Labour has forgotten its eurosceptic heritage and left the working classes behind

Labour’s autumn political broadcast Our Town told viewers “we lost control” and “we’ve been sold short by a political and economic system that has been unchallenged for far too long.” Labour’s bait-and-switch broadcast was a clear attempt to reconnect with blue-collar Leavers in marginal English seats. Yet these voters are amongst those most alienated by Labour […]

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Labour’s autumn political broadcast Our Town told viewers “we lost control” and “we’ve been sold short by a political and economic system that has been unchallenged for far too long.” Labour’s bait-and-switch broadcast was a clear attempt to reconnect with blue-collar Leavers in marginal English seats.

Yet these voters are amongst those most alienated by Labour as it cartwheels over the horizon to the left, turns its back on 70% of all Labour constituencies and elopes with the elitist ‘People’s Vote’ campaign.

Indeed the neglect of Labour’s Eurosceptic tradition shows the party has left its erstwhile working-class supporters behind.

Activists at Labour’s Annual Conference in Liverpool who agitated for a ‘People’s Vote’ seemed oblivious to their party’s history of opposition to the European Project.

The first post-war Labour government opposed participation in the European Coal and Steel Community. Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin said: “If you open that Pandora’s Box you never know what Trojan Horses will jump out.” Labour Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison said of the Community: “It is no good, the Durham miners will not wear it.”

Former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee summed up Labour’s antipathy to ‘ever closer union’ when he observed: “The idea of a politically integrated Europe is historically looking backward… We have always looked outward, out to the new world, and to Asia and Africa.”

Attlee’s successor Hugh Gaitskell told the 1962 Labour Party Conference the aim of the founding fathers was federation” and “if we go into this, we are no more than a state, as it were, in the United States of Europe, such as Texas or California.” This meant “the end of Britain as an independent nation state” and the “end of a thousand years of history”.

Tony Benn called for a referendum on entry in 1970 and wrote to his constituents: “It would be a very curious thing to try to take Britain into a new political entity… by a process that implied that the British public were unfit to see its historic importance for themselves.”

Harold Wilson was forced to seek a renegotiation of Britain’s Community membership and called the European Communities Referendum of 1975. The Parliamentary Labour Party had previously voted against joining. Labour’s Conference had split two-to-one against the Common Market. Seven Cabinet members campaigned as ‘Antis’ and Wilson’s wife Mary voted out.

And under Michael Foot, Labour advocated leaving the Common Market without a referendum, a policy that subsequently became a manifesto pledge.

Fast forward to the present and the Sunday Times reported recently that Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Member of Parliament for 58% Leave-supporting Hayes and Harlington, had held secret talks with the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign and has hosted Alastair Campbell and ‘People’s Vote’ Communications Director Tom Baldwin in his House of Commons office.

National director of Momentum Laura Parker attended a rally in November in support of a second referendum.

Then The Times discovered a motion that is being circulated among Constituency Labour Parties calling for a Special Conference with one motion on the agenda for a ‘People’s Vote’ with Remain as an option.

It is ironic that the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn is slowly moving towards their third-way Blairite doppelgängers on a second referendum.

Then again, why wouldn’t they? They are equally worlds apart from these totemic figures of post-war Labour history in having no attachment to parliamentary sovereignty and little real connection to Britain’s working-class communities.

Labour is now a very different party from what it once was. The very notion of Labour as a party for blue-collar voters is a social, cultural and electoral anachronism.

Firstly, when Labour talks about “Our Town” it doesn’t really have in mind the sociology of Leave-voting Macclesfield or Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. Labour’s imaginary ‘town’ is the parallel universe of ‘high status city dwellers’ and faux left opinion formers living in metropolitan London.

Labour is politically dependent on the metropolis. In the six months following Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, 81,000 Londoners joined his party, double Labour’s total membership in Wales. Corbyn, Starmer, Thornberry and McDonnell all sit for London constituencies (two in the London Borough of Islington alone).

They share the same geographically narrow worldview as that of Stronger In whose four principle staffers grew up in London within two square miles of each other. Two went to the same school. One was the son of a Labour Home Secretary and another was Lord Mandelson’s Godchild.

And whereas in the 1970s less than a third of Labour MPs were graduates, now 90% are. When the mask slips, it reveals a prejudice about working-class Leave voters such as when Huddersfield’s Labour MP Barry Sheerman claimed “better educated people” voted Remain and when Owen Jones talks about ‘gammons’.

Secondly, Corbyn’s bien pensant ‘Global Villager’ values don’t resonate in the Brexitlands of Wales, the Midlands and the North. Harold Wilson told Bernard Donoghue: “I don’t want too many of these Guardianisms. I want my speeches always to include what working people are concerned with.”

Yet the modern left’s disillusionment with the workers has become a post-Brexit antipathy. The social democracy of earlier generations has given way to identity politics, a political style that increasingly inflects the voice of Continuity Remain.

Consequently, the pro-EU left can’t understand blue-collar political interest in sovereignty and democratic oversight of our laws, borders, trade and money.

Thirdly, the ‘peak Corbyn’ electoral coalition was beaten by the Conservatives in C2DE vote share, prompting the New Statesman to write of Labour’s middle-class populism: “the property tycoons of Chelsea must be congratulating themselves for having seen off a threat to their children’s inheritances.”

Former Vote Leave Co-Chair and former Labour MP Gisela Stuart did her party a service when she said Brexit was a “wake-up call” to Labour. But the party’s Remainist ‘People’s Vote’ tendency would re-empower the ‘lobbyists, multinationals and Brussels elites’ Labour Leavers voted to dispossess.

