"I supported the Prime Minister and I still do now"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 18, 2018
“I still think a deal could be done. But it is very late in the day now, and we need to change course.”
“I still think a deal could be done. But it is very late in the day now, and we need to change course.”
May won’t yield to their demand for renegotiation unless she believes that at least some of them will quit. And on the basis of last week, why would she?
Each politician has his or her own ideals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears. It follows that the more MPs there are involved in a scheme, the more likely these qualities are to clash and collide, like particles in an experiment. The discipline of party or government is usually required to keep politicians marching in step – and that includes Cabinet Ministers.
Which brings us to the five who want Theresa May to renegotiate aspects of her draft deal. One might assume that Ministers as senior as Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, when banded together, carry the authority of the Government with them. But in this case, they do not. It rests with Theresa May. She is Prime Minister. The Cabinet is her Cabinet. She controls its agenda. She shapes the minutes.
This is why she was able to see off last week’s Cabinet push to get her to renegotiate the deal. There are no votes round the Cabinet table, as Esther McVey discovered. There is no loyal Opposition. Cabinet decisions may not be unanimous but they are, to use a word that May deployed herself, collective. If a Cabinet Minister is opposed to one to the point where he cannot live with it, his only course is to resign – as McVey and Dominic Raab duly did in the meeting’s wake.
Only when a Prime Minister has lost her power do Cabinet Ministers gain more of it than she has. This, notoriously, was the case when Margaret Thatcher was forced out. She had beaten off a leadership challenge, but not by enough to maintain her command. Her successor could be in a situation similar, or worse, by the end of the coming week. But she is not there yet, if she ever will be. While she would be foolish to sack any of the five – her powers are not limitless – her grip is for the moment tenuous, but real.
She will also have a shrewd grasp of the position of each of the five. She won’t read Liam Fox as a resigner. Nor Chris Grayling. Michael Gove backed her plan very reluctantly in Cabinet, has tried to persuade her to change it, pondered resignation…but not resigned. It would be difficult for him now to go. That leaves Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps the most likely of the five to walk (though one never knows). But that tangle of motives may divide them, which opens the door to divide and rule.
In short, the threat of resignation is ultimately the only device likely to make May yield to their push. And she will surely be thinking that if none of them quit last week, then why would any of them do so this week? It may be that other Cabinet Ministers will now join them. It is even possible that the Prime Minister will give way. But if they aren’t prepared to walk away, they will probably get an outcome they won’t like. Where else have we heard that recently?
Article 20 says that the backstop will only ‘cease to apply’ if ‘the Union and United Kingdom decide jointly’ that it should end – no sovereign right for the UK to leave.
Customs checks in Irish Sea
Article 9 of the backstop states that ‘the [VAT and excise] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 6 to this Protocol concerning goods shall apply to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.
Annex 2 of the backstop allows certain charges and costs recovered to take place when goods travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU is making no secret of the fact that Northern Ireland will be treated differently: ‘the EU’s Customs Code will also continue to apply in Northern Ireland… Under the backstop and in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland businesses can place products on the EU’s internal market without restriction. Placing goods on the internal market that come from outside of Northern Ireland requires that the processes provided for in the Union Customs Code will have to be applied’ (European Commission, November 2018, link)
This is despite the Prime Minister saying on 9 July: ‘First, there is what is provided for in the European Council’s guidelines from March this year. This amounts to a standard free trade agreement for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market. No Prime Minister of our United Kingdom could ever accept this; it would be a profound betrayal of our precious Union.’
Regulatory checks in the Irish Sea
Article 7 of the backstop says that ‘nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market’. This does not apply for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Article 7 of the backstop says that there could be ‘controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland’
The UK in respect of Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of rules that are related to the EU’s Single Market and indispensable for avoiding a hard border: legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls (“SPS rules”), rules on agricultural production/marketing, VAT and excise in respect of goods, and state aid rules
Article 8 of the backstop provides for goods from Northern Ireland to be indicated as ‘UK(NI)’ – a clear separation of Northern Ireland from the UK.
Article 10 of the backstop says that ‘the [Agriculture and environment] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 5 to this Protocol shall apply, under the conditions set out therein, to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.
