The UK’s headmistress, Theresa May, has issued a chilling warning to the 650 members of her House of Prefects – she will close off access to the Brougham Exit from the school grounds (known as the Brexit for short) unless a majority of house prefects vote for her school development plan at the next full morning prayers, scheduled for December 12th.
The Brougham Exit is the only way to the school tuck shop and house prefects fear that a denial of chocolate rations – extending to the entire school – will cause unrest in the run-up to Christmas.
The headmistress’ development plan is widely seen as a cave-in to a minority of high-profile, high-earnings and high-volume parents and governors, who want the school to internationalise.
The plan is strongly supported by the Bursar (the Rt Rev Millicent Carney), who has issued blood-curdling threats of fee increases, cancellation of outings, and postponement of vital maintenance work.
The headmistress is adamantly in favour of what she has espoused as her own plan, and she cranked up the pressure on Sunday 25th November by e-mailing all Tory party members directly and just before evensong, in the hope – presumably – that a good smattering of them are school parents and will in turn bring pressure to bear on the house prefects.
Her tone was uncompromising, and a binary choice was given – my plan or no plan at all:
“As Prime Minister, I have negotiated the best possible Brexit deal for the whole United Kingdom. It is now for MPs to decide: back this deal and honour the referendum result while safeguarding our economy and security, or vote against it and take us back to square one with all the uncertainty and division that would entail”.
Many commentators have floated the opinion that, because the headmistress has already announced a date of 29th March 2019 for commencement of the demolition of the existing EUBlock (on the west side of the Malcolm Mandela Quadrangle), the demolition will go ahead even if her wider plan is not accepted. This seemed to be the position in her Article 50 published in the Lent term 2017 school newsletter.
This variant under which demolition will go ahead unless the headmistress’ plan is accepted is also referred to as “No deal”. We do not subscribe to that view. We believe that the headmistress has at least one more card up her sleeve. The option remains open to postpone what is contained in Article 50 and sine die, either by a unilateral action from the headmistress and the governors, or by the headmistress working in concert with the other stakeholders in EUBlock.
What the headmistress has ruled out, in her email, is that, if the MPs (Members of the House Prefects) vote her plan down, she will not resign, will not call a General Election, will not allow a second referendum and will not permit the demolition – or “No deal” version – to go ahead.
Instead she will re-set to the status quo ante, as at the day she took over as headmistress with no Article 50 published and with no plan.
It has been widely reported that John Kerr, the British diplomat and erstwhile school governor who ran up the drafting of Article 50, maintains that it can be unilaterally reversed, and that the demolition company can be put off, and indefinitely: “The die is not irrevocably cast, there is still time and…the Article 50 letter can be withdrawn”. If that is the case the headmistress can simply publish an Article 56 to this effect in her Lent term 2019 newsletter and write to the wreckers and put them off.
There is also pressure from north of the border to save the EUBlock, and indeed the Scots within the school community have taken up the baton, and filed a law case, as Reuters reported on 28th November: “Europe’s top court will hold an urgent hearing on Tuesday 4th December over whether Britain can unilaterally reverse its decision. The case was referred to the Luxembourg justices for a ruling by Scotland’s top court and in a demonstration of its importance it has been “expedited” by the ECJ for Tuesday’s one-day hearing before a full court of judges”. This would clear the way, were it even needed, for the headmistress’ new Article.
Another avenue is the exploitation of the restrictive covenants on EUBlock which were written into its title deeds when it was built. These title deeds were composed by the then headmaster and the governors on an away-day in Lisbon on 13th December 2007. The governors counting amongst their number many leading lawyers, they preferred to stay in their conference room and draft documents of inordinate length, rather than visit the sights of Lisbon, or catch some fado (and who can blame them on that?).
Article 352 of the resulting document states that “If action by the Union should prove necessary, within the framework of the policies defined in the Treaties, to attain one of the objectives set out in the Treaties, and the Treaties have not provided the necessary powers, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, shall adopt the appropriate measures. Where the measures in question are adopted by the Council in accordance with a special legislative procedure, it shall also act unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament”.
Reversing a decision to demolish EUBlock could certainly be regarded as attaining one of the objectives of the Treaties, and the document then confers upon the EUBlock management a right to define Emergency Powers and take whatever action they deem fit, that is as long as they all agree with one another, which is what they have always done in the past.
Indeed it would not be difficult for the headmistress herself to convene a meeting of the “Council” (i.e. the Council of Ministers, of which she is a member as the Prime Minister of an EU Member State), and suggest that the Commission come up with a proposal to accede to a request from the headmistress to withdraw her Article 50…the proposal then comes up in front of the Council and the headmistress proposes or seconds it, and it is supported by the others…and then it goes to the Parliament for rubber-stamping.
Job done – no need to begin demolition of EUBlock on March 29th and no need to deny access to the tuck shop. Carry on as before.
This truly is the Sophie’s Choice that Theresa May is laying before the House of Commons: a choice between her plan and no Brexit at all. Her plan is in any case a bogus Brexit, keeping the UK in such close alignment to the EU that it would be very easy to re-join, for example in another referendum held in 5-10 years’ time, or even before the end of a delayed and elongated transition period.
Theresa May’s email then bogusly attempts to transfer the responsibility for the choice onto the members of the House of Commons, whereas it is she who has set the situation up. She writes that “It is now for MPs to decide”, when it is of her doing alone that the predicament and the choices on offer have presented themselves as they have.
That is what a Sophie’s Choice is, here between Theresa May’s plan and a “back to square one with all the uncertainty and division that would entail”: it is a choice compelled aggressively upon its subject, against a manufactured and short time deadline, and between two unacceptable and far-from-inevitable options.
The MPs are in a tight spot because the Bill will be presented to them to vote upon, and they must say “aye”, or “nay”, or abstain, or absent themselves by pretending to have a bad headache or to have got stuck in traffic.
What is needed is a mechanism for rejecting not the Bill itself, but the premise behind it, that the onus is on the MPs to make a choice between the two “fool’s errand” alternatives presented by Theresa May.