Indeed, according to the British Social Attitudes survey, before the Brexit victory, nearly one in two workers felt ‘people like them’ no longer had a voice in the national conversation and Brexit won in 140 heavily working-class and historically Labour districts.

Flirting with the elitist ‘People’s Vote’ is therefore potentially disastrous for many Labour MPs. A recent IQR survey for Global Britain of the 25 most marginal Labour seats found 19 Labour candidates would face defeat if Labour attempted to frustrate Brexit and 63% of voters said MP’s decisions in Parliament should respect the result.

Labour should heed the advice of UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis who recently told Labour’s leadership to “never, ever forget your base.” Supporting a coup against five million or so of the party’s Leave voters would reinforce the perception that those who voted to take back control in the referendum would stand to lose the most control, in the political and cultural sense, from a Labour government that will only speak for Remoania.

Ironically, Labour’s Eurosceptic tradition was channelled by Vote Leave in its referendum broadcast featuring images of Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan in which voters were asked to “imagine our money being spent on out priorities”, which we could do if we voted to taken back control.

By contrast, Labour’s Our Town is part of the “give back control agenda” of a party that has long forgotten the people it was founded to represent.

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The Prime Minister’s run-out-the-clock strategy on Brexit helps Corbyn too

The Labour leader is under mounting pressure to support a second referendum – but time is against one, and he knows it.

Whilst the internal battle waging in the Conservative Party over Brexit is making all the headlines at the moment, the struggle in the Labour Party should not be overlooked.

It’s unusual because it cuts across the usual split in the Opposition, which is between the leadership and membership on the one hand and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the other.

On Brexit, however, the membership is much more in tune with Labour’s overwhelmingly Europhile MPs. This means that whilst those around Jeremy Corbyn might want Brexit – and it’s clear many of them do, not least because it will end a lot of legal restrictions on a hard-left economic programme – they can’t say so openly.

The result has been a campaign of misdirection and procrastination, chronicled so well by Tim Shipman in All Out War, and waged so effectively during the campaign that our editor named Seumas Milne as ‘The Sixth Person who Made Brexit Happen’.

As March 29th looms and the battle for Brexit enters its final stages, Corbyn is coming under mounting pressure to endorse a second referendum. John McDonnell, his close ally and the more adept politician of the pair, has been signalling a willingness to rethink.

But the Labour leader has good reason to hesitate, and not just because he might personally support Brexit. There is also the fact that any clarification of Labour’s Brexit position risks undercutting its electoral coalition just before a snap general election which would almost certainly have to precede any re-run of the referendum.

Yes, a majority of Labour voters back Remain. But a substantial portion are not, and one of the few bright points for the Tories in the 2017 election was the emerging evidence that Labour-inclined Leave voters can be persuaded to vote for the Conservatives as ‘the party of Brexit’.

Until now, Labour has been luxuriating in the ability, as the opposition, to avoid having to be precise about what its Brexit position is. This was made plain earlier this week in Channel 4’s TV debate, when James Cleverly skewered Barry Gardiner over the latter’s contradictory, almost utopian account of how the negotiations on the future relationship would go if only Jeremy Corbyn, and not Theresa May, were pressing the flesh in Brussels and Salzburg.

The evidence suggests that Corbyn’s strategy, which is perfectly sensible if somewhat cynical, is simply to allow Brexit to happen without having to dirty his hands in the process. If this is the case then the Prime Minister’s “run out the clock” strategy – playing for time until the only options are her deal or none – actually suits him. By avoiding a reckoning on the Withdrawal Agreement the Government has postponed the hard questions about what to do next, both for themselves and for him.

All this might explain why the Labour leader is proving so reluctant to table a vote of no confidence. It’s true that at present Labour would lose it – the Democratic Unionists look set to vote with the Government unless the deal passes – but unlike the Conservatives’ internal rules there’s nothing to stop the Opposition (or any other party) tabling another one, and then another. James Callaghan’s administration fought of several before famously succumbing in 1979.

But if a vote of no confidence failed then Labour’s current line, that they want a general election first and foremost, would be weakened. “You can’t secure an election”, their activists could rightly point out, “so what now?”.

Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: Lidington is no Horatius

He defended the absent Prime Minister with decency and moderation, but neither Labour nor Conservative MPs were persuaded.

Then out spake spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate. Or this afternoon, out spake David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

The Prime Minister was in Berlin, where she was reported to be having difficulty getting out of her car. Labour MPs were in Westminster, where they were having difficulty conveying how cross they were with the Prime Minister for pulling the meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.

Yvette Cooper warned of  the danger of having “no vote on the deal and no vote on no deal”.  Nicky Morgan, from the Conservative benches, wanted “a categorical assurance that there will be no trickery by the Government”.

In the words of Hilary Benn, “What we learned yesterday was that today’s assurances can disappear tomorrow like a puff of wind.” Angela Eagle said the Prime Minister “has completely shredded her credibility”.

Angela Smith agreed that “the Government’s credibility is in shreds”, and added that “what we’re facing now is not a meaningful vote but a blackmail strategy”.

Thangam Debbonaire said “the Government is trying to hold a no deal Brexit gun to the country’s head”.

These trifling criticisms were fielded by Robin Walker, a junior Brexit minister, who said the meaningful vote would happen at latest on 21st January, but declined to be any more specific.

Jeremy Corbyn then opened for Labour in the emergency debate on the Government’s management of the meaningful vote.

He said Theresa May had “demeaned her office”, and accused her of “running away”. But Corbyn himself ran away from calling a vote of no confidence.

