After Theresa.. how to avoid more of the same

As today’s Euro elections  consign the two main parties of the UK to minority positions, their struggle to reclaim relevance will begin. The parties are obsessed with themselves more than with sorting Brexit but sorting Brexit will remain the acid test of survival.

As Peston points out:

YouGov shows backing for a hard or no-deal Brexit at 40% via intentions to vote for the Brexit Party (a staggering 37%) and UKIP.Whereas support for a referendum would ALSO be 40%, aggregating the support for LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Change UK.

Everybody’s asking, what difference will a new Tory leader make?  Here’s how it might.

The even bigger question is whether the withdrawal agreement is still on the table for ratification or do they start all over again? The new leader will desperately want to.

A Brexiteer PM like Boris Johnson may have to risk an early election on a Brexit ticket (a)to avoid No Deal on 31 October and (b) thereby to force a further extension and a  new negotiation with the EU  they can hardly refuse.

He or she  should  also add to the ticket  saving “the precious Union.”  which is clearly under threat from a hard Brexit.

If he won which is just about likely (Leave has a bigger head of steam although created by Farage compared to the split Remain), this patriotic pitch might allow him to get a softish Brexit through his  own Leave cohorts in another finely divided Commons and dispense with the backstop either on the point of or very soon after withdrawal.  It would hugely help if Dublin could go along with it in a plan coordinated through a revived GFA, preferably although not essentially, with a functioning Assembly.

In England despite the performance of the Brexit party I expect the main factions to reconsolidate around the Tories as the party of Leave and Labour  the party of Remain or Very Close, but with Boris or similar squeaking through in the middle. The Lib Dems will remain the third force in England and the SNP and even Plaid look like winning more seats. The DUP and Sinn Fein have probably peaked.

Does that sound like a repeat of the Theresa scenario on stilts? Yes it does but it’s the only chance I see to avoid a crash out at the end of the day. An election creates a new dynamic.  The Withdrawal Bill is basically sound with changes to the political declaration added. Its main problem was that it came at least two years and three meaningful votes too late.

 Later...   another few thoughts.  The defence of the “ precious Union” is no easy wicket  for  English nationalists who now seem to dominate a party which not so long ago had a Remain or soft  Brexit majority.   It looks impossible to defend the Union with the backstop in Parliament or without  the backstop for the Remain majority on the ground. So an agreed substitute for its replacement looks essential . The Brexiteers’ option they continue to propose of “alternative arrangements” for the border is so far the only option around for a new Brexiteer PM to adopt. Either the EU will do a U-turn and accept them in a revised withdrawal agreement or very promptly in the political declaration, or the Brexiteer line will soften to avoid EU rejection and a No Deal crash out. Without movement by somebody, the Union is under strain. A No Deal result would trigger a demand for an early border poll for which a plausible case could be made.

The Scottish position is even more complicated.

Scottish Tories dislike anything that suggests a separate deal for Northern Ireland as it would set a precedent for a similar special deal for Scotland and destroy the principle of the all-UK Leave result.   Scottish Tories led in the Commons by the Scottish secretary David Mundell are now opposed to a second Brexit referendum. They fear it would feed Nicola Sturgeon’s campaign for Indyref2.   Only weeks ago Scots Tories raised no principled objections to a second Brexit referendum, presumably because they thought it would take the wind out of Sturgeon’s sails. But now that she’s campaigning (fairly circumspectly it must be said), for a new referendum on Scottish independence on top of a second Brexit referendum,  the Tories have changed their minds. This must be because they fear that Remain would lose a second Brexit referendum  and  gift the SNP with a precedent for IndyRef 2.

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