The EU has said that that ‘in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can place products on the EU’s Single Market without restriction, it will be necessary for the UK in respect of Northern Ireland to maintain specific regulatory alignment with the EU’ (European Commission, November).
The EU has been clear that a regulatory barrier will be introduced for goods coming in from Great Britain: ‘There… [will be] some compliance checks with EU standards, consistent with risk, to protect consumers, economic traders and businesses in the Single Market. The EU and the UK have agreed to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible. The scale and frequency of the checks could be further reduced through future agreements between the EU and the UK. For industrial goods, checks are based on risk assessment, and can mostly take place in the market or at traders’ premises by the relevant authorities. Such checks will always be carried out by UK authorities. As for agricultural products, already existing checks at ports and airports will need to continue, but will be increased in scale in order to protect the EU’s Single Market, its consumers and animal health’ (European Commission, November 2018, link).
This is despite May saying on 9 October 2017:
Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP): “I want to give comfort to the people in Northern Ireland on this matter of not having a soft or hard border down the middle of the Irish sea. I want that assurance because the people of Ulster feel that they are being set on the sidelines.
Prime Minister: “I am very happy to give that assurance. We do not want to see a border down the Irish sea either. We want to maintain the integrity of the internal market of the United Kingdom.”
The whole UK will stay in a customs union
Article 6 of the Backstop says that: ‘a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom shall be established (“the single customs territory”). There is no possibility of the UK being able to do its own trade deals under this. This is made clear in Article 3 of Annex 2 of the Backstop: ‘Under no circumstances may the United Kingdom: (a) apply to its customs territory a customs tariff which is lower than the Common Customs Tariff for any good or import from any third country… apply or grant in its customs territory tariff preferences to any good on the basis of rules of origin that are different from those governing the granting of such preferences to the same good by the Union in its customs territory’.
This looks set to become permanent. The text in the Withdrawal Agreement states that there is a ‘common objective of a close future relationship, which will establish ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in this protocol’ (p.303).
This is despite the Conservative Party Manifesto 2017 pledging that –
“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or the customs union.”
Possibility of the extension of the transition period
Article 132 (p122): Provides for a one-off extension of the transition period (potentially up to 2099). This is despite the Prime Minister promising –
“An implementation period ‘of around two years’.
The backstop can only end with EU permission
This is despite multiple promises from Cabinet Ministers that the UK would have a unilateral right to leave.
EU control of our laws / level playing field
Article 12 of the Backstop says that ‘the [State Aid] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 8 to this Protocol shall apply to the United Kingdom’ (p.317). The same Article also treats Northern Ireland differently. Article 12(3) makes clear that the European Commission has the power to investigate ‘a measure by the United Kingdom authorities that may constitute unlawful aid’.
The EU also says that states that ‘The aim of the Protocol is to ensure that EU law, in the areas stipulated in Protocol 3 to Cyprus’s Act of Accession, will continue to apply in the Sovereign Base Areas’.
Article 174 says that matters could be referred to the ECJ. The EU even makes this clear in a chart on their website (see below).
Article 87 says that ‘if the European Commission considers that the United Kingdom has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties or under part…. of the agreement before the end of the transition period, the European Commission may, within four years after the end of the transition period, bring the matter before the Court of Justice’.
Again this is a clear breach of multiple promises by the Prime Minister – for example, that –
“We are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen’.
Opposing this proposal serves only to help those who wish to undermin eour desire to respect the referendum result. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.
David Davies is Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Monmouth.
Ever since I entered Parliament in 2005, I have passionately and sincerely campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Back in 2011, long before it became policy, I joined the Parliamentary rebellion to support a referendum on the issue.
Immediately after the referendum was announced, I began my daily campaign for Leave, both in my constituency and across the UK. I have knocked on countless doors and addressed many meetings in aid of this cause. So I do not think anyone can say I have not done my bit for Brexit.
It is precisely because of my longstanding support for Brexit that I will be backing the deal proposed by Theresa May. It is not perfect, and there are many things I would like to have seen done differently in the negotiations. The Government should have begun planning earlier for no deal ,and made clear our willingness to follow this path if necessary. This would undoubtedly have increased our leverage in the negotiations.
