Brexiteers at bay after the first day of May talks widens internal party splits

As Paul Waugh aptly says in Huffpost..

The lectern moment’ really is wearing thin as a useful dramatic device for Theresa May. She’s stood on the steps of No.10 so many times now that she’s devalued the currency of its impact. And after this week’s shattering defeat of her Brexit plan, more than ever it seems like her Downing Street announcements are all words and no action. May rightly said the nation needs to ‘come together’, but showed little flexibility or humility needed to make that happen.

 

Events are showing up the fissiparous tendencies inside the Conservative and Labour parties.      

Jeremy Corbyn could face up to a dozen resignations from the Labour frontbench if the party backs a second referendum as a way out of the Brexit crisis.

A string of junior shadow ministers have told the Guardian they are strongly opposed to the idea of a second referendum, which they fear would expose Labour to a vicious backlash in leave-voting constituencies.

Cabinet ministers have warned that Theresa May will face mass resignations if MPs are barred from trying to stop a no-deal Brexit

The Telegraph has learned that a delegation of five ministers from the group visited the Prime Minister in No 10 and warned her directly that they were prepared to quit.

One Cabinet minister told The Telegraph: “I think that the Prime Minister will come under a lot of pressure to give ministers a free vote on it.

“I personally think she would be wise to do that because she doesn’t really want people to resign, and there are definitely people who would resign over it.

Appealing to the stronger instinct for survival in the Conservative party, the  commentator  Iain Martin  offers counsel of  desperation  to the Brexiteers  that now is the time to back down and play it long.

I sympathise with them and don’t much like her version of Brexit either. I am keen to get out of the EU and think no-deal would be disruptive but perfectly manageable. I dislike the threat to sovereignty and the Union inherent in the Northern Ireland backstop.

But my message to fellow Brexiteers is that time’s up. Give the purism a rest in the interests of getting the mess sorted out.

Anyone who has followed events in parliament this week with the semblance of an open mind can see that the fundamentals have changed and the pure-Brexiteers are badly outnumbered. John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has created conditions in which Remainer MPs are going to have a good go at banning no-deal Brexit by legislative chicanery or by forcing ministers to seek a delay in Article 50.

If that fails, there is a large enough group of anti-Brexit Tory MPs (as many as 30 I am told) prepared to go for the nuclear option of bringing down the government to stop Brexit, leading in all probability to a general election. The risk is very high of a split, incompetent Tory party inflicting a catastrophe on Britain by letting in a Corbyn government.

That being the case, Conservative Brexiteers would surely do better to agree on a compromise that gets us out in a fashion that can win support from moderate Labour MPs, and in certain circumstances perhaps even from Labour’s front bench.

Any plan B involves agreeing the withdrawal agreement roughly as is, with warm words from the EU about the backstop, and focusing on adapting the accompanying political declaration about our future relationship with Europe so that it contains commitments to a softer Brexit that enough MPs can back.

A future government or new PM has huge scope at a later date for ratting and re-ratting. We would be in the blasted backstop but presumably being as naughty as possible, banning French fishermen from our waters, yet selling inside the single market, and pledging not to play nicely until there was a decent trade deal in prospect.

Whatever MPs decide in the days ahead — and there are members of the European Research Group who will never change their position — what matters is to get out speedily with an orderly transition and argue about the rest later.

Not that long ago, most Eurosceptics were pragmatic and would have seen the sense in compromising to get most of what they wanted. They need to wake up. If sticking with purism lands Britain with Corbyn in No 10 and the Marxist John McDonnell next door, they will have betrayed their country, not rescued it.

Swallowing the May deal  which is the withdrawal agreement in order to concentrate on the  political declaration for the final settlement  (the Gove strategy) has merits. In any case the EU have all but closed the books.

But “ratting and re-ratting” after withdrawal would be fatal. It’s just the sort of careless talk that confirms all EU distrust of the Brexiteers and creates only reputational damage,  high costs and punitive consequences.

 

 


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