He too, it appears, is not all that keen on meaningful votes. When he accused the Prime Minister of “weak leadership”, one felt he knew of what he spoke.

Lidington rose to reply. He pointed out that in the last two months, the Prime Minister has spent “more than 22 hours at this Despatch Box”. He said that 21st January is “a deadline and not a target”, and added that “we need to push on with this sooner rather than later”.

But unlike Horatius, Lidington did not kill anyone. That is one reason why MPs like Lidington. He is not a killer.

And he treats his opponents with respect. “It’s a fair question,” as he told Benn. Lidington is admired for his decency and moderation.

All that roused Lidington to a flash of passion was the “fantasy” that one can have all the benefits of EU membership without its obligations. That thought annoyed him.

After he had spoken, the criticisms of the Prime Minister continued. Sir William Cash said she has “reached the point of no return” and “may well have to resign”. Morgan canvassed the idea of a government of national unity.

Horatius saved Rome. It does not look as if Lidington can save May.

Chicken May

Is she chickening out on Brexit? Or playing chicken with Commons and Party over her deal? Or merely a headless chicken herself – bent on daily survival?

What now is Theresa May’s plan, this morning after the day before?  The simplest explanations are often the most convincing.  In her case, this is: she no longer has one.  Her ambitions for country, party and self have shrunk to seeing each day out.  The most primal of human instincts has taken over, more urgent even than the drives to sex and food: simply to survive. Clinging to office fills her horizon.  She shuffles on into a void.  The will to power has left her a ghost.  Perhaps that is all that can be said.

But there are two other potential answers, assuming that she is not brooding on a general election or preparing to resign – a move that would be out of character for a woman who appears to equate being Prime Minister, whatever the circumstances, with doing her duty.  These explanations are worth probing because, with the future of country, Party and Brexit at stake, Conservative MPs, activists and others must work every faculty to read the signs of the times accurately, and then act promptly.

The first is that she has already decided to postpone Brexit, seek a second referendum, or both.  This take has it that she knows very well that her deal will not be substantially improved by the EU; that it therefore cannot pass through Parliament; that the Remain-friendly Commons will shortly bid for control of its proceedings and timetable – and that she will then, a confidence vote from her Parliamentary Party notwithstanding, give way.  No deal is better than a bad deal has been supplanted by any deal is better than no deal.

Like an empty boat being pushed by the tide, she will drift along with the five-sixths or so of MPs who see a no deal Brexit as the ultimate political evil.  Perhaps the Commons will somehow pull for Norway Plus instead; more likely, it won’t.  It was worth watching which Cabinet heads nodded on her own front bench yesterday when she reiterated the Government’s present stance on a second referendum – and which didn’t.  Greg Clark’s didn’t so much as twitch.  David Lidington and David Gauke are also reported to be ready for a U-turn.

As for that policy – opposition to another referendum – how sure is it?  Indeed, what faith can we place in any commitment that May makes on Brexit, or indeed on anything else?  She promised that she wouldn’t call an election last year; that her Brexit policy would be based on “a comprehensive system of mutual recognition”; that migration would be controlled during transition; that transition wouldn’t be extended; that she would oppose new regulatory barriers in the Irish sea. Ministers were told last year that the backstop had no legal effect.

Politics is a rough old trade, and bending the truth is, as elsewhere in life, part of it.  But even by the standards of Westminster, the Prime Minister’s breaches are brazen.  Leave aside as debatable those manifesto commitments on the Customs Union, the ECJ and the Single Market, and look at the events of recent days.  May said that the EU would not offer us a better deal if the present draft is rejected.  Now she suggests that it can be improved after all, not ruling out changes to the Withdrawal Agreement itself yesterday.

Stephen Barclay and Gove were sent out – the latter only yesterday morning – to assure the public that the meaningful vote would go ahead.  As late as 11am, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was insisting that this was so, even as Cabinet Ministers were briefing that it wasn’t.  Small details like these have big consequences.  Near the core of May’s problem in selling her deal to MPs is that too many of them have simply lost trust in her.  Some no longer believe assurances even when they are accurate – say, on future divergence.

The second interpretation of the Prime Minister’s thinking is completely different.  We advance it with some hesitation, because it may represent less a scheme crafted deliberately than one stumbled upon by accident.  The sum of her statement yesterday was that the meaningful vote is postponed.  She gave no indication whatsoever of when it will be brought back.  In reply to Justine Greening, she suggested that the Government is obliged to hold it by January 21.  Later that day, that was flatly contradicted by the Commons authorities.

Under their interpretation, May’s real deadline is March 28, since the Commons must ratify any amended deal reached with the EU no later than that date.  This could open up an opportunity for the Prime Minister to play a risky game of chicken with our EU interlocuters, the Commons and the Party.  For the later the meaningful vote takes place, the more sharply a no deal Brexit will loom.  This might open up an option for her: don’t rush for a settlement pre-Christmas, but spin out the talks instead – thus ramping up pressure on MPs.

It is possible to think May now believes that, under that pressure, the EU will fold next year, and offer a time limit or a unilateral exit from the backstop.  Or that she is concluding the Commons would collapse, even if the EU did not – that, with March 28 and no deal immiment, Labour would buckle and abstain, together with other opposition parties.  Or that even if Jeremy Corbyn did not, some Labour MPs would.  Meanwhile, Conservative opponents could be steered into the abstention column, and Tory abstainers into the aye lobby.