And, there are areas where I will seek further reassurance. Not least, that no deal planning continues so that we maintain our ability to walk away if we have to. But all of us have to deal with where we are now – with the circumstances in front of us.
This deal will take us out of the EU on 29th March 2019, as planned. Not as far out as I or many of my colleagues would like, but out nonetheless. And once we are out, there is no returning.
Franklin D Roosevelt famously asked people to ‘judge him by the enemies he made’. The Prime Minister would do well to ask the Conservative Party to do the same when it comes to this deal.
It is telling that some of the most vehement opponents of the deal are longstanding Remainers, who are explicit about their desire to overturn the referendum result. And, of course, the entire Labour frontbench, which smells an opportunity to try and remove the Conservative Government from office and usher in a Marxist one.
If this was truly as bad a Brexit as many claim, it is hard to see why those groups are working so hard to defeat it. Ultimately, their aim is for Brexit to fail. The reason they are working so hard to stop this deal is because they know that, if it is passed and we do leave in March next year, there is no going back.
After working and campaigning so hard for Brexit, I cannot understand why my colleagues would rather walk through the lobbies with those who have spent the past years trying to thwart them. Surely they can see doing as much would only play into their hands.
Many of my colleagues believe that if this deal is voted down, it will lead to us getting a better deal, with a cleaner break from the EU or just to no deal at all. But, with the greatest respect to them, there are no guarantees. It is just as likely, and possibly more likely, that we will end up locked into the Customs Union and Single Market permanently or, even worse, that we do not leave at all.
Lining up against this deal fundamentally risks what we have all worked so hard to deliver. Ultimately, it only serves to help those who wish to undermine our position and our desire to respect the result of the referendum. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.
This has been shown through the recent history of the Conservative Party. I fought my first general election in 1997. And, as with many of our candidates that year, I was resoundingly beaten. Why? Because our party had spent the past four years tearing chunks out of each other over Europe. The public have always taken a dim view of such division and self-interest. They will do so again. In the end, they simply want us to get on with it.
There is undoubtedly more work to be done over the coming weeks and months – even years. But this deal allows us to end the free movement of people, end our contributions to the EU budget, end our membership of the Common Agricultural Policy, take back control of our waters by ending the Common Fisheries Policy and have the ability to strike our own trade deals for the first time in over 40 years. Most of all ,it allows us to leave the European Union.
The honest truth for those of us that have long supported Brexit is that if this deal had been offered to us before the referendum, we would have gratefully grabbed it with both hands. We should all do so now.
Which may or may not cast light on why the Chairman of the 1922 Committee must make enquiries about correspondence in his possession.
Friday November 17 2018
Dear Sir Graham,
This is a letter to express no confidence in Theresa May as Leader of the Conservative Party and to request a ballot of confidence in her as holder of that position under the condition, first, that she has clearly lost the confidence of a significant section of the Conservative Parliamentary Party (an assessment to be established by yourself in close consultation with myself); second, that no sum below £100,000 has been received from either the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and/or Conservative Campaign Headquarters for the refurbishment of the roof of the working headquarters of Grummidge West Conservative Association (address to be provided to yourself in unminuted coversation with myself together with relevant bank account details) by 8am this coming Monday, November 19; and, third, a further unminuted conversation, this time in relation to the workings of the honours system, is to take place by 18.00 tomorrow, Sunday November 18, between yourself, myself and Lady – apologies – Mrs Prufrock at a secure location the address of which is to be determined by yourself and myself during that first unminuted conversation which must take place by 23.30 this evening, Saturday November 17, by which time I will have returned from my evening engagements, details of which I cannot disclose for security reasons. I trust all this is clear.
P.S: Please eat this note after reading.
The finding suggests that she will have an uphill struggle to sell it to them, just as she did over Chequers.
Last month, 68 per cent of respondents to our survey wanted a Canada Plus Plus Plus-type Brexit, or else no deal at all – in other words, a quite hard to very hard Brexit.
