Man plans, God laughs: House of Commons votes to trigger Article 50

The House of Commons has voted to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – by which the UK will begin secession negotiations with the EU – by the end of March 2017. And they did so by an overwhelming majority: 461 votes to 89 – a margin of 372. Those MPs who voted against the will of the people’s majority are all listed HERE. “To those in Leave constituencies, good luck. You’re going to need it…,” Euro Guido warns. They are perhaps those whom Ukip ought to focus on (if they could but think and plan strategically), just as Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party didn’t stand candidates against MPs who were in sympathy with their demand for referendum. What’s the point of Eurosceptics fighting proven Eurosceptics?

But this Commons vote doesn’t, as some seem to think, render the Supreme Court appeal a mere “side show”. The vote isn’t binding: Labour insist the Government must publish “the plan” for achieving Brexit, and the House of Lords could (and most probably will) frustrate the process. In the great theatre of Parliament, we are only half way through Act III: the dénouement is still impeded by sundry nœuds de vipères.

But there is light, and the Rev’d Dr Giles Fraser is a prophetic voice crying in the Guardian wilderness:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” said Crispin Blunt in Wednesday’s Commons debate on Brexit. And in a typical bit of faux Commons outrage, he was rounded on by members of the Labour party for describing our EU negotiating partners as “the enemy”. That was not what he meant, of course.

The quote was taken from a 19th-century German field marshal, Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke: “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.” In terms of Brexit negotiations, it means that there is no way of knowing in advance how things are going to turn out when article 50 is triggered. It is unknown territory. And nothing will make it otherwise.

But this much we do know: triggered it will be. Because the British people have clearly said this is what they wanted. And the Commons have now accepted this with a whopping majority. OK, the question asked on 23 June didn’t come with explanatory footnotes, so there is some room for interpretation. But the vote clearly requires the government to return sovereignty from Brussels. And even the Labour party – bar 23 rebels – has conceded. “It was close but it was clear,” said Ed Miliband. “We are leaving the European Union.”

To say otherwise would have been electoral suicide for Labour. 70% of the party’s MPs have constituencies that voted leave, and Paul Nuttall, the new Ukip leader, intends to target northern Labour seats at the next election. So instead of open hostility to Brexit, they have been obliged to accept the triggering of article 50 and confine their hostility to guerrilla action. The idea is to pretend to accept the headline result while sabotaging the negotiating process, hoping the government slips up.

The government, in turn, has conceded that it will have to offer a back-of-a-fag-packet plan ahead of the negotiations. But don’t expect any detail. Keir Starmer called for an end to uncertainty. That’s unrealistic – these are liminal times. And there won’t be – can’t be – some smoothly managed exit. There was a non-militaristic way for Crispin Blunt to have said this. It’s an old Jewish proverb: man plans, God laughs.

Man plans: God laughs. What a laser beam of theological lucidity this shines into the whole Article 50 morass. But this wisdom is met with the usual abuse from some of Giles Fraser’s fellow socialists:


This sort of loving exchange and gentle rebuke has become part of his daily diet: he has lost many friends, and feels that loss acutely. Please pray for Giles Fraser. No other member of the clergy has endured the hate and vitriol that he has during the whole EU Referendum campaign and ongoing debate. ‘Brexit recycles the defiant spirit of the Reformation‘, he declared in May. ‘Democracy is far too important to be the preserve of the elite‘, he proclaimed in June. And they hate him for it. ‘A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house..