Brexit is even worse for the Tories…..
So a little while back I blogged about the ways in which I think Brexit represents a real challenge to the Labour Party in the coming Parliament. And I’d intended a quick follow up on why it was even more tricky for the Tories… but y’know…. Life happened.
Anyhow as time has passed my thoughts on the matter have crystallised a bit so here we go….
The thing for us Remainers is it was pretty clear and specific what we were voting for. The EU, warts and all, was a known quantity. Whilst people voted remain with wildly varying degrees of enthusiasm; it was very clear what we were voting for.
Leave however was necessarily ill defined. We firstly literally didn’t know what type of deal we would get whatever people “projected”. And “projected” is the operative word because the leave vote was a coalition of lots of different ideas and motivations some of them very different.
Obviously for many in the country Leave was principally about immigration. But that wasn’t the only thing. Some were voting against London. Some wanted to give the “establishment” a bloody nose and didn’t really care about Brexit.
The thing that most Vexed the Tory right though was the Sovereignty argument. That due to our membership of the EU laws were made that the UK had to follow even if Parliament disagreed. And that there was an enforcement mechanism, the European Court of Justice, that could override British Courts and British Parliament in the areas of law and competence covered by the EU and related treaties.
It has been this element that has caused the Tory Party convulsions for the last three decades, it is for this reason that we had the referendum in the first place, and it is on this topic that there is a massive threat for the Tory Party over Brexit.
In the Parliamentary Tory party there are big divisions over Brexit; for some on the “Hard Right”, the ideological Brexiteers, there is literally no price not worth paying to win this argument over Sovereignty. It doesn’t matter if it means we can’t treat cancer patients, it doesn’t matter if we put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk. It doesn’t matter if we trash the economy in the short and medium term. Whatever the costs and consequences leaving any kind of jurisdiction and oversight from the EU or EU institutions is an end in itself and there is no price worth not paying.
There are by all accounts around 70 or so Tory MPs who think this was and will vote accordingly. Meaning for the Conservative Government who now have to get their preferred version of Brexit, have an inbuilt group of this many Tory MPs likely to rebel against any deal that has compromises with the EU over sovereignty.
The mainstream of the Tory party broadly agree with this viewpoint but are not fundamentalists about it. They’d rather have as little oversight from Supranational bodies connected to the EU as possible, but they realise and accept that there are some necessary compromises needed to be made, at least in transition, to ensure that the economy generally, but the City of London specifically are protected.
Then you have a smaller group of Tory MPs implacably opposed to leaving the Singly Market period (though mostly ambivalent about the political institutions of the EU) who believe that we should remain in the Single Market and Customs Union even if that means accepting free movement of people and jurisdiction of the ECJ. These MPs number about 30 I understand (and that number would be likely to increase if it becomes clear that a Brexit deal was going to materially harm the financial interests of the City).
What this practically means is that getting whatever Brexit is agreed through the Commons means a bill that both Ken Clarke AND John Redwood will support. No such bill is possible. And even with the DUP it will require just 7 Tory MPs to rebel in the commons to scupper a Government vote. Furthermore it is abundantly clear that because there is no Commons majority for the Tories that they cannot rely on the Salisbury convention in the Lords meaning any Brexit bill will have all sorts of problems getting through the upper house.
Of course it was precisely this problem that May had hoped to solve with her election. The gamble was that a thumping big majority would allow her to make some Brexit compromises because she could afford a large rebellion; because a new intake of MPs would be grateful to her winning the landslide and loyal, because she could probably make the opposition vote with her against backbench rebels because the alternative was a disorderly Brexit.
But that ship has sailed and the Parliamentary arithmetic means it is virtually impossible for her to get a Brexit bill through now unless the Labour party back it. This would be politically difficult for her, and there seems little advantage to Labour to bail her out in this way given the state of politics.
So I think the Tories are now faced with about 4 very difficult, politically unpalatable choices. To me it seems their options are:-
a) Accept that they just can’t get any deal and hope they can win a vote on “No Deal” through Parliament and then crash out of the EU on a disorderly basis on WTO terms.
This means they will have to own the short and possible medium/long term economic consequences, I say this is likely to be electorally Toxic for the Brand for a very long period of time (just when Labour seem to be moving forward). There is every chance that this option could put the Tories out of power for a generation.
b) Effectively form a “Grand Coalition” with Labour on Brexit, allow Labour to jointly own the compromise (and consequences) so the bill get’s passed even if there is a substantial rebellion from Tory backbenchers,
This could have a potential upside of exposing Labour divisions on Brexit, and at the same time look like the Tories were putting “Country before Party”.
But would almost certainly provoke a disastrous Tory civil war over Europe again. And furthermore would probably create a huge “Brexit Betrayal” backlash from the right wing press and probably create the conditions for a UKIP revival.
c) Decide that Brexit isn’t possible to deliver and revoke Article 50 in the National Interest.
C’mon this ain’t gonna happen in a Trillion years; but in a sane world the Tories would have to at least consider it given the other options. They won’t though.
d) Recognise that the conditions do not exist to deliver Brexit with the Parliamentary arithmetic as it is so either have a ‘74 style second referendum on the terms (and I’ve argued since before last June’s vote that this is the only real sensible course of action) so that the divisions in Parliament evaporate in the face of the “Will of the People”. Or hold another “Back me of Sack me” snap general election on the terms of the Brexit deal.
For the Tories this is again going to be hugely difficult. They really won’t want to hold another General Election because they really fear that it will result in Corbyn in number 10. But at the same time the Tory right are terrified of giving the country a say on the terms of Brexit because they fear (rightly in my opinion) that if people see what the actuality of Brexit looks like they will decide to stick where they are and kill of the 40 year dream of the Brexiteers.
I’m sure there are some variations on some of these themes; but I don’t see anything to major that differentiates from any of these. It represents an almighty pickle for the Tories and one it is hard to see them extricating themselves from smelling of roses.
Hey maybe I’m wrong and the swivel eyed loons in the the fundamentalist Brexiteer camp will be fooled by David Davies new “I can’t believe it’s not the ECJ™” supranational court and they will get an EEA-lite through the Tory right that allows them to deliver Brexit without dousing the UK economy in petrol and then setting it alight by firing both barrels of a shotgun at our feet.
But that requires that the EU27 are willing and able to bend over backwards to accommodate the UK Government in pulling a three card trick on the Tory right and the UK media. There has been nothing, nothing that suggests that to me. The UK is in a weak position in the Brexit negotiations and the likelihood that we can both get a deal that suits our economy AND appease the fantasies of the Mail and Rees-Mogg is vanishingly small to the extent that let us be honest it doesn’t exist.
So whatever the Government is saying about the pact with the DUP being for 5 years I cannot see how they can possibly square the Brexit circle and survive.
If the consequences weren’t so serious it would be utter hilarity. Alas this farce is likely to have devastating consequences for generations of ordinary people in the UK.
Also published on Medium.