Now, this scenario makes many assumptions: that the Prime Minister will still be in place; that there is no Cabinet revolt; that the Commons has not, by the New Year, wrested control from the Government altogether; that MPs do not (if May seeks to spin out her dealings with the EU) revolt, propose the postponement of Article 50 and perhaps a second referendum, and then see her back down; that the Prime Minister has not been censured, or the Government no confidenced.

But one can also see how the truth could be found here – that May is not so much a headless chicken herself, or seeking to chicken out of Brexit but, rather, now sees before her this game of chicken unfolding as next year unfolds.  It would have one immeasurable plus from her point of view.  It would if successful be a win.  Her deal would have triumphed.  She would have crushed her internal opponents – hard Brexiteers, Norwegians, second referendum supporters: the lot.  The stage would be set for her to go on and on and on towards 2022.

So, back to the present. The wolf has cried 48 letters many times.  It may be that, unlike the animal in the fable, it never comes: that waiting for those letters is like waiting for Godot.  The next 24 hours or so may represent the last chance before the New Year for Tory MPs to act.  Some may do so, convinced that the Prime Minister is beyond rescue.  Others may waver still, terrified of the effect of a leadership challenge on what’s left of the negotiation, or unconvinced by May’s potential replacements.

Our bottom line is that the referendum result must be delivered.  If pro-Brexit MPs believe May is now set on a chicken game, they may stay their hand.  If they conclude that she is set on abandoning Brexit, they won’t and shouldn’t.  On Sunday, we recommended that Tory MPs should send in letters if no substantial change to the backstop emerges this week.  Perhaps the most reliable guide should be what could be called the Greg Hands test – namely, to send in those letters if real preparations for no deal aren’t announced before the weekend.

Chris White: A guide to what could happen in the Commons this week

I set out what could happen – and translate what the amendments to the Government’s motion mean.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

On Tuesday, the Government will face its toughest test – trying to get its Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Eight hours of debate will be followed by a series of votes that will decide the future of the UK, as well as the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. The stakes could not be higher.

Over 100 Conservative MPs have publicly declared they will vote against the Theresa May’s deal. Yet it is important to remember that there might not even be a vote on the deal. Equally, an amendment could pass which if won, would mean no vote on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. Below I set out what could happen, as well as translate what the motions actually mean.

The Government caves in and changes the Parliamentary business, or fails to move the vote, because it knows it is going to lose

The numbers look terrible for the Government, and there have been no MPs who have publicly swapped sides to endorse the Prime Minister’s deal. The reality of the situation is that the Government knows that it is going to lose, and so could decide to pull the vote and seek state that it accepts it won’t get it through Parliament. Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, took the highly unusual step of recommending this in the media. This would be highly embarrassing, but would avoid a humiliating defeat, with the Prime Minister forced to go back to Brussels to renegotiate. There are two ways of doing this:

  • Emergency Business Statement: The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, either on Monday or Tuesday at the start of Parliamentary business, makes a statement changing the business for the day, pulling the last day of debate and the votes.
  • The Government Minister winding up the debate ‘talks out’ the votes: The business motion for the debate has been cleverly drafted – under section 10 (c), only a Minister may move a closure, which basically means if they are still standing and speaking at the end of the debate, the votes won’t be moved.

An amendment to the Government motion is passed, politically changing the deal

In the table below I’ve listed the 13 amendments tabled so far by MPs. Of these, six will be selected by the Speaker – it’s not certain which he will select, but some have more chance than others – my current thinking is amendments (a) (b) (i) (k) (l) and (m). It’s unlikely that the official Labour one would succeed – amendment (a) – as Tory MPs and the DUP won’t support it, and of the others:

Hilary Benn – amendment (i) explicitly rejects the UK leaving on no deal, and demands the Government move straight to the final Parliamentary debate under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act. This is the one which the Government lost a vote on last week, which basically means that Parliament is able to direct Government politically which course of action it should pursue. Whilst this isn’t binding under legislation, and the Government could still theoretically leave under no deal terms, it would be politically challenging to do so.

Backbench Conservative – there are three motions which seek to do similar things (b) (e) and (f) – force the Government to place a time limit on the NI backstop, or to reject the backstop. Even if this passed, the UK Government would have to seek agreement from the EU.

Liberal Democrat – amendment (l) calls on the UK Government to hold a second referendum. This would require primary legislation, and even if passed swiftly, such a referendum could not be held within the next 5 months because of the time needed to organise.

No amendments are passed, but the main Government motion fails as well

In this scenario, all votes fail, and the Commons fails to both pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and direct the Government what to do next. This would be hugely damaging to the Prime Minister. Under the EU Withdrawal Act the Government has 21 days to make a statement to the Commons setting out what it plans to do next, and within seven days of that statement the Government must bring forward a motion for the House to consider. This motion can now be amended following the Government’s defeat next week, and the Commons would be able to express a view on what to do next, though this would not be binding on the Government.

What could happen next?

If the Government motion fails, and all amendments fail, then there are several things that might happen:

  • May could face a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Kier Starmer has said that Labour would table a vote, but with the DUP stating that they would support the Conservatives in such a vote, this is unlikely to succeed. If the Government did fall, there would be 14 days for another Government to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, or the country will have a General Election.
  • Conservative MPs put in 48 letters, and the party has to have a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. If 48 letters go in, this would require a swift vote of confidence, where May must win more than 50 per cemt of the 315 eligible MPs. If she lost, the party then has to elect a new leader. Given the incredibly short timescale before 29th March, the Conservative Party would be signing its own death warrant to do this.
  • Labour tries to table a censure motion about May – this is effectively a personal vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which is what happened recently to Chris Grayling. This would potentially allow Tory MPs to vote against the May without bringing down the Government. However the Government is under no obligation to provide time for an Opposition Day before Christmas, so this is unlikely to happen.
  • The Prime Minister goes to negotiate with Brussels and brings back an amended deal. This would then require the Government to win a vote on its renegotiated deal, using the procedure outlined above.
    If no negotiated deal can pass through the Commons the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

My best guess is that if the Government doesn’t pull the vote, then none of the amendments or the main motion will pass. The Government will then be forced to return to Brussels and try and renegotiate, whilst no-confidence motions in the Government or the Prime Minister are unlikely to succeed due to the dire situation the Tory Party would find itself in. What happens next will depend on whether the Prime Minister can remove either the backstop, or insert a time limit on it, in order for the deal to satisfy enough Tory MPs.

