Break-up of the parties or No Deal Brexit – the looming choice

As matters stand, we’re either heading for crash out No Deal or the main parties are heading for break-up. The Conservative and Labour leaders are dolally.  Theresa May is listening but not  to anybody who wants  a customs union or a second referendum.  Jeremy Corbyn will not only not meet her but has urged all Labour MPs not to meet her either.  But this request in a letter to his MPs came too late to stop former ministers Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn dropping by this morning. And probably wouldn’t have stopped them anyway. They’re part of the embryonic parliamentary coalition around the “Nick Boles” amendment that’s the best hope of getting us out of this .

Apart from Corbyn’s boycott, a  weakness of the series of the talks  is their bilateral character, with Mrs May or a substitute  cast  like an arbiter of  supplicants with no give and take. This is not a collective negotiations among groups with diverse opinions.

Brexiteers who saw Mrs May today said she was in listening mode,  but with one of them adding that if she wasn’t  listening (to them), “the Conservative party would go up in flames.”

The current arsonist is the chancellor Phillip Hammond who has been attacked for spotting a way out, overheard blowing the gaff to industrialists that the “Nick Boles”  amendment allowing Parliament to take over the Commons timetable and extend Article 50 would in effect halt the drift to the default crash out.

Phil for emergency coalition PM, anyone?

The Evening Standard reports that

A bigger group of about 20 middle-ranking and junior ministers is threatening to resign if Chief Whip Julian Smith attempts to instruct them to oppose a crucial amendment.

The extraordinary rebellion was revealed as the Government desperately tried to avoid defeat by announcing that voting on a Plan B promised by the Prime Minister is being unexpectedly postponed until January 29.

Mrs May will make a statement on her plans on Monday, as expected, but voting on her motion will not be allowed for another eight days.

The delay will also apply to the amendment designed to put Parliament in the driving seat that is being put down by former ministers Nick Boles and Sir Oliver Letwin with a cross-party group of senior MPs, including Labour’s Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.

As for Dublin leadership as the Irish Times sketch writer Miriam Lord reports:.

What happens to the Irish Border and the belt and braces backstop?

– The what?

The Irish Border.

– Where?

You know where.

– Sorry! Can’t hear you..

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are in the Dáil, eyes closed, fingers in their ears, humming loudly while jumping up and down on the spot.

Newton is  a rare voice joining this blog and Dan O’Brien lamenting the backstop, or as I would put it, the need for the backstop.

Much mistrust inevitably flows from the almost universal Irish perception that Brexit breaches the Belfast Agreement. A hard Border is presumed to be not just a security and economic problem but a self-evident traducing of the agreement’s spirit and even text despite the text containing not a single word on the subject.

Trying to convince the Irish they are mistaken appears at this stage to be futile. The UK, and unionists in particular, must take on board Ireland’s view of the agreement as not a settlement but a process, whose direction has been unilaterally interrupted. If one side to an agreement genuinely believes it has been broken then in practice, rightly or wrongly, it is broken.

Hand wringing is all very well but it is hard to see what solution for the North is viable other than special status of this sort, unless there is No Deal or No Brexit. The fond idea of  the British and Irish governments sitting down after June 2016 and hammering out a deal  to put to the EU was never compatible with the Brexiteer’s dream which Mrs May seemed committed to  implement – and maybe still is. So the agony of the last two years was probably inevitable.

The Irish academic specialist on EU affairs  Brigid Laffin is among those urging “the first step” of  taking No deal off the table – an impossible demand straight off  as explained above, if you’re the leader of the Conservative party trying to hold  the Conservative party  together. But her second step is interesting and worth considering if a majority of MPs manage to force a series of indicative votes on the government over the next couple of weeks.

Those favouring a second referendum should publicly take it off the table until the end of February, to allow an intensive effort to deliver on the June 2016 mandate. There are good reasons to go back to the people given the gridlock in the Commons, but there are also good reasons against. Although the polls have shifted, they have not shifted by enough to opt immediately for a second vote. Sufficient support does not appear to be available in the Commons in any case.

Step three requires a coalition of cross-party MPs to engage intensively with each other to map out an accommodation.

Ah. There’s the rub. But away from the Westminster isn’t it  worth time- or condition- limiting the backstop? That’s entirely compatible with ordinary insurance policies, contrary to recent statements.