Wednesday 27 March 2019

From Brexit to Trexit

And so she's done it. The one thing she had left - the keys to number 10 - were dangled in front of this afternoon's 1922 Committee meeting of Tory MPs and she promised to hand them over if her deal gets through. Suddenly, all those really principled opponents on the backbenches found reasons to support her, should the deal get past John Bercow and has a third shot bite of the cherry. It is possible the government are minded to try, with BBC News all evening has doing a good job talking up the number of switchers from the hard ERG position to Theresa May's deal. 25 have changed their minds, according to Laura Kuenssberg though the DUP still say no. Which is hardly surprising as anything progressing to a united Ireland presents an existential threat to their continued relevance.

The problem with May is her conditional resignation announcement is, to reiterate a well-worn cliche, too little too late. From the moment she announced her intention to junk everything positive about EU membership, including surrendering the UK's say over the customs arrangements if we find ourselves without an EU trade deal to - all to indulge her immigration obsession - May's approach has been reckless in the extreme. Yet, despite the unexpected fatal wounding her project received at the 2017 General Election the forces within the Tories balanced out meaning that she still had the free hand to negotiate the deal she wanted. Too weak to bring her down in flight, the different Tory factions were then able to rally to sink her deal on two occasions. And possibly a third if it gets the Speaker's nod.

Humiliatingly, though tonight's indicative vote exercise found no majority for any of the options the Speaker selected, two of the options - leave the EU with a customs union in place, and a second referendum (which, funnily enough, fell by a 52/48 percentage split) - did better than May managed at the second vote. Ouch. Nevertheless, it suggests paralysis. For all the speculation and the reading of the runes, as the SNP decided to oppose Brexit tout court and won't even countenance a soft exit now the option has been put before them, there is no majority for any of the soft options. The only way it could now get through is if in an act of rare reasonableness May abandons her own ridiculous plan and whips for it. What a horrible position to be in. Then again, it was always going to be like this as party loyalties and petty ambitions won out. For instance, the SNP were joined by TInG and the Liberal Democrats in voting against Labour's position. The only way out, surely, is a general election?

Someone else taking this opportunity to play games is our old friend Boris Johnson. After spending the last half year fulminating against May's deal from the pages of The Telegraph, we now find this most slippery of customers piling in behind it. Don't expect anything in the way of principle, this is pure positioning for the top job. The near-transparent thought process here is Johnson pitching to where the bulk of Tory MPs are, to try and slither his way into the final two. And then, undoubtedly, once his name goes forward for the membership's consideration he will snap back to the hardest of hardest ERG-type positions to get the top job.

And so May's promise to stand down in short order fires the starting gun for open leadership pitching, not that many have been terribly discreet up to now anyway. Unfortunately, it also bakes in the Commons' stasis. Having learned absolutely nothing she's still clinging to her deal, and none of the other Tory factions can get anything through. But a clear out of the Commons is impossible because a new Tory leader contest cannot happen while Brexit this side of the deal remains a live proposition, and it is impossible for May to lead them into one thanks to the assurances she has given. What happens now is anyone's guess.


Boffy said...

The other option that obtained a large vote, despite Labour officially opposing it was the option to Revoke Article 50. Had Labour, as it should have done, whipped to support it, it would probably have scored the highest vote.

As I said at Christmas we are heading towards a General Election. May will not accept a Customs Union, and in any case its a dead end. She will bot go for a referendum, which she might lose, and which would largely let Corbyn off the hook he has got himself on to.

She has a clear route to a General Election, which she would have been better advised to have taken a month ago. That puts the ball in Labour's court, where the division between the Corbyn leadership and the vast mass of party members and voters would be exposed.

The question in the General Electiobn will then be, will Corbyn abandon the disastrous attempt to triangulate by persisting with the reactionary policy of Brexit, or will he convincingly adopt a position of opposing Brexit, and fighting the election on the basis of a policy of revoking Article 50, and building a progressive internationalist alternative with social-democrats and socialists across Europe.

Anonymous said...

Boffy with his "unique" take on things again ;)

HUGE numbers of Labour MPs - most of them *not* Corbynites - would have opposed revocation right now with everything at their disposal. It *might* become feasible is the ONLY other option is no deal. Not before.