And this month, we have 72 per cent against the Prime Minister’s draft deal and 23 per cent for it.
In other words, the bulk of our Party member panel respondents want a hardish or clean Brexit, and see Theresa May’s draft deal as not delivering it – a view that many will have taken without reading the best part of 600 pages of which it consists.
But there you go. It’s salutory to look back to our final survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.
What seems to have happened over time is that a very big slice of those Tory activists who voted Leave have solidified behind the clean or hardish Brexit that they probably always favoured in the first place.
It will be claimed that there is more support for the Prime Minister’s draft deal among Party members than this finding suggests, to which we make three responses.
First, the survey was opened on Thursday morning, and most responses arrived before May’s Commons statement and press conference of later that day, which might have made a difference at the margin. And, certainly, views may change.
Second, this is the much same panel that swung behind May’s joint report agreement of last December by 73 per cent to 22 per cent. It has not been reflexively hostile to everything she has done in the Brexit negotiations.
Finally, the survey results tend to end up in the same ball park as YouGov’s polls of party members, which are infrequent, but we regard as the gold standard. After all, theirs are opinion polls and ours is a self-selecting survey.
That said, the survey has a strong record, and the message that this result sends to Downing Street is: polls suggest that voters haven’t swung behind your deal, and seven out of ten Party members oppose it.
A new study of the 2017 general election shows May failing to insist on a message and a manifesto which supported each other.
The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh
We have heard an awful lot from Theresa May in recent days, and it is not clear this will be to her advantage. For although she deserves, and receives, respect for her dogged courage, she also reminds everyone of her limitations, which include a use of language so wooden even her admirers feel their spirits sink as they listen to her.
I cannot be the only person who sometimes switches off one of her performances before the end, because it is too painful to go on hearing such trite, repetitive, tin-eared, well-meaning but inadequate stuff.
The sense grows that she has been miscast, and cannot find the words to sell a Brexit deal which proves on examination to contain various highly contentious answers to some admittedly very difficult questions. Nor does her obstinacy – her propensity, once she has adopted a policy, to cling to it for dear life and refuse to admit that it might require modification – allow her to manoeuvre her way through.
One of the virtues of this book is to remind us that we have been here before. May’s limitations, and her inability under pressure to transcend them, were exposed in the 2017 general election campaign.
Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh cast much new light on that campaign. Her advisers realised she remained popular, in the first year of her prime ministership, in part because she was not over-exposed. People found this a refreshing change from what had gone before, when David Cameron, who has a wonderful facility with words, embraced with enthusiasm the task of being “commentator in chief”.
May could not fill, morning after morning, the Thought for the Day slot, and the public quite liked the fact that she could not fill it. Inarticulacy, the use of polite smiles and bland phrases to indicate generalised goodwill without actually saying anything or getting too closely involved, is a British characteristic. We warm to the person like May who prefers looking after the tea urn to making a series of listen-to-me remarks over a bottle of champagne.
In that sense, she is well-suited to being an anti-Establishment politician. Members of the Establishment are always so damn sure of themselves, always so ready to explain to lesser mortals why their view of the world is the correct one. May does not possess that eloquence which so easily slips into arrogance.
Chris Wilkins, who had worked for her when she was Conservative Party Chairman and in 2002 drafted her famous “nasty party” speech, at the start of 2017 wrote with James Johnson, who was doing some polling for Number Ten about how she was seen as Prime Minister, a paper, quoted in this book, about how she should be used:
“Harness the strength and popularity of the Prime Minister when it is appropriate… But one of the things people like about her approach is that it is business-like, and that she is quietly getting on with the job, and not always in the public spotlight… The very strength of the PM’s presence is that she is not always present.“
Wilkins and his colleagues in Downing Street wanted May to be the “change candidate”, which was how she had presented herself when she entered Number Ten and promised to be driven “not by the interests of the privileged few”, but by the just about managing: “I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.”
She was going to be the candidate not so much of Middle England as of working-class England, going after voters who had shown in the referendum that they wanted not just to leave the EU but “a fundamental change to how the country works”.
