Another day and another Brexit problem for the government. In order for Theresa May to begin legislating on Britain’s exit from the European Union, the government must receive a legislative consent motion (LCM) from the devolved administrations. Due to the breakdown of the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland, this therefore means that the Scottish and Welsh governments need to consent to Brexit legislation. However Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones have said that unless they have a role in the Brexit talks, they wouldn’t pass an LCM. Whilst Westminster can, legally speaking, begin legislating on Brexit without LCMs from Holyrood and Cardiff, this would be politically problematic for the government to say the least.
Brexit is a unique challenge to the UK for a number of difficult reasons, but one of these is that Article 50 has already been triggered and this has started the countdown to withdrawal. This means that Theresa May cannot afford to have protracted internal problems that hamper her ability to negotiate and therefore compromises must be embraced. If Sturgeon and Jones continue to correctly argue that the Tories have been ignoring Scotland and Wales, May has to respond because the political consequences of withholding an LCM would be dramatic.
Firstly let’s consider the government in relation to the devolved administrations. The Tories can only get through their Brexit legislation in its current form if the Scottish and Welsh governments agree to an LCM that they know will result in Scotland and Wales being ignored. Considering the ideological proclivities of the devolved administrations, a hard right approach to Brexit will have to be ditched because otherwise the centre-left governments of Scotland and Wales will bring the Tories to their knees.
The only other thing that the Tories could have hoped for is that they could elect majority Tory governments in Cardiff and Holyrood, if indeed elections were scheduled to take place in the near future. Such elections are not upcoming, as these would be taking place well after the 2019 deadline for Brexit negotiation, and as such the Tories would have to hope that the each devolved government voted no-confidence in itself and subsequently that the Conservatives defied all polling and swept to power. Considering that no government is going to vote no-confidence in itself unilaterally, and that the Tories aren’t going to win overall majorities in Holyrood and Cardiff, this hypothetical scenario reveals one fundamental point: the Tories need to work with the existing administrations.
A simple thing to remember is why we are in this current situation. Because of the hubris of Theresa May, and her inability to actually conduct an election campaign, she is faced with a catch-22. She can either compromise and get an LCM passed at the risk of thoroughly pissing off her own backbenchers, or she can carry on as usual and create a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately the Left cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Theresa May must be convinced that the people of the UK want a Brexit deal that protects, among other things, workers rights, human rights and the environment. From the devolution perspective, the Welsh and Scottish governments are right to push for guarantees of further powers as these were promised by Westminster.
But at the foundation of all these problems is the current government. As long as the Tories remain in power, the Brexit negotiations will be chaotic and culminate in an intolerable drop in living standards. A Labour government would have never alienated Wales and Scotland in the callous way that the Tories have done and the Brexit deal would have been much more conciliatory. A government rooted in the labour movement must, therefore, be thrust into power.
With party conference season coming up, the Left needs to continue exploiting Tory Party divisions and pay attention to every iota of news coming out of Westminster. If another general election is to be forced Tory MPs will have to be pressured into slipping up. Any by-election must be fought like it is the last one that will every be held. Any time the DUP have substantive disagreement with the Tories should be exploited. The opposition to the Tories must be total and devastatingly effective.
In order to build socialism in Britain we must have a radical and active civil society that can force a sovereign government to introduce radical policies. Now that we are leaving the EU powers will be returned to the UK but the important thing that the Left needs to do is emphasise the need for more decentralised government. These returned powers mustn’t be allowed to stay in Westminster and Whitehall so that civil servants and Tory politicians can maintain the status quo. People need to take control of their own lives and the quickest way to do that is to get parties of the Left elected into government at all levels. The instability that the Tories have caused may precipitate another general election and so we need to be ready to pounce if there is such an announcement.
Editor’s Note: This article has been amended to correct an implied factual error.