L’étrange Noël de Mme May

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Décidément Mme May n’aura jamais vraiment le temps de profiter de ses succès, même relatifs. Au début de l’année, l’adoption aisée de la loi autorisant le Gouvernement à actionner l’article 50 du TUE a rapidement été relativisée par la rigueur de la task force de Michel Barnier face aux demandes et aux tergiversations britanniques. Au mois de septembre, le discours de Florence avait été largement pollué par les rodomontades de son inénarrable ministre des Affaires étrangères, Boris Johnson. En cette fin d’année, malgré la conclusion de la première phase des négociations le 8 décembre, la Première ministre a dû se soumettre à trois concessions de taille dans le cadre des discussions du projet de loi relatif au retrait du Royaume-Uni de l’Union européenne. Tout d’abord, Mme May dut accepter la création d’une commission parlementaire chargée de suivre le recours aux pouvoirs dits « Henry VIII » dans la future application de l’accord de sortie. Ensuite, un amendement imposant l’approbation par les deux chambres de tout accord avant sa mise en œuvre a été adopté le 13 décembre contre la volonté gouvernementale (procédure qui va au-delà du régime de droit commun de la ratification des traités qui peut intervenir de façon implicite[1]). Enfin, les MPs ont obtenu de Mme May que la date du retrait effectif fixée au 29 mars 2019 pouvaient être repoussée en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles et si les 27 États membres l’ont décidé. C’est un coup supplémentaire porté aux brexiteers les plus durs qui ne souhaitaient pas envisager la possibilité d’un report, même de façon restrictive. Nous reproduisons ci-dessous un bref article de Dominic Grieve (l’auteur de l’amendement adopté le 13 décembre) paru dans The Guardian qui illustre bien l’ambiance particulièrement conflictuelle qui règne au sein des institutions britanniques.

Au terme de ces douze mois, les sentiments de Mme May doivent être mitigés. Elle est toujours en fonction alors que de nombreux observateurs ne la voyaient pas passer l’année après son échec aux élections de juin. Il n’en demeure pas moins que son numéro d’équilibriste entre un hard et un soft Brexit devient de plus en plus périlleux pour l’avenir des négociations. Son équipe gouvernementale, plus divisée et plus faible que jamais depuis la démission du Premier secrétaire d’État, Damian Green, ne lui est pas d’un réel secours. Dès lors, il faudrait se garder de voir dans l’achèvement de la première phase des négociations la certitude que le Brexit aboutira à un traité en octobre 2018.

Article de Dominic Grieve paru dans The Guardian, 18 décembre 2017.

« A decision as a backbencher to vote against one’s party ought not to be taken lightly. Political parties depend for existence and success, not so much on the holding of identical views, as on a shared philosophy and ties of loyalty and respect between members. So there are good reasons to try to find compromises when differences emerge on a specific matter. Last week, however, I voted against my party on a national issue for the first time in my 20 years in parliament. I felt I had no option, as the attempts I had made to get the matter resolved by compromise had failed. I also considered that the matter was far too important to be ignored.

The vote was not about stopping Brexit. As a matter of international law, Brexit will occur on 29 March 2019, and a refusal by parliament to approve a final deal cannot prevent this, as it could only happen by the agreement of the UK and each of the other 27 member states, either to rescind the article 50 notice or to vary the date of departure that article 50 prescribes.

The problem on which I focused is that, in order to take us out of the EU, the government is seeking, in clause 9 of the withdrawal bill, very extensive powers to implement whatever changes the withdrawal agreement it is trying to negotiate may require. Yet until we know what that agreement is, the need for these powers to rewrite laws by statutory instrument is hypothetical. The government has accepted that a completely separate piece of primary legislation will have to be enacted to approve any withdrawal agreement. But the powers being sought could be used to bypass the promised parliamentary scrutiny of the final agreement, or avoid its outcome. I and a number of Conservative colleagues considered this unacceptable. I was struck by the fact that at least one government minister questioned privately if clause 9 needed to be in the bill at all. I therefore sought an amendment to ensure the powers in clause 9 could only be used once the later legislation was passed by parliament.

Unfortunately the process of negotiation that seems to have been working reasonably well on other issues in the bill broke down. I cannot be certain why this was the case, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a decision was taken to deliberately face us down. We were offered assurances that did not adequately address the problem we identified , and that is why we put the matter to the vote.

While I was sorry to have to do it, I do not regret the outcome. The bill has been improved and parliament’s role enhanced. MPs of all parties have come together to do the legislative job that is one of our key functions. I am very grateful to all who supported the amendment, but particularly to those Conservative colleagues who joined with me, some of whom withstood intense pressure not to do so.

I do worry that the circumstances around the vote and its aftermath show a worrying slide towards irrationality in our political discourse. As a politician, I should expect sharp challenge from those who disagree with my decisions. But it is troubling that much of the controversy brought in allegations of an intention to sabotage Brexit that is far removed from what we were doing.

Some of this was fuelled and orchestrated by newspapers that seem entirely disinhibited in the inaccuracies they peddle and the vitriolic abuse they are prepared to heap on those who do anything they consider to be at variance with their version of what Brexit should be. This both obscures the real issues and encourages an atmosphere of crisis and confrontation between binary positions that leads directly to the death threats that we have received. In turn, this undermines the ability of politicians to engage in rational debate or make sound judgments on issues where there is often no certain answer.

I hope very much that the fallout from this episode may be beneficial. There are welcome signs from my colleagues in government of a willingness to work constructively with us and others. I have been sustained by the volume of supportive emails and letters and the willingness of many, irrespective of how they voted in the referendum, to denounce the fomenting of hatred. If parliament and government work together in their respective constitutional roles, and respect due processes, we will maximise our chances of making the right decisions as we encounter the many challenges, risks and opportunities Brexit poses for our country. »

[1] La ratification d’un éventuel accord devra faire l’objet d’une approbation implicite ou explicite des chambres selon les modalités du Constitutional Reform and Governance Act de 2010, section 20).


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