Lynton Crosby, who ended up running the 2017 campaign, later dismissed this line of thinking as “classic woolly populist bullshit”. One of the Number Ten advisers who produced it tells Cowley and Kavanagh that it was at least “very effective and strongly researched classic woolly populist bullshit”.
Crosby insisted the line to be used when launching the 2017 manifesto must be “strong and stable” – words May repeated so often during the seven-week campaign that she soon started to sound like a parody of herself.
And she was presenting a manifesto for change, including what quickly came to be known as the dementia tax. Two months ago, Paul Goodman published on this site the radical, anti-establishment, change-focused election launch speech Wilkins had written to go with the manifesto.
As it was, the speech she gave did not go with the manifesto she was launching. One or other should have been jettisoned.
And the ultimate responsibility for that lies with May, not with Crosby or with anyone else. These authors write in a scrupulously impartial manner, but indicate that May was often astonishingly uncritical of the material put before her:
“Blessed with an extremely good memory, the Prime Minister had the ability to read a full statement and repeat it almost verbatim. As one of her team noted: ‘She reads it through once, it’s an almost photographic memory. And I mean word-for-word, not paraphrasing.’ But unlike some Prime Ministers, May did not get closely involved in preparing speeches. She would occasionally cut things out, but there was never much back and forth. ‘At times,’ said another aide, ‘I found it a bit worrying just how easy it was to get the Prime Minister to say things.'”
One could call this professional of May. If you have a good speech-writer, why not just use what they provide? But it is in the process of writing a speech that you discover what it is possible for you as Prime Minister, or indeed you as a less significant person, to say with conviction. You find out what you actually believe, and how to set about taking the public into your confidence. With May – and in fairness to her, with many other politicians too – listeners generally feel they are being kept at an insultingly safe distance from both her head and her heart.
Margaret Thatcher devoted enormous effort to her most important speeches, often destroying in the process all the best stuff that had been served up to her by such figures as Ronald Millar, John Selwyn Gummer, Matthew Parris and Ferdinand Mount, the last of whom has written, in Cold Cream, a wonderfully funny account of the horror of writing things for her.
The manifesto was hard going too, for as Mount relates,
“all concerned were determined that the document should be as bland and inoffensive as possible. This was not Mrs Thatcher’s view. She kept on sending back the draft with ‘Dull, nothing exciting in this’ scrawled in her manic sprawly hand. The manifesto group then tried to think of a different way of being dull which at least sounded a bit livelier. ‘Couldn’t we have a sentence about our magical heritage of moorland and mountain?’ I said wistfully. This was greeted with derision, especially by Nigel Lawson.”
Thatcher’s way of doing things was by no means perfect, but at least it meant the major documents she was going to have to present and defend had been subjected to ferocious scrutiny before they saw the light of day. May’s willingness to spout her lines like an obedient schoolchild seems by comparison culpably negligent, indeed culpably unimaginative. It is as if she does not even realise how much what she says matters.
The book under review takes its place in a series of studies of all 20 general elections since 1945. It makes use of Mark Wallace’s “devastating account” on this site of how the Conservative Party’s “rusty machine” failed to function in 2017.
The 500 pages provide a quarry of materials on which other historians will be able to draw for many years to come. The authors adorn their text with some of the best cartoons published during the election, as well as with learned tables.
And they start to place May in a wider perspective. Harold Wilson in 1970 and Edward Heath in 1974 called elections earlier than needed, and lost, but James Callaghan in 1978 and Gordon Brown in 2007 declined to call elections which they might have won. Here are the authors comparing May to the latter figure:
“Whilst neither might like the comparison, there were multiple similarities between May and Brown. One was a son of the manse, the other a vicar’s daughter; both had a belief in public service and in trying to do what they thought was right for their country; both had enhanced their reputations with extended periods of ministerial office in one department; both followed prime ministers who they and especially members of their teams saw as superficial; both had loyal, perhaps excessively loyal, consiglieres who had dysfunctional relationships with others in their party; both experienced honeymoon periods after taking office, in which they enjoyed high levels of public popularity (often to the surprise of those who knew them well), after which both then struggled to articulate their vision; both appeared to suffer from a lack of emotional intelligence, often failing to connect or at least appear to empathise with the public; and both – in different ways – were to come a cropper over snap elections.”
