Wednesday 21 November 2018

Brexit in Crisis

Brexit is in crisis. Arguably, it has been since 52% of the voting public returned a Leave verdict in June 2016. Yet what we have had up until, well, a couple of weeks ago is something of a phony war. Now, the politics has played out so every position - no deal/hard, May's deal, and soft/remain sit poised upon a mountain of gunpowder. At any moment, a spark could fall that blows up one position. Or, perhaps, all three.

One welcoming consequence of the chaos is the temporary neutering of the Brexit hard right. That's perhaps being generous, Theresa May has routed them and rubbed their nose in a very public humiliation. If only she'd done this 12 months ago the negotiations might not have turned out to be such a mess. Consider their behaviour this last year. The hard right, the team of Mogg and co, have repeatedly approached Number 10 with veiled threats, and an exaggerated puffing of their influence. Look how many people we have on our WhatsApp group, say more leaks than I care to remember. How many attended x secret briefing, according to anonymous sources, and what a great organiser Steve Baker is for having the capacity to text several dozen ERG-supporting MPs simultaneously, coos every Tory journalist to have ever talked up his political skills. For a while, sure, the hard Brexit scam worked and May was spooked. But at some point she realised the weakness of her position was actually a strength. The ERG didn't have the numbers to win a no-confidence, and hilariously, after much grand standing they can't even muster the 48 MPs to touch off a vote against May in the first place. Piss up, brewery, etc.

On the remain/soft Brexit side, a second vote looks far away. May's deal looks like it can't get through the Commons, but if a general election is even more of a stretch then another referendum is out there on the out edges of possibility, regardless of marches and what have you. And the way some hard remainers have latched on to May's sudden invocation of abandoning the whole thing is indicative of a sort of restless desperation. Since May started talking about the choice in terms of there being no deal, her deal, or no Brexit at all, this is less a triumph of the pressure the campaign has exerted but more a gambit aimed at her own side, the DUP, and the Labour leavers on the benches opposite. It is simply her way of saying to them that you either back her deal, or we pack the whole thing in and stay in the EU. She's using the exact same manoeuvre in discussing no deal in the same breath in order to win over Tory and Labour remainers - a stratagem that has bagged at least one Liberal Democrat so far.

And there is May's position. Universally panned and mauled at today's Prime Minister's Questions, it nevertheless has business backing (another win for "any deal ...") and, she hopes, the signatures of the heads of the EU27 at the Brussels summit this Sunday. Forget the machinations of Leadsom, Mordaunt, Gove et al within the cabinet, they're not going to change the text now EU leaders are actively considering it - Angela Merkel has declared it needs to be sorted within 48 hours, and she's the boss. Assuming the sign off happens, which looks likely, that slightly increases the odds of the deal's passage being a successful one. Rightly, May has calculated the weight of business will sway some recalcitrant MPs on all sides of the House. Likewise, getting the official imprimatur from the EU could move some of the Europhiles into the aye column. Centrist Tories, liberals, and Labour people might look at the deal rather differently if that nice Mr Verhofstadt is urging MPs back it,

It's still looking dicey, though. The odds are stacked against May winning out. Therefore, a seizing up of the parliamentary machinery is very possible. Neither can we rule out the possibility of "oppositionists" not just flaking, but abstaining altogether, or May losing one vote, letting chaos reign for a fortnight or so, and then returning with the same deal which, she'd hope, a chastened Commons would then vote through. With so much at stake for May's career, her place in history, the future of the Tory party, and the UK's relationship with its biggest trading partner, it is incredible that at this very late stage no one really knows which way it's going to go.


Speedy said...

All true. I still think a referendum is more likely than you appear to - if she loses the vote calls for another one will be very loud, and it could be presented as a three-way vote with stv, which would not split leave or remain. However, referendums take a long time to organise - there are 18 weeks from today and the quickest usually takes 40 weeks (it took 60 weeks to sort the last one and 100 weeks to sort NE devolution).

I recently told someone: 70 per cent some kind of deal, 30 per cent referendum (which will be tight), and I think this is about right. I don't see there being another election.

Jim Denham said...

"And the way some hard remainers have latched on to May's sudden invocation of abandoning the whole thing is indicative of a sort of restless desperation": or of active campaigners reacting to an encouraging development. What do you advocate, Phil? Sitting back and letting events take their course?

Unknown said...

May is like Mr Burns when he was told by the doctor he had all illnesses, but he was still alive because they were balancing each other out, like when too many people try to squeeze through a doorway at once and get stuck.
The irony is that if May wasn't presiding over such chaos, she'd have been out long ago.
The logic of a second referendum is inescapable. If a majority no longer want to inflict collective self-harm, it is surely incumbent upon the government to double-check.
Add to that, there IS NO solution that will satisfy the DUP - et voila! Only a referendum or a general election can resolve this deadlock.