From the frying-pan into the fire?

It would appear that Mrs May is about to resign.

We’d do well to be a little cautious about whether this is actually going to happen. Just saying.

We are reading that her resignation will be announced tomorrow. Then she will remain prime minister until the Conservative party elects a new leader. In normal circumstances, this would seem a strange way to govern a country. After all, by what authority would she do anything at all as a kind of post-political mortem prime minister? But then, these aren’t normal circumstances, are they.

As is blindingly obvious, and as I have said here and here, Mrs May’s successor needs to be a principled Brexiteer who did not vote for her deal. It is essential that this new prime minister, like Isaiah Berlin’s famous hedgehog, must know one big thing – that no negotiation is possible with the Euro-ideologues of Brussels, because they will only ever agree to withdrawal terms ruinous to the UK’s interests.

To honour the referendum result and deliver Brexit, the new prime minister must therefore commit to leaving with no deal; and if this perfidious Remainer parliament still refuses to agree to do so, the new prime minister should dissolve parliament and fight a general election on the issue of democracy itself.

It is necessary to repeat this because the front-runner to succeed Mrs May is Boris Johnson. He is considered to be a real Brexiteer who can be trusted to take the UK out of EU control. Really? How can anyone believe that?

For this is someone who, along with Michael Gove – who is also positioning himself as a “true Brexiteer” leadership candidate – initially congratulated Mrs May on negotiating her withdrawal deal and then, months later, voted for it.

Ok, they said they did so only in desperation because they feared that otherwise Brexit might not happen at all. But that’s exactly why they cannot be trusted. Because Mrs May’s deal was not Brexit, other than in the narrow sense of ceasing to be an EU member state.  If parliament had accepted it, the UK would have remained tied up in knots with the EU even after ceasing to be a member. It was Brexit-in-name-only-Remain-by-stealth, and would have left the UK even worse off than remaining an EU member. That’s why parliament voted it down three times. And yet Johnson and Gove voted for it on the basis that otherwise Brexit might not happen.

They were therefore prepared to pretend – which Mrs May herself seemed genuinely to believe – that remaining under the EU’s thumb was… Brexit. How can anyone trust such men actually to deliver Brexit now?

And just look at what Johnson has apparently been saying behind the scenes. On the Spectator’s Coffee House blog, Robert Peston reports on Johnson’s manoeuvres to persuade his colleagues to make him prime minister.

“ ‘What Boris did was convince my colleagues that if he were PM, he could persuade Brussels to ditch the hated backstop,’ said one. ‘Or rather that it is worth a go. And if he fails then it is full steam ahead to a no-deal Brexit, though with proper preparation’.”

For months, Johnson has made it clear that his only problem with Mrs May’s deal was the Irish backstop. The EU have repeatedly stated that the backstop, like the rest of the deal, is not negotiable; and there’s no reason to think they would suddenly change their minds if Johnson became prime minister. But even if they did and the backstop were removed, that deal would still leave the UK at the EU’s mercy.

As ever, though, the Tories seem incapable of distinguishing power from principle. Boris Johnson is the front-runner because they think he’s the only candidate with the charisma to win an election.

It’s possible that, if he became prime minister, Johnson would indeed take the UK cleanly out of EU control.  But given this history, can anyone really be confident that he would respect the distinction between negotiation and surrender?

At this most fraught moment for both the Conservative party and the UK, the terms frying-pan and fire come irresistibly to mind.

Related posts