The Prime Minister surely knows that doing so is damaging. But she appears willing to disregard the cost out of desperation.
Theresa May: “We can choose to leave with no deal… risk no Brexit at all… or unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated”
PM defends draft #Brexit deal in the Commons
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) 15 November 2018
I doubt Theresa May began her statement to the Commons yesterday expecting to receive any cheers. So it must have been a pleasant surprise to her when positive noises did indeed echo forth at one point.
Before banking applause, however, it’s important to look at who it is coming from and why. Yesterday, her vocal supporters were those on the Opposition benches who want to prevent Brexit entirely. The most implacable opponents of your Government’s most fundamental policy are probably not the group any politician ought to seek to please. So how did the Prime Minister come to delight them?
Their joy came at five simple words in her statement: “risk no Brexit at all”. It’s easy to see why this caused excitement: here was Theresa May, the person overseeing the whole process, giving succour to the most hardcore Remain hope that we might simply call the whole thing off.
It was damaging enough for Labour and Lib Dem politicians to tout that possibility from the fantasy-pulpit of Opposition. Doing so fuelled divisions in the country that might otherwise have been healed in time, and simultaneously encouraged EU negotiators to believe that their best interests might be served by treating the UK as harshly as possible. The Government itself argued this in the past, and May must surely remember that critique; for the Prime Minister to now contribute to such harm herself is irresponsible at best.
The strategy which led her to do so rests on making two contradictory claims. She hopes to terrify pro-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is No Deal, while simultaneously terrifying anti-EU MPs into backing her deal by threatening that the alternative is no Brexit.
By implication, she seems to believe not only that each group will believe her, but that neither will ever hear the message intended for the other. Neither of these assumptions seems entirely wise.
The damage threatened by such an approach should be evident, and if it is not then she should observe who cheers her on when she deploys it. Their applause did not come because they sought to help her in delivering Brexit, but because they believe she is helping them in cancelling it.
The Prime Minister has recently started to claim that she ignores her colleagues’ concerns about her approach because she serves “the national interest”. This is a dubious basis on which to assert unassailable authority, as though it were a motivation unique to her. As Iain Martin points out: ‘Everyone involved thinks they are operating in the national interest, they disagree about what that is. Hence, politics.’
Touting the possibility of “no Brexit at all” in a desperate attempt to force her proposal through does not serve the national interest. Indeed, it looks like self-interest has taken priority.
So he’s left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.
Friends of Michael Gove made the case to ConservativeHome yesterday evening for him sticking, not twisting. This seems to be the sum of the advice he’s received from them, and he’s gone with it. This morning we learn that he will not resign. So the course of events during the last few days has been, first, that he reluctantly supported May’s deal in Cabinet; second, that when offered the Brexit Secretary post, he said that he would only take it were she to seek now to renegotiate it; third, that this request was refused and now fourth, that he isn’t resigning, but will stay at DEFRA.
The sum of all this is that it is known more widely than before that he doesn’t really back the deal. Furthermore, having now stuck rather than twisted, he will find it very hard to twist in the near future – however bad things get. He will be very well aware of the risk, in the long-lingering aftermath of his decision to walk away from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, of feeding more ammunition to the Tracey Ullmann Breaks The News caricature of him as unreliable (an impression now deepened in Downing Street). So he is left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.
If this sounds unappetising – which it is – then so, in the great scheme of things, is the alternative. The anxiety that will consume senior members of the Cabinet – such as Gove, Sajid Javid and Liam Fox – is that their resignations could potentially bring down the Government, and open the door to Jeremy Corbyn. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act is an obstacle to that outcome but, as we saw last summer, it is not an insuperable barrier to an election. And as a Minister in the very front line of No Deal planning Gove will know how formidable are the challenges that it presents, and feel a sense of duty to help see it through. Whoever said that politics is easy?
Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.
Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.
I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.
Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.
She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.
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On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.
Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.
Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.
So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.
Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.
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I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.
If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.
Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.
– – – – – – – – – –
I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.
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This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.
But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.
The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.
May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.
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Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.
Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.
According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…
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