We don’t yet know whether Brexiteers in the Conservative party will seek to bring down the Prime Minister Theresa May over the UK negotiating position that she forced through Cabinet on Friday.
We don’t yet know whether the EU will accept her “compromise” package or will reject it with the contempt they have shown until now at any suggestion of a “pick and mix” approach to the EU’s customs union and rules.
But what we can say with near-certainty is that what Mrs May has done is put in serious doubt a Conservative victory at the next general election – and maybe at any further general election for a long time after that.
For she and her cowardly and faithless colleagues have betrayed Brexit voters, betrayed democracy and betrayed the British people.
In voting as they did on June 23 2016 to leave the EU, the British people made a solemn declaration of belief in the value of democratic sovereignty, national self-government and Britain regaining the power to decide its own laws, to conduct its own trade deals in the best interests of the country, and to rule itself once again with its own policies passed by its own parliament as the independent nation it once was.
Ever since that historic vote the Remainers – who by definition do not value democratic self-government and national sovereignty which they are all too happy to see subsumed under EU control – have sought every means possible to undermine and reverse the Brexit vote.
On Friday, they succeeded. This was a Remainer coup. Mrs May is insisting that her package would deliver Brexit. This is false.
It would leave the UK tied to a number of EU policies and thus unable to make policy in such areas for itself; it would destroy the UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals in the best interests of the nation; it would leave the UK still to some extent under the thumb of the European Court of Justice. Thus the UK would remain deprived of national sovereignty and the power to govern itself as an independent nation.
Moreover, Mrs May’s package would leave the UK in a worse position even than as a member of the EU. For under her terms, the UK would be bound by a number of EU rules and policies but with no say over them at all.
(Indeed, some Remainers fantasise that engineering just an outcome would fuel pressure for a second referendum and a vote to stay in – ignoring the fact that there can be no return to the status quo ante, since the triumphant EU would insist that, in order to remain, the bloodied UK would have to abolish the pound and join the Euro.)
Does Mrs May understand this? Is she Machiavelli in kitten heels – or is she just too narrow-minded, too incapable of grasping any big idea other than the survival of her government, too personally defensive, too psychologically clenched against viewpoints that challenge her own to be remotely competent?
The idea that problems such as the Northern Ireland border are otherwise simply insuperable is absurd. The fact remains that Britain held – and still holds – the major card in its own hands. The EU needs Britain more than Britain needs the EU.
That doesn’t mean there are no downsides from leaving: of course there are.
But a real leader would have said to the country something like this: “Look, there are going to be hiccups and problems and we may well have to bite on a few painful bullets. But the upside is that, overall, our economic future is very bright indeed if we make the cleanest possible break; and politically, we will once again be independent and in charge of our own laws and destiny. And for that most precious of all gifts we will pay a price if we have to, just as this country has always buckled down and paid a price for liberty – which is really what Britain is fundamentally all about”.
And to the EU, such a real leader would have said something like this: “The people of Britain have spoken and we are now leaving you. We will not seek a deal; we will take our chances with WTO rules and tariffs because even with all that we’ll still take you to the economic cleaners; but if you would like to offer us a deal, you’ll find our door is always open because we’ll always be your friends. Good bye!”
In the event, Mrs May’s negotiating position was beyond risible. She dismissed the innate strength of her country relative to the EU economic and political basket-case and instead – incredibly – approached the (possibly terminally) stricken Brussels behemoth as a nervous supplicant. Unsurprisingly, the EU promptly punched Britain in the solar plexus and is now preparing to kick it in the head.
As for the Brexiteers in Cabinet, they have all been revealed as beyond pathetic. According to media reports, as Friday’s marathon meeting wore on – after a brief, flailing and juvenile eruption by Boris Johnson – they all ended up supporting this appalling travesty.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that they were all measuring their leadership ambitions against each other and so collectively were unable to present a united front. It was self-interest first, national interest last. Not one of them has resigned. “Friends” of Boris Johnson say he can do more to fight for Brexit by staying within Cabinet. Really? He has now put his name to Brexit’s betrayal. He will not be forgiven.
All these people have now shown themselves unworthy of leading their party.
They do not deserve to be in office; the Conservative party no longer deserves to be in government.
People are rightly worried that Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s far-left leader, may become Prime Minister. That fear has helped Mrs May fight off any possible challengers. Jeremy Corbyn has been her human shield.
But here’s the thing. If the choice is to be between Mrs May’s Brexit betrayal and a Corbyn government, many may well now be thinking they’d either actually prefer Corbyn, who at least remains personally hostile to UK membership of the EU – or far more lethally, that there’s no longer much point in trying to stop him.
Because if Britain really is to remain tied to the EU, the UK parliament will increasingly become no more significant than Westminster regional council within the Brussels empire. So who cares if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister, this thinking would go, since the EU won’t let him do half of what he wants to do anyway?
And that’s the worst danger of all from this debacle: that the British people will simply lose faith not just in the wretched Conservative party but in the democratic process which will become increasingly meaningless.
That said, this thing is far from over; indeed, it may have only just begun. For if the EU sticks to its previous intransigence, it will reject the British government’s offer and insist that it makes further concessions to the EU’s rules which even Mrs May dare not make.
Which means, prepare now for “no deal”. Which Britain should have done right from the start.
But however this finally ends, Mrs May and her craven colleagues have done real damage – to themselves as politicians, to the Conservative party and to democracy itself.