Tweet Follow @RPJblog
By Jason Michael
BREXIT MEANS BREXIT, said Theresa May on the meaning of Brexit, except that now Brexit doesn’t mean that Brexit anymore – unless of course this Brexit is what she meant all along. Let’s not get too caught up on what all of that means, because, if we have learned anything of the meaning of “strong and stable” under this Conservative government, its means strong means ‘fragile’ and stable is ‘constant instability and flip-flopping.’ At Chequers on Friday the Prime Minister put a new “Brexit of compromise” before her Cabinet, the first real sign on the British side that its Brexit as British independence is coming apart at the seams.
The compromise – read: capitulation – is essentially to make an about-face in the Article 50 negotiations and put the possibility of the United Kingdom remaining within the regulatory orbit of the European Union on the table. At once this kills the two prospective routes of the hard Brexiteers; the no deal worst possible outcome and David Davis’ idea of progressive regulatory divergence. Now what is proposed is a deal that will keep the UK in the Customs Union and the Single Market, making it impossible for future parliaments to sneak out a side door without collapsing the whole deal.
As his hope for a Canadian-EU style trade deal with Europe has been completely dismissed, David Davis, the Brexit Secretary – who has been increasingly side-lined by Number 10 in the past few weeks, and who discovered he had no allies in Cabinet on Friday, handed in his resignation last night. Brexit, as Boris Johnson has rightly said, has just become a massive turd the government is expected to polish. Johnson and Michael Gove, hard Brexiteers who were expected to jump ship, haven’t moved. Even Andrea Leadsom, another pro-cliff edge Brexiteer, has decided to put up and shut up; going to the papers to suggest the party get behind Mrs. May – leaving Davis and the Tory right-wing to twist in the wind.
It goes without saying that this lands the Tories back in crisis – an observation that has almost become meaningless, as they have never quite been out of a crisis since David Cameron cut and run. All the same, this new crisis is the most serious May’s government has faced; more serious than when it lost its parliamentary majority in the last general election. May’s third way approach, since she took office, has been focused on healing the right-centre divide – a legacy of the party’s long-running civil war fuelled by Cameron and Johnson’s pubescent rivalry. This eleventh hour decision to deprive the hard Brexiteers has gone and ripped the scab from the wound. May knows she’s in trouble and has sought advice on how to handle a vote of no confidence.
Such a vote isn’t likely – yet. Conservative Party rules, as they stand, forbid another vote of no confidence for a year after one has taken place, and – given the present precarious support she has in Cabinet – it’s not likely a revolt will be successful. If the pro-cliff edge faction leap too soon and botch a vote of no-confidence, they will only strengthen her position. But there’s blood in the water – they know she’s vulnerable, and those with their heads screwed on will be thinking it’s better to have a weak Theresa May with a watered-down Brexit in Brussels than one in a stronger position than she is today. The knives are out, but for the time being no one’s making a lunge.
The PM, due to address all 316 Tory MPs on Monday, is expecting enough of them to oppose her to mount a no-confiden… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) July 08, 2018
While she may be spared the feeling of cold steel from the business end of those blades for the times being, it is clear May’s most recent change of direction creates a number of serious problems. Internally, as Jacob Rees-Mogg has already said, the Prime Minister will struggle to get this past her party in the Commons. She won’t get much love from her pals in the DUP, and this isn’t exactly the Brexit Jeremy Corbyn is looking for either.
It’s externally, in Brussels, however, where her biggest problem is. The truth is that May has been forced to bring this offering of submission to Michel Barnier. Britain has been utterly out manœuvred by the European Union; capital and industrial flight from the UK to the EU has begun and is in full swing, the UK’s potential international post-Brexit trade partners have all opted to follow that money – leaving only the United States’ offer of becoming a US trade colony, and little Ireland – eager to protect the Good Friday Agreement and its own national interests – has made a move for a seat on the UN Security Council; allowing it to hamper London’s ambitions at a global level.
An impending checkmate has brought May to her senses, but in doing so she has had to erase all her lines in the sand – up to and including her position on the free movement of people. As the negotiations are ongoing, when May takes this compromise to Europe it is likely Barnier will up the ante by demanding this third pillar – effectively compelling the British to take the only remaining offer on the table; a Brexit that doesn’t mean Brexit, and that would bring the knives out.
This problem, more than anything else, explains why Boris Johnson didn’t follow Davis. He has strategically opted to stay in the Cabinet until his turd hits the fan – and that’s about to happen. Only when May is left with no choice but to take the no Brexit offer will a backbench rebellion have a hope of ousting her in a vote of no confidence, thus fully reigniting the civil war in the party and triggering yet another leadership contest. This is where Boris is most likely to seize his Churchillian moment and press for May’s job on the promise of the hardest possible Brexit.
David Davis Resigns