chose to try and avoid the subject of Brexit altogether and run with a policy of a softer version of what the Tories were cooking up. Like many, I reasoned that soft was better than hard and voted Labour for the first time in a long time. I didn't do so with much hope it would make any difference though.
It was very enjoyable to see the Tories lose their majority contrary to all expectations. I naturally assumed they'd have to tack to a more moderate version of Brexit, which was good.
But even then it never for one minute crossed my mind that the actual agreement to leave would not get past the House of Commons. And that it would be blocked by the most anti-EU Conservatives was simply inconceivable. Who could have seen that coming?
The interesting thing is that this has radically altered my attitude to Brexit. I was fatalistic when I thought I was in a minority. And I accepted the argument that the referendum result had to be respected. But if europhobes don't respect the referendum result then why the heck should I?
I basically flipped from accepting the referendum result to regarding it as invalid, basically when the ERG group started saying they wouldn't accept the deal. This was an emotional not a logical response. But logic doesn't really come into this. I regarded the referendum result as legitimate initially, and now I don't. A good lawyer could make a case for accepting the or rejecting the referendum anytime. But to me, it had to stand because it was owed to the people who voted for it. But if they would only accept a particular form of Brexit, that was not fair. We voted to leave, not to piss about.
I think that I was not alone on this journey. Up until around the end of 2018 there were very few people actively campaigning against Brexit. Once 2019 turned they were everywhere. There were a million people on the streets of London in March. Six million signed a petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked.
I don't think it is any longer possible to deliver Brexit. Opposition to it is already too strong. The Conservatives have sunk it.
Some leavers are still blaming remainers for the hold up in parliament. The facts however are clear. Had the Conservatives backed the deal that their Prime Minister came back from Brussels with we would now be out of the European Union. Here are the numbers.
The first vote failed by 432-202, with 118 Conservatives opposed. It was the biggest setback in parliament for the executive since the time of Charles the First. Had the Tories who opposed in fact backed it then it would be 304-320,. It would have passed.
The second attempt wasn't much better. 391-242, with 75 Conservatives opposed. If they had all followed the whip the tally would have been 316-317, and it would have just passed.
By the third attempt some big names had switched to back the deal, but it still failed by 344-286 with 34 Conservatives opposed. Move those to the AYE column and it would have passed at 310-320 with 10 votes to spare.