Can we now please end the pretence that Michael Gove is a reliable Brexiteer? Still dead-set against leaving the EU with no deal – which remains the single most likely way to honour the referendum result – he has reportedly told other Cabinet ministers that he is prepared to delay Brexit until late 2020.
Assuming the EU would agree to another, longer extension (and if they didn’t, what would Gove do then?) such a delay would kick Brexit into the long grass. Uncertainty would continue, bringing continuing political paralysis and damaging the economy — the debilitating effects of which might cause Brexit to be abandoned altogether.
No wonder prominent Remainer MPs are falling into line behind him.
Said Gove: “Simply trying to go for no deal before the UK is properly prepared will lead to a general election with Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street and risks Brexit being cancelled altogether. These are the most complex negotiations in our peacetime history, it’s not enough to believe in Brexit, you’ve got to be able to deliver it.”
Well, why can’t it be delivered? Civil servants have revealed a huge amount was done to prepare the country for leaving with no deal. While some problems and disruption would be inevitable, the apocalyptic claims that the UK would suffer catastrophic effects from a no-deal Brexit have been debunked. See, for example Lord Lilley, here, the former Governor of the Bank of England Lord King here, and the anonymous Whitehall whistleblower “Caroline Bell” here.
Not to mention Airbus, which has now said it wants to stay in the UK whatever the outcome of Brexit as the country is “a very important pillar” for the company. Quite.
Gove’s principal fear appears to be that, with parliament set against a no-deal Brexit, a general election would loom and with it the possibility that Jeremy Corbyn would become prime minister. But as I wrote here, a prime minister wholeheartedly and believably committed to delivering real, unadulterated, unambiguous Brexit on October 31 would pull voters back from the Brexit party.
This would be all but guaranteed if the new Tory PM were also to bring Nigel Farage into the team to steer the negotiations on the deal that really does matter — the UK’s new long-term relationship with the EU, on which only leaving with no-deal would enable the UK to negotiate from a position of strength.
Labour, meanwhile, would be electorally stuffed; its working-class Brexiteers would vote for the Brexit Party and its dinner-party Remainers for the Lib Dems.
Yes, a minority Corbyn government would be a risk. But given what’s happened, a general election fought on the explosive issue of democracy and honouring election promises made to the public would surely galvanise all who care — Remainers as well as Brexiteers — about the way parliament has turned against the people and trampled democracy into the dirt.
As “Caroline Bell” observes on the Briefings for Brexit site:
“It’s not Jeremy Corbyn they need to worry about, but Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, which topped the poll not only in the Labour-leaving North, but in Tory heartlands in the South, including the Prime Minister’s constituency. Under first-past-the-post, there is no longer a single Tory seat that can be regarded as safe.”
That is the reality Remainer MPs would be facing if they decided yet again to try to stop a no-deal Brexit.
So who is the politician of vision and courage who will now, finally, seize the moment?
Boris Johnson still seems to be the Conservative party members’ runaway favourite. That’s because they think his charisma will win them elections. But if the new leader fails to deliver Brexit on October 31, he or she will destroy what’s left of the party. So does anyone trust Johnson to take the UK out on October 31?
Like Gove, he voted for Mrs May’s appalling deal. This cannot be just brushed aside. Her deal would have left the UK trapped indefinitely under EU control. Yet that’s what both Johnson and Gove signed up to do.
Furthermore, Johnson has boasted he can renegotiate the Irish backstop. He thinks he can pull a negotiating rabbit out of the hat. In other words, he still thinks the May deal is salvageable.
But even without the backstop (and that’s assuming the EU would renegotiate at all despite their repeated insistence that they would do no such thing ) it would still continue to trap the UK under EU control. That’s why those with a mordant sense of humour have dubbed it the “Hotel California” Brexit; as the Eagles sang: “You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave”.
As “Caroline Bell” comments:
“No amount of tweaking of the Political Declaration or ‘legally binding exchange of letters’ will make this pig of a treaty fly. It would lock us into a cage with our hands handcuffed behind our backs in a Brussels jail known as ‘the deepest circle of hell’.”
Johnson is said to have committed himself to leaving with no deal if he failed to renegotiate a better one. But that “if” is critical. Because if he wanted to and thought he could get away with it, he could misrepresent a fig-leaf concession by the EU as having turned Mrs May’s Brussels jailhouse term into a good Brexit for the UK. Then we’d be faced with the May madness mark two. Instead of groundhog May, the UK would be stuck forever on Boris Johnson’s treacherous zip-wire.
Two opinion polls suggest that if a general election were held now, both the Conservative and Labour parties would be wiped out. YouGov finds the LibDems would win the election with 24 per cent of the vote, closely followed by the Brexit party with 22 per cent and with the Tories and Labour tying in third place at 19 ever cent. Opinium puts the Brexit party first on 26 percent, followed by Labour on 22 per cent and the Tories on 17 per cent.
These are utterly extraordinary findings. Yes, they may represent a temporary spasm which may not last. This is, after all, the mother and father of all protest movements, and its momentum may be punctured as soon as this Thursday if the Brexit Party doesn’t win the Peterborough by-election.
But it may also be the case that Britain is now trembling on the verge of an electoral upheaval that may transform the political landscape for ever – an insurgency by the people against a political establishment that has treated them with such contempt for so long, and which may now get its comeuppance once and for all for trashing democracy itself.
And if that political establishment is thus engulfed, it won’t ever understand why.