List of amendments before the House – Green means likely to be selected by the Speaker for voting, yellow means a reasonable chance of being selected.

Why Conservative MPs should prepare to call for a confidence vote in the Prime Minister’s leadership this week

A new leader will be a surer means of delivering Brexit if she can’t extract last-minute backstop concessions.

It may now not be possible for the Government to postpone Tuesday’s evening’s coming vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.  Or the Speaker – that friend of Labour and enemy of Brexit – may somehow block any such move.  Or Downing Street may find some face-saving amendment that minimises the scale of defeat.

But whatever happens, the Prime Minister has a last chance this week to amend the element of the deal that makes it unacceptable: the backstop.  So whether or not the vote takes place, she must push the EU in Brussels on Thursday for a unilateral right of exit or a time limit.

We have no confidence that such a manoeuvre will succeed if executed by her at this stage.  It could just be that, confronted by the prospect of a disorderly Brexit on its north-west frontier, the EU gives way.  But it is far more likely to stand firm, hoping – with reason – that May will then lose control of the Commons altogether, which will then push for the postponement of Article 50 and a second referendum, to which pressure she will yield.  The European Court is primed to pave the way for this development on Monday.  Furthermore, backing down on the backstop would mean the EU27 deserting one of its own, the country which has been the biggest winner in the negotiation to date: Ireland.

The Prime Minister would then have three policy options: that second referendum, Norway-plus-the-backstop and no deal.  Since she opposes all of them, the logic of the impasse would point to resignation.  But we read May as believing that it would be her duty as a public servant to carry on.  And what seems to animate her most is a fear of no deal – an outcome which the Government has had a duty to prepare for, which it has failed properly to do.

She would therefore bend either to cross-party pressure for the Norway scheme, or for that second referendum – thereby spitting in the face of the biggest-ever vote in British electoral history, breaking her own manifesto commitments, and crafting a narrative of betrayal that threatens frightening consequences for the country.  Even if she doesn’t do all this, however, the point at which she provided effective leadership and credible negotiating is past, if the backstop can’t be altered this week.

Conservative MPs will therefore have no alternative, if she can’t extract that last-minute change, but to write to Graham Brady seeking a vote of confidence in May’s leadership.  Cabinet members are preparing for this development already: today’s papers are packed with details of fledgling leadership campaigns, and Amber Rudd has already broken with Downing Street by supporting a Plan B (Norway-plus-the-backstop) if Plan A fails.

The way would thus be open for candidates supporting a second referendum, the Norway scheme or no deal to MPs and Party members.  We suspect that the eventual outcome would favour that last option.  The new Prime Minister would then face a titanic struggle between the Conservative manifesto position, reinforced by Party members, and those MPs determined to flout the referendum mandate.  His or her message to Commons and the country would be: the government I lead will deliver the referendum result.  If you want to thwart me, the only means available to you will be a vote of no confidence.

Ultimately, the argument for this course is that the alternative is even worse.  May’s threat of a Corbyn Government before Christmas is evidence of her desperation and – unless the EU somehow saves her – ruin.  For the DUP has made it clear that it will only abandon the Conservatives if her deal passes the Commons, not if it fails.

Chris Grayling: Here at Transport, we’re getting ready for Brexit – whatever happens. But here’s why I’m backing May’s deal.

If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU,

Chris Grayling is Secretary of State for Transport, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.

Last week, the UK and the US signed a new aviation agreement which will cement the air links between us once the UK leaves the EU. The agreement secures the existing air links, and sets out the ways in which new operators can enter the market in future. We have worked closely with airlines on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure we get this deal right.

Then at the weekend, we also concluded our agreement with Canada, sorting out the last significant one of our non-EU aviation links after Brexit. Within Europe, both the European Commission and other member states have been clear that there will be an aviation agreement regardless of the broader agreement – so people can feel free to book their holidays next year without any concern to countries both inside and outside the European Union.

We’re also carrying on with detailed preparation for all eventualities after Brexit. We are making provision to ease the pressure on Dover and Calais if there are customs hold ups after we leave. We are making sure British motorists have easy access to international driving licences if they are needed.

But none of us want that to happen – and certainly not the thousands of small businesses who operate in the transport field. They want a deal, and a smooth transition to the world outside the EU.

So now the focus is on delivering that broader EU exit agreement. I campaigned for Brexit in 2016, and I have not changed my view that Britain is better outside the EU, but remaining good friends and neighbours with our current EU partners. My reason for campaigning to leave was that I believe further EU integration to be necessary and inevitable if the Eurozone is to survive in the long term, and I do not believe that it is right for the UK to give up more and more of our national sovereignty.

But I am absolutely clear that the country did not vote to sever ties with our neighbours or to leave on bad terms. I believe that virtually everyone would wish to continue good relations with those countries.

For centuries, Britain has been an outward-facing, global, trading nation. In the post-Brexit world that is particularly important for all of us. Our goal is to remain good friends and neighbours with our EU partners, but also to ensure that we build and deepen ties around the world.

Good aviation links are vital if we are to achieve that. It’s why we are moving ahead with the expansion of Heathrow. It’s why we have given regional airports greater freedom to develop expanded links. And it’s why we have made sorting out updated aviation agreements to cover life outside the EU a priority.

A lot of the focus right now is on the Prime Minister, and her work to secure backing for the deal. But the British public, and Conservative MPs, should not forget the disgraceful behaviour of the Labour Party over all of this.

When I campaigned round the country for Leave, I was as warmly welcomed in Labour heartlands as in traditional Conservative areas.

Jeremy Corbyn is letting those people down, trapped as he is in a bubble of fellow travellers within the champagne socialism of a certain clique in Islington. They will not forgive him if he votes to keep free movement of people and unlimited immigration. They will not forgive him if he leaves the UK obliged to sign up to new EU laws in future. They will not forgive him if he leaves our fisheries open to all comers.

The Labour leader was always a Leaver. He claims to be a man of principle. But he’s abandoning Brexit for Party political reasons. And it will also be the final sign for millions of traditional Labour voters that their party has once and for all abandoned them.

I believe that we now need to get on with leaving the EU in March, but also to make sure we do so on good terms.

The main challenge from opponents of the current deal is focused on the backstop in it. This is a temporary arrangement that could be used if there was a delay to the final trade deal after 2020. But it is not intended to be a permanent arrangement, and both we and the EU have been clear about that. It would also be unworkable for the EU for any length of time – it would mean every time they wanted to change their laws, they would do so in the knowledge that we had no obligation to do the same, and that our business might be more competitive as a result. That is not a position that they could accept for any length of time.

The agreement which we are being asked to consider as MPs ends the free movement of people, ends the role of the European Court in the UK, leaves the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, and means that we are no longer required to adopt EU laws. We have agreed to maintain, for example, high environmental and social standards – but that’s something we would want to do anyway. If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU, where we have little control over many of these things and where more and more integration is inevitable. So we need to get behind the Prime Minister.

Nick Hargrave: The Conservative split is coming. Indeed, it is already here. Unless…

Perhaps, against all the odds, we will find a way of muddling through and preserve our broad church for a time after the era of Brexit has passed.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

My career in backroom politics began in an institution called the Conservative Research Department. Depending on how charitable your view of professional politics is, CRD can either be viewed as the meritocratic engine room of the Tory machine that in the past century has produced more Cabinet ministers than any public school or Oxbridge college; or it can be seen as an elitist playground of Westminster bubblery that shows how remote the mindset of SW1 is from people in the country at large.

Fortunately, that is not up for debate in this column. The reason I mention it is because its interview process is reflective of the tension that sits at the heart of the Conservative Party. The way in which its leading participants react to this tension will determine whether it continues to exist in its current form.

The first question every CRD interviewee is asked upon sitting down is the immortal line: ‘why are you a Conservative’?’ As someone who interviewed more potential staffers over the years than I care to remember, it is a question with the capacity to flummox even the most articulate applicant and has done so throughout the ages.

It’s a brilliant interview question because there is no perfect answer. There are some unacceptable answers that will meet with a stony reception such as that enterprise should not exist or that the concept of a British nation is entirely without merit. But other than that, the tent is broad and the floor is yours. Acceptable answers include but are not limited to: a belief in personal freedom and liberty; a general love for the nation, its institutions and traditions; backing business and free enterprise; low taxes; wanting government to get out of the way; thinking government should focus its energy on programmes that give people the opportunity to make the most of their talents; aspiration; social mobility; the family; a hand up but not a hand out; supporting our armed forces; localism and community; a deep scepticism to the bureaucracy of the European Union and many more things besides.

The truth is this: conservatism is really a disposition rather than an ideology. It is a complicated web of values rooted in the free market and nation state that have fused together as a product of our national history, British level-headedness, a sense that getting things done in Government beats the pompous purity of Opposition – reinforced and helped along by the electoral system of first past the post. If the delicate web of values can be condensed into a simple sentence it is only this: a belief that change is inevitable and often beneficial but it must be managed organically and in accordance with the traditions of the country.

That at least would have been the historic definition. But the United Kingdom’s place with the European Union has gnawed away at this sense of unity for as long as I have been alive. It is the perfect juxtaposition of the competing values of national identity and economic security. And it’s been given new life by a worldwide reassessment of capitalism and nationalism in the displacing effects of a global market, a new era of digital discourse where the old give and take seems irrelevant – and David Cameron’s decision to get out of a political bind in 2013 by bringing this question to a head in a referendum. All despite the fact that our country is constitutionally ill-equipped to deal with direct democracy.

But we are where we are, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no point pretending that a second referendum will make this go away. The people are boss; they voted for Britain to leave the European Union and it must be implemented. We should also accept that, despite the best will in the world and no matter what clever solution is arrived at in the next few months, the debate about Brexit isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

There is no magical answer – whether compromise or extreme – that will suddenly make the country think this is dispatched and done. The only thing that could conceivably change the national conversation any time soon is a new arc of politics around a global recession, a global security incident or something else out of left-field and probably deeply unpleasant; and as corrosive and boring as Brexit is to our political culture, I would take it any day over those options.

Once you accept this premise, the path ahead for the Conservative Party becomes a little clearer. There are only three ways to go on the road ahead.

We can have a ‘soft split’, more likely if the Deal does somehow gets passed. We morph after March into an explicitly protectionist and nationalist party as a form of catharsis to what the then previous Prime Minister, Theresa May, agreed. This will be a popular position in some parts of Britain and it is where the bulk of our membership is. But it has little future in our capital city, other metropolitan areas and – in my view at least – it will provide diminishing returns over time with the voters of tomorrow. This scenario inevitably sees us becoming the ‘We Shouldn’t Have Signed the Deal’ party. There are many branching histories to this, but I think most of them end up with a Labour Government by 2022.

We can have a ‘hard split’ where the Conservative Party becomes separate political entities over Brexit-defined lines; the parliamentary flux over the next few weeks makes this a possible outcome. Dispassionately, if the alternative is chaos, there might merit to this proposal if the moderate Conservative faction were to find common cause with the moderate Labour one to deliver an orderly Brexit . But, again, the only way it doesn’t lead to a hard-left Jeremy Corbyn Government is if tribal loyalties were to be left behind on both sides. I am yet to be convinced.

Or, against all the odds, we find a way of muddling through and preserve our broad church for a time after the historical era of Brexit has passed (with an inevitable peeling off of some MPs on the extremes). To do this, the party can only do one thing. It has to come to its senses and decide an imperfect compromise – whether the PM’s current deal or the Norway option as a backup – is the best long-term bet for our political family and national unity. You would need a leader of exceptional political skill to make this argument given where we have got to now. Any takers?

Drained of authority? Yes. Rudderless? Certainly. Humiliated? Absolutely. But May’s very weakness is becoming a strange strength.

She looks increasingly like the captive of pro-Remain cross-party MPs working together against the pro-Leave referendum mandate.

  • Good news for Julian Smith.  The essence of the Grieve amendment is that it opens up a path to No Brexit.  Very well, the Chief Whip may be tempted to think.  If pro-Leave MPs believe they have a choice between a Grieve-led No Brexit and Theresa May’s flawed deal, they will vote for the latter next Tuesday.  Conspiracy theorists yesterday evening were suggesting that this reasoning explains why loyalists such as Damian Green and Oliver Letwin voted against the Government and for the amendment.
  • But hang on. There’s bad news for Smith.  Steve Baker and the ERG leadership are having none of it.  Let Grieve table and pass as many motions as he likes, they were arguing yesterday: the Government cannot be mandated by motions.  The Prime Minister can and should tell the Remainers to bog off if necessary.  All she and her government need to do is to hang on until March 29, and Brexit will be duly delivered.  So the ERG and other Brexiteers will vote against the Government next week. Smith’s cunning plan won’t work.
  • And there is worse news for him, too.  Perhaps the Grieve amendment will have an effect at the margins on some Leavers.  But Remainers now have an incentive to vote against May next week: to prod the Commons towards No Brexit.  And the ERG and other Leavers have an incentive, too: to keep the pressure up on May for No Deal, if necessary.  So Smith’s clever plan is in danger not only of not working; it threatens to boomerang back to smack the Whips Office in the jaw.
  • But wait. Yes, there’s good news for the Chief Whip after all.  Even if they band together to vote down May’s deal next Tuesday, the aims of the Remainers and Leavers will be different.  In a nutshell, the drift of the Prime Minister’s Brexit policy, over two and a half years, has been from a Nick Timothy-crafted position with clear red lines…through Chequers and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson…to the breaking of those lines over Northern Ireland, transition and the backstop.  The policy is softer than it was.
  • So it is now clearly in the interests of the Remainers to keep May in place.  The lesson that Grieve and company will draw from yesterday is: keep pushing.  Working with Labour and other opposition parties, they can use the pro-Remain sympathies of the Commons to their advantage.  A change of leader would probably mean a new Brexiteer Prime Minister, such as Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab or even David Davis, armed with a mandate to defy No Brexit and deliver No Deal. Why would they want that?
  • And it is not clear that Leavers on the Conservative benches have the numbers to depose her.  Jacob Rees-Mogg and Baker couldn’t find them last month.  It might be that, in the wake of a defeat for May next week, Brexiteers decide that enough is enough, and that elusive total of 48 letters is reached then – or even before.  None the less, it isn’t evident that they have enough support to topple May in a confidence ballot (though Mark Harper’s defection from the loyalist ranks may be a sign that her days are numbered).
  • The swing voters are, as ever, the J.Alfred Prufrocks of the backbenches.  According to our count, 181 Conservative MPs voted Remain in 2016, and 129 voted Leave.  Obviously, the Commons has changed a bit since then.  But the average Tory MP is a soft Remainer or moderate Leaver – perhaps with an eye to the Norway option being pushed by some of Grieve’s supporters yesterday.  (Indeed, his amendment can be seen as a pincer movement on the Prime Minister by a makeshift alliance of Remainers and Norwegians.)
  • What stirs more fear in those backbenchers – No Deal or No Brexit? Do they dread most the undoubted difficulties of No Deal, leading to a collapse of confidence in the Government, the loss of their seats, and a Corbyn-led Government – perhaps sooner rather than later?  Or do they fear No Brexit more – and the revenge of a turbulent electorate, cheated of the prize it voted for, which sends the Conservatives the way of the old Christian Democrats in Italy?  There is no away of knowing.
  • At any rate, May’s very weakness is now a strange strength.  Voted guilty of contempt of Parliament; beaten three times yesterday (the first time a government has been so for some 40 years); staring down the barrel of defeat next week, she now leads the weakest government in modern times.  But this very vulnerability is becoming a strange source of strength – or survival, at any rate.  She hangs on because her party can’t agree on a replacement.  Because while it doesn’t like her plan, it can’t settle on an alternative.
  • Could the Cabinet oust her next week?  Perhaps.  But, as recent events have shown, a Prime Minister can impose a plan on a Cabinet that it doesn’t much care for.  She controls its meetings, proceedings and minutes.  Each of her Ministers has their own ambitions and agendas: they do not find it easy to act in concert.  She has ridden out the resignations of two Brexit Secretaries, a Foreign Secretary and a Work and Pensions Ministers.  And called the bluff of the pizza gang of five Cabinet Leavers.
  • Might she resign if beaten next week?  Maybe.  But if she quits as Party leader, she will open the door to a Brexiteer as her replacement.  And it is not clear whether she could simply resign as Prime Minister.  That would put the Queen in a difficult position.  Would the latter then send for, say, David Lidington, or for Jeremy Corbyn and, in either case, on what basis?  Any such move would be resisted by the Palace.  In any event, Prime Ministers tend not to resign.  The last to go willingly was Harold Wilson, and he was ill.
  • So can May go on…and on…and on? Almost certainly not.  Leavers are losing patience with her.  Remainers are using her.  Any dash from cover risks her swift removal – whatever tactical alliances may form to prop her up temporarily.  A tilt to Norway, No Brexit or No Deal risks stirring up those parts of the Parliamentary Party opposed to all three.  The only glimmer of good news comes from her Party’s right – and the departure of Nigel Farage from a UKIP lurching wildly to the fringes (though she has lost the DUP).
  • Finally, ponder the shape of events.  Voters were narrowly for Leave in 2016.  The Commons is still for Remain: perhaps a sixth of it is for Brexit by conviction rather than calculation.  And the long and short of it is that the more time passes – and the deeper the Government’s crisis becomes – the less MPs pay even lip-service to the biggest event in our electoral history.  The tide in Parliament is for Remain.  It moves slowly – even glacially.  But it is carrying the Prime Minister with it.

Johnny Mercer: Ministers are asking for my vote next week. But I’m asking them for a vision – now.

I, like many colleagues, react badly to the Party’s decision to try and strong-arm me into voting for this deal.

Johnny Mercer is a member of the Defence Select Committee and MP for Plymouth Moor View.

I’ve no idea what to do. I’m looking for hope – for inspiration from the generation of Cabinet ministers and seniors members of our Party who led us to this point.

I came into politics for fairly niche reasons. I fought for years in an unpopular war and, fed up of the politicians feigning interest, I decided to run for office. My city of Plymouth – I’m passionate about it. Whilst my wafer-thin experience in politics helps me to retain a degree of perspective in these tumultuous times, it has also caught me out. I regret not being clear enough in some areas: for example, I never said that I wouldn’t vote Conservative in that notorious interview in October; I simply stated that a young, busy family attempting to assert itself in a competitive and chaotic world would probably take one look at the current political offerings and simply not take the time out to go and vote, because those offerings are so poor. But of course that view can be twisted. And I should have known that.

None the less, this perspective has also led me to some pretty dark conclusions of late. I have been firm in my criticism of this administration – one of which almost everyone knows my description, and one by which I resolutely stand by (though will not repeat). There are many people in this country who want – indeed need – a competent compassionate modern Conservative Government: I must speak out for them. The fear that they may turn to a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn – particularly in Plymouth – is the single motivation for all of my interventions. Nothing more and nothing less.

But amidst all this, I have been looking for a vision – at no moment more so than now. There are plenty of colleagues who have come into Parliament to extract Britain from the European Union. They respect my endless diatribes about how this country treats its military, and in return I entirely respect them and their views on Europe. I remain ambivalent: the EU is an issue of course, but it is not the issue of our modern times. Many more people join the Conservative Party, as I did, for reasons other than Europe. I want to leave the EU – we must leave. But for what?

And I ask that not mockingly, but with a genuine desire to hear the answer. I, like many colleagues, react badly to the Party’s decision to try and strong-arm me into voting for this deal. The idea that a group of senior people in our Party who lost a 21 point lead in a self-indulgent general election – to Jeremy Corbyn – are advising me to now listen to my constituents, having singularly failed to do that themselves ever since David Cameron left office, is genuinely amusing. The arrogance of failing to answer the question – what is “Plan B”? – as part of a suite of unthinkable threats including a general election, no Brexit, or a no deal catastrophe, actually push me away from supporting this particular deal. The clear deception of red lines crossed without acknowledgement, and the idea of the UK being a junior partner in a relationship that we cannot unilaterally leave, leaves agnostics like me are looking for an alternative.

But I can’t hear it. How are my constituents – who voted almost 70 perc ent to leave the EU – how are their lives going to be better off in April compared to March, immediately after this momentous decision? How will being outside of the European Union help our core mission as modern Conservatives – to meet the challenges of a modern Britain that is changing so fast. Why or how is food going to be cheaper for some of my poorest families? How will being outside the ECJ help my small entrepreneurial businesses in Plymouth? How will our economy thrive to provide the jobs – the single biggest accelerant of life chances in our most deprived communities like mine. How will Brexit provide the engine that drives a health service so desperately in need of reform in places like Plymouth?

I could go on, but I won’t. At some point, someone, somewhere in a position of influence in this Party will wake up and realise that the politics of fear will only take us so far. It is easy to scare people into voting for you. It is harder to sell a vision, to advocate, to persuade – to lead people to a brighter future. But that is the key question this week. Can a case be made for a bright alternative, or are we going to accept this deal as ‘the best we can do’, ‘could always be worse’, answer that won’t encourage a single swing voter to vote for us at the next election? I wait with interest. More